By some miracle of biking and with the help of some ambitious cycling friends I was invited to tag along on my first ever heli drop on Mount Barbour in Pemberton, BC. This was an absolute dream come true. Even heli skiing has seemed an improbable fantasy, much less flying to the top of a mountain with my bike.
We arrived on the peak of Mount Barbour to perfect weather and a flawless ride down more than two thousand vertical meters of alpine freeriding and backwoods single track. Everything went off without a hitch; our group of ten made it down without so much as a flat tire or a sprained wrist, even though we did all crash at one point or another.
So many things could have gone differently. So from the good, to the potentially not good at all, here are the five biggest lessons I took away from my first (but definitely not last) heli bike trip.
1. Do it!
The most obvious thing I learned is that a heli drop is not some unrealistic fantasy. If you’re confident in your ability, this is the best investment. Split between ten people, one ride to the top is less expensive than most pairs of pants these days. It’s an experience that you won’t soon forget and the biggest hurdle to living this fantasy is taking the time to plan it.
2. Share the load.
Bike as a group and use your numbers to your advantage. Not everyone needs their own bike pump, leg splint or spare tire, but you must be sure that someone has it. Coordinate beforehand so you’re stocked up but not bogged down with redundant gear.
3. Protect your bike.
Our pilot ferried the group to the top in three trips. Two loads of people and one dangling lasso of jumbled bikes nestled head to toe. One of our group members had been to this rodeo before and his bike had been crushed in the tangled heap of bicycles as they were hoisted up. He made sure that none of us lived that same tragedy. Loosen your brake levers, wrap your stanchions with knee pads, protect your derailleurs and even think about removing your pedals. We all took a few minutes to reconstruct our bikes at the summit, but that inconvenience was much more enjoyable than a snapped brake lever at the top of a 2,000 meter descent.
4. You’re on your own, so hope for the best and plan for the worst.
The helicopter drops you off. The helicopter flies away. The helicopter isn’t coming back for you. Going into the event, you already know that you’re signing up for a far flung adventure, but the reality of your isolation really sets in as the rotor thwap fades away into the distance. Come prepared for whatever the mountains might throw at you. You’re at a high elevation, what if it snows? What if you have to spend the night? What if someone breaks their leg? Can you hike out ten miles in those shoes?
5. Don’t rush.
When you land on a bald alpine peak, excited doesn’t begin to describe the situation; you will be tempted to ride too fast and too hard. Don’t get hasty or line up the most aggressive looking Rampage line you can find. It’s a long way down and you’ll need the energy to make it to the bottom in one piece. Ride conservatively.
At the top of Mount Barbour there are no trails, just limitless alpine. Besides all these lessons learned, our trip was successful first and foremost because we had a great guide. The leader of our group had made the journey before and knew his way around the tricky and often improbable routes. Definitely do not go about this type of adventure unprepared. Plan it to perfection and just hope for nice weather.