Text and photographs by Kylie Campbell.
In March 2018, Yukon Heli hosted its first indigenous youth camp in Fraser, BC. Over two days they invited various indigenous youth from the Yukon and northern BC to experience the world of heli-skiing. The goal of the two-day camp on March 24th -25th was to connect local indigenous youth to the different working opportunities in the ski and snowboard industry.
Pete Wright, owner of Yukon Heliski, is passionate about empowering and training Indigenous peoples to work in the heli-ski industry. Wright was born in Whitehorse and raised in the Atlin, BC area and surrounding mountains. Wright’s father, Arnold Edzerza, ran a guiding business in Atlin for 40 years. Wright was adopted by the Etzenlee clan as a small child, and grew up with the Tahltan First Nation family. In 1998, he began heli-skiing with CMH (Cariboo Mountain Holiday) in the Cariboo Mountains, working in the Cariboo Lodge in Valemount, BC.
Over the years he has done many expeditions in the Atlin mountains, crossing the Juneau Ice Cap to the Pacific from Atlin, leading ski-mountaineering expeditions on the St. Elias range and Mount Logan among others in the Yukon mountains. During the summer months Wright works in the gold mining industry.
His love and passion for the mountains and skiing, particularly in the Yukon, is paramount. He loves to share this with visitors all over the world who book to ski with Yukon Heliski. He is also keen to bring more Indigenous peoples to work with him.
Niko Helm of the Carcross-Tagish First Nation has been with Yukon Heliski for five years now, and is well on his way to becoming a qualified mountain ski guide.
The camp brought in a team of guides, photographers, cinematographers, filmmakers, helicopter pilots, and tourism operators to share their experiences and insights in this industry. Local instructors came in to speak and teach several topics related to the ski and snowboard industry.
The two-day camp was lead by Christopher Britt, an outdoor educator who spends his time teaching outdoor education and science to First Nations youth in Mount Currie, working for Yukon Heli ski and guiding in Whistler, BC. Britt and Lilooet Nation sponsored two Lilooet students to join this event to make the experience inter-provincial. I was fortunate to be invited to volunteer in the incredible camp.
Firstly, I had never been heli-skiing and secondly it was my 32nd birthday when I actually got to go. I arrived to Yukon Heliski’s tiny home camp base in the Fraser border parking lot.
It was a bluebird day; perfect temperatures and everyone was eager to get into the mountains. The day started by getting the youth to understand avalanche safety, which involves understanding and using an avalanche transceiver, probe and shovel (in the event of an avalanche these items allow a person to be able to find the victim and dig them out).
Fortunately the youth were lucky to have an avalanche victim in the form of the Minister of Economic Development Ranj Pillai. The youth frantically running to try and find the victim and extricate him quickly, proved a fun and fruitful training method. For the youth, some had never heli-skied, some had never skied or snowboarded ever. It didn’t matter. Everyone enjoyed the pleasant mellows mountain slopes and easy access up and down with the helicopter.
Even for the youth that had never skied or snowboarded before, there was nothing but smiles on their faces as they got to experience the mountains in a new way.
Throughout the day, the guides and instructors would talk about the jobs that are possible within the heli-ski industry; from helicopter pilot to camp cook. Yukon Heliski’s aim is to champion a local connection to place and local employment options that give back to the local community that shares the land with them. They endeavour to continue this camp this year and on a year to year basis.