Heli-skiing is snow sports turned up to eleven
In hot pursuit of untouched snow and adrenaline-fuelled adventures, Abigail Butcher reaches new heights on a heli-skiing trip in Iceland
OK, we’re on”. Three words I’d been waiting two days to hear. Quite literally trembling with excitement, I hastily add a couple of eggs with avocado on toast to my breakfast order: this is going to be a big day.
An hour later, and we’re doing final transceiver checks before loading into a shiny black A-Star helicopter waiting beside the lodge – woof, woof, woof whirr the blades as our Swiss pilot, Gabe, lifts the chopper up from its pad, banking sharply right, up and away.
It’s mid-March and I’m on the Troll Peninsula in northern Iceland, staying at Deplar Farm, a former sheep lodge in the remote Fljot Valley now turned into the ultimate adventure retreat by US company Eleven. The heli-skiing season here runs from March until mid-May – any earlier in the season and it’s too dark, but from March onwards the days grow longer and lighter allowing for up to ten hours of skiing a day.View on Instagram
As we climb higher towards the first drop – which IFMGA guides Alan and Steve (aka Eleven’s ‘Ministers of Fun’) have earlier scoped out for us – the mountains open out into a snowy expanse, all around us ridges and plateaus drop sharply down to valley floors or the ocean. Spines and cliffs, some of which could rival Alaska on a great snow year, contrast sharply against the blue sky; after sitting out a two-day storm we finally have bluebird conditions today and are damn well going to make the most of it.
During the previous day’s heli safety briefing and avalanche training Steve had warned us that a “standard” day here at Deplar Farm is between ten and 15 drops – three times the number you’d normally manage in one day virtually anywhere else in the world.
But nothing is normal at Deplar Farm. The latest property in Eleven’s portfolio, this is the ultimate Nordic retreat for thrill seekers in search of exclusive adventures. The company name was borne from Spinal Tap’s “raise it to eleven” and Eleven truly does: even the fact that the company base is in the cult resort of Crested Butte in Colorado is too damn cool.
If heli-skiing in 1,500sq miles of exclusive terrain isn’t quite enough for you (or the weather is bad), the 13-room Deplar Farm offers a range of winter pursuits including fly-fishing (which can also be done by helicopter), cat skiing, snowmobiling, Icelandic horse riding, surfing, ski touring, ice-fishing, whale watching and much, much more. The Eleven team exclusively tailor itineraries to guests’ exact requirements – changing at the 11th hour (get it?) if required, depending on the weather (which does change, fast, in Iceland). Aside from ski boots, the lodge has all the kit you need for the great outdoors, including the ubiquitous all-in-one, waterproof, fleece-lined suit that Icelanders rely on during winter months.
But it’s not all snowy, high-octane fun: Deplar Farm is a luxurious private lodge worthy of a visit in its own right, with indoor and outdoor thermal hot pools, fully equipped gym, treatment rooms and yoga room, sauna, plunge pool, cinema room and bar, with floor-to-ceiling windows offering awe-inspiring views of the dramatic valley outside and flooding the building with light.
A quick change into swimmers and we were kicking back in the hot pool, sipping champagne, watching the most spectacular of northern light shows while listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon
Private chefs curate a daily menu of modern Icelandic cuisine, with local delicacies as tasting dishes, and there’s a range of snacks including salted caramel popcorn and organic chocolate if you get peckish post-adventure.
It’s all inclusive here – and guests want for nothing. Even if you did want something, before you’ve thought you wanted it, it’s there – whether that’s tissues in the pocket of the all-in-one or a full set of instruments for impromptu jamming sessions after dinner, a box full of fancy dress costumes in which to eat dinner (amazing what ten heli drops will do to your energy levels) or a full set of Aesop toiletries in each bathroom that prohibits the need to pack a washbag.
But back to the skiing, and our first run of the day on the east-facing ‘101’ is a gentle, long, wonderful powder bowl. It seems to go on forever – I’m visiting in a bad snow year for Iceland (this region is renowned for having some of the best snow in the world) which means we can’t ski right down to the ocean – but there’s powder from the last two days of storm and it’s so light and fluffy I barely expend any effort in skiing it. Before we began I had wondered how I’d manage ten drops – even with my relatively ski-fit legs that had been working hard all season – but now I know. The light snow combined with the pair of custom-made Wagner skis I’m using make it virtually effortless. Wagner is based in Telluride, Colorado and Steve’s girlfriend designs the graphics – there’s nothing that Eleven doesn’t have covered.
Steve and Alan took it in turns to scout out drop after drop for us, and each and every time Gabe would be waiting at the bottom of the slope to whisk us back up – west, north, south and east-facing slopes all offering up the goods. My favourite was run number eight, called Góðan Dag which means ‘good day’, during which I tried to record every single turn in my mind, knowing that it would be one of the best of my entire life.
At 5pm, my other ski buddy (there were just two guests skiing, with two guides and one pilot to ourselves) was beginning to flag so we headed for the home run, stopping at the bottom for impromptu bubbles, charcuterie and home-made Icelandic biscuits.
It would almost have been the perfect end to a perfect day – except it didn’t end there. After dinner (wearing aforementioned fancy dress, we were so high from the day) the staff informed us that the northern lights were ON. A quick change into swimmers and we were kicking back in the hot pool, sipping champagne, watching the most spectacular of northern light shows while listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Does life actually get any better than that? I don’t think so. Totally raised to Eleven.
Eleven Experience offers four days heli-skiing at Deplar Farm from £8,700 based on two sharing a room and four people sharing one helicopter. Price includes concierge, full guide service, gear rental (except ski boots), in-house meals and drinks, airport transfers to/from Akureyri.
For more information, visit elevenexperience.com