Northern Escape Heli-Skiing
Where there’s no excuse not to ski
WORDS • ERIN SPONG | FEATURED IMAGE • PAUL MORRISON
The further north you venture up Canada’s west coast, the bigger the mountain ranges, the deeper the snow and the gnarlier the terrain gets. You’ll also find Northern Escape Heli-Skiing. The 15-year-old heli-skiing operation is known for its ability to hop from ‘copter to cat depending on the weather, a flexibility that keeps guests coming back year after year.
Founded in 2004 by a passionate group of friends, Northern Escape Heli-Skiing operates on the idea that there’s no time for down days. And with over a million acres of alpine and tree-skiing terrain, there’s enough to ski every day for the rest of your life and never ski the same thing twice.
“We have such a vast tenure, every year we’re out there scratching the surface still and we’re finding new gems,” says Ryan Merrill, guiding operations manager and ski guide at Northern Escape Heli-Skiing.
Located just 20 minutes down the road from Terrace, British Columbia, Northern Escape provides some of the easiest access to some of the most challenging backcountry terrain. The operation freely explores the Skeena and Kitimat mountain ranges and almost always has the entire area to itself.
“It literally is wild country,” laughs Merrill. “When we’re out there standing around heli-skiing sometimes we stop–we’re in the middle of nowhere–and look around [to admire that] we’re probably the only people who [had been] there that year… or in the last ten years sometimes, depending on where we are.”
With ocean on two sides of Northern Escape–the Douglas Channel to the south and the Pacific Ocean to the west–this area of British Columbia sees a crazy amount of precipitation. Thanks to Pacific cyclonic storms blowing over higher elevations and colder temperatures in the winter, powder stashes are never hard to find.
“Being this close to the ocean, our tenure, with the size of it of course, gets all kinds of great Pacific storms which drop a significant amount of snowfall, says Merrill. “We can operate and get out there and get after it in those areas when we can and, of course, when we can’t we can flip over to the cat-skiing runs.”
Because of the size and frequency of Pacific storms that roll through the area, weather can sometimes keep helicopters from safely flying. Northern Escape’s backup cat-skiing service is a failsafe for when Mother Nature is… taking a dump. When other operations have to sit in the lodge and wait the weather out, Northern Escape is calling up their drivers and revving up the cats to keep you out skiing, regardless of how much snow is coming down.
“We basically have a cat-skiing operation inside a heli-skiing operation. The cat-skiing operation is a stand-alone, only for backup. It doesn’t do anything other than service the heli-skiing guests,” says Merrill. “[So,] we fly over there, jump out of the helicopter, put everybody in the snowcat and the next thing you know we’re skiing again. That can happen multiple times a day, we can go from heli-skiing to cat-skiing back to heli-skiing in a matter of moments sometimes. It just gives us that opportunity to keep moving and skiing in the mountains.”
In the pursuit of zero down days, Northern Escape Heli-Skiing is dedicated to not only giving you the best skiing, but keeping you skiing no matter what the weather is like while you’re there. On bluebird days, take one of its three helicopters to explore 1.34 million acres of seemingly untouched terrain and when a storm cycle rolls in, just hop in a cat and hit the powder stashes as they form.
Northern Escape Heli-Skiing by the numbers
Years Operating: 15
Terrain Accessed: 1.34 million acres
Annual Snowfall: 750 inches
Guest-to-Guide Ratio: 4, 5, or 6:1
Lodging On Site: Yes
Single Heli Drops: No
Heli Types: Bombardier
Longest Run: 6,000 vertical feet
Closest Airport: Northwest Regional Airport Terrace-Kititmat (YXT), 18 minutes