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Heli-skiing in New Zealand

Special to the Daily/Tucker Burton

One summer I decided to forgo my usual mountain bike sessions, bikini tan lines and hot days in exchange for another winter season in Queenstown, New Zealand. It was an idea that had been culminating in my mind for quite some time, so when I found myself deep in the heart of the land of the “Lord of the Rings,” I couldn’t have been more thrilled. Not only was I living in one of the most gorgeous places on this earth, but I was also given the incredible opportunity to work at a heli-ski company.

As an employee of Harris Mountain Heli-Ski I was granted one glorious day of heli-skiing for free. Below is the tale of my unbelievable experience.

Right before I was about to start work for my new job, one of my supervisors texted me suggesting it would be a good idea to bring my ski stuff into town just in case they were able to sneak me in on a heli-ski. I was pretty excited, but I didn’t freak out too much because I knew it wasn’t 100 percent.

The next morning I showed up at work laden with ski gear and was informed 15 minutes later that I needed to drive straight out to the guide’s operation room. Turns out they had an extra spot on the heli that day. I stared at my supervisor for a second, and asked, “Are you freaking serious?” He said, “Yes! Now get going you are going to be late!”

I screamed, jumped up in the air and ran out the door. Going heli-skiing for free. I can’t even explain how excited I was.

I drove like a maniac out to the ops room and met up with Renee, an obvious veteran to both the ski industry and heli-skiing. He was Swiss, drove like a Formula 1 racer, and gave me a lecture about the bungee jumping wars back in the ’80s and ’90s. I knew right away I was going to get along with him great. Once we had driven entirely too fast to the Wanaka area (our loading point for the day), we were broken into groups, lectured about safety, informed how to use our transceivers and loaded one group at a time into the heli. Then, with a maddeningly fast heartbeat, whisked away into the Southern Alps.

For me, this was my first experience in a helicopter, so not only was it astonishing that I was undeniably sitting in one, but I was also rising towards the expansive snow-covered Southern Alps. As I was ogling at the beauty that began to unfold before me, I also knew I would soon be skiing down this untouched piece of land. My excitement was at the point of being combustible and I honestly felt like I was in a ski movie, though sans the 50 foot cliffs.

For our first run we landed on top of a steep ridge, rushed out and bent down as the heli flew away. As I was standing on the top of this enormous mountain looking out over all of this untouched powder IN NEW ZEALAND, I had to pinch myself just to make sure it was real.

Once we had our skis on, Renee proceeded first and off we went on our first powder run. I could not stop smiling. Being on a mountain with only a few people shredding untouched powder was quite an extraordinary experience.

Once at the bottom, we chilled out in the sun and waited for the heli to come pick us up for our second run. It was so nice to be able to do this on such a bluebird day.

For our second run, the heli flew us over to a different mountain so yet again amazing fresh tracks. Just as epic as first run, but with an additional hilarious incident.

At the bottom of the second run Renee and I stopped and took off our skis at a flat indentation in the mountain where the heli could pick us up again. One of the somewhat novice skiers that was in my group came skiing down and did not stop in time at the loading point. He flew through Renee and I and proceeded to launch himself off a 30-foot drop into a stream riverbed. Renee and I both ran to the edge, to first, see how far he fell and, secondly, to make sure he was OK. After we noticed he was all right, I could not stop laughing. The guy literally couldn’t stop and launched himself into a riverbed. Renee being the responsible one, and of course Swiss, started cussing the guy out saying it could have been an 80-foot cliff into rocks. I just kept laughing!

After Renee had helped the guy out, we flew back to the top for our third run. Halfway down we stopped in the middle of a snowfield where a gourmet, buffet lunch was set up.

For our fourth, and last run of the day, we headed to yet another untouched powdery slope. At the top of the ridge, I found myself thinking, “Is this seriously happening?” The view was astounding and the landscape was so remote and peaceful. After I finished gawking at the scenery, we ripped down our last run and much to my dismay; one of the best days of my life was over.

Tucker Burton, who hails from Breckenridge, graduated from Middlebury College in 2009 with a political science degree. Following graduation she headed to New York City where she had a job offer in the fashion industry. After being laid off due to the dismal economic climate, she decided to travel the world. This ranged from living and working in New Zealand to backpacking around Southeast Asia.