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November 1990 Volume 19, Issue 3

There’s a helicopter run up in Canada—British Columbia, to be more accurate—called Freefall. At the top of Freefall is a small, open field. A glade of charred, limbless tree—all that’s left of a lightning fire—below the summit yields to a 45-degree plumb line that rockets through 3,000 vertical feet of thick timber to the valley below. Over a half-mile…no benches, no flats, no quarter given, none asked.

Freefall has seen countless tracks the last few seasons, but once, just a couple years ago, it was an unskied, unnamed jewel begging for first turns. Then, one day, heli-skiing czar Mike Wiegele, photographer Gary Brettnacher, and a crew of guests made the first landing. As they stared nearly straight down at the pickup spot with a sense of vertigo, Gary pulled Mike aside.

“Mike,” he said, “I think this is going to be an epic run, maybe legendary. Wouldn’t it be nice if we shot some photos of you making the first-ever tracks?”

Wiegele’s not without a sense of history, and maybe there was a little ego involved, so he said eagerly, “Yes, yes, I think you are right.”

“OK, Mike, I’ll just ski on ahead, 20 yards or so. Give me a minute to set up, and then just ski toward me.”

G.B. grabbed his poles and started skiing. Mike smiled, thinking of all the years they’d been skiing together, all the Kodachrome they’d burned. He watched Brettnacher’s compact form move as a cloud blowing through the burned-out section. “Jeez, that looks like good snow,” he thought.

At 20 yards, Brettnacher gave a little hitch, but he didn’t stop. That’s OK, Mike thought, maybe he’s going to use a long lens. But Brettnacher kept going.

“Hey, he’s gone too far,” he said aloud. Slowly, it came to Mike. “Wait a minute, he’s not going to stop…he’s not gonna stop until he gets to the helicopter!BrettNAAAAAACHERRRRRR, you baaastarrrrrd!!!! Come back herrrrre!”

It was a hell of a chase.

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