With its huge snowpack and vast size, California’s Sierra Nevada mountains are one of the great ski and snowboard destinations in the lower 48—home to Squaw Valley, Heavenly, Kirkwood, Mammoth Mountain and other famed resorts. Until now, however, this legendary range has been off limits to heli skiers. Thanks to Pacific Crest Heli-Guides, now in its third winter of operation, California’s High Sierra is open for business.
Based in Truckee, Calif., Pacific Crest Heli operates on 100,000 acres in the vicinity of Donner Pass, Castle Peak and the Sierra Buttes—terrain that founder Dave “Happy” Rintala knows like his own backyard. Rintala is the operator and lead guide for Pacific Crest Snowcats, which has run powder tours in the Tahoe backcountry for 10 seasons.
Heli runs vary from wide-open bowls to steep north-facing chutes and couloirs to well-spaced trees. San Francisco and Los Angeles powder chasers no longer must travel to Alaska, BC or elsewhere to bag untracked turns in the deep backcountry. And Truckee, with its abundant restaurants and watering holes including the Bar of America, offers abundant opportunities to brag about the day’s adventures in the High Sierra over a pint.
If You Go:
Travel: Pacific Crest Heli is based out of Donner Summit. Private groups can also depart from South Lake Tahoe Airport and Reno-Tahoe International Airport for an additional charge.
Basic Package: $899 per person includes guide, beacon, lunch and six to eight runs (typically 10,000 to 12,000 vertical feet)
Years in Biz: PCH is entering its third season although sister operation Pacific Crest Snowcats has operated in Lake Tahoe for more than a decade.
Size of Tenure: 100,000 acres.
Snowfall: 500 average annual inches, with a whopping 800 inches in 2010/2011.
Size of Group: Four skiers/riders of similar ability, plus a guide.
Guarantee: 1.2 Hobbs hours of flight time (eight runs or 10,000 to 12,000 vertical feet). Advanced reservations are guaranteed a seat on the snowcat should high winds or weather ground the helicopter.
How they Charge: The “Ultimate Powder Mission Package,” $1,817 per person, includes five nights at the Cedar House Sport Hotel, one day of heli skiing, one day of snowcat riding and lift tickets for two days at either [R5R, Alpine Meadows], [R299R, Northstar], [R432R, Sugar Bowl] or Squaw Valley, plus breakfast daily and one dinner.