Heliskiing Lake Tahoe's Fresh Powder
For the first time ever, a local business is offering full-scale helicopter skiing and snowboarding operations to the Truckee/Tahoe area.
By Jason Shueh, Tahoe Magazine
Powder: Tahoe’s white gold. It’s what drives winter alarm clocks, what sends skiers into a morning freeze, out of warmed cars, into whited parking lots, hands numb, fingers clasping at ski and pole, filing into the resorts and lift lines, waiting, anticipating, calculating the rush and madness of the first virgin run.
It’s an experience Tahoe resident Dave Rintala loves and questions.
“The thing that I like to think about is that when skiing was first originated and birthed, it was about powdered snow,” said Rintala.
That vision changed, he said, after skiing ignited and exploded into what is today, a multi-million dollar mega industry. It changed when the lift lines began extending into parking lots and the lumbering rumble of grooming machines echoed into the pines.
Unopposed to progression, Rintala said he understands the need for lifts and grooming in modern resorts but has always hungered for another way, the alternate route beyond the crowds and into the powder.
It’s a desire that led him to create Pacific Crest Snowcats, a snowcat ski touring company based in Tahoe City — and new for this upcoming season, Tahoe/Truckee’s first helicopter skiing operation, Pacific Crest Heli-Guides.
Rintala said the business — which will operate out out of Truckee Tahoe Airport — will allow skiers and snowboarders to traverse 100,000 acres of remote terrain along the Sierra crest between Interstate 80 and the Sierra Butte. It’s a spacious playground considering the skiable acreage of Tahoe’s 14 ski resorts totals just fewer than 25,000 acres. With an expected season of Dec. 15 to April 15, Rintala said he anticipates 200 to 260 hours of helicopter time, with 16 guests per day, one guide every four skiers
“I really feel that it’s helping the Tahoe area to truly develop into a world-class operation,” he said.
As Rintala sees it, the region has almost every variety of skiing amenity except for heli-skiing. The addition, he said, will fill a gap in the region and be yet another draw for ski tourism.
Yet putting powder at your finger tips comes with a price — $899 per person to be exact, a day trip price large enough to separate the mere recreationalists from the seasoned diehards.
Despite the hefty cost, Rintala said it is comparable for most heli-skiing operations in the country, and brings with it a skiing experience equally comparable with its price tag.
More than just a day of great skiing and laughs, Rintala said his clients will be making an investment in skiing technique and skiing education, as guides will be instructing on topics such as rescue techniques, snow structure and team building throughout the tour.
“What they go home with is a greater level of confidence and greater knowledge of their surroundings,” Rintala said.
When tours get under way, Rintala said he intends to be respectful of other backcountry skiers and animal wildlife, moving locations as needed to preserve snow conditions and reduce encroachment on backcountry skiers who’ve hiked great distances for similar powder conditions.
“The investment in sweat to get to an area is worth far more than the investment of jet fuel,” Rintala said.
This past winter Tahoe boasted more than 600 inches of snow. Asked about this year’s winter conditions, Rintala said he is hoping for the best but is prepared for whatever comes, feast or famine.
The skiing will even be possible during storm cycles when flying conditions are less than optimal or even grounding. To guarantee clients full days of skiing, the company has linked helicopter operations to its snowcat operations.
“I’m expecting the winter to be early, strong and long — but if you ask any of my friends they’ll tell you that’s what I always say,” Rintala said laughing.