Posted on Apr 17, 2017 in News | 0 comments

By Grace Brulotte

Hello there sunshine and welcome to my latest story! I would like to start by saying I have been dreading to write this story for a long while now… Confidence is always an issue for me, and this is no exception. Ever since my heliskiing adventure happened, I knew there would come a time when I needed to transfer what was going on in my head to the written word. I honestly don’t think I can do that… But as this is one of the most monumental experiences that has ever happened in my life, obviously it’s important for it to have a portion in my blog, so… I will try dear reader, even though I might fail miserably, to describe the day of all days… The day I made history…

At 5:00 in the morning on April 3rd I woke up tired, groggy, and well… cranky… I had barely slept that night and therefore felt like I had been hit by an Eastbound express train. When I sat up and tried to tell myself that I was actually a human, my knee reminded me that it was still angry from the night before. MCL tears are no fun…. My neck reminded me that it also was mad at me for not being able to stay calm when faced with something exciting. I got up, proceeded to try and get dressed, but while doing so fell backwards and hit my neck off the counter, which not only made it angrier but added to my gloomy state of mind. Each layer of clothing I had to put on seemed to take an eternity, which it did because my fingers acted the way they always do and got stuck in every fold of the sleeve. I was in desperate need of coffee, which only upset me more because… I CAN’T DRINK COFFEE! I made one last attempt to remind myself that I was a human before going to the lobby, where I would demonstrate how dangerous a hungry, tired, coffee deprived woman can be. Actually that wasn’t the plan, but the annoying thing about skiing with Scott for two seasons is that he automatically can tell when I’m upset… my mask doesn’t work on him… He grabbed me by the shoulders, held me at arm’s length and said, “Smile for me, Gracie Lou. We’re going heliskiing.”

Heliskiing? Of course, that was the reason we were all at The Prestige in Golden BC that morning, but up until that point, it seemed like a dream to me. We had arrived there two days early in order to allow my body rest from the travel, but that whole time I was on edge, thinking that if I moved too much I’d break the spell and the dream would be over. But it wasn’t a dream! I was in the lobby of The Prestige in Golden because I was about to become the first female tandem sit skier to heliski in Canada. This is what we had been anticipating for months before. This is what the community of Fernie supported so faithfully. This is what Scott worked towards with such perseverance. That was enough to make me smile. I felt Grace coming back to me again, and I began to giggle and laugh and run through the parking lot like the dork I am. That excitement lasted all through breakfast, and even when we took a couple wrong turns going up to Purcell lodge, which resulted in a few U-turns and confusion for our team following us.

The first person I met upon arrival was Rudi Gertsch, or The Rudi Gertsch I should say. Scott made sure I was very familiar with just how much of a legend Rudi is before we came. Not only was I going heliskiing, but the man who was one of the fathers of heliskiing in Canada would be my guide… I felt intimidated and honoured all at the same time, but he immediately made me feel at ease, due to his warm and friendly spirit. The Purcell lodge was just what a lodge ought to be, with a huge fire blazing, plenty of log detailing, and a beautiful balcony with clear views of the mountains we’d be playing on. While sipping Rudi’s special homemade tea, Jeff Gertsch, who is every bit as lovely as his father, began our safety briefing. He started with telling us about the avalanche beacons, how they worked, what they did, warnings not to wear anything magnetic or metal near them, etc. We then took a walk up to the heli to learn the proper way to approach it. And then the conversation took a switch… Let me summarise what the next 45 minutes sounded like…. “If you make this mistake, you’ll die. If you do this by accident, we’ll all die. If you break this, you’ll have to remortgage your house to pay for it. If you touch this, you owe us a beer.” We then went back to the lodge and had a long discussion about avalanches. Basically, “If you’re caught in an avalanche, do this. If you see someone else caught in an avalanche, do this. Heliskiing is dangerous, so let’s do our best to come back in one piece.” At that point, there was one thing and one thing only running through my mind… WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING HERE!?!? I’m dead no matter what in all of these situations! Who said this would be fun!? I’m too young to die!! “Sit skier dies in avalanche while trying to make history”, oh yes, I can see the headlines now! WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME!?!?!? Evidently, I wasn’t hiding my conniption as well as I hoped… Scott said I looked as white as snow by the time the safety talks were finished. The next few minutes of getting ready and in the heli were a blur of silently wondering if I’d ever see solid ground again… I said one more farewell to my parents, made sure I told them I loved them, and then the heli doors were closed and latched. I took one look at Scott, who was smiling and chuckling to himself, and then tried to take a breath and clear my mind. It was too late to run, so I’d have to live with my crazy decision to be the disabled adventure hero… darn me…

I was in this apprehensive mood for a moment or two longer, and then the heli rotors started spinning… They spun and spun, and then all of a sudden I felt us lift off the ground and take to the skies. It was as if someone had flipped a switch in my brain. I immediately started to smile my normal Grace smile, giggle and laugh, and make everyone else do the same because, WE WERE GOING HELISKIING!!! Every little bit of anxiety melted away in an instant as I gazed at the mountains from a bluebird sky. My feelings at that moment are hard to describe, except to say it was the most life altering freedom I have ever experienced. And oh, it was beautiful. I wish there was a word to describe the glory I saw from that helicopter. Looking down on the mountains from the sky is truly one of the most breathtaking views in the world. The peaks sparkled in the light of the sun. The blankets of snow that covered them reflected the meaning of pure. It was untouched and looked as soft as a cloud. Nothing could demonstrate God’s artistic creation so profoundly. My life would’ve been complete with just the experience of flying in the heli, but there was more awaiting me, as we made our mark in the untouched snow and landed.

As soon as I felt my skis sink into the 30 centimetres of fresh fluff the Purcell mountains had gotten the night before, I knew this skiing experience would be unlike anything I’ve ever had before. I watched as Rudi cut the first lines and skied a few turns ahead of us. He eventually stopped and signalled for us to follow. I held my breath as I felt Scott start to turn me away from the slope and pick up speed. The feeling one has while skiing powder is hard to describe at the best of times, but backcountry skiing? It’s an entirely different world… It felt as though I was completely weightless. I almost thought I was defying gravity. Not one single bump did I feel as we carved out our turns, only a lightness that made it seem like I was floating on a cloud. We stopped just behind Rudi (never go ahead of your guides… ever…) and looked back. Evidence of our presence remained in the snow, almost like the markings figure skaters make on the ice. And that’s when it hit me… All the emotions that had been building for the past year filled my heart and soul… and eyes… Not only was I heliskiing, which was the best experience of my life, but I had also just made history. And no one can ever take that away from me. It was the feeling of barriers and the word impossible being shattered, of burdens falling off my shoulders, of labels and preconceived notions being broken down. It was liberating! I looked back at Scott, who I could tell was feeling the same thing I was, and smiled. I won’t ever forget that moment, it was one of the most precious memories I’ll have from this adventure.

At that point, after Rudi’s expectations were exceeded with how well Scott and I could ski, he made a suggestion that would become legendary to both of us. “Would you like to try some powder eights?” Rudi is known for his powder eights… I’m sure I’m not explaining this properly, but powder eights are when the first skier makes tight turns down the slope, and the second skier matches their rhythm except in the opposite direction. We stopped at the bottom and looked back at the perfect figure eights we had just drawn out. The most beautiful powder eights I’ve ever seen… That moment had way more of an impact on Scott though, whose goal it had been to ski powder eights with Rudi for many many years. I’m only sorry he had to share that with me… But it was a moment I shall never forget. Our chariot was waiting for us at the bottom, so we loaded up and began all over again. Just a note here, I don’t think I can ever be content riding a chairlift again… the heli wrecked me…

Emotions for both Scott and I were very high as we paused for lunch, and then Rudi said, “You know Grace, every time I take a group out, someone always asks me what my best day was. Up until now, I didn’t have an answer. Now I have an answer.” My whole heliskiing day could’ve ended right there and I would’ve been over the moon. To hear the man who not only brought heliskiing to Canada, but also had been guiding for 50 years, say our adventure was the best in his mind was incredible. To say that I was honoured and overwhelmed was an understatement. And on that note, we continued to ski… My heart was so full at that point I felt like it would explode… More powder eights followed, some with the heli flying over us, and all within the most perfect weather imaginable. It all felt like a dream… a wonderful wonderful dream…

I sat out the last run of the day to give Scott a much deserved free ski, which I didn’t mind at all, because well… the heli has to turn around to fly back to the bottom… which means it literally has to turn sideways… Have you ever looked straight down a tree while being sideways in the air? It’s fantastic! When Scott got back in the heli it looked like he had just gone to heaven and back… he got his powder eights with Rudi… After five glorious runs, four for me, we lifted off and headed back to the lodge. I watched our powder eights get smaller and smaller and eventually fade away. Our tracks may get covered so other skiers can enjoy the freedom of fresh lines, but in my mind, I will always see them, and they will always signify a life changing experience.

We landed on solid ground again, which I’m not going to lie was kind of a relief, and I knew I could never be the same. I smiled like an absolutely starstruck dork the whole rest of the day. I literally felt like I was floating in another reality. We all went back to the lodge to unwind and enjoy some apres ski snacks. But I went out on the balcony and just stared at those glorious peaks, which were transformed and took on a whole new meaning to me. The feeling that dominated my heart and soul was thankfulness. I could never have gone on such an adventure if it weren’t for Scott and his belief that anything was possible. I am ever so grateful to Rudi, Jeff, and the Purcell Heliskiing team for supporting our out of the ordinary vision. They are an incredible team who I am honoured to know and ski with. And honestly, none of this would have happened without the wonderful community of Fernie, who gathered around me to make my dreams come true. Amazing feats can be accomplished when one has the support of those who share a common goal, a common dream. I know I can’t thank everyone who helped me to make history, but just know that what you have done will stay with me forever. Thank you does not seem adequate…

Dear reader, if there is anything I would wish you to take away from what you have just read, it is this… It’s ok to be afraid when faced with a new challenge. Fear is part of the struggle that comes with stepping outside what is comfortable. Don’t be ashamed of that fear, it’s natural, normal even. But never, never ever, let fear be what stops you from trying something new, from going on an adventure, from being a pioneer. Make the choice to be an overcomer, take the difficult path that leads to the unknown. For what you will discover at the end of that path might surprise you and even change your life. The victory is sweet, but the struggle and fight to get there is even more rewarding. Most importantly, never give up!

I watched the sun set on the beautiful peaks I had just become acquainted with, and as I drifted off to sleep that night, all I saw was powder eights. They may have been erased the next morning, but they’ll always be there in my heart, representing a breakthrough from fear, and a new definition of possible.