Getting there is half the fun when heliskiing in Gstaad. It might just be that one of only few female professional pilots in Switzerland is in the cockpit.
Thumbs up, a smile from the pilot and it's time for take-off in a flurry of snow. Julie May leaves us on the snow-capped Gstelli, turns the helicopter around and disappears behind the nearest mountain. The loud whirring of the blades becomes ever-quieter before it disappears altogether.
Adrenaline pumps through our bodies and a sense of euphoria takes hold. Down below is nothing but white bliss: a steep, sprawling terrain with impressive gullies and tantalising ridges, blanketed in powder as if straight out of a YouTube video.
What an experience
The story needs no embellishment to make the start of this great freeride adventure seem mystical and thrilling. We got up in the darkness of night, quickly packing up our gear and grabbing a bite to eat at the buffet before heading down to the airfield. In 2018, this will be quite different, more modern, sophisticated and fitting for Gstaad. But for now, the rustic Air-Glaciers hangar has all the glamour of a trip to Siberia.
«Are you ready for heaven on earth?»
A petite lady and her flight assistant together push the Ecureuil B3 into the open. She turns to the group and asks: “Are you ready for heaven on earth?”
«The excited anticipation of passengers before take-off fills the helicopter with tremendous energy.»
Julie May (30) is from Verbier and one of only few female helicopter pilots in Switzerland. Alongside tricky transportation assignments and rescue operations, she also regularly takes skiers up to the powder snow paradise. “Heliskiing trips are also a special treat for me,” she says once in the air, and grinning goes on to say: “The excited anticipation of passengers before take-off is infectious, with almost enough energy to fuel the helicopter!”
Live the dream!
And then suddenly we are on top of the mountain, the sound of the helicopter has almost faded into the distance and there is an enchanting silence. The mountain guide gives the starting signal and our bodies start to move. Snow flies up and wind whips around our faces as we glide effortlessly down the mountain, with the deep powder driving gentle turns against a dramatic steep backdrop. All of our senses are switched on, with our minds totally focussed on the next turn, the next jump. It feels as though nature is opening its arms and casting its magic. We are under its spell and mesmerised by joy.