When asked what he loves about skiing with Great Canadian, Greg Wallace reels off his list… “The terrain, the powder, the food, the guides, the staff, the terrain, the powder… kinda in that order,” he replies.
He wasn’t always so enthusiastic about skiing; his parents remember dragging him screaming and crying to the hill. But later, when he didn’t make the University of Colorado soccer club, he joined the ski club. “This is where drinkers with a skiing problem meet skiers with a drinking problem,” he says. “However, 80 days a season, for five years – yes, five – you really get to hone your skills.” With improved skills, his love for skiing blossomed.
Heli-skiing however, was an awkward start. Freshly graduated in 1987 he schlepped his gear to New Zealand to ski at Mount Cook. More a sharp-edged racer than a powder surfer, he struggled on his 203 slalom skis. “The first run, well, you can imagine, sucked,” Greg recalls. “I kept auguring in, catching tips, too much pressure on the downhill ski. Second run was much better; I wasn’t used to sitting in the seat, which is what it kind of took to keep those skinny ski tips up. I started to get the feeling.” Unfortunately, the helicopter blades refused to get spinning. After a long wait the guides decided everyone should bootpack 1,500 vertical feet up to the heli before dark. “Hours later, wet, tired and the sunlight dimming, we reached the machine,” Greg describes. “I got to know the other three guests pretty well as we huddled in the machine waiting to get rescued. After some time the guides poured Jet A on the snow and lit it on fire. Still no contact. We began to prepare for a night on the mountain.” Finally, just before midnight two helicopters rescued everyone. Greg keeps the newspaper article in his files.
In the mid-1990s, he tried again with his two brothers and his uncle, Larry, skiing out of Revelstoke. “They had record snow and it was an awesome trip,” he recalls. “But the groups were large and we were always held up by the slowest skier.” Back home in Aspen, Larry ran into Ruth and Dave Hoff, perennial guests of Great Canadian, who told him about the small group outfit. They soon booked. “It was love at first ski,” Greg says. “Now, I always feel at home when I arrive. I even was able to stay in one of their cabins a few years back. I would suggest getting one of those if you can.”
On Greg’s first visit, Wayne Bingham (founding owner and guide), instructed the group to ski non-stop down Eggs Benedict. When they had their rhythm, he told them to shut their eyes. “Shut your eyes and just ski. Talk about Zen!” Greg exclaims.
Living in Jackson Hole, Greg aims to ski 20 to 25 days prior to arriving at Great Canadian, complimented by some gym visits. “The first run of each trip, I am a little nervous,” he admits. “But then, as many trips have been, knee-deep – it all comes back. It’s worth every penny.”
A challenge of skiing with Great Canadian, he divulges, is heli-belly.“I mean, we need to be nourished to ski all day, but when you’re fed gourmet meals every night with a nice bottle of wine, plus being on an epic vacation, calorie counting is out the window,” he says, adding, “I don’t think powder skiing really burns that many calories, if you do it right.”
The fun, naturally, is in the practicing. His most memorable run happened following guide Greg Golovach.“The pow was pretty epic that year. I cannot remember the run, but it was steep and it was deeeeeep. The slope rolled over and I was literally free falling through the pow. Every turn was choking me out. You could almost straight-line it and still not get speed. It’s a feeling I have never experienced before or since. I’m still searching and hoping every year.”
And what else draws him back? “It’s all about the POW and terrain. And of course seeing the guides, many who I’ve known longer than some of my good friends at home.”
Hitting his 100th day this season with Powder Privileges – that’s gravy. “Like frequent flyer miles, you got braggin’ rights. A million miles or 100 days. Some outfits do a million vertical feet, but with the unlimited vert GCH has, you can hit that in six good years or so.”
Any advice for new heli-skiers?
“Listen, follow the guides. And then go for it!”