Of course, I didn’t come all the way to the Aosta Valley just to get in touch with my inner wineoceros, but anyone who’s been stuck waiting out weeks of bad weather in Alaska will tell you that good distractions are essential. Unless you get really lucky, the down days are simply part of the deal on a heli trip. In our case, we spent the first few days of our trip waiting for a snowfall decent enough to open up some lines. Then, out of nowhere, three feet of fresh fell from the sky. To our dismay, this actually turned out to be too much, and the new layer was about as stable as Tony Soprano on speed. We had no choice but to go back to being tourists for a few more days. Just as the snowpack was finally starting to seem safe, the wind arrived to blow most of the powder away and further increase the risk of an avalanche.
Driven by frustration and impatience, we lost the plot on the first windy day and decided to take the helicopter out for an expensive joyride, searching hopefully for a protected zone to shred. No such luck. In fact, I never even made it out of the helicopter and paid dearly with a nauseating ride that made any roller coaster I’ve ever been on look pretty tame. A chopper may be the best possible mode of transport for accessing gnarly terrain, but the cramped quarters aren’t so sweet should you find yourself in need of a place to puke. In an airplane you have those handy paper bags tucked behind every seat, and almost every other mode of transport I’ve been in offers the option of a window to hang your head out of. In a heli, however, you really only have two choices: swallow it or wear it. I chose the former, and made a promise to myself to be more patient in the future.
In ten days, we only got two where everything lined up. When it was finally on, it was worth the wait, and we were immediately blown away by the endless potential of the vast playground that is the Italian side of Mont Blanc. Just five minutes in the bird and we were alone on top of nearly endless untracked terrain. The lines the riders stepped to were steep and sharky, and the snow was still far from stable. With the guides seemingly on siesta, responsibility for our safety was largely left up to us.