Just seeing the words in print brings up images in my mind of expert skiers hucking off huge cliffs and carving through deep powder. I can’t imagine myself doing anything like that. Heli-skiing just isn’t for me.
Or is it?
I’m certainly not an expert skier or snowboarder, so maybe it’s really not for me. Yet. But for many of you reading this right now, I bet you’re saying the same thing. Or maybe you’re saying, Yeah… I love steep blacks but I would never heli-ski. I’m not that good.
Read that again. I’m not that good.
I’m going to go ahead and tell you right now that yes! You probably are that good.
Ladies! Why do we do this to ourselves?
A few weeks ago, Kim Kircher and I were discussing the phenomenon that causes a lot of otherwise very smart, athletic and kickass women to underestimate themselves and their abilities. Somewhere along the evolutionary chain, we got it into our heads that we’re simply not good enough to do certain activities.
Kim, a ski-patroller at Crystal Mountain Resort is here to tell you that not only are you good enough to heli-ski, you’re very likely to be better than most of the men out there.
And if you’re not a skier, read this anyway. Kim also talks about stepping up and owning our passions and not worrying about being good enough or talented enough. If you love it, get out and do it!
Heli-skiing: Where Are the Women?
The first time I went heli-skiing, my husband and I arrived at the remote lodge in time for dinner. The covered helicopters sat on a pad outside the window. My stomach fluttered with anticipation as snow fell silently against the window.
I looked around at the table of twenty would-be heli-skiers, all giddy with anticipation. One thing struck me as odd. The only other woman at the table was Beth, the friend who, along with her husband, had joined us for the trip. The rest of the table was full of men.
Later in the week I asked our guide about the lack of other women in our group. He raised his eyebrows. “We have two woman this week. I think that’s a record!”
“A record? You mean a 10% ratio of women to men is a record?” Knowing that 42% of all skiers are women, this was a poor representation.
He just shrugged. Then he explained that many women didn’t think they were good enough to go heli-skiing. Women imagine it as extreme—where skiers drop from a heli hovering several feet above the slope and carve over spines and huck mandatory air halfway down a long couloir.
But the male customers have no trouble signing up for a trip of unknown difficulty. In fact, many of the men in our group would struggle on most black diamond runs at a ski area.
One bright morning, the heli landed at the top of a large glacier. Below us lay acres of endless, untracked snow. I stomped around, waiting for the rest of the group to get their skis on. Where I stood, about two feet of snow lay in perfect intact stellar crystals, just waiting to whistle as I skied through them. When it was time to go, my husband nodded his head, “ladies first.”
I smiled at him and kept on smiling as I followed the guide’s tracks over the edge of the sloping field making turn after glorious turn all the way to the trees about three thousand vertical feet below.
In heli-skiing, the guides group skiers of similar ability together. Our group of four, consisting of my husband and I along with our friends, was placed in the “first group,” meaning we flew with the top guide and skied the terrain first. This also meant that we were the fastest.
After our group scouted the glacier run, the other two groups were flown to the top. As we lifted off in the heli for another lap, I watched through the window at the tiny skiers against the grand landscape and felt my heart surge.
Partway through the week, one of the men at the dinner table raised his glass and quietly clicked it against mine. He told me that when he first saw Beth and me at the lodge, he had worried we would slow down the group. We had proven him wrong. He said he was considering bringing his wife on his next trip.
I asked him why his wife hadn’t joined him this time.
“She doesn’t think she’s good enough.”
“Well, is she?”
He nodded his head. “She’s actually a better skier than I am.”
I smiled and shook my head. Why do women skiers downplay their abilities, when heli-skiing men often get in over their heads? I’ve heard stories of once-a-year skiers spending loads on a heli-ski trip, keeping themselves going on Vicodin prescriptions and copious amounts of Ibuprofen.
I just don’t get it. Heli-skiing is an amazing experience. Unlike on a powder day at a ski area, where the frenzy of the crowd urges you to never stop and enjoy the pristine beauty, heli-skiing provides plenty of time to slow down and truly enjoy the powder. There’s no rush. You have all day, and the untracked snow is endless.
Skiing powder is a fleeting joy that once felt never truly goes out of your system. Floating on wide planks over a field of cold snowflakes is much like being lifted by tiny fairies. It’s the closest thing to heaven I’ve ever felt.
On that morning as I skied the glacier, knowing that my husband was following somewhere behind me, I felt a buoying joy. I wanted to seal this moment in my mind so I could come back to it later.
Why would a woman deny herself this joy? Is she afraid she won’t be able to “keep up”? Does she shy away as soon as testosterone levels start to rise? Is she worried her skiing skills just aren’t up to it?
Well I’m here to tell you, most heli-skiers aren’t that great of skiers themselves. It’s an expensive sport and perhaps some of the regular customers dissuade their wives because it would double the cost. Maybe they want to sit around a large table of men and swap stories about their escapades. Perhaps there’s a bravado that permeates it all. But those guys are missing out.
The last night of our trip, my husband held me close and told me how glad he was to have a partner to experience this with. I smiled and nodded my head. Then I said, “I’m just glad you can keep up with me.” To his credit, he said, “So am I.”
Kim Kircher has logged over 600 hours of explosives control, earning not only her avalanche blaster’s card, but also a heli-blaster endorsement, allowing her to fly over the slopes in a helicopter and drop bombs from the open cockpit, while uttering the fabulously thrilling words “bombs away” into the mic. Her articles have appeared in Women’s Adventure Magazine, Ski Washington Magazine and Off-Piste Magazine. Her memoir, The Next 15 Minutes, shares the lessons she’s learned on the slopes. She blogs at kimkircher.com.
If you’re new here, welcome. I’m delighted you stopped by.
Sign up for my monthly newsletter for more inspiration and practical tips to help you get—and stay active. You’ll also receive a FREE email series sharing the 10 Essential Elements of Adventure.