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Author Topic: Feb 21, 2010, North Cascades Heli-Skiing (FOAC)  (Read 3925 times)
Lowell_Skoog
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Feb 21, 2010, North Cascades Heli-Skiing (FOAC)
« on: 02/22/10, 12:02 PM »



Seamus O'Daimhin flies the Eurocopter AS350 B3 with Tower Mountain in the background.


This trip was made possible by North Cascades Heli-Skiing (NCH) and the Friends of the Northwest Avalanche Center (FOAC).  Last April at the Friends of NWAC Snowball Auction, I won the raffle prize of a day with North Cascades Heli-Skiing.  The arrangement was that NCH would slot me into their schedule on a day when they had an open seat in the helicopter.  A seat opened up on Sunday, February 21, and after last-minute arrangements with my family, I drove to Mazama on Saturday evening.

At 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning I met my guide and ski partners at the NCH heli-barn near the Freestone Inn at Mazama.  Twelve skiers would be flying in three groups of four, with a guide for each group.  John Sunderland, who works for the Methow Conservancy, would be my guide.  My heli companions were Dave, who I knew through a mutual friend, Ben, who works for K2 Sports, and Ben's friend Michelle.  Our little group was very compatible and we got along great.



Thumbnails, from left (click to enlarge). One: Flying toward Molar Tooth. Two: Michelle unloads the helicopter while John closes the ski box. Three: Michelle and Ben ski below Molar Tooth.


After briefings on helicopter safety, safe skiing protocol, and avalanche rescue, we began loading the helicopter around 9:30 a.m.  Ours was the second group to leave, and my stomach lurched as pilot Seamus O'Daimhin swung the helicopter into a powerful turn right off the ground.  The Eurocopter AS350 B3 used by NCH is an amazing machine.  It's the same model that made the first landing on the summit of Mount Everest in 2005.  During our flight toward Washington Pass we took the scenic route through Burgundy Col and looked in awe as Silver Star Mountain and the Wine Spires passed by at close range.



Guide John Sunderland on the ridge west of Hinkhouse Peak.


Our initial ski location was below the Molar Tooth, a 7,547-ft summit just north of Cutthroat Peak.  We skied ENE-facing slopes overlooking Cutthroat Lake and found good, somewhat recrystalized powder.  To be honest, I left Seattle with low expectations of the snow quality but was really surprised.  It was great skiing.  We took three runs on various lines near this location, then moved to NW-facing slopes above Cutthroat Lake, just west of Hinkhouse Peak, the 7,560+ foot peak north of Washington Pass.

We took a 2000-ft run down to Cutthroat Lake, where we found some of the biggest surface hoar feathers I've ever seen (see thumbnail below).  Seamus flew us back to the ridge and before long all three groups were on top for lunch as Seamus returned to the heli-barn to refuel the helicopter.  NCH packed our lunches and also provided avalanche beacons and ski packs with probes and shovels.  Fat powder skis were available as well, if you wanted them.  All you really needed to bring were appropriate clothing and ski boots.  I found that I had dressed a bit too warm and stuffed my pile sweater in my pack after the second run.



Thumbnails, from left (click to enlarge). One: Michelle skis below Molar Tooth. Two: Dropping in below the NE Face of Tower Mountain. Three: Two-inch frost feather on a gloved hand at Cutthroat Lake.


After lunch we took two more runs near Hinkhouse Peak, then Seamus ferried us north for the day's finale. We landed on the north shoulder of Tower Mountain, just a few rope lengths from the NE Couloir that I skied a couple years ago with Tom Janisch.  From there we had great views of the North Cascades and an outstanding run that descended below the NE Face of Tower Mountain into Cataract Creek.  Seven runs are a standard day with North Cascades Heli-Skiing, but our group was so psyched by the scenery and snow around Tower Mountain that we agreed to take one more run for an extra fee.  (Since I wasn't sure NCH had signed up for that at the auction, I offered to have them swipe my credit card for that run.) It was a happy group that flew back to Mazama in the helicopter.  Seamus flew us on a roller coaster route over the ridges north of Silver Star Mountain.  I was on the road by 3:30 p.m. and home in Seattle around 8:30.

I'd like to thank the Friends of NWAC for their great work supporting the avalanche center and hosting last year's fundraiser.  Thanks also to North Cascades Heli-Skiing for their amazingly generous donation.  I had a blast!



Dave celebrates a great day of skiing on the north shoulder of Tower Mountain.


« Last Edit: 07/22/12, 09:41 PM by Lowell_Skoog » Logged
ddk
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Re: Feb 21, 2010, North Cascades Heli-Skiing (FOAC)
« Reply #1 on: 02/22/10, 07:09 PM »

Ouch!  Very impressive!  Thanks...
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Sam Avaiusini
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Re: Feb 21, 2010, North Cascades Heli-Skiing (FOAC)
« Reply #2 on: 02/27/10, 11:15 AM »

Seamus is one of the best pilots around.  I try to put myself on their standby list everytime I'm up there. It a good way to save a few bucks from their standard rate. Although your way saved even more!  Wink
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Sam Avaiusini
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