Sports

Heli-Paddling Is The Coolest and Newest Extreme Sport You’ve Never Heard Of

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Heli-paddler and helicopter

The helicopters carry athletes and inflatable paddleboards to remote backcountry lakes

Credit: Mirae Campbell/Blackcomb Helicopters

If you love the idea of accessing remote backcountry terrain but don’t have the skills needed to ski your way down a steep mountain, you may want to give heli-paddleboarding a try the next time you’re in British Columbia. The sport, which involves carrying inflatable paddleboards to remote lakes and rivers via helicopter, is far more accessible to the average person than heli-skiing. Unlike with heli-skiing, you need only minimal athletic skill to be a heli-paddler; there’s no need to have impeccable balance or years of experience.

“You don’t have to be very good at all. Paddleboards are friendly for most guests,” says Jordy Norris, 28, sales and marketing manager at Whistler, B.C.-based Blackcomb Helicopters. Founded in 1989, the company has more than 70 employees and offers a full range of helicopter-assisted sports, from heli-hiking to heli-skiing and heli-yoga. But heli-paddling is their newest offering, thanks to a recent partnership with Red Paddle Co. out of Squamish, B.C. Their paddleboards are durable and sturdy, and pack up into specially made rugged backpacks, making them easier to carry into remote terrain. According to Norris, their ability to introduce the trips was a combination of having access to advanced paddleboard technology from Red Paddle Co. and from having an intimate knowledge of the mountains and lakes around Whistler.

“We’ve been offering heli-picnics for years, and with the new technology of quickly inflating paddleboards, we knew that these high-alpine, Mediterranean-blue lakes could be used for so much more,” says Norris.

Blackcomb is the first company to offer heli-paddling tours in the Whistler area. The company has run at least one trip a day since they opened for booking in early August.

Heli-paddling trips leave from the company’s Whistler helipad and take guests on an approximately 15-minute flight across Whistler’s backcountry, passing over ancient glaciers and snow-capped mountains. The helicopters, which hold four guests plus a guide, land next to a remote lake inaccessible by vehicles or on foot. Guests are served a sprawling gourmet picnic catered by the luxury Fairmont Château Whistler hotel before the paddleboards are inflated. After a tutorial on how to get started paddling, the guide takes attendees on a tour of the lake, stopping in a few places to swim and cliff jump. The entire trip takes about three hours, and Blackcomb buys credits to ensure all flights are carbon-neutral.

Sightseeing helicopter tours start around $179, which Norris says allows for everyone from families with small children to retirees and senior citizens to enjoy the backcountry views. However, with heli-adventures, the Blackcomb audience skews a bit more young and active. “When it comes to more adventurous products like heli-paddelboarding or backcountry flights with skis or bikes,” says Norris, “we certainly see a shift to the thrill-seeking, athletic types.” The heli-paddle and picnic trips are also more expensive at CA$1,250 per couple; another reason they appeal to more dedicated outdoor enthusiasts.

If you can’t make it to Whistler, there are a few companies around the country offering a similar experience – but not that many. Liquid Adventures runs helicopter-assisted trips during the summer months near Seward, Alaska, and in Hawaii, Paradise Helicopters can arrange trips to paddle or kayak at a hidden waterfall. However, the sport is still relatively new and isn’t a standard offering from most helicopter operators. “We have seen this done before, but not in the Whistler area,” says Norris. “And likely not in such beautiful surroundings.”

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Heli-paddler and helicopter

The helicopters carry athletes and inflatable paddleboards to remote backcountry lakes

Credit: Mirae Campbell/Blackcomb Helicopters

If you love the idea of accessing remote backcountry terrain but don’t have the skills needed to ski your way down a steep mountain, you may want to give heli-paddleboarding a try the next time you’re in British Columbia. The sport, which involves carrying inflatable paddleboards to remote lakes and rivers via helicopter, is far more accessible to the average person than heli-skiing. Unlike with heli-skiing, you need only minimal athletic skill to be a heli-paddler; there’s no need to have impeccable balance or years of experience.

“You don’t have to be very good at all. Paddleboards are friendly for most guests,” says Jordy Norris, 28, sales and marketing manager at Whistler, B.C.-based Blackcomb Helicopters. Founded in 1989, the company has more than 70 employees and offers a full range of helicopter-assisted sports, from heli-hiking to heli-skiing and heli-yoga. But heli-paddling is their newest offering, thanks to a recent partnership with Red Paddle Co. out of Squamish, B.C. Their paddleboards are durable and sturdy, and pack up into specially made rugged backpacks, making them easier to carry into remote terrain. According to Norris, their ability to introduce the trips was a combination of having access to advanced paddleboard technology from Red Paddle Co. and from having an intimate knowledge of the mountains and lakes around Whistler.

“We’ve been offering heli-picnics for years, and with the new technology of quickly inflating paddleboards, we knew that these high-alpine, Mediterranean-blue lakes could be used for so much more,” says Norris.

Blackcomb is the first company to offer heli-paddling tours in the Whistler area. The company has run at least one trip a day since they opened for booking in early August.

Paddlers on a lake near Whistler

Paddlers are able to access lakes that are unreachable by roads or trails

Credit: Mirae Campbell/Blackcomb Helicopters

A photo of a picnic lunch on a heli-trip

Trips include a catered picnic lunch from the nearby Fairmont Château Whistler

Credit: Mirae Campbell/Blackcomb Helicopters

Heli-paddling trips leave from the company’s Whistler helipad and take guests on an approximately 15-minute flight across Whistler’s backcountry, passing over ancient glaciers and snow-capped mountains. The helicopters, which hold four guests plus a guide, land next to a remote lake inaccessible by vehicles or on foot. Guests are served a sprawling gourmet picnic catered by the luxury Fairmont Château Whistler hotel before the paddleboards are inflated. After a tutorial on how to get started paddling, the guide takes attendees on a tour of the lake, stopping in a few places to swim and cliff jump. The entire trip takes about three hours, and Blackcomb buys credits to ensure all flights are carbon-neutral.

A woman prepares to cliff jump

Cliff jumping is an option for adventurous guests

Credit: Mirae Campbell/Blackcomb Helicopters

Sightseeing helicopter tours start around $179, which Norris says allows for everyone from families with small children to retirees and senior citizens to enjoy the backcountry views. However, with heli-adventures, the Blackcomb audience skews a bit more young and active. “When it comes to more adventurous products like heli-paddelboarding or backcountry flights with skis or bikes,” says Norris, “we certainly see a shift to the thrill-seeking, athletic types.” The heli-paddle and picnic trips are also more expensive at CA$1,250 per couple; another reason they appeal to more dedicated outdoor enthusiasts.

If you can’t make it to Whistler, there are a few companies around the country offering a similar experience – but not that many. Liquid Adventures runs helicopter-assisted trips during the summer months near Seward, Alaska, and in Hawaii, Paradise Helicopters can arrange trips to paddle or kayak at a hidden waterfall. However, the sport is still relatively new and isn’t a standard offering from most helicopter operators. “We have seen this done before, but not in the Whistler area,” says Norris. “And likely not in such beautiful surroundings.”

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About Ronnie

Ronald Antonio O'Sullivan OBE (born 5 December 1975) is an English professional snooker player who is widely regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of the sport. He has won five World Championships, a record seven Masters titles, and a record seven UK Championships, setting a record total of 19 titles in Triple Crown tournaments. He shares the record for the most ranking titles (36) with Stephen Hendry. His career earnings of over £10 million put him in first place on snooker's all-time prize-money list. Winning the Tour Championship on 24 March 2019 made him the sport's current world number one, the fourth time in his career that he has held the top position and the first time he has been number one since May 2010. This is the longest gap between number one spells by any player in history.