An hour from Salt Lake City, one of Utah’s most unique skiing experiences is in the middle of nowhere. On more than one occasion, as we drove down the snowy single track dirt road and the sun was setting, we questioned whether we were lost or not. We weren’t. The Paradise base lodge for Whisper Ridge Cat and Heli-Skiing was at the end of the road and the start of our luxury heli-skiing adventure.
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We were greeted a warm welcome by the staff, which included coffee and pizza, and after brief introductions, lots of dog petting, and getting skis fitted out, were on the way to our accommodation for the next couple of nights… luxury yurts.
The yurt village was 10 or so miles from the lodge (which by now had a helicopter outside – had that been there when we arrived it might have served as a massive clue that we were in the right place!) a journey we undertook on the back of a snowmobile. This was so cool (and so cold), a half-hour twilight ride through canyons, woods, and meadows until we reached the yurt village perched on top of a hill. There are 6 or 7 yurts, 1 of which was for dining, a number of bathrooms, a couple of hot tubs, and an ice-bar. By now it was pitch black, so we couldn’t see if there was a view or not, but we would not be disappointed with the sunrise the next morning.
Dinner was great, what’s not to like about steak and ribs, served with beer and/or wine, followed by cheesecake?! There was always staff around socializing with the groups, getting to know us all and chatting with us. And with no wifi and very spotty cell signal, you had to talk to other humans.
The temperature outside was freezing, below zero during the night, yet we never got cold in the yurt (thankfully I didn’t need the bathroom in the night). We learned the next morning that a member of staff had been in a couple of times through the night to fill the pellet stove up. I didn’t hear him once. The yurts consist of 8 comfortable double beds, separated by screens, so you won’t necessarily get the privacy you might expect, but it wasn’t a problem at all. If you’re a light sleeper, bring earplugs, bring an eye mask, or just bring your sense of humor. Oh, and bring a headtorch for those middle of the night bathroom trips. Breakfast the next morning was bacon, sausage, and egg, toast, and muffins, as well as copious amounts of coffee. Another half-hour snowmobile ride (we got our own vehicles this time – yeehaw!) back to the lodge and we were into the briefing.
We were all equipped with avalanche beacons, and given a thorough safety briefing by Whisper Ridge’s own forecaster (and our guide for the day), Luke. Another quick training session on entering and exiting the helicopter, and we were soon airborne.
Climbing above some of the best terrain Utah has to offer, it seemed like the runs available to us were almost infinite. 70,000-acres of terrain of all descriptions laid out beneath us. Luke and the pilot were constantly chatting and gesticulating, figuring out the best drop-off and pickup zones for us. Turns out that we were in Utah during a ‘dry’ spell. A huge storm a week or so previously had dumped multiple feet on the mountains, and the week following our trip they received the same again, so much snow that the resorts in the Cottonwood canyons closed due to avalanche risk.
Our snow was awesome, deep and untracked, we skied through tight trees and wide-open glades, whooping and hollering, smiles on our faces and quads burning. We skied through ravines and drainage basins, some steep, some not so steep. We slashed corn, we floated on powder, and we skated across wind-blown cruft. As the day progressed and the temperatures rose, we moved around the mountains, always on the search for the best snow. And with 70,000-acres available, Luke always managed to find the good stuff! We saw moose running through the snow on the ridge opposite us. We all got suntans from the bright, sunny bluebird day.
Luke, our guide, was beyond amazing. His knowledge of the terrain and snow conditions was second to none. He never disappointed with the runs we skied. We started off skiing a couple of turns, then stopping to make sure we all caught up, while he assessed our abilities. But we were soon skiing, slinky style, non-stop from top to bottom, behind Luke yet making our own tracks.
We skied 9 long runs that day, for almost 20k vertical feet. Despite the lack of recent snow, we never skied the same run twice, always had fresh tracks, and were skiing deep powder all day long. Thank goodness for AMP Human Performance’s PR Lotion! That evening we ravenously tucked into salmon, shrimp, and pork steaks before an early night and a deep sleep dreaming of the other 65,000-acres we didn’t have time to ski.
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That was my first experience of heli-skiing, and all it did was whet my appetite for more adventures like that. When you think of heli-skiing, if you think of Warren Miller movies in Alaska and BC, dropping skiers off on narrow ridges above 50-degree no-fall zones, this isn’t what Whisper Ridge is all about. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some pretty gnarly terrain to be had, but intermediate, to advanced and expert skiers will have the experience of a lifetime here skiing the huge variety of unbelievable terrain they do have available.
Whatever your ability, whether you’ve previously heli-skied or not, I strongly recommend booking your next trip with Whisper Ridge. Aside from skiing, the whole operation is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You won’t be disappointed.