Flying high over Jasper
Jasper National Park, Alberta
by Paul Peters
The Canadian Rockies offer endless ways of seeing the park through various activities. One of the most exhilarating and accessible activities is helicopter touring. Helicopter tours in and around the Canadian Rockies and Jasper National Parks offer an alternative view of the park, and tours made to fit any person, from heli-sking and heli-hiking, to heli-weddings and heli-yoga.
Yes, you read that last one right. Icefield Helicopter Tours, in conjuction with Martha’s Heli-hikes, offers a heli-yoga trip, which pretty much means all bases are covered as far who might be interested in a heli-trip.Ralph Sliger, owner of Icefields Helicopter Tours, talks about the unique opportunities heli-tours offer to people visiting the Canadian Rockies.
“You’re actually getting into the backcountry where there are no roads,” he says. “You’re seeing the actual wilderness. When you can see for 100 miles in all directions, it’s quite impressive. Gives you a sense for how big Canada actually is.”
You can probably guess from their name that Icefield Helicopter Tours features tours of the Columbia Icefields, one of the largest icefields in North America.
“When you’re out over the icefields,” he says, “as far as you can see there’s nothing but the icefields, peaks and glaciers. It’s a whole different world up there.”
And while he says that the tours are exceptional, he notes that one of the most amazing things is actually getting out of the helicopter once it has flown you to a remote location. “When you get out and experience the quiet of nature, well, you can’t get that anywhere else,” Sliger says. “That’s what we offer, is an experience.”
Hjalmar Tiesenhausen started Jasper’s High Country Helicopter Tours in 1996.
“It’s been an amazing 13 years already,” he says, “and we’ve had so much fun and enjoyment from doing this that we will be doing this for many years to come. Its not a job – it’s a labour of love.”
The heliport for High Country Helicopter Tours is based just east of Jasper on Hwy 16 (near the KOA). High Country offers transportation services if you didn’t bring or rent a vehicle, and heli-tours year round, no matter what season (although reservations are highly recommended).
“We are the closest, easiest, and I think most scenic way to see the Rockies when visiting Jasper National Park” Tiesenhausen says. “One of our most wonderful features is the many elk that hang around Talbot Lake each summer. Also, the bighorn sheep at Disaster Point and of course the Miette Hotsprings can be a wonderful addition to an amazing flight over the many peaks and rivers of the Eastern Slopes of the Canadian Rockies.”
Jo-anne Kobelt of Alpine Helicopters is equally enthusiastic about heli-hiking.
Alpine, she says, typically takes customers out to Mount Charles Stewart. Normally, she says it would be an eight-hour hike, one-way, to get to Charles Stewart. But the flight takes all of eight minutes.
Despite the short flight, she says, “It feels like you’re in the middle of nowhere. This area is just pristine, there are no trails, it’s literally untouched. When we set down it looks like no one has ever been there.”
Alpine Helicopters helps keep that “middle of nowhere” feeling by only taking up groups of 15 or fewer, and making sure no one disturbs the natural features of the terrain.
Gordon Stermann of White Mountain Adventures, the company that guides Alpine’s heli-hikes, says, “It’s an incredible experience for people to leave civilization completely behind in just a few minutes of helicopter flying. Once we land at the Charles Stewart site we are on our own. The world goes quiet, and you have time to slow down, look around you and … breathe!”
As far as the aerial tours Alpine offers, Kobelt says, “It’s a once in a lifetime experience. You just can’t believe what you see, it’s like a National Geographic film.”
She says they generally get two reactions from people the first time they fly over the Canadian Rockies.
“People either get up there and they don’t stop talking because they’re so excited, or they’re mouths are hanging open and their eyes are glued to the window,” she says.
Despite these two reactions, she says, “We’ve never had a customer that doesn’t have a look of astonishment.”
Children ask “Can I go again?”
Kobelt also adds that some people are occasionally frightened by the prospect of going up in a helicopter, but she says that afterward, “People say they feel more secure in a helicopter than in an airplane.”