BC Heli-Biking

Words by Nic “U-Turn” Hall // Photos by Hames Ellerbe

I always look forward to the first BC trip of the year. The upper mountain at Whistler is just opening, and the Pemberton trails are running perfectly. We’ve developed a solid crew that all chip in for a house and we rally up for a week of ripping. Transition bikes is usually our first stop to grab a beer and a quick evening pedal. Bellingham is always worth the stop, it offers a huge array of trails, good beer, and a solid choice of taco trucks. Plus, the guys at Transition are always down to pedal around after work. During our ride we told them about our goal of getting a heli-drop during our days in BC. No one in our group had ever been on a helicopter shuttle before. Heli-access biking, which was once reserved for pros and those with deep pockets, is becoming more and more mainstream and we wanted to try. The Transition guys offered their advice and said that one ride stands out above the rest: Disneyland. They said the epithet rang true, and that the trail is a true backcountry, alpine adventure that has a little something for everyone.

After a quick border delay, we skirted Vancouver on our way north and pulled into our house an hour or so later. We always overlook the finer details of fitting two trucks full of bikes into a house for six guys, but luckily a tailgate pad and a couch did the trick with just enough room to sit down and edit photos. Of course, any stop in Whistler has to start with a day in the park. The park was running perfectly and we rode the upper trails all day on big bikes, finishing with a few beers at GLC. We had to head in early (an early night in Whistler is anything before 2am) to make lunches and be up for the shuttle pickup at 0700 the next morning.

Coffee Break

Coffee was our priority before calling the guys at Black Tusk Helicopters and to work out the logistics. The word came back that the landing zone was obscured with low clouds and we would have to hold for a while, which gave us time to get some breakfast and more coffee in Squamish before heading over to Black Tusk. The helicopter showed up within half an hour and the pilot thought we would have a weather window long enough to make the drop. We quickly lashed the six bikes and got our preflight briefing. The most memorable line was, “See those switches right there? If we crash and I’m all fucked up, hit them.”

Heli-Drop in heli shot

On our way up, we saw that most of the upper trails were still covered in snow, with only the rocky peaks poking through. None of us had ever been on the trail before and the only info the pilot could add was in relation to where he usually drops riders. He identified a safe landing zone and we unloaded under a hot rotor system. Despite working on a helicopter for 10 years, having a heli lift off while you are under it never gets old. As we gathered and waited for our bikes to be dropped on the third trip, we noticed a thick layer of clouds headed over the ridge we were on. Just as it was approaching, the Pilot popped up from the valley and made a quick drop of our bikes. Then there was silence on Goat Ridge.

We identified a large lake on our way up to the drop off, it was one of the main features that ties the Britannia trail system together. Because the upper trails were snow covered, we chose the drainage that looked like it had the least snow and made our way down. The snow proved for some good crashes but receded quickly as we descended onto some of the best alpine single track in the world.

As the clouds chased us down the ridge, the primitive trail wound through alpine scrub pines and scree fields. It truly felt like we were deep in the backcountry. A crystal-clear lake met us at the shoulder of the ridge where the map showed two trails. One trail would take us directly down into Britannia and the other looked to wind around and possibly head toward Squamish. What we didn’t realize is that the trail we choose was about to drop 3000 feet in a mile and a half. At one point, I looked down to see moto tire marks in a near vertical chute. Only later after talking with some locals did we find out that these trails were established and now maintained by an active group of trials riders. Thanks for the heads up guys!

It didn’t take long to realize that this is an 80% trail where you have to hold yourself back a little because if you get hurt, it’s going to take another helicopter to get you out. After a few near-death experiences and some serious brake fade, we came out into a fresh logging cut that paralleled the trail. We must have linked back up with the Disneyland trail at this point, because it truly lived up to its name. Roots and loam with rocky chutes and steep granite rollovers put this trail pretty far up my top 10 list. After 4 hours of riding, we came to a glacial river and jumped in to cool off and soak the hands. It was a quick ride down a paved trail to Britannia Beach, where there’s a fish and chips place with cold beer at the store next to it.

You’d be hard pressed to find a more memorable way to spend 175 bucks. It was a genuine, unfiltered adventure. The experiences had may not have been “earned” in the traditional sense of climbing to the top, but the hours-long descent in remote terrain embody everything we love about mountain biking. Being in the wilderness exploring with your friends and having fun on two wheels. I’m ready to go back.

Rider shreds through the trees