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5 tips for your first heli-drop mountain bike ride

What you should know before you get into a whirlybird with your bike strapped to the side

Blackcomb Helicopters
Rainbow Mountain in Whistler BC
Brad Hunter rides down Rainbow Mountain in Whistler, B.C., after being dropped at the top by a helicopter. Photo credit: Sterling Lorence

In August, as Clif Bar became Whistler’s official energy bar, I was invited to the Crankworx Clif Bar basecamp to see what the company is all about and learn what new products are in the works for athletes and backcountry adventurers. The highlight for me was joining Clif ambassador athletes Matt Hunter, Andrew Shandro and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame inductee Hans Rey for a guided heli-trip down Rainbow Mountain with Blackcomb Helicopters.

Having only done one float-plane drop before this, I was a bit unsure what to expect. All I knew was the ride would feature mostly descending. I would be riding a black-diamond trail I had never seen before on a rental bike I had never ridden before, all while being photographed by Sterling Lorence in front of some of the sports greatest riders. Pressure? Nah. I just thought I’d better wear some knee pads and try not to embarrass myself too badly.

Here’s what I learned and think you should know before you get into a whirlybird with your bike strapped to the side

Plan for mountain weather

The weather can change quickly and is usually quite a bit cooler and windier at the top. Start with an extra layer on and ditch it in your pack when it gets too warm. We touched down on a snow field and if you are waiting for another load of riders to join in, you may start to get cold.

Bring the right bike

Your trail bike may be able to handle some intermediate trails with some undulating terrain, but a ride down a mountain is different. You may be on your brakes for more than two hours on the terrain that is steep and loose. You want a bike that can handle the advanced terrain that you are paying good money to experience. If you have any doubt in your bike’s condition or suitability, rent, buy or borrow the proper machine. You want some slacker geometry, big grippy tires and really good stoppers.

Before the chopper flies away, make sure you have all your gear

There is a lot going on while everyone is being briefed on safety and you’re busy taking selfies in front of the chopper. A 5,000′ descent isn’t as much fun if your helmet is still laying somewhere near the helipad. I don’t ride with eyewear very often, but this was one of those dusty days requiring shades or even goggles.

Stick together and regroup often

Mechanicals or injuries can happen and you can very quickly be a thousand feet below a fellow rider in need. Be prepared with tools, first aid, food and water in case something unexpected happens.

Stop once in a while

Let your brakes cool down and enjoy the scenery. It’s not a race. It’s definitely about the journey, so look around and take it all in.

Rainbox Mountain
Brad Hunter rides a steep bit on Rainbow Mountain. Photo credit: Sterling Lorence