Growing up in Stuttgart, Germany, Dr. Jan Klingele loved the ski vacations his family took to Zürs, Austria.
He loved skiing so much that he chose to attend university in Switzerland, at the University of St. Gallen. It was then he decided heli-skiing was something he had to do. So he suggested it to his friends.
“We said let’s do that when we have our pre-diplomas [Bachelor’s degrees],” Jan recalls. “But then we got our Bachelors and we said, ah, it’s very expensive, it’s far away. Maybe we should postpone it until we finish our Masters.”
After years of excuses, with PhDs and good jobs – he runs Klingele Papierwerke in Stuttgart, the packaging business his grandfather founded – Jan finally convinced one friend they should wait no longer.
But which company should they choose?
“We had heard of the big ones – Mike Wiegele, CMH, friends had gone with them,” Jan said. “Then we got hold of a print copy of American Powder magazine, and they had a list comparing the different heli-skiing companies.”
They contacted six companies and received letters back by mail – the norm in the mid-1990s.
“We decided Great Canadian was the best, based on the small groups, unlimited vertical and a reasonable package price,” Jan said. “The only bad thing then was we had to stay in Golden, there was no lodge.”
Despite the 45-minute drive each way to and from town, he loved the skiing.
“We had really fantastic skiing, lots of fun,” Jan said. “We came back, and during our skiing week in the second year , I told Wayne [Bingham, founder and original owner], really Wayne, you should get a lodge and if you need some help for that, you can ask me. Wayne came back not much later and said yes, I’m going to build a lodge.”
To help finance construction, Wayne sold three, five and 10-year pre-payment plans to some of his guests.
“At that time, it looked quite risky and I was wondering whether Wayne, who seemed to be much more a guide than a sharp businessman, would be still in business five years later,” Jan remembers. “But since I had opened my mouth, I felt I had to help, so I bought a 10-year prepayment. Looking back, it was an excellent investment.”
A regular Great Canadian skier ever since, in April Jan will celebrate his 100th ski day, a milestone that will grant him a pair of Prior skis courtesy of the Powder Privileges Program.
Preferring to ski in springtime, over 17 weeks he’s only experienced three down days.
“In spring the days are longer, there’s more chance of sunshine, fewer down days, and very good snow.”
His most memorable week happened one April.
“It had snowed the week before and it was beautiful, fresh snow, lots of sunshine. We were only five guests. We skied tons! Three of those five have now hit 100 days.”
Overall, his favourite run is Poached Eggs, because “It’s very steep, in the open alpine, and in many years it’s not stable enough to ski. We don’t go there often, so it’s a treat to be able to ski it.”
A rare breed of skier, Jan brings his own Atomic Nomad Crimson Ti skis mounted with Marker touring bindings, and skis on Great Canadian’s Armarda JJs only half the time.
While he enjoys staying fit, he recalls being a bit nervous about the demands of heli-skiing the first year.
“We had heard the stories of other people going heli-skiing in Canada and how difficult it was, how challenging it was, how tired they were in the end,” he recalls. “So we trained hard to be prepared. We went to the gym, we went to exercise classes, we went running. We were totally over-trained. The other skiers were not half as fit as us, but with the wide skis, they could ski.”
With energy to spare, Jan began a hobby he continues to this day, running the hour-long round trip down to the river and back, sometimes with fellow guests Yolanda Labia and 100-day veteran Kevin Edwards.
And why does he love heli-skiing?
“I love the feeling of being out there, of going down the hill, the effortlessness, the speed and the feel of fresh snow,” Jan says. “Also, I like the feeling of being out in nature, being in the mountains far away from everything.”
What’s the best advice Jan has for novice heli-skiers?
“If you come from far away, go for a week if it’s affordable. Don’t be afraid, it’s not so difficult. And don’t wait too long, just go there and do it!”