I headed out to the Canadian Rockies again for my annual Heli-ski Trip with family and friends.  The Bugaboo Lodge was where Heli-skiing really all got started back in 1965 by an Austrian mountain and ski guide named Hans Gmoser and his company Canadian Mountain Holidays.

One of the Bugaboo Spires on the first run of a very cold morning!

They originally began flying with Bell 47 helicopters (MASH-type) but now fly twin-engine turbine powered Bell’s.  The scenery is breathtaking and the famous Bugaboo Spires can be seen above the lodge at the head of the glacier at the end of the valley.

One of the great things about the Canadian Rockies is the altitude we ski at is lower than in the States.  The lodges are around 2500′ and the tops of the highest runs are around 8000′.  As a comparison, the bottom of the mountain I ski at in Utah begins at 8000′.  This translates into more oxygen for the Heli-skiers and thicker air for the helicopters to operate more efficiently.

Our chariot arrives to take us closer to heaven and more fresh powder!

There are a number of lodges to choose from and several offer Heli-hiking in the summer, which I want to check out one day.

Everyone goes through safety training upon arrival and goes over the details of  the avalanche beeper training, which we all wear.  Everyone now carries a backpack with a radio, a snow probe, and a snow shovel in case of an accident.   Once this is done, it’s off to the slopes for fun in the powder!

What it's all about!

We eat lunch out on the mountain, which is delivered by a second smaller helicopter. Guides also use this helicopter for checking snow conditions and occasionally blasting to set off avalanches under controlled conditions.

Lunch on the mountain!

Most lodges have four groups of 11 skiers and a guide per helicopter but a few have three groups.  There maybe a few times where you wait for a lift while the helicopter refuels but you then get the opportunity to take a rest and enjoy the scenery.  As long as the weather conditions are good, I’ve always gotten more than my share of great skiing.

Bored waiting for the helicopter? I made a face in a Snow Cookie!

Heli-skiing is not without it’s hazards.  One of the really fun aspects is tree-skiing.  To me, it’s the ultimate video game because every run is different and you never know what’s coming up next.  You follow the technique race car drivers use in a car crash.  Don’t look at the wall (or the trees) . . . look for the open spots!  Sometimes they’re a bit narrower than you’d like and you end up catching a thorny branch or two.

A hazard of skiing in tight trees . . . thorny branches!

There’s a basic rule they tell us that I’m pretty good at following, “If you can’t see over it . . . don’t ski over it!”  

Of course, everyone thinks about avalanches.  The weather and snow conditions can change quickly over the week but the guides are well-trained and alert to the current conditions.  They’ve learned much over the years and their knowledge has increased safety.

Several years before I began heli-skiing, some of my family came to the Bugaboos for their first ever trip in 1994 and witnessed the worst accident in CMH history.  They had just finished a run called Bay Street as Group One and, while waiting at the bottom, watched Group Two begin to come down from the top.  Several of the skiers, with limited English, went a bit beyond where they were told to ski and the whole mountain slid from the top.  Fortunately, the slide stopped just short of Group One at the bottom but, unfortunately, nine skiers in Group Two lost their lives.  Out of respect, they’ve never skied the run again.

Bay Street!

While there are still dangers, the risks have been minimized over the years and thousands of skiers still flock from all around the world every year to enjoy the great sensation of skiing lots of untracked powder.

Last run of the week with the Bugaboo Lodge (and the Bar) waiting at the bottom!

At some point I may have to give it up but, at 58, I still feel I’ve got a few great years left in me!

Kermit

 

We recently completed another Storage Facility across the street from Fantasy of Flight to compliment our first one and are excited for several reasons.  First, it will give us some well-needed breathing room and give us the ability to make room in our Maintenance Hangar for the Douglas C-47, which we recently flew over from England and left on display at the EAA Oshkosh Museum.  Second, we purchased two road-legal trolleys to be able to take Fantasy of Flight patrons over to tour them as part of our normal ticket price!

Orignal facility on the left and the new one on the right.

Each building is 20,000 square feet!

There will be an opportunity to not only shuffle some of the airplanes on display in the Fantasy of Flight hangars but also give the restoration shop some long-needed space.  For the die-hard aviation enthusiasts, they will soon get to see a lot more of the collection!

For those of you that purchased the Wizard of Orlampa DVD we sell in the gift shop, you got to see a brief glimpse of how packed the current building is with airplane parts.  You have to crawl over stuff to get around as there is very little floor space to walk.

Small glimpse of the current facility showing Lockheed 14, B-29, and B-17 fuselages!

Pallet Racking has been assembled around the perimeter of the inside and my guys have started moving airplanes over from Fantasy of Flight.  The now disassembled AT-11, that had been stored in the Maintenance Hangar, became the first tenant.  Soon we will begin thinning out the first building and filling the new building, and in a manner that will allow our patrons, and my guys, to actually get to everything!

New building with Pallet Racking around the perimeter, AT-11 in the distance, and our Gas Balloon Gondola hanging from ceiling!

Since most people in the aviation world are aware that the National Air & Space Museum has their off-site Silver Hill Storage Facility in Maryland, I’ve decided to call ours the Golden Hill Storage Facility!  Now I’ll never admit to it, but there might be a subtle innuendo there!

Golden Hill Express!

I’m not going to make any predictions as to exactly when we’ll be open for business, as there is a LOT of work to do.  Give us about three months and we’ll have a better idea.  One thing is for sure . . . when we do open for business it will be posted on my blog!

Kermit

 

We are slowly making progress on a very rare Seversky P-35a, which I acquired it in a trade many years ago with the USAF Museum.   The P-35 was a mid-thirties fighter that saw limited combat at the beginning of WWII in the Pacific.

There are only three of these single-seat aircraft left in the world and this will be the only one that will fly!  The two others are on display at the USAF Museum in Dayton, Ohio and the Swedish Air Force Museum in Stockholm.

I am very fortunate to have on my restoration crew sheet-metal magician Ricky Reeves.  He has been the main person doing the work.  Once the Stinson L-1 is completed and flying, which is getting close, Paul Stecewycz will join him on the project.

Restoration Specialist Ricky Reeves putting the final touches on the side hatch.

Since we knew this would be a long-term project, we made the decision early on to reverse the normal process of restoration.  Normally, everything would be taken apart, documented, the basic frame restored, and then parts added as they are completed.  Instead, we have taken one part off, restored it, and then taken off another!  Once we finally get down to the basic fuselage and it’s restored, all we have to do is put all the parts together!

Obvious restored parts! The side hatch is for a mechanic to sit in the back!

The airplane came from the Swedish Air Force and has a significant amount of pitting and surface corrosion from being stored in underground bunkers during WWII.  The plane received additional damage in 1992 during Hurricane Andrew, mostly to the skins we will be replacing.  It is our intent to replace all external skins, shine them up, and use as much of the internal structure as possible.

We have some wing jigs made and will begin on them at some time in the future.  We recently assembled some of the parts to show off what has been accomplished so far.

Tail Feathers and Tailcone

If you want to follow the progress, come by Fantasy of Flight and check it out, as it’s part of the Daily Restoration Tour.  It will surely be a piece of art when we get it done and I’m looking forward to not only flying it, but being able to use it as a mirror to shave!

Kermit

 

This post now brings me up to date after being over a year behind.  I had been saving and organizing pictures over this period but never seemed to find the time to sit down and start writing.  Over the past ten days I’ve added over THIRTY BLOG POSTS!

The bulk of the work was done last week over five days between trips in the mountains of Utah sitting in front of a fire with my laptop.  The blog post on the C-47 trip alone took me seven hours to write and edit before I finally clicked the “Publish” button!

In some ways, I’m glad it worked out that way, as it allowed me time to reflect on all that I’ve done over the past year.  Sometimes we don’t always see the forest growing for the trees and taking the time to reflect on what what we’ve done, where we’ve been, and what we’ve accomplished is an important part of the Journey.  Whether many people read this or not, I’ve found that it’s a great exercise for me to appreciate the many things I get to do and share as well as feel proud at what myself and my employees have accomplished.

I think the main thing I learned out of this experience was that . . . When I grow up . . . I WANT TO BE ME!  :-)

Kermit

After the Living Legends event in Beverly Hills, I was able to hitch a ride out to Salt Lake City with aviation supporter Tracy Forrest. He let me fly his Citation Mustang out of Santa Monica to Salt Lake City where I was going to kill some time before the Quail Hunt the following weekend at my family’s ski condo.

The Mustang is a great entry level jet, very economical to fly, and has the same Garmin 1000 radios I used in the Cessna 172 I got my Instrument Rating in. The weather was great until we got close to SLC and we then went on instruments, picked up some light ice, and shot the approach. Having just got my Instrument Rating, this was a great experience for me!

Citation Mustang in the rain at SLC

I used the quiet in the mountains to catch up on my blog and never made it out to the slopes! I’ll talk about that in a later blog post. I was happy to be invited back to the Quail Hunt and headed off to Dallas/Ft. Worth five days later by airline to hook up with my ride out to the Ranch.

Last year I got to fly a Cessna Citation Jet out and back and this year was no different. Since I now had my Instrument Rating, I had all sorts of questions. And lo and behold . . . guess what supplies they picked up for me for the weekend? My current favorite rum!

Looks like the beginning of a great trip!

After the Living Legends event, I was beginning to notice a subtle pattern forming! People were going out of their way to supply me with some great tasting rum. At least . . . until my Naked in Jamaica rum comes out! (I feel the need to insert a disclaimer here – I love to drink socially with friends and don’t do this on any kind of regular basis. The only problem I have with drinking is when all they’ve got is that nasty white rum available! I won’t name the label.)

Everyone was kind enough to let me fly up front in the right seat so we headed off to pick up Dick Cole about halfway. Dick was Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot on the “Thirty seconds over Tokyo” raid and the beginning of WWII in one of sixteen B-25 Bombers that launched off the deck of the aircraft carrier Hornet!

With Famous Doolittle Raider!

Two people are really responsible for Quail Hunt. John Agather organizes it and is the son of Vic Agather. Vic ran the Boeing B-29 program in WWII for America and was responsible for getting the B-29 Fifi for the CAF. Herb Kelleher is the other and is part-owner in the 200,000 acre ranch we explore in west Texas. Herb is one of the principals behind the success of Southwest Airlines. John and Herb together have created a great event to bring together aviation notables together for a weekend of fun and camaraderie.

With famous round-the-world Voyager Pilot Dick Rutan!

If you remember, last year, country music star Aaron Tippin was my roommate. He showed up late this year so I bunked in with a new fun guy named Perry out of Reno. He brought a load of guns for everyone to play with and we literally had a blast! The next picture pretty much sums up the whole trip!

Bullets - 2000 / Quail - Zero / Fun - Priceless!

Can’t wait ’till next year!

Kermit

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