Adventures / Snow / Speed Flying First Descents in British Columbia

Adventurer Gavin McClurg

This trip was a seven-day heli ski and speed flying journey in the Kitimat region of northern British Columbia, Canada. It was my 6th year in a row. We do our own private trip with Northern Escape Heliskiing. One of the owners has a house on Kalum Lake North of Terrace (it’s the only house!), and the heli lands right in his yard to rip us up into the Coast Range, where they have a tenure of 7,000 acres (ie: MASSIVE).

There are five of us, all accomplished skiers and speed pilots—myself, Ben Abruzzo, Dane Abruzzo, Benny Abruzzo, and Richard Crombie—all from Albuquerque, New Mexico, except me (I live in Sun Valley, Idaho). We are the only pilots who haven’t done any speed flying in this entire area, so every run we hit is a first descent. Purpose of the trip is to explore the tenure (because we are private we aren’t held to the normal heli-skiing “production” rules which allows us to go WAY DEEP), and ski and fly our brains out! This year was the best-yet in terms of weather—got six out of seven days and skied 150,000+ feet of vertical. —Gavin McClurg

What exactly is speed flying?

Gavin McClurg: Speed flying is basically flying a really small paraglider. They fly VERY fast, and VERY close to the terrain and are ideal for descending very steep big mountain lines that are impossible on skis because you can launch off massive cliffs safely.

When did you start doing it?

Gavin McClurg: I began paragliding in 2006 and speed flying when the first speed wings were invented around 2009.

Is it pretty dangerous?

Gavin McClurg: Unfortunately it is. Because you are flying very fast close to the terrain it is not forgiving of mistakes. You are also not typically flying with back protection or a reserve parachute because you aren’t high enough typically to deploy a reserve, and we like to be light in the mountains. Folks interested in getting into speed flying need to get proper instruction in paragliding first and get their license before practicing speed flying.

What’s the best part about speed flying?

Gavin McClurg: The rush and the tactical fun. And it’s absurd! You’re flying faster than you can ski in the most wild areas! To do it safely you have to look way ahead and make a million tiny little decisions at split second pace. It’s like the ultimate video game but played in real terrain where a mistake doesn’t just mean another quarter in the machine. It’s just a ton of fun.

It’s like the ultimate video game but played in real terrain, where a mistake doesn’t just mean another quarter in the machine.
— Gavin McClurg

How is heli-accessed speed flying better than human-powered speed flying?

Gavin McClurg: You can just get a lot more vertical. Hike and fly is a lot of fun and how I typically go speed flying, but with a heli you can just access a lot more terrain.

How do you get to the house on Kalum Lake? Is it pretty luxe or rustic?

Gavin McClurg: Super luxe. There are actually two houses—main house and guest house. It’s terrifically hard core—helicopter lands in the front yard at the end of the day, we grab a beer and jump in the hot tub!

We’ve heard the Coast Range is pretty glorious. What was your impression?

Gavin McClurg: I’ve explored a ton of mountain ranges in the world, the Coast Range is mystical, awesome, mind-blowing and just BIG and REMOTE. They are known for pretty terrible weather, but when you get lucky, they are easily among the most magnificent mountains on Earth in my opinion.

What did you all find in the tenure?

Gavin McClurg: Tenure is leased land from the British Columbia government. Basically it’s just a use permit that only Northern Escape can use (for heliskiing, anyone can go in there, but it’s pretty tough in winter to access). We found a dizzying amount of lines—all aspects, all pitches. It’s a grown up Disneyland!

Why have you bothered to master so many types of adventures?

Gavin McClurg: Laird Hamilton said if you don’t do something every day to scare yourself you’re going backwards. I like to go forwards!

Does your daughter have this same thirst for adventure?

Gavin McClurg: Well, at eight months it’s a bit hard to tell, but she sure likes playing airplane with dad!


Same as skiing, but with a small wing and a small harness

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