Column: Helicopter skiing another check on the list

Like many of you, I have a list of things I want to do, learn, or see before I die. This list includes a whole range of activities from becoming fluent in a foreign language to traveling in outer space.

I finally marked another goal off of my list, helicopter skiing. My husband has been helicopter skiing on several occasions but I was always afraid that I would not ski well enough, would not be strong enough, would get cold, would get caught in an avalanche, or would die in a helicopter crash. Then last month, when I was skiing at Whistler Mountain, B.C., with my husband and Bruce Robertson, we decided to sign up with Whistler Heli-skiing for the following day.

I was real proud that I slept well that night in spite of my anxieties, fears and excitement. I was real proud that I was able to eat breakfast that morning without giving it up to the white porcelain god. I was real proud that I walked calmly to the heli-ski staging area ignoring a serious case of the jitters.

The guys went to the expert group but I wisely had chosen the intermediate group. My guides, Val (short for Valdemir) and K.T. strapped transponders on us and carefully explained what would happen if we fell into a tree well or were buried in an avalanche. For someone like myself, with moderate claustrophobia, just talking about being buried was distressing.

Next, they showed us about 10 different ways to evacuate the helicopter in the event of a crash. I did my best to concentrate hoping that someone else in the group would remember the evacuation procedure because I was too near panic status.

First the helicopter came for the expert group. Then it was our turn. The chop of the propeller made me flash on the many M.A.S.H. episodes I had watched and all I could think was "incoming, incoming". As I knelt, touching the guide's backpack, I thought, "What the h--- am I doing?" By then, it was too late; I was running toward the helicopter. As we took off, I had a moment of disorientation and then I looked out the window and saw the breathtaking view of the wilderness, the snow storm, and the vastness of the range after range of mountain peaks. It was so stunning that I forgot my fears and before I knew it we were landing on top of a mountain overlooking Rainbow Valley.

It was white on white. The white snow on the ground, the white sky and the white snow falling. Only the trees provided definition and contrast. Being by far, the senior member of the group, they insisted that I make first tracks.

I made my first turn and realized that my fat boys would work, so I relaxed and floated down into the bowl below me to Val's cheers of encouragement. I experienced a physical sense of lightness, weightlessness and motion that freed me from the constraints of gravity. "Pretty cool," I thought.

Was I over my fears? No, not by any means. We entered a steep, heavily treed area with 3 feet of fresh powder. I panicked, fell, dug out, fell again, dug out and somehow got down the mountain.

Back in Whistler Village, we attended the apres ski party at Buffalo Bill's to view the videotape made that day by the professional photographer who skied with us. I expected to look like I was in a Warren Miller extreme skiing movie and I was shocked when I got the reality check that only a video can provide.

After the party, the adrenaline wore off, and I was beyond exhaustion. Every muscle in my body ached. In spite of my physical pain and fatigue, I was happy. Happy to have accomplished something I wanted to do, happy to be in one piece, and happy to be alive. Would I do it again? Absolutely, I would do it again in a minute.

Linda E. Johnson is a wife, mother, attorney and a 25-year resident of Carson City. She has been skiing for 27 years and still finds the sport exhilarating, exciting, frightening, and frustrating.


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