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Taking it to the top

ROBERT STERN, Sun News Service

Some might suggest that skiing at 13,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada is shooting too high, but with High Sierra Heli-Skiing Tours, opportunity knocks.”This is the experience of a lifetime,” said Harry Vested, president of High Sierra. “You’re not going to get this kind of terrain at any resort.”While most heli-skiing operations simply drop skiers and snowboarders off at the top of a powder drenched mountain, High Sierra offers the opportunity for backcountry instruction from some of the most prestigious skiers on the continent. But the experience doesn’t stop there; the exploits of the rest of the eight-person staff are rooted in extreme, freestyle, mogul skiing and cross over into the film and journalism world.”We are one of the only ones in the world that offer off-piste instruction,” Vested said.The instruction is provided in conjunction with All Mountain Ski Pros owner Eric DesLauriers, who has been in more than 25 skiing movies in the past 10 years and has been a contributor to Skiing magazine since 1994. DesLauriers’ company, based out of Sugar Bowl, also offers backcountry skiing tours from Mt. Shasta to Mt. Whitney.The technique was developed by DesLauriers, his brother Rob and Harry Harb, who each teach the technique in a different part of the country. Each of the brothers has put their own personal spin on it.”We boiled it down to the fundamental movements of good skiing, the core movements of skiing, and it is possible because of the shaped skis, the evolution of skis,” DesLauriers said.But for those who simply wish to rip fresh turns and shoot down the mountain without the critiquing instruction of staff, that option too is available.A three-minute helicopter ride will take six powder hounds at a time to mountains south of Lake Tahoe to the Pine Nut and Sweet Water mountains, which consist of up to 30,000 vertical feet of untracked pleasure. Trips north of Truckee may also become available this year.”A good group will be getting dropped off every 30 to 40 minutes,” said head guide Dave Rintala, who also owns Sway Back, a guide company that does skiing trips to Alaska and France.Divided into three groups, the tours can accommodate as many as 18 people at a time.The terrain varies and depending on ability level can run the gamut from gentle intermediate slopes to tight, steep chutes and adrenaline injected cornice jumps.”It is such a unique experience to ski many, many runs of untracked powder that people just get hooked,” Rintala said with a laugh. “It happened to me.””As you’re flying in everyone will get a chance to see from the helicopter the run they will ski,” he said. “And when the helicopter flies away, everything is quiet, and you’re on top of a mountain.”High Sierra offers several packages, which can include accommodations at Harvey’s Resort & Casino. All heli-skiing tours include pre-mountain safety instruction, which includes helicopter safety, avalanche awareness and where to ski.”Before they get in the helicopter they have a real good idea of what it is we are going to do throughout the day,” Rintala said.Tours this year could start as soon as Dec. 15 and should be in full swing from January through April.AREA TOURSBoreal Mountain Resort has taken views of the Sierra Nevada to the next level with helicopter tours.West Wind Helicopter Tours will take up to four passengers at a time from the Boreal parking lot into the Northern Tahoe sky. The flight will take passengers for a 10 minute ride over Lake Van Norden, Soda Springs, Donner Pass, Mt. Judah and Donner Lake before depositing them back at Boreal.”It is beautiful up there and it gives skiers a different view that they would not be able to get from a regular day of skiing,” said Carrie Roberts, public relations for Boreal.Tickets can be purchased at Boreal Special Tickets or at the helipad site, which is located between the 49er chair lift and Playland Sledding Park. Flights are between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.


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