Photos by Mattias Fredriksson

Pillow skiing is now a thing. Few do it better than British Columbia’s Mica Heli Skiing.

In case you’ve somehow dodged all visual representations of skiing over the past 20 years, here’s what you missed: pillow skiing is now officially a thing.

Students of the Schmidtian steep-and-deep ethos were mildly disappointed in the new millennium when imagery for everything from hard goods advertising to helmet cam edits migrated from balls-to-the-wall Alaskan spines into fat, airy cushions, but their chagrin didn’t last long: depending on the line, pillows can be just as challenging as spines, or can provide simple low-key fun, and from an aspirational standpoint, more
attainable. Those keeping track of taglines from the era well knew that the biggest and best pillows dished in magazines and movies were found at a British Columbia operation called Mica Heli Guides.

 


“Mica has a vast 300,000 acre tenure on the western side of the Rocky Mountains featuring seven drainages packed with massive peaks and glaciers.”


2016-10-27_0928By the mid-2000s, everyone wanted to go to Mica in the way everyone wanted to go to Fernie’s Island Lake Lodge in the mid-1990s. This was no coincidence. When it launched in 2003, Mica was the latest venture of Island Lake Lodge founder Dan McDonald. Like his original brainchild, Mica spawned a media circus: Where he’d focused on redefining and elevating the cat skiing experience at Island Lake, McDonald similarly refined small-group
heli-skiing at Mica, creating another legendary destination. Over several visits I remained in thrall of the 95-mile wilderness drive from Revelstoke. The scenic fly-in offered affirmation that Mica was indeed a special place; I was picked up by helicopter at the edge of sprawling Kinbasket Lake and flown across to the original wooden lodge, perched with its adjacent chalet on a bench high above the water.

On a more recent visit, that same bump to what is now Mica Heli skiing established just how much “special” had evolved: In place of the familiar lodge stood a modern slate edifice not a bit out of place in the wilderness, its interior the kind of urban chic more often encountered in a boutique hotel. Mica, it seemed, had one-upped itself.

Mica Heli SkiingThe Mica routine has always been to arrive around noon, tuck into a satisfying lunch while being briefed, then squeeze in some skiing. While the food at Mica’s new digs was as good as ever, the visual menu was all new. Despite a greatly enlarged dining area overhung by massive fir beams and featuring floor-to-ceiling windows, the double plank tables and low slung lamps somehow preserved a homey feel. It was bluebird out, however, so little time was wasted commenting on design miracles as we wolfed down soup and sandwiches before a test foray into the snow.

Just around the corner from the lodge lies the Harvey Creek drainage, home to some of Mica’s most diverse terrain. The massive diversity of runs offers something for every skier who visits, and favorites like wide-open Harvey Hound and thigh-burning Big Willy, Mica’s longest run with a 5,250 foot descent. Plus there are the pillows, the steep, stepping-stone spines, and the trees of Pillow Talk, Harvey Wallbanger, and, of course, Mr. Wiggles — featured in so many films that even if they’re not skiing in the vicinity, guests ask to be flown over to see it.

Given that it’s the only place with the proper mix of massive rockfall and super-deep snow, pillow skiing is really a B.C. thing, and those known for chopping their way down its most sacred lines are a particular breed of “slumberjack” — Mark Abma, Chris Rubens, Eric Hjorliefson, Mike Douglas, and Tanner Hall have all charted star film segments on Mica pillows.

Mica HeliOn my first trip here a decade ago we’d been dropped in this same spot. We’d all known the statistics — a vast 300,000 acre tenure on the western side of the Rocky Mountains featuring seven drainages packed with massive peaks and glaciers — but nothing prepared us for what we saw. Looking east toward 12,001 foot Mount Clemenceau had been like staring into the heart of the Swiss Alps: the crazy, fluted peak that hovered in front of us was pure Alaska; elsewhere were elements of the Coast Range and Himalayas. In one circling gaze, Mica’s terrain blew our fragile, back-bowl conditioned minds. And then, as now, so did the skiing — a field of easy-angled drops in perfect powder, each of which yielded both a whoop and billowing explosion.

Day two of this trip would be spent in the Molson drainage, and it would be just as good, despite it being only mid-December; 40 to 60 feet of snow annually makes for an earlier, deeper, drier, more stable snowpack than much of the surrounding B.C. Interior. But at Mica, powder is only the beginning.

Mica Heli SkiingBack at the lodge, exquisite gourmet food prepared by an expert culinary team is omnipresent; an ever-evolving menu featuring internationally influenced Rocky Mountain cuisine. Liquor is decidedly high-end and includes an excellent scotch collection, B.C.’s best boutique wines, and a wide choice of locally brewed craft beers. With only 20 guests per tour, Mica provides a personalized experience with a 1:1 staff to guest ratio. Such hospitality and five-star amenities required a home, and a new lodge was it.Vancouver-based CEI Architecture designed the new facility and was also responsible for its interior design, which features wood, stone — from legendary Mount Robson no less — and leather in a rich, natural color palate.

The 14,000-square-foot lodge wraps the remaining chalet and includes 12 luxury suites, staff accommodation, various common areas, a business center, kitchen, bar, dining room, lounge, ski shop, and fitness area. Building on suggestions collected over the years, much time and energy went toward reducing the new building’s carbon footprint and making it energy efficient. As interesting is the decoration from B.C. artists: commissioned original art, decorative local metalworks, woodworking by a longboard builder, and salvaged Persian rugs repurposed into a large, quilt-like carpet.


“The project exceeded my every expectation,” says longtime Mica investor and current owner Patrick Callahan, who dropped $14 million-plus on the new lodge. “There isn’t a single thing I would change. It is truly a magnificent piece of art.”


Waiting for weather to clear next day, we lounged comfortably around the fireplace in “the corner” until the crack of noon, at which point we bee-lined back to the Harvey drainage and the Rock Garden, a truncated ridge of pillow lines down fat, car-sized rocks. This time we worked our way from short shots to the bigger stuff. It was all in the shade by this time, but despite a stiff wind we kept warm. Poof, poof, poof. So many drops, so much effort. Enough, in fact, to make one sleepy. But with pillows the new fashion in face-shots, who has time for sleep?

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