#humansofyachting – Kevin O’Rourke
The Powderbird heli-skiing guide recalls some of his most memorable moments in Greenland.
“I was an avid recreational skier the whole time I was growing up. I started skiing with my father when I was three in Central New York. There are a number of small local ski hills in the region and, of course, there’s also Lake Placid, which has hosted the Winter Olympics. So there’s a ski culture in New York for sure.
After graduation, I moved to Utah. I was working in the film industry at the time, but I picked Utah over LA as it meant I could ski while I wasn’t in the office. When I got a job with Powderbird and discovered heli-skiing for the first time I thought, ‘Finally, here is something even more fun than skiing!’ The actual flying in the mountains was so exciting. I had no idea how exhilarating that part would be, I was so focused on what the skiing was going to be like. It’s such a dramatic environment to operate aircraft – landing on peaks and small ridges.
About 12 years ago, Powderbird started operating local ships that we could charter over in Greenland. The country has these fjord systems and archipelagos where you can get away from the open sea and do some great skiing. We developed some really neat itineraries –and eventually managed to get authorisation for commercial helicopter landings over there.
During that time, I met the owner of a yacht called Legend. We talked about collaborating on heli-skiing in Greenland and they invited me three years ago to go to Monaco, stay on board and introduce the concept to clients and brokers. Through that process, we got interest and ended up running commercial charters.
Helicopter on board Legend
Helicopter on board Legend
We took two groups out in April this year. There was beautiful weather for yachting, but challenging weather for skiing. What we’ve found though, is that with yachts like this, you can move pretty big distances quickly and reposition to specific areas that hold good snow. We can move at night while people are sleeping and wake up in a new place with the right kind of mountains and the right aspects. Because of that, we found good skiing the whole month despite the unusually warm temperatures.
One group was very small and very intermediate – they came to learn. I liked that they chartered a yacht and came to Greenland in order to do that! It was a very adventurous move for them. The other group included 19 skiers, all of whom were expert level. They wanted to ski all day and then ski tour [ascending slopes before skiing down] at the end of the day so they could walk back up and get the exercise – they were very focused!
It’s a great improvement on the experience on land in Greenland, as you just have to deal with what’s available. It’s nice and it’s comfortable but it’s not luxurious. With the yacht, all of that comes along. We’d give the crew notice when we were on our way back so that they could have drinks ready. Guests could just slip out of their ski gear and head to the spa. There was a hot tub, outdoor heating on the aft deck and the crew would even throw après ski parties with cocktails and canapés. That part of it felt like taking a five-star luxury hotel with us. It makes our job much easier as we can focus on the aviation, mountain guiding and snow safety.
We try to have other activities on these trips to keep everyone occupied, especially for families who might have young children. In Greenland, you can go sightseeing; we take helicopters out and go and look at beautiful scenery – we land by beautiful glaciers, we see whales there and all sorts of wildlife. There are also about 55,000 people that live in Greenland, so there are small towns and settlements. Of course, on board the yacht, there’s a cinema so kids can also just kick back and watch a movie in the evening.
My most memorable Greenland experience was with a small group. We launched on a perfect day – blue sky, cold, great snow and we skied about 120 miles up the coast and back. Everywhere we went was perfect; we skied every slope once and then went and landed on a new valley. As we worked our way back down, we would fly over and see these massive valleys with our single set of ski runs in them. It was incredible.
That’s what heli-skiing is to me. It’s exclusive access to these remote places where you can get away from the crowds. It’s so busy at ski resorts now so this combination of a yacht and a helicopter is a real luxury.”