Photo courtesy of Pacific Crest Heli-Guides

On Dec. 15, a whirlybird is scheduled to take off from the Truckee airport with a handful of eager powder skiers, the inaugural flight of Pacific Crest Heli-Guides, Lake Tahoe’s first commercial heli-skiing operation.

The chopper will head north-northwest to an area along the Sierra Crest north of Donner Summit and south of Yuba Pass and the Sierra Buttes.

“We’ve got access to 100,000 acres, more than all the Tahoe resorts combined,” says Dave Rintala, mastermind and chief guide behind the operation.

It’s a natural evolution for Rintala, owner of Pacific Crest Snowcats, which has been running trips deep in Cold Stream Canyon between Sugar Bowl and Squaw for the last nine years, and is a partner in a heli-skiing operation in Valdez, Alaska.

The key to launching the heli operation was securing an agreement to use a 100,000-acre swath of private land in a remote region northwest of Truckee. The zone has rarely been skied before. There’s a nearly unlimited variety of terrain, says Rintala, from wide-open bowls to steep chutes and couloirs, with considerable opportunity to make first descents.

However, the privilege of heli-access for a day will cost you more than a season’s pass at most Tahoe resorts. Rates start at $899/day. The operation can accommodate up to 16 skiers per day with a ratio of one guide per four guests.

If inclement weather grounds the choppers, guests will be given the option of skiing with Pacific Crest Snowcats instead. —Pete Gauvin