In skiing parlance, big air usually refers to launching off of large slope side jumps. B.C.'s Revelstoke Mountain Resort has taken the concept a step -- make that a giant leap -- further. If you've ever wondered what it feels like to fly, soaring thousands of feet above the valley floor, a tandem paragliding flight off the resort's upper slopes with Revelstoke Paragliding offers you an eagle's eye view of the largest vertical in North America.
Photo credit: ZoyaPhoto
Strapped securely together on a cloudless mid-winter morning, paragliding pilot Chris Delsworth and I point our skis downhill in unison and take off, rising effortlessly from a slope near the summit of Mount Mackenzie and into thin air. Beneath us sprawls Canada's newest ski resort -- 1,713 metres of lift-accessed terrain, 3,121 acres of fall line skiing, two high alpine bowls and 65 named runs, including great green swaths of glades and perfectly pitched freeway-wide groomers that seem to go on forever. Beyond lies the mighty Columbia River, snaking around the historic railway town of Revelstoke, two hours north of Kelowna and five hours west of Calgary.
Thirty minutes of thrilling swoops, glides and descending corkscrews later we gently touch down beside the resort's mid-mountain Revolution Lodge. Exhilarated from my first paragliding adventure, I'm on top of the world as Chris unbuckles us from the deflated chute. Despite the epic terrain on offer, the rest of the day can't help be downhill after this lofty experience.
Paragliding isn't the only high flying winter adventure on offer at Revelstoke. With half a million acres of exclusive tenure, the Resort's Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing offers another spectacular way to experience the majestic beauty of the Selkirk and Monashee Mountains that surround Revelstoke. Plenty of powder on high altitude glacier runs awaits me the next morning as I board one of their Bell 212 choppers, bound for the ultimate downhill thrill.
Photo credit: Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing
It turns out to be a perfect bluebird day. Along for the ride of a lifetime are several European and American skiers and boarders -- all first-time heli-skiers -- along with two of Selkirk Tangiers' most seasoned guides. Fresh from an hour of mandatory avalanche rescue orientation, we're all eager to reach our own private powder playground of huge, untouched bowls surrounded by a vast alpine wilderness of wintry white that resort-bound skiers can only imagine.
Helicopters first carried adventurous skiers high into British Columbia's mountains over 50 years ago. Today, more than 90 per cent of heli-skiing operations call Western Canada's immense ranges home, making us the world capital of backcountry bliss. On run after glorious run, we descend down gleaming glacier faces, only to be scooped up and deposited again on mountain tops with panoramic views to die for. My first time companions are clearly delighted.
"I was amazed when we first exited the helicopter how huge and untouched everything was" says a delighted Chris Deary, a futures trader from Chicago. "You're on top of the world".
"It's a totally amazing life experience," adds his buddy, Jeff Hansen, a civil engineer from Michigan. "And the guides made us feel totally safe."
Instant converts to the ultimate alpine thrill, both men say they hope to return to Revelstoke for another opportunity to tackle the legendary steeps and deeps here in one of the epicentres of world-class heli-skiing.
So do I, although memories of my gravity-defying paragliding flight off the slopes of Canada's latest and greatest big mountain skiing Mecca just might muffle the sound of that chopper's blades in my powder dreams.
If you go
The only resort in the world to offer lift, cat, heli- and backcountry skiing from one village base, Revelstoke Mountain Resort offers North America's greatest vertical at 1,713 metres (5,620 ft). Opened in March, 2009 in the base village, The Sutton Place Hotel provides ski-in, ski-out luxury condominium-style accommodations and three on-site dining options just minutes from downtown Revelstoke.
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