Forget the potato salad and sandwiches on a blanket. In Whistler, BC — where extreme sports of all kinds rule — an al fresco meal in nature has to be a heli-picnic. What's a heli-picnic? It's when a helicopter transports you and your entourage from the Village valley to a pristine glacial lake for a private, backcountry catered lunch at Whistler’s highest picnic table. Here’s how to make your special picnic with altitude the best ever.
Choose your season
You can actually heli-picnic any time of year, summer or winter, and customize the experience to your tastes. For example, in the warmer months you can travel to a mountaintop lake for a romantic lunch. Or in the ski season, to untouched slopes of knee-deep powder to carve down anything from 4,500 to 15,000 vertical feet, depending on whether you’re like it easygoing or advanced, then dine slopeside après ski.
Pick your location
In summer, Blackcomb Helicopters shuttles guests over the Rainbow Glacier, Coast Mountain peaks, and deep-carved valleys, with bird’s eye views of Armchair Glacier, Wedgemont Lake, and Spearhead Traverse, landing for a midday meal at Beverly Lake. On the way back, the pilot buzzes by a huge waterfall and hovers over the hulking glaciers behind Whistler Blackcomb. In winter, you can book heli day trip packages for up to 10 people with Whistler Heli-Skiiing for various backcountry skiing and snowboarding combos. Outings include a ride-along photographer and videographer and picnic from Whistler’s delicious Bearfoot Bistro. Other tours pair activities like heli-hiking, snowmobiling, and ice caving, or a wilderness spa hot springs dip, with lunch at the top of Whistler.
Get a picnic
Many heli-adventures are catered by some of the town’s top locavore-minded talents: Table Nineteen Eatery and Bearfoot Bistro are two of them. Gourmet offerings might include a charcuterie board, Okanagan heirloom tomato and field greens salad, washed down with BYOB wine. If you want to bring your own basket of goodies, consider stopping in at the Whistler Farmers Market at the base of Blackcomb Mountain to pick up some artisan bread, cheese, local apples and pears, and some homemade cookies or chocolates. The market is open Sundays May to October and also on Wednesdays in July and August. If you decide to take a side trip to nearby Pemberton to the north, gather your ingredients at picturesque North Arm Farm’s organic farmgate market.
Find your group
Most heli-picnic excursions are for two or more people. You can join a group outing, organize an exclusive trip for up to 14 of your friends, or book a romantic couple’s adventure for an anniversary or big birthday. Some people even get hitched or celebrate a anniversary up top.
What to bring
Perhaps the most important item is a camera (or smartphone camera) to capture the 360-degree panoramas and glacier-carved geography from above. After that, you’ll want to wear a good variety of layers, including a fleece and light-weight jacket, hiking boots or sturdy running shoes, a hat, and sunglasses. Don’t forget the sunscreen and in summer, your bathing suit. Skiers and boarders should also dress in high-quality waterproof layers appropriate for the backcountry and its changeable weather conditions.
What to expect
Your pilot knows the lay of the land, and will take you up to stunning spots difficult, if not impossible, to access on foot. So expect blissful serenity and solitude — it’s rare to bump into another human, though you might see a marmot or whiskey jack. In summer, you’ll find yourself atop a glacier, with a spot next to a crystalline lake of turquoise water. In winter, you’ll step onto virgin snow in a white world high above the clouds with Instagram-worthy views.
After filling up on lunch, in summer time, you might soak up the sun by the shore and read a good novel. Or hike around the sub-alpine area, swim in the lake, cliff jump, or stand-up paddleboard.
It’ll be hard to come down from the mountains after such an epic afternoon, but when you do, either contrast your day of R&R with a night out on the town, sampling Whistler’s rowdy nightlife. Or, continue the Zen with even more unwinding.
Prep for your heli-tour at the Tourism Whistler website.