Powder turns

Bob Bjelland enjoys quest for untouched snow
By 
Miriam Campan
Reporter
Friday, March 13, 2020
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It’s lift off time, as the Bell 212 helicopter leaves the skiers to their own adventure.
Photo courtesy of Bob Bjelland

The first time Bob Bjelland hit the ski slopes he was 18 years old. Fifty-two years later Bjelland continues to ski, but prefers a helicopter to a ski lift in the quest for untouched snow. Heli-skiing, as it is called, provides that experience at altitudes of up to 8,000 ft.
“A helicopter can take you to a range of areas where you are the first ones down the slope. At ski resorts they all get skied out by 10 a.m. and we want powder all day,” said Bjelland.
Bjelland retired late last year from a long career with the Fergus Federal Credit Union in Lewistown. The avid skier recently returned from a heli-skiing trip to Canada.
He explained how heli-skiing works.
 “You get to the landing area and take off your skis. The skis are loaded on the right side of the helicopter and the skiers, guide and pilot load up on the left side. Everyone on board, it takes about 5 minutes to get to the starting point. The Bell 212-helicopter has two jet engines. It has quite a bit of power to get up high and to that kind of elevation. Skiers make the run back to the base, and the helicopter can go again to a fresh spot. Eight to 10 runs a day is a hard, long day.”
Fresh, un-trodden slopes may be the first quest for heli-skiers. The second is safety, and that involves being more than an experienced skier.
Bjelland said, “One risk of heli-skiing is an avalanche. A second risk is if you are skiing in trees, you could fall in a tree well. Don’t ski close to them.”

He added, “Safety is very important. Each skier carries a backpack with a shovel and a probe. We also carry a beacon which is always on transmit if somebody were caught in an avalanche. If caught in an avalanche, skiers can signal out with the beacon and fellow skiers walk with a 12-foot-long probe to locate the downed skier and pierce the snow to provide air. It takes only five to 10 minutes before a person suffocates.”
“Glacier skiing and timberline (which is down lower) is what we do. When there is a danger of an avalanche we mainly ski around the trees. It’s like a ballet once you get going; it’s almost effortless and all you think about is the next turn,” said Bjelland.
Bjelland reminisced about a heli-ski trip where he was lifted to an area that had had a major fire.
“The fire had gone through the really tall trees and burnt the trunks, leaving no branches. It was a really great run,” he said.
Seventy-year-old Bjelland had some recommendations for skiers who are looking for untouched slopes and a heli-skiing experience. He suggested booking the trip at least a year and a half in advance. Most heli-skiing experiences are based out of Canada.
Bjelland added, “You want to be a good powder skier before you start. You need to be in the best shape you can be in. It’s a lot of work with all the up and down. If you fall into bottomless powder it is hard to get up because there is nothing to push against.”
Bjelland’s favorite skiing partner is his daughter, Kari Hoovler, a Fergus graduate and ski instructor at the Yellowstone Club. Skiing just runs in the family.

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