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It's an opportunity for skiers to go where no other skiers have been for two decades.
Breton Air, in partnership with Ski Cape Smokey, is planning a heli-skiing event Friday and Saturday, where skiers will be taken for 15-minute tours of the area and then dropped off on top of Cape Smokey for a skiing venture to remember.
The top of the hill has not been accessible by skiers for 20 years now, due to the chair lift to the top of the mountain not being operational.
“We’re going to bring you to the top — quite excitingly, I think, with a helicopter — to a bit more of an exclusive area for skiing itself,” said Martin Kejval, project manager and general director for Cape Smokey Holding Ltd., the development group that purchased Ski Cape Smokey this past summer. “So then you can ski it all the way down. It’s the first heli-skiing in Atlantic Canada and maybe even this side of the coast, period. It’s going to be an exciting day, something no one has done over here.”
The top of the hill allows for a 300-vertical drop. Kejval said that's among the biggest hills in Atlantic Canada.
The event will start at 12:30 p.m. Cost is $180 a person plus HST. There will be a check-in at the ski lodge. People will be given a safety briefing and then escorted to the landing site.
After skiing down the hill, people can gather in the lodge, there will be music going on and the kitchen and bar will be open. Kejval said it will be an exciting experience overall.
Spots can be reserved on Breton Air’s website, www.Bretonair.com.
As usual, the regular skiing sections of the hill available to the public will be open.
After many unsuccessful attempts to reopen the hill, Ski Cape Smokey resumed operations in February 2011, with limited parts of the mountain available for local skiers. Cape Smokey had been operating as a community-run ski hill, with volunteers running all aspects of the hill's operation from the grooming to the kitchen, rental shop and operating the pommel lift.
A group of Czech businessmen — Cape Smokey Holding Ltd. — purchased Ski Cape Smokey from the province in the summer at a cost of $370,000 with plans to transform the ski hill and replace the lodge on the 162 hectares of property. An aging chairlift will also be switched out with an enclosed gondola. The official opening of the transformed Ski Cape Smokey will be in 2021.
Parker Horton, CEO of Breton Air, said the idea for heli-skiing came while hanging around with Kejval at Ski Cape Smokey, chatting about business opportunities.
Horton said, without a lift in place for so long to get people to the top of the hill, the heli-skiing idea was simply a "no-brainer."
“It’s a really good opportunity to collaborate and showcase the area,” he said, adding the place is booming, with a beerfest and mountain bike race at Ski Cape Smokey last weekend.
A maximum of five people at a time will be loaded into the helicopter for 15-minutes scenic tours including views of the highland’s cliffs and the area's beautiful scenery.
“We have capacity for six, but we like everybody to have a window seat, that’s why we go down to five,” he said. “When we come back we’re going to land them on top of the hill.”
In the meantime, a snowmobile would have transported skis and other equipment to the top of the hill.
“Then they’ll have a full run to the bottom of the hill.”
Right now, two hours of flying is being planned, which would include eight groups each day. However, if the demand is there, more tours will be added. After the event, Horton said they’ll gauge the interest and, if the interest is there, they’ll look at continuing to schedule future events.
Something that will surprise people on the tour?
“I think everything will surprise them,” Hortons said. “I think people are going to love it because we get asked all the time to do tours up in that region. This is combining the scenic tour and taking advantage of everything Ski Cape Smokey has to offer.”
Matt Wallace, president and chief pilot of Breton Air, said the skiing conditions will be great for heli-skiing because of the higher snowfall annually in the highlands, Ski Cape Smokey gets a really good base early season. There have been five snowstorms since Christmas, he said.
“All of the Glades — sparse tree areas — makes for really good skiing,” he said. “All of the fresh powder and the good conditions the hill will be in, everyone who takes part will be able to get 'first tracks.'”
Wallace said that means the skiers who do get off the helicopter and pop on their skis or their snowboard will be able to make their way down the hill in unmarked snow.
“It's going to be a really cool experience as if you were going to be the first person to go down the hill in every position you go down,” he added.
As well, Wallace said, he has been asked if people can just do the tour, which they can. Those people will land with the group but then will be taken back down to the bottom of the hill.
Wallace said the skiing will be an adventure to remember, as well as the tour.
"In the 15-minute tour we'll have time to go see Ingonish, Keltic Lodge, Smokey mountain and," he added in a light manner, "hopefully a moose in the highlands."
IF YOU GO...
- Heli-skiing at Ski Cape Smokey, Friday and Saturday
- Event begins at 12:30 p.m. with 15-minute tours of the area by helicopter for groups of five.
- Skiers will be dropped off at the top of Cape Smokey where they can ski down.
- Cost is $180 a person plus HST. People can reserve their spot on the Breton Air website at www.Bretonair.com.