Writer/Photographer/Stoke Ambassador

taking off

First things first; I did not win the lottery, but a contest put on by the lottery. As such there were certain stipulations as to how I could spend the money.

I have always been a fan of entering contests that don’t cost anything. As a tween in the pre-social media era I called into the radio as often as I could. And in doing so was able to score more than my fair share of free concert tickets and CD’s. Nowadays, entering these promotional contests is easier than ever as companies vie for that oft-sought-after, yet oft-misunderstood Millenial market.

The entry form was pretty simple: your name, your email, your phone number, and a short paragraph explaining how you would spend $1,000 in a day. The whole process took less than a minute, and I soon forgot about it as quickly as I’d heard about it. A week later, much to my surprise, I received an email saying that I’d been chosen as a finalist to win $10,000 and a $1,000 check was on its way. I couldn’t even remember what I said I would do for the video of me spending the cash.”

Spending the Money

“I would use a helicopter to go to a remote mountain and film myself speeding through a gnarly chute into an open powder-filled bowl,” my entry read. Not my best line of prose, but apparently it made someone stoked.

The check arrived via courier a few days later and I was given two weeks to submit the video. That was pretty much it for rules. I did have to sign a contract saying that the money would be spent toward whatever I said I would in the entry form. Now there is a first world problem if I’ve ever seen one: “We’re giving you $1,000 and you better spend it heliskiing… or else!”

This was all well and good except for the fact that it was November and the ski season had not yet started. If I’d realized that the contest finals would happen so soon I might’ve opted for something a bit more in-season. At the time I received the money, there was no snow. My options were incredibly limited. Or so I thought. Within a span of five or so days winter showed up in Whistler. A meter and a half of snow fell and conditions were basically perfect. Even more divine was the fact that there was one day before the deadline where the weather would be good enough to fly a heli. It was on.

The Drop

“The Rainbow drop” is a rite of passage for many Whistler shredders. Many people think that heli-skiing or boarding is only available through a commercial outfit. This is not the case, at least in British Columbia. And especially if you don’t mind walking. For those willing to sign their life away, the helicopter company will take you anywhere within its area. If they don’t know you, you’ll need to hire a guide. Luckily my friend was certified. And he was free that day. As you can imagine, finding other friends to join us wasn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. On a heli-drop, the pilot drops off a group and they use skins, backcountry equipment and grit to do a couple of laps. The machine would leave us in the wilderness.

The day started at 7:30 a.m. where we met at a local cafe and came up with a plan. By the time we got to the helicopter that plan was long forgotten. We were going heli-shredding!

Planning the route over breakfast and coffee. Not like we stuck to the plan, or anything.

Planning the route over breakfast and coffee. Not like we stuck to the plan, or anything.

As per our usual, we were late, which is a no-no when on a pilot’s schedule. So we rushed to the heliport as fast as possible, knowing that we needed to hustle. Before it sunk in, we were in the bird and in the air. The whole trip from valley bottom to summit (almost 7,000 vertical feet) was no more than five minutes. Once the helicopter was gone the silence set in. The feeling of pure solitude from standing on the summit of a mountain with four friends being the only souls around is a powerful one.

Flying high to the summit!

A video posted by Steve Andrews (@whererusteve) on

I have been in love with the backcountry for quite some time. It’s a bit of a contradiction to get there with such mechanized force, but I wasn’t complaining. We stood on top of one of the most massive mountains in the entire Coast Range. Whistler and Blackcomb were in sight. Every direction, it was nothing but a white canvas of alpine possibility. For those whose only experience of the Coast Mountains is within the busy lift infrastructure of Whistler and Blackcomb, it’s time to broaden the horizons and get out of the resort.

Saying goodbye to our lift.

Saying goodbye to our lift

Going Down

The feeling of riding thigh-deep powder for miles with nobody else around is pure ecstasy to those whose joy springs from the shred. In this day and age of mega-resorts, that is a complete rarity, especially for a group of dirtbag shredders who can’t exactly afford the luxury of a private helicopter every day.

Getting ready to drop into 3,000 feet of untouched powder with nobody around

Getting ready to drop into 3,000 feet of untouched powder with nobody around.

Being transported so effortlessly into the backcountry and left to our own devices is a trip in itself. Even if you have a sled you’ve gotta work to get into the alpine, especially with nobody else on the entire frickin’ mountain. If we were just on skins, under our own power, we would have started at midnight the previous evening and would be completely gassed by the time we reached the summit.

The scale of the mountain environment… it gets me every time. 🏂: @whistlerfuncab

A photo posted by Andrew Strain (@andrewstrain) on

For this day, the hard work had been done… or so we thought. We had an incredible run down, but as I said before we went south when we should have gone east. And so when it came time to split our boards and throw the skins on to tour out, we were marching on for the majority of the day. As well as the night.

Alpine sunsets are pretty, until you realize that you are a long way from home.

Alpine sunsets are pretty, until you realize that you are a long way from home.

Yes, as luck had it, our small error at the top put us back to the alpine just as the sun went down. My buddy Jon (our guide) pulled the plug on one line that was too exposed for the snow conditions and might have left us in the path of an avalanche. It was a good call but we had to find another way down, and it was now past dusk. Meaning we had over 4,000 feet of vertical through waist-deep powder and no runs, no ski patrol, or anything else to assist us with our exit. Luckily, we did all have headlamps and so we simply had to stick together and take our time getting out.

Snowboarding by headlamp. Sounds funner than it is.

Snowboarding by headlamp. Sounds funner than it is.

By the time we got to our shuttle car it was 1:30 A.M. We were exhausted, slightly delirious, and in desperate need of a warm shower. But given the same conditions and the same crew, I would do it again in a heartbeat.

The winner of the contest, and the $10,000, ended up being a couple who spent their thousand bucks getting fresh food and donating it to the food bank. A worthy cause indeed. But I’d like to think that our self-indulgence on a heli-trip was not completely out of line. We had some serious bonding moments and the best turns a group of local dirtbag shredders could ask for. The only thing deep about it was the powder, I guess. But in our own way, we improved ourselves and our friendship, which somehow, makes the world a better place. I’m sure of it.



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