Helicopter Tour of the Elk Valley

awesome heli tour

Ascent Helicopter Sightseeing Tour

In the winter, the Red Tree Lodge is lucky to host the Nonstop Adventure programs here in Fernie.  Clients come to Fernie to get top-notch ski and snowboard instruction, but they can’t be on the hill all the time!  What else is a group of visitors to Fernie going to do to keep busy?  One of the many extra activities that Nonstop offers is a helicopter sightseeing tour of the area.  Along with Casey and Nadine from my team, I was lucky enough to join in on a recent tour this past weekend.

Get To The Chopper!

We headed over to the Ascent Helicopters helipad in the Nonstop shuttle from the Lodge.  The helipad is located over on Burma road, at the foot of some of Fernie’s best mountain bike trails.  Ascent provides a wide range of helicopter services in Fernie: beside the Elk Valley Scenic Tour, they also offer movie and TV support for filming, medevac and first aid services, industrial hoisting, avalanche control for Fernie Alpine Resort, Island Lake Lodge, and local mining operations, and of course, heli-skiing operations.  Along the way, Casey told us about how he used to live next door to their helipad. He would often get woken up by the early morning avalanche control flights.  He explained that he had been promised a ride in one of their fleet as a result.  Finally get a chance to take that flight!

Greg from Ascent Helicopters
Our pilot Greg

We met our pilot Greg and learned a little bit about helicopter safety (which fortunately we didn’t have to put into practice).  The Bell Longranger we rode in had room for six, but with only four passengers, we had some room to stretch out.  This was especially true as Greg explained that one of us could ride in the cockpit with him!  Casey won the quick round of evens & odds and hopped up front while Nadine, Will from Nonstop, and I rode in the back.

back of the helicopter
Jon finally gets a legit reason to wear his aviators!

Our Route Over The Mountains

Casey, Will, and I had never ridden in a helicopter before, but it was Nadine’s second time.  She was still super stoked to head up though!  I always thought that helicopters would be a rougher ride (from watching too many movies, I think).  I was surprised as instead we lifted smoothly up and headed over the ski resort to look down on the runs.  My son was skiing with his group that morning and insists he saw me looking down as we were hovering over him – he described the chopper accurately, so maybe he really did.

tour over the base of the Fernie Alpine Resort
Over the base of the Fernie Alpine Resort

We passed over the resort and headed over Polaris Bowl and Easy Way towards Island Lake Lodge.  There was a bit of cloud cover in this part of the tour, but as we approached the cat skiing area, visibility improved and all of sudden the snowcats were visible from the air.  I was amazed as one headed downhill –for such big machines, they can really move!  There were a couple of different groups on the terrain just waiting for the go-ahead to start down the slopes.  As happy as I was to be on a helicopter sightseeing tour, I must confess I did get a momentary pang of jealousy as I scoped out the untouched snow below them.  Next blog?  PLEASE??

catskiing view from helicopter
Look carefully and you’ll see the Island Lake Lodge catski clients waiting above the trees for a epic glade run.
mountain ridge on helicopter tour
Can you imagine the drop off the back of this ridge? It’s WAY BIGGER than you think!

Views from the Tour

We continued on for the rest of the twenty-minute tour as Greg pointed out various peaks, ridges, and features around us.  We cruised past the Three Bears, Mount Bisaro, over Fairy Meadows, and a bunch more.  It was amazing to see the mountains stretch out underneath us!  I’ve seen them from the air before, but always from a much higher elevation.  With Greg at the controls, we were able to swoop around below the peaks, through valleys, and over ridges.  Some of the drop offs below us as we crested were legitimately awe-inspiring.  Casey may have had the best view, with the glass bottom beneath his feet, the array of dials and controls in front of him, and the best idea of just how close to some of the mountains we got.  However, that was balanced by a level of concern that we didn’t have to experience in the back!  I did get to hear him wonder aloud “Greg, when are we going to turn?  Greg?  When?  GREG!”

helicopter sightseeing tour
Below the peaks on our helitour.

Summer Helicopter Sightseeing Tours

It seemed far too soon when we headed back to the helipad.  Casey and Nadine discussed going back up on a tour again this summer.  Greg explained that the summer sightseeing tours were similar, with a few differences.  Obviously they’re far more green with less snow, but the chances of seeing wildlife in the summer is much higher.  We did see some mountain goats (and lots of tracks) but in the summer, the bears are out of hibernation and are often spotted from the air.  There’s also springtime snow-melt waterfalls off Mount Bisaro to check out.  If the visibility is just right you can see Lake Koocanusa in the summer as well.

After landing, we took a few minutes to take some pictures again before thanking Greg and bringing Will and the other Nonstoppers back to their accommodations at the Lodge.  It was a pretty cool experience and I am glad to have had the chance to take part.  Thanks to Nonstop and Ascent for taking us up and helping me scratch “Take a helicopter sightseeing tour of Fernie” off my bucket list!

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