All Time: Kingfisher Heli

Finding the pinnacle of life as a skier

Looks like a third descent. Photo: Chris Thompson

When I moved to San Clemente, California, to work for POWDER, I drove up to Mammoth to meet with the Jaded Local. In a poached hot tub, with Tecates in hand, I told him I was going to wait as long as I could before going heli skiing.

"Why?" he asked. "It's, like, the safest thing you can do."

"I don't know," I said. "I'm afraid it might be the best skiing I ever do, and it'd suck to have everything else come second to that moment, especially when I'm only 24."

He probably called me an idiot, lit a cig, and flirted with the blonde in the tub whose lawyer husband was off fetching fresh robes from the concierge.

Fast-forward three years and as I'm walking to the helicopter at Keefer Lake in British Columbia, Canada, this moment, long ago, is running through my head.

Kingfisher Heliskiing in B.C. has an exploratory permit, which means they can explore the area and bring people out there so long as they're not turning a profit. An invitation came through SnoCru Founder Ed Lewis. Ed and his father own a minority stake in the blossoming heli op.

Tim Shenkariuk and Matt Devlin founded the operation after years of guiding across B.C. and Alaska. Their zone in Keefer Lake has long been untouched, so this experience is, as they say, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. After a breakfast made by Shenkariuk's mother, Zoria, we take off, flying over the lake and into a land of endless possibilities.

At the first drop, we go over a safety plan if something should go wrong—beacon drills and probing and shoveling techniques. Shenkariuk, known as "Shanks," is a fun-loving, easy-going guy, but when it comes to these drills, he is no bullshit, and for that I am thankful.

Then we drop in.

The snow was blower. It's not that "soft but kind of sunbaked, but I'll tell my friends it was good snow" blower. It was angels-powdering-your-balls-in-heaven-soft snow sent when all things in the universe line up and your mind sends signals that say this is what you were put on this earth to do.

On our third run of the day, we stopped at the top of a long, untracked chute. Our guide, Shenkariuk, told me to go ahead and ski it first, all the way to the bottom. I clanked my poles together and dropped in.

The snow was flying into my face and over my head. It was the most perfect moment in my 27 years. When our group gathered at the bottom, we cheered and high-fived. Then Shanks told me I was the first person to ever ski that particular chute and that I should name it.

“What? That was a…”

“First descent,” he said.

I told him I’d need to think about it. My eyes were misty.

At the end of the day, we arrived back at the lodge and Shanks asked me again, “What are you going to call your run?”

I named it “Bennies” after two friends, Ben Osborn and Benton Jones, who both passed away too soon. It’ll be called that for the rest of time. It was the best day of my life.

Reflecting that night with a Maker's on the rocks, surrounded by bear and wolf-skin blankets, I thought back to my conversation with the Jaded. I was right. I was never going to top this moment. Like a heroin addict chasing the dragon, I'll be rummaging pennies, collecting cans, and saving up for that next time I can almost touch perfection.

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