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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

MICA memories will linger

Heli-skiing in B.C. paradise leaves guests 'wowed'

Posted: 03/29/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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Halfway down IPA -- the classic heli-ski run at Mica, not the beer -- our guide gave us the terrible news. The shuttle departing Revelstoke to come pick us up had been delayed. We'd have to keep skiing the thigh-deep pow for three more hours. Shucks. What a bummer. We were soooooo disappointed.

Interestingly, three days earlier on our first attempt to fly into the remote lodge we were also delayed due to a heavy, stubborn fog that hung over the valley and made helicopter navigation nearly impossible. Karma? Methinks so. Of course, that was two sleeps ago. The world had long since righted itself. The morning we finally did arrive the fog had morphed into snow (that's good).

And for three straight thigh-burning days we -- each "tour" consists of 20 skiers divided into five small groups -- had ripped through the tree- and rock-smeared double-black chutes in the Molson, Harvey and Dawson drainages. It was a classic backcountry adventure. And one of the most challenging, intense and memorable skiing experiences I've ever had.

Of course, at Mica, they don't have it any other way.

Thanks to its spectacular new $17-million fly-in boutique lodge -- it's perched high above Kinbasket Lake, approximately 170 kilometres north of Revelstoke, B.C. -- Mica is rightfully positioned on top of the food chain when it comes to small-group heli-skiing operations.

Known for its steeps and world-class tree-skiing (as with nearly all mechanized ski operators, they'll also get you high in the alpine when conditions allow for it), Mica has a tendency to leave its guests "wowed"... and, yes, somewhat humbled by the extremely challenging terrain in its 106,432-hectare tenure.

And, speaking of that terrain, it's not just powder-hungry skiers who love it. Their tenure -- situated in the heart of the only inland temperate rainforest on earth -- is also home to the mountain caribou, which has been identified as a species at risk. It is believed no more than 30 of the highly endangered animals are living in the area. And sightings of this ice-age survivor, while not frequent, do happen from time to time. Given this fact and the recovery plan initiated by the B.C. government, Mica is active in protecting the habitat so the remaining caribou can survive.

For example, this past October, Mica gave back to the province a significant piece of its property that was prime caribou habitat. In exchange, the government granted Mica new terrain that was more conducive to great backcountry skiing.

"That exchange was a win-win," says Barbara Rose, operations manager at Mica. "However, we have many other measures in place to help the caribou. For example, if we see a caribou, we immediately leave the area. No questions asked. They have right-of-way. Also, any sightings of caribou or caribou activity are meticulously documented and a lengthy report is sent to the Ministry of Environment. It's critical we follow these procedures and our guides are constantly on the lookout for caribou and, for that matter, any other wildlife activity."

On my particular trip, wildlife sightings were limited to a group of long-haired hardcore skiers from Edmonton, who, after pounding through pow for seven hours, grazed and gulped in the bar until the wee hours. Apparently one of the fellows was celebrating his 40th birthday and had decided the only good and proper thing to do was gather the boys and head to Mica for the deep and steep. The rooftop hot tubs, gourmet food, fantastic wines, and, yes, the crazy camaraderie were welcome add-ons.

Unfortunately, due to the difficulty of the terrain, waking up groggy is not actually recommended at Mica. (But, yes, it's been known to happen from time to time.) Although this high-end lodge is stunning and state-of-the-art, Mica has a way of pushing you to your limits. Your gear, your body and your mind will be stretched literally and figuratively.

Thanks to the moist Pacific air mass that lingers, gear is quickly drenched and the mediocre stuff, as I found out, does not survive. The fat, backcountry powder skis Mica fits you with are essential and people who bring their own skis quickly find out they are not adequate.

Every guest skis with a radio and avi gear, including a digital transceiver, probe, shovel and a special avalanche airbag that's manually deployed in case you're trapped in a slide. Trust me, if you've got a chink in your armour, Mica will find it. In my case, thanks to the few brushes with the alder and a couple of high-speed crashes in the raucous rock garden run, I came to the realization contortional manoeuvres are not my forte.

It was just one more reason why -- after my inevitable, but unwanted departure -- I'll have Mica on my mind for years to come.

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2014

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 29, 2014 E2

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