Riding in a helicopter naturally elicits a flurry of emotions. I feel like I'm five years old again, wanting to excitedly scream, "Whee!" – while simultaneously feeling like a badass action hero in an adventure movie.
Add in breathtaking views of glacier-clad peaks, ribbons of waterfalls and endless forest and I'm in heaven in more ways than one. I've lived near the mountains of Alberta my whole life but on this Rockies Heli Canada tour it's like I'm seeing them for the first time. It's a wholly different encounter to view these gentle giants from such a vantage point – a sky-scraping altitude of 3,810 m (12,500 ft).
A chopper ride is eye-opening right from take-off. You rise straight up for several metres, then you're off! At times, it almost feels like we're barely moving – just suspended in time, encircled by primordial mountains. Then the helicopter dips and flies us over the Cline Pass and past the massive Cline, Lion and Lioness glaciers.
With this bird's eye view, I can barely contain my exhilaration as we soar over the Columbia Icefield. We hover above this mammoth field of ancient ice covering 324 sq km (125 sq mi), some of it up to 366 m (1,200 ft) thick, making it the largest body of ice in the Rockies. We proceed over Lyle and Wilson icefields where we're close enough to make out individual crevasses in the ice. My jaw begins to ache from continually dropping as one amazing sight follows another.
A Walk Among Giants
Soon, we hover over a high alpine meadow and the helicopter sets down smoothly on the grass. We step out onto the surprisingly lush meadow. We're beyond the point where trees can grow so instead we find a plant community made up of wildflowers, mosses, succulents, lichens and low shrubs. The air is cool, crisp and fresh – and I mean fresh. We tread carefully along rock ledges overlooking aquamarine lakes and spot a marmot sunning himself on a rock – until our banter annoys him enough that he gets up and leaves. All the while, we're completely surrounded by a panorama of spectacular glaciers draped atop the mountains.
As we climb back aboard, it’s my turn for the co-pilot seat. Just when I think things can't get any better, they do. The front seat upgrade is worth every penny, giving me an obstruction-free view of the mountains, glaciers, and a 275 m (900 ft) waterfall on the way back. Be still my heart. And sitting next to the handsome pilot wasn't a hardship either.
On Top of the World
Back at the helicopter base, I'm still on a high. I can't believe I've just experienced such raw outback beauty. This is a side of the mountain parks most people never see and literally takes sightseeing to a whole new level.
Choose from a few different helicopter tour operators, which offer a number of tour options, varying by time in the air, scenic routes and cost. Rockies Heli, for example, offers a shorter 20-minute glacier tour, a 30-minute summit and icefield tour, and a 55-minute complete icefield tour. Add-ons of a hike, snowshoeing, a light meal and even champagne are available. Whichever tour you choose, you can't go wrong with this truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.