Three-hundred miles inside the Arctic Circle, on a tiny airfield at the north east edge of Canada’s Baffin Island, I’m sitting strapped into a tiny single-engine AS350 helicopter, about to make the world’s first commercial heliski flight this close to the North Pole. Outside, it’s minus 30C and I’m a little anxious.
In front of me, pilot Patrice’s black-visored helmet checks left then right as the rotors bite into the freezing air. We lift off slowly, hovering 6ft off the ground, swaying in a cloud of downdraft-blasted snow. Then the nose dips and we race away, heading west towards mountains; the Inuit settlement of Clyde River now far behind us, a tiny scimitar of black dots at the northern tip of frozen Patricia Bay.
I’m one of eight skiers on Weber Arctic’s inaugural helicopter expedition. For over 30 years, this family-run operator of high-end Canadian Arctic adventures has skidooed, cross-country skied and dog-sledded across Baffin’s 193,000sq mile landscape, wondering if they could ever successfully helicopter guests in to ski the epic terrain of ice caps, peaks and glaciers.
I’m about to find out. The chopper is soon skimming over a col (low ridge) between two mountains. We approach from the gently sloping side; the other side falls away in a 2,000ft cliff to a fjord below. I’m hit with a vertigo-inducing rush. Our first landing site is a col just wide and level enough to touch down on. Our skis and backpacks are hauled out of the coffin-shaped cage on the right-hand skid, and guide Laura lies across it all to shelter the kit as Patrice flies away.
After the scream of the jet turbine and the numbing vibration of the helicopter, the silence is deafening; the stillness eerie. The significance of where we are, and what we’re about to do, leaves us quietly clicking into ski bindings and repeatedly checking zips and clips. Laura marks our location on her GPS and Baffin’s first ever commercial heli drop point is recorded.
The top of the col doesn’t look promising. Battered by polar winds, it has a corrugated look, with sastrugi ridges of ice, but further down it turns to powder.
I can’t help opening out my turns to gain speed as I ride onto the glacier. The pristine snowfield isn’t steep, it flows gently downhill with no crevasses, rocky moraines or icy seracs, but it’s still exhilarating.
Waiting for Patrice to lift us from the middle of a vast glacier, we stand astride a lonely set of polar bear tracks. At this time of year, they’re heading 750 miles away to the edge of the sea ice to feed on seal pups.
Over the course of our week’s skiing we mark 32 new routes and scope out hundreds of skiing possibilities: a pretty epic virgin expedition that sets the tone for some exciting seasons to come.
How to do it
Weber Arctic offers five, week-long trips a season from 11 April-11 May 2019. It costs CAN$ 21,000per person (£12,280), including return flights from Ottawa to Clyde River via Iqaluit. The maximum group size is eight (competent off-piste skiers only).
Published in the Winter Sports guide, distributed with the November 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)