The sessions start very early. At 6.30 a.m.m The whole team met at the base of the Viella heliport, that is, guides, forecaster, pilot and lead Guide. We went on to plan decision-making in terms of weather and snow conditions together, and for this we use different digital short-term forecasting tools as well as local automatic weather stations at height where we can obtain data on wind, precipitation, temperature , humidity…. We archive all this in our app adapted to the Heliski/board. As a result of this information we agree with which state of mind we are going to choose the appropriate terrain. We put red lights where under no circumstances are we going to go, green lights where we can make descents with little commitment, and yellow lights if we decide to take a step forward to offer our clients more complex descents than in the green zone. This meeting, therefore, will mark the day's logbook seeking the balance between safety and enjoyment, and for this reason it is very important.
Clients arrive at the base according to the scheduled times, and we receive them with tea or coffee in a warm and comfortable space where we carry out a briefing focused on how we want them to descend the mountains that we offer them. We also set some distance guidelines between them and the guide to tell them how to get on and off the helicopter, but above all we emphasize how they should behave in case of avalanche. For the latter we practice with the arva (avalanche victim search device) and handling of the Air-bag backpack.
We would have the final preparations: radio inspection, air control, table settings, equipment and a final briefing by the pilot on the important parts of the helicopter (a B3 Ecureuil) for the passengers, as well as how to behave in accident case.
The groups are of 4 passengers per guide, and we always go out as minimum 2 groups simultaneously to the mountain to provide the best service in terms of safety and choice of terrain and snow. We operate in 400 square km always within the Aran Valley with a catalog of about 200 descents of different difficulty between 400 meters and 1000 meters of unevenness.
To give a practical example, today we have a group of 8 passengers from Switzerland who come from Verbier knowing the quality of the snow and the fun terrain that they will find on the north face of the Pyrenees. For them it is quite an experience, and although they already know Heliskiing in Canada or other World Class destinations, Heliriding in the Aran Valley is very special. It's not just about sliding Powder over suggestive terrain, but also finding the charm of the Valley with plenty of gastronomic proposals, as well as the warm treatment of the Latin character. This particular group of Swiss have privately hired the Helicopter for the whole day. A minimum of 2 hours of real flight, which takes us to spend the whole day in the mountains with a meal included. It is easy for us to do more than 12 descents throughout the Aran Valley.
The day promises; Yesterday 20 cm of dry snow fell on a stable layer with a mild and moderate wind in height near the cols and summits, the temperatures are low (-8º to 2000 meters), but the best thing is that there will be a blue sky that will remain until the afternoon. These days the emotions soar, everything is in favor to live a great day of Heliriding that will accompany you in your memories for a long time. The group is powerful and the conditions are exceptional, so we just have to be ambitious with the choice of descents.
3, 2, 1…. Take off!
First descent, touchdown. We are looking for comfortable terrain in terms of slope, but with exquisite snow and high-altitude morning lights that take us to another reality. This is not a dream, we are sliding quality Powder in a small group of 8 riders, 2 guides and a helicopter with a pilot who gives us a lot of confidence.
The day flows from less to more, playing with the shapes left by the high wind and betting on yellow traffic lights on increasingly steep slopes and in the most stable orientations, always respecting the established limits. The group is enjoying a lot, some turns raise trails above their heads on each descent, the smiles get bigger and the uncertainty smaller; we do not lower our guard for that reason.
At 13.30 pm we already have 8 descents and it is time to take a break to recover strength and continue the day until the sun sets. So the guides prepare a lunch on the snow in an improvised place with all kinds of delicacies that you would never carry in your backpack at more than 2000 meters high while the helicopter is going to refuel.
The last descents of the day are usually the return to calm. The bodies are already somewhat tired, both physically and mentally, from all the emotions of the day. But the snow is so good and the afternoon lights so suggestive that we take advantage of all the available kerosene in exchange for some extra descent. It's 17.00 pm and the last group arrives at the heliport. Everyone is ecstatic to have enjoyed a memorable Heliriding day; 15 rotations per group which is equivalent to 150 runs for the two groups.
Already at the base, everything is hugs and happy faces. We discuss the good times over a few cold beers, exchanging photos and videos, saying goodbye with the best feelings of having done a good job and that this group returns to Switzerland with the certainty that in Spain, apart from the beach, sun and tapas , you can also enjoy good Powder.
This is how the Heliriding day ends for the clients, but for the guides we still have the last meeting. We do a debriefing of the day where we analyze details of the operation on the snow, the descents and the behavior of the group. In this way, we are creating a pattern of information that serves us day by day. Only in this way can we improve and offer the best quality and safety blankets in our extensive catalog of descents within the Aran Valley.
The day has grown long and wide. Now it's time to rest and think about the next day. What's tomorrow? Helisplitboarding. And well, that's another story of moderate effort and high satisfaction.
WHO IS JAVI BARRO?
Javi Barro is a collaborator of the Uller team whom we admire as a person and professional. He is a professional snowboarder who currently works as a Heliboard and Heliski guide in the Aran Valley (Lleida). He has been doing it for 15 seasons, specifically being one of the pioneers from the company Heliboarding Val d'Aran, and there are countless trips he has made to the Chilean and Argentine Andes, New Zealand or Alaska. Always look for new terrain to practice this sport and thus achieve the best power. Javi, in addition to this, is a freeride snowboard trainer at ETEVA (Escòla de Tecnics Esportius Val d'Aran), mountain sports technician and snow and avalanche instructor at AIARE (American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education) and ACNA (Asociación Conocimiento snow and avalanches).
His personality full of vitality and passion for challenges has led him to develop his facet as a teacher in which he is involved as a professional and as a person. Invite your students and companions, not only to learn the use of the equipment, but to challenge their skills in all types of mountain terrain. Also, Javi Barro is not only an adventurer, but he is also multilingual, and even people of other nationalities can enjoy his guide. His 20 years of experience as a freerider in different parts of the world make him one of the best guides in the Aran Valley.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
What is Heliskiing?
One of the most common questions that may arise when reading about a day with the freerider Javi Barro is: what is Heliskiing?
Heliskiing is a type of ski that began to be practiced around the 1960s. Now, what is the Heliski? Mainly in transporting skiers by helicopter to peaks that can only be accessed with that means of transport. The experience, as can be guessed if it has never been practiced, is completely different from that lived on the conventional slopes of the stations. This activity allows the skier to be in much deeper contact with the landscape, not only due to the reduced number of people with whom it is practiced simultaneously (unlike a day of skiing on the traditional piste), but also due to the beauty of the landscapes that can only be seen in this type of experience.
What is the Heliski paradise?
Today it could be said that the mountains of Canada are one of the best places to practice this sport. Its steep valleys and gorges make this experience unforgettable, designed especially for experienced freeriders. However, in Europe we have one of the first powers in this modality of Skiing: Switzerland, specifically the canton of Valais.
What is the Splitboard?
This alpine modality is born from the fusion between cross-country skiing and snow, and this combination of both creates a unique experience around this sport known as Splitboard that is enjoyed by the biggest fans of winter sports. For him, a specific board is needed that splits like a conventional snowboard, but is cut in half lengthwise. From here two skis of approximately 13 cm are born that will be covered on the bottom part, the part that makes contact with the snow, with what is known as "sealskin". What do we get with this? The skier will be able to ascend the mountain using these two skis, avoiding slipping down thanks to the aforementioned coating, and rejoin them when he reaches the desired top to create the snowboard. The bindings are the most important part of this sport, because what looks like a conventional soft boot binding that is used on the slopes on a snowboard, becomes a binding to lock on the ascent by means of special pins. The subsequent descent can be carried out with assured reliability.
What is Helisplit?
The Helisplit is a modality of splitboard combined with the use of the helicopter for the approach to those chosen points of the mountain. However, it is not about flying directly to the places from which you want to start the descent, but to points from which you can continue the ascent with the board. In the Helisplit practice in the Valle de Arán area, specifically, a first descent is made from the top of the Valley, and then you climb to other peaks with the seal skins placed in the area of the board that comes into contact with the snow, with the aim of finding the best lines, always guaranteeing the enjoyment and safety of athletes.
What is the Aran Valley?
Valle de Arán is a region in the province of Lleida, in Catalonia, where you can enjoy sports such as Heliskiing. It is an area in which winter activities are known throughout the world, both for the landscape in which they are practiced and for the quality of the guides that allow you to do it. Javi Barro is, in fact, one of the best guides in the Valley because, not only his experience as a freerider and professional precedes him, but he has also been in the Aran Valley for 15 years.
Now, what activities can be done in the Aran Valley besides Heliskiing? In addition to winter sports, Aran is an ideal area for hiking, cycling and tourism, with a very rich historical and cultural heritage. It presents a monumental artistic complex made up of a large number of Romanesque churches that are worth visiting, as well as a park known as Aran Park where you can discover the fauna and biodiversity of the high mountains.