Ask any heli ski guide about the challenges that come with their job and they will tell you how, for each and every run, they must work to balance safety and group dynamics, while delivering excitement and epic turns. All the while they need to constantly observe the changing conditions in the mountains and making decisions accordingly.
Now, change that equation. Guests that not only want to ski down the mountains, but want to do it hanging under a nylon wing resembling a paraglider, lifting off and touching down on the snow several times during the course of each run. The sport is called speed flying or speed riding. Its awesome to watch and it definitely adds spice to a guide’s job.
Clair Israelson started guiding Benny Abruzzo’s ‘Flying Circus’ at Northern Escape four years ago. The group consists of Benny Abruzzo, one of the founding partners at NEH, and the clowns, a carefully selected group of adventurous friends. Together over the years they have worked out the logistics of heli assisted speed riding.
“The format is not that difficult,” Clair explains, “Everyone just has to have a clear plan for how they want to execute their flight.” The group skis each run first before flying it. They get to see the terrain up close, discuss how to manage any hazards, feel the winds from top to bottom, and discuss alternatives in case Plan A goes sour. At the launch site another group discussion takes place about any considerations having to do with take-off techniques. “The guys are good, and we’re all learning more every year,” Clair says smiling. “The next part is the weird part. The flyers take off down the run ahead of me, and I have absolutely no control over anything they do, completely different from normal heli-ski guiding.”
Clair skis down last, running sweep in the event that someone might need help mid-slope, or not make it to the intended landing. “Its awesome, here I am skiing down the mountain with no guests behind me. I’m able to ski as fast or as slow as I wish. No worries, no pressure. What could be better than that?”