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Ski on the wild side
PLANNING TO FLY to British Columbia in Canada for the 2010 Winter Olympics? The games start with a ceremony at Vancouver's 60,000-seat BC Place on February 12. Much of the outdoor action then moves a two hours' drive north to the edge of Garibaldi Provincial Park, to a private ski resort called Whistler Blackcomb featuring what's billed as the "greatest vertical-rise skiing on the continent."
Over the span of 17 days, attendees there will be treated to watching the finest athletes in the world compete in men's and women's alpine downhill, super G, giant slalom, slalom and super-combined events. Not all runs will be requisitioned for the Olympics; in fact, only several will be closed to the public. So amateur ski enthusiasts will have ample opportunity to take a break from being spectators and hit the slopes.
But here's an idea-and perhaps a better one than jostling with the 350,000 people expected to attend the Olympics. Think about incorporating into your travel plans-before, during or after the Winter Olympics-a helicopter ski trip near the Canadian Rockies on the British Columbia side of the continental divide, bordering Alberta. It will take you little more than half an hour by private jet from Vancouver International Airport to Fairmont Hot Springs Airport, which has a 6,000-foot runway. From there it's a short drive north to Radium Hot Springs and Firlands Ranch-one of the great historic ranches in Canada and the perfect place to base your deep-powder adventure.
This magnificent 842-acre private ranch is nestled in the Rocky Mountain Trench and overlooks the upper Columbia River. The rolling spread is home to herds of elk, moose and deer. Its luxury lodge features five classically decorated bedrooms, river-rock fireplaces and steam showers. Gold-package stays for your private party include use of a large outdoor whirlpool hot tub and spa, massages, housekeeping and a full-time chef.
Each morning, a Bell helicopter from RK Heliski will pick you up at the ranch and whisk you into the spectacular Purcell Mountains bordering the legendary Bugaboos. Accompanied by mountain guides, you'll have the run of 930 square miles of alpine slopes, above-tree-line glaciers and glades of tamarack and fir. Add this natural splendor to 36 feet of pristine, air-filled powdery snow and you're in downhill heaven.
This dry snow is so light that you'll be provided with wider-than-normal skis. They're called "fat" and what you do on them is called "floating." That pretty much sums up the bright days that lie ahead for you and your friends this winter on these wild Canadian slopes.