Silvertip Special

Posted on: Thursday, October 31st, 2019

North of the Purcells, Selkirks, and Monashees loom the Cariboos, the northernmost subrange of the Columbia Mountains, which stretch from Washington to the Central Interior of British Columbia. In the heart of the Cariboo, a region between the Rockies and the Fraser River steeped in gold rush legend and First Nations history, stretches 80-mile long Quesnel Lake, the deepest freshwater fjord lake in the world. Take a 45-minute helicopter ride from Williams Lake Airport up the east arm of the lake and you’ll find Silvertip Lodge and Heli-Skiing’s spacious triple A-frame lakeside lodge. With access limited to heli, small plane, or boat, Silvertip enjoys the title of most remote heli-ski lodge in Canada.

“Most cat and heli lodges are removed, but Silvertip really gives you the sense that you’re in the middle of nowhere,” says pro skier Dash Longe, who filmed there for Teton Gravity Research’s Rogue Elements in 2017. “By the time you reach Quesnel Lake, it’s hard to spot any signs of humanity—it just looks like a vast and wild landscape with an endless body of water weaving in and out of tall mountains like Scandinavian fjords.”

heli skier

The remoteness is one reason Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) sold the property in 2009, but it’s exactly what lured current owners Michael and Maria Binnion, a fun-loving, outgoing couple from Calgary who turn Silvertip Lodge into a perpetual party during the weeks they host guests. Non-skiers explore the cross-country trails that meander through old-growth cedars adjacent to the lodge or relax in the lakeside sauna.

Silvertip’s motto is “Do what you like, for as long as you like,” and the only program for guests is the one they themselves create. That flexibility and bespoke experience starts with the helicopter. Whereas almost all of the Bell 212s used for Canadian heli-skiing seat 12 skiers and two guides shoulder-to-shoulder, the same bird at Silvertip is missing four seats. “It’s roomier, safer, and lighter—we’re able to pull out of pick-ups that no other 212 could,” says Dale McKnight, operations manager and lead guide at Silvertip, and one of the founders of Chatter Creek, a world-class cat-skiing operation based just outside of Golden, B.C.

Silvertip runs two small groups per day (up to eight people per group), which means the heli is always waiting for you instead of the other way around, which is standard at most heli ops. Got an anchor in the group slowing you down? A second guide allows the faster skiers to take another lap (or hire a heli-ski instructor for first-timers). Combine the two-group limit with tons of nearly weatherproof sub-alpine terrain close to the lodge (read: enjoy civilized hot lunches in the lodge dining room) and you get one of the most efficient and enjoyable heli-skiing programs in the world.

Expansive view of the Cariboo Mountains covered in snow

Expansive view of the Cariboo Mountains covered in snow On the horizon, a view of the Coast Mountain Range from the edge of the Cariboos

Even if you spent the whole winter here, you’d barely scratch the surface of Silvertip’s 556 square miles of varied terrain and more than 120 named runs with average verticals of 4,000 feet. During the summer of 2017, a large wildfire burned more than 100 runs in Silvertip’s bread-and-butter terrain, which elevated the tree skiing from great to epic.

Last season, the operation skied 200 new runs, most of which remain unnamed. So, if you’re on a mission to ski uncharted terrain until you drop, Silvertip may be just the place for you. Just keep in mind, if you’re after a week dominated by a rigid schedule, you best look elsewhere. There’s no set-in-stone 8 a.m. call time. If a group needs to sleep off a big night around the pool table (which can happen when joining in co-owner Maria Binnion’s after-dinner lodge games), no sweat.

“You can make it what you want,” says professional skier Ian McIntosh, who hosts ski camps at Silvertip. “If you want to ski from first light until the end of the day, you can do that. If you’re after a more relaxed schedule, you can do that as well. After a great day of skiing, you hit the sauna, jump in the lake, eat an amazing dinner, have a few drinks over a game of pool, and do it all over again the next day.”

Silvertip Lodge and Heli-Skiing Trip Planning
Helicopter flying over a group of three heli-skiers at Silvertip Lodge and Heli-skiing in the Cariboo Mountains

Helicopter flying over a group of three heli-skiers at Silvertip Lodge and Heli-skiing in the Cariboo Mountains


Getting to Silvertip Lodge
This season, a private charter leaving from Vancouver International Airport’s South Terminal at 7 a.m. is included in the price and makes it possible to ski the day guests arrive. Plan to arrive in Vancouver the night before and stay at the Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel.

Maximum Group Number: 8
Square Miles of Skiable Terrain: 556
Annual Snowfall (Inches): 720
$1,800-$2,200 per person, per day for a private group of 16. Includes unlimited vertical, transfers to/from Vancouver to Williams Lake Airport via plane and Williams Lake to Silvertip Lodge via helicopter, meals, and more.
More info on Silvertip Heli Skiing’s website.

Originally published in the print edition of the November 2019 issue of SKI Magazine. Want more great content like this in a hand-held, paper version? SUBSCRIBE NOW

By Tess Weaver

Silvertip’s Bell 212 heli takes flight after dropping a group high up in the Cariboos.