Working week: He'll be coming round the mountain

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As winter approaches, Canada prepares itself for the most adventurous athletes - and that means work for daring pilots like  who fly them around the mountains of British Columbia

What got you interested in aviation?

I grew up in British Columbia and my best friend had his pilot's licence. I spent my time flying around BC and this sparked my interest. I finished high school in 1972 and flew for fun I got my fixed-wing commercial pilot's licence in 1974 at the age of 19 and had the intention of pursuing a fixed-wing career. But this changed when I had a ride in a helicopter, and in 1975 I gained my helicopter CPL.

What was your first job?

After qualifying I spent about five weeks that summer flying tours around Niagara Falls. Needless to say I didn't go there for my honeymoon!

 duncan mcnabb
 

And how did you go from there?

I started to make my way back west across the country and threw CVs around left, right and centre. I put a bag on my back and just kept going.

I got a job with Athabasca Air in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Athabasca flew both helicopter and fixed wing. I had about 250h on fixed-wing aircraft and 200h on helicopters.

I was flying helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft - the Bell 47 and 206 JetRanger helicopters and the Cessna 206. I then moved to Associated Helis and started flying the JetRanger in the mountains. This is when I first tried heliskiing.

I also moved into logging and flew stripped-out Sikorsky S-61s, I flew them for about 17 years and did around 7,500h. It was great to be flying back home in BC. While flying for Vancouver Island Helicopters I started on the S-61, but also got to qualify on the Kamov Ka-32. The company bought two of the type and we had to get them certificated by Transport Canada. It was quite interesting having the Russian translators with us.

I've got about 4,000h on the Kamov now and spent two years flying in Taiwan with it. The Taiwanese were building a hydro-electric dam and we flew in all the equipment on sling - drills, cement and so on. We did one month on and one month off.

After that I moved back to logging, but it just got very boring. I wanted to find something fun again. I really enjoyed my days flying through the mountains doing seismic work and joined Skyline Helis to do seismic exploration and heliskiing.

I was there for two years and then moved on to RK Heliski at Panorama, BC, where I'm currently flying the Bell 212 Twin Huey helicopter.

What's the best aspect of being a heliskiing pilot?

It's great to see new faces and new people and on nice days the scenery is just unreal. You just never tire of that great view from your office window.

What sort of routine do you have?

We do two weeks on, two weeks off. When you're working you live at the lodge and typically we'll have a briefing at 07:00 with the guides to discuss the weather and where we can go. We do have a large number of runs, but we're limited by a minimum visibility of half a mile. Sometimes the cloud base means we can't get to some of the other runs. Icing would be a real problem so we have to stay down when there's icing conditions.

How do you become a heliskiing pilot?

You need experience of mountain flying - they can catch you out if you don't pay attention. One of the biggest things to be aware of is the wind as you can, if you are not paying enough attention, suddenly find yourself in a downdraught. You need to learn as much about mountain flying as you can. I have about 2,500h of heliskiing experience.