North Cascade Heli: Today Was a Good Day!

North Cascade Heli: Today Was a Good Day!

As every Freeskier reader knows full well, heli trips can either be the most epic time ever, or the most epic fail ever. When it’s good, it’s amazing. When you can’t fly, boredom threatens to take your sanity hostage — with no ransom note.

Dakine assembled a crew to head up to Mazama, WA (read: butt-eff-nowhere, WA) to gamble on North Cascade Heli. NCH is one of the best run heli ops any of us has ever been to, from the office staff all the way to the pilot. They’re honest, yet stoked to show you the goods. Probably the best combination you can look for when planning a heli trip.

The heroes of the trip were Eric Pollard (the natural team leader), Chris Benchetler, Michelle Parker and Sammy Carlson. On support staff were Bryn Hughes and me behind the still cameras, Ike Smith (shooting for Nimbus Independent) on the motion capture, and the man who put it all together, Randy Torcom.

We awoke on day one fully optimistic as the skies were generally clear, and we were set to go. After the quint essential heli safety briefing and some beacon search scenarios, we were set to go. Up we went, busting through a thin, low cloud layer and into heaven. It was a full-on inversion, with not a cloud in the sky above the top layer. We were set to slay it.

But then that whole gamble thing came into play and on came a second layer of clouds that threatened to keep us pinned down in the Washington backcountry. So as quickly as we got in, we got out. We played some ping pong (Pollard was the overall champ through the week, although Michelle will be quick to tell you that she stole a win from him), and after a short while, got the word that the day was over.

We headed back to our condo (where we were to spend most of our four days) and twiddled our thumbs.

Day two was looking promising again, but…. We got out into the mountains just in time for 25-knot winds to toss the heli around like a rag doll. No go. Not safe. Back to base. Back to ping pong. Back to the condo. Back to thumb twiddling.

With half our trip down and eight pairs of sore thumbs, we woke up on day three to total weather sockage. We didn’t even try to get in the heli. We played some ping pong, checked out the nearby towns of Winthrop and Twisp, and twiddled. So it goes.

On that sad evening, with boredom blanketing our minds, we made the most important decision of the trip: DRINK IT BLUE.

“Randy, you’re puking tonight,” exclaimed Pollard. “Chris, Michelle, Sammy and I have to shred. Bryn, Ike and Matt have to shoot. So drink it blue for us!”

Pollard, being the leader he is, started things off, downing a couple. A little reluctant but down for the cause, Randy quickly joined in (and later became Walter, Randy’s raging alter-ego). Then, like dominos balancing on a balloon, the entire crew toppled and drinking games sprouted up left and right. There was iPod shuffle board, where you had to chug every time you lost a frame and down an entire beer on a loss. Real-life shuffle board on the counter top, made possible by a can of chew some idiot bought but couldn’t handle, where the loser had to chug a beer (we were down to micro-brews by this point… not good). And when people weren’t playing one of the games, they were chugging anyway… down for the cause. It was the best damn Drink it Blue I have ever personally witnessed.

With some non-descript stomach remnants lining the outside of our house and the bathroom partially destroyed thanks to game of hide-and-seek (and my jaw bruised from getting slugged by the smallest member of our crew), we woke up on day four to find… wait for it… THE WORST WEATHER YET!

“How could this be?” we collectively thought. We did everything right the night before, but apparently it wasn’t enough.

We were sitting around the condo — exchanging quick bewildered glances and cleaning up the mess from the night before — when the phone rang.

“Gear up,” the voice on the other end announced, “it’s on.”

With the wind still howling, we quickly obliged and were at NCH in a matter of minutes. We loaded the heli and to our sheer excitement, our DIB had worked more than we could ever have hoped for. It was blue bird. It was cold. There was a ton of new snow. And as the Voice on the Other End had announced, it was ON.

Face shots abounded, the shutters clicked rat-a-tat-tat, Ike’s memory card quickly filled. It was one of those all-time days where you get home and write to your friends and family members about how you just had an epic pow day thanks to the fastest chairlift system in the world: a helicopter.

“Today is a great day,” I said more than once to whomever would listen. “Yes it is,” the listeners agreed.

The gamble paid off. After losing three hands in a row with a stacked deck, we turned over a royal flush when it mattered most; on the last hand before we were broke.

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