We caught up with Matt Devlin and Tim Shenkariuk at Kingfisher Heli Skiing and asked them what it’s like to live the dream of owning a heli skiing operation after being guides in Revelstoke.
The Kingfisher Heli stash is in a previously untapped area of British Columbia — the Central Monashee Mountain Range. Filled with some of the best tree skiing and over 20 feet of settled snow every year (that’s 240 inches of base material my friends), it’s only 75 minutes to the international airport.
You don’t have to worry about road closures ruining your trip, either.
Matt and Tim are coming off the tail end of an epic season and if you want to know what heli skiing in British Columbia is like, these are the guys to talk to.
BC Cold Smoke
Q: What made you guys think, “Let’s start a Heli Skiing company…”?
A: We’ve been friends for 21/22 years and Matty has been guiding for 17 of them. He got me started on the same journey and I think we all dream of owning our own operation one day.
That’s the story.
I started guiding in 1999 and worked in the industry for all of my 20’s. I got lucky finding a gig at a heli ski company and after working as a heli guide for 6 years I wanted to start my own thing. Two failed attempts later and we ended up right in my backyard…
Q: Why did you choose the Central Monashee Mountain Range, British Columbia?
A: They kind of chose us. Matt grew up in a valley nearby and even he didn’t know these mountains were here. You can’t even see them from the highway. He got to see them from a fixed wing flight one day and it just made sense.
The fact that no one in the industry thought this section of the Monashees was worth investigating is still mind boggling.
It’s like they were waiting there for us to start Kingfisher
The terrain and snow rivals anything in Revy, the snow amounts too, but the location really sets us apart.
Our ski terrain and lodging is the easiest and most convenient to get to in all of Canada. Kelowna International Airport is only 75 minutes away from our main resort, the Gold Panner, and 40 minutes away from our private package at Sparkling Hills resort.
Sometimes people freak out when they get here because there isn’t much snow at the Gold Panner, but a 5 minute flight and it’s full-on winter.
Q: What was the hardest part about getting started?
A: Getting the license from the government for our tenure. You put in the elbow grease to come up with a 45+ page plan of how you’ll operate and then pay a $4000 application fee and start the process with no guarantees.
You have to show the First Nations, public users, and representatives from forestry, mining, and other departments how you’re going to operate in a sustainable way. The whole process can take 1-10 years because the business has to be good for the land and everyone involved, not just us.
Every single one of these groups gives feedback on our plan and we have to have clear environmental management systems in place.
We have lots of different animals here. Wolverines, mountain goats, moose, deer…
We make sure our helicopters don’t disrupt their lives. Like the mountain goats who hang out on peaks in the winter. If we see those animals we avoid the terrain. The females have their pups high up in February in snow dams. When we spot them, we don’t ski there for a season.
Q: That’s awesome! I didn’t realize Heli Operations had to be so environmentally responsible.
A: Yes. Obviously, we fly helicopters and that burns fossil fuels, but we really take care of the land we’re on and operate in a way that respects the First Nations, the wildlife, and the local communities.
Q: What’s the best part of running your company? Besides getting to heli ski all the time … not jealous
A: Ha! The best parts are getting to take people into special areas, having a great time in the mountains and seeing smiles on people’s faces. Being told that “This was the best day skiing in my life,” or ‘This was the best trip I have ever been on,” is pretty rewarding.
The adventurous side of exploring new areas is another one of the perks. We get to see new terrain and spend our days in the mountains which is what the dream is all about.
We love hearing how amazing the Kingfisher staff is from the guests, too. Our team makes it all happen and we wouldn’t be able to do it without them.
Q: Is heli skiing safe for people without backcountry experience?
A: You don’t need backcountry experience to ski with us, but it never hurts. We do a ton of work up front to asses the snowpack and weather and decide on what terrain to go for.
We train everyone in how to use beacons, probes, and shovel and equip all our guests with radio and airbag backpacks.
Our experienced guides keep them away from the hazardous slopes and are there in case anything does go wrong.
These are still the mountains of British Columbia, so safe is a tough word to use, but we make it as safe as humanly possible for everyone from intermediates to Red Bull sponsored skiers and snowboarders.
Q: Do you guide pros and groups for filming?
A: We do, we’ve had athletes like Julian Carr, Kalen Thorien, Sean and Callum Pettit and a lot more. But,we limit it to one ski and one snowboard group a year so we can focus on everyone else.
This year we guided a Giro team shoot with snowboarders Bryan Fox, Curtis Ciszek, Christian Haller & Nils Mindnich.
The Volcom crew also brought Curtis Ciszek and Mark Landvik up to shred with us our very first season.
We had so much fun with all of them. When they come up we get into bigger terrain and get to push the limits.
Q: Do you pack up and go home for the summer?
A: No way! We’ve got some amazing mountain biking trails we’re excited to get back on.
We’ll be camping, hiking, and mountain biking until it starts to snow again so come up and join us.
Q: You guys are really living the dream… What makes it all possible?
A: The amazing people who come to see us and our partnership with Ed Lewis and SNOCRU.
We wouldn’t be able to do it without SNOCRU and all of you.
Thank you! Come ski or snowboard with us, we promise it won’t suck!