Photographing the Canadian Rockies from a Helicopter
By Dr. Robert Berdan
June 5, 2012
Watch the short HD video of a helicopter tour over the Rockies (5 minutes duration).
In the spring of 2009, I had the lucky opportunity of being able to photograph the Rockies from a helicopter. I don’t mountain climb so this was the only way I was going to see the Rockies from near their peaks. I have never been in a helicopter before, but one of my students, Susan Sliger, along with her husband and pilot Ralph, are owners of the Icefield Heli Tours. When I expressed an interest in photographing from a helicopter, Susan kindly invited me to join them one Sunday (May 30, 2009) for an afternoon of adventure. I joined the flight crew on four separate flights, and after several hours at 12,500 feet (4000 m) to my surprise I started to feel a little light headed from the thin air, or maybe it was the beautiful scenery. To learn more about the icefield Helicopter Tours read on, view the movie above, and enjoy the pictures below. Icefields Heli tours even offers a special engagement flight where you can fly your honey out to a beautiful waterfall and propose if you like - but if you do, don't forget to bring the ring!
Main office of the Icefield Helicopter Tours on David Thompson Highway (highway 11) near The Saskatchewan River
Crossing and highway 93. The owners are Ralph and Susan Sliger see website link below for more information.
Helicopters waiting to take passengers on tours into the Rockies.
Abraham lake is a man-made reservoir. View from the cockpit shortly after take off.
Flying along the Cline river valley near Saskatechwean crossing. One mountain side is red due to high iron content.
View from the cockpit as we approached Mt. Cline.
Helicopter landing spot along the Cline River, from here a short trail leads to a beautiful waterfall.
Gerry Weber (helicopter mechanic and photo enthusiast) hoists my 50 pound camera bag out of the helicopter.
Engagement waterfalls, we landed nearby and hiked a short distance to get to this beautiful waterfall. Some men
have flown in with their girl friends and proposed marriage at this scenic location. The waterfall doesn't have a name and is often named after the people that visit, so I decided to name it "Engagement waterfalls".
Glacier lake in Banff National Park, AB
View from the backseat of the helicopter.
Bow river valley from about 12,000 feet up.
Flying over a high ridge we sometimes experienced updrafts that shook the helicopter, but what a view.
We took off again and flew down a mountain valley and the view from the front seat was spectacular. Later we climbed up high and flew over several mountain peaks covered in snow and eventually made our way over to the Columbia icefields. We could see the Bow valley and highway below. I was lucky to have such a beautiful day for these flight photographs.
I used my Canon 5D camera and a 16-35mm zoom lens with a polarizing filter to take pictures and shoot HD video. A polarizing filter helps reduce reflections off the cockpit glass, but sometimes reflections were unavoidable. The main obstacle is to hold the camera steady in the helicopter. Professional videographers use special gear to attach their video cameras and prevent camera shake. Shooting single shots is easy, holding the camera still while filming is more challenging. My camera settings were usually at ISO 200, f/8 with a shutter speed of 1/125 -1/250 of a second. Overall, I was very impressed with the quality of the HD video taken by the Canon 5D. In the HD video at the top of the page no colour correction or modifications were applied, the video is shown straight as it was taken. I am sure a video colourist could make the colours appear better, but the colours look good to me straight out of the camera.
Abraham lake - reservoir. This shallow reservoir seems to vary greatly in depth in different seasons.
Abraham lake - reservoir
Abraham lake and resevoir with David Thompson Highway (highway 11) .
Canadian Rockies with the bow valley visible in the distance.
Athabasca Glacier and Columbia icefields.
Flying east we traveled over mountain ranges where I could see numerous clear cut logging patchs outside the park.
Helicopter's shadow as we descend over a forest to visit a forest fire station.
Jasper highway in the bow valley below.
The cost of helicopter tours start around $169 and go up depending on the duration of the flight, and whether or not there is a stop-over. For example a 55 minute flight currently costs $549 per seat with a minimum of 2 passengers. You will also be required to sign a waiver. Some folks, I was told fly to a particular mountain top to get married. Some fishermen also take heli-flights in order to visit remote mountain lakes and go fly-fishing. Visit the heli-website links below for up-to-date pricing and view the variety of tours offered. Flights usually run from 7 am to 8 pm and are available all year long. All adventures require a $100 non-refundable deposit and they reserve the right to cancel trips due to safety conditions.
What should you bring on a Heli-tour?
First, make sure you bring your camera! If you use a DLSR camera with a wide angle zoom lens, I recommend you attach a polarizing filter to the lens on sunny days and carry an extra battery. Second, on hot summer days bring comfortable clothes, a small pack with wind-breaker or water-proof jacket, a sweater or fleece pullover, and comfortable hiking shoes. Weather can change quickly in the mountains and it's best to be prepared for cooler weather such as snow or rain if you plan to do any hiking and be "bear aware". You should also bring a water bottle and some snacks like chocolate bars. RB
Icefield Helicopter Tours Heliport is located 42 kilometers east of the Icefield Parkway (Highway #93) on Highway #11.
Icefield Helicopter Tours is about three hours from Calgary and about four hours from Edmonton, and near Rocky Mountain House (one hour west of Red Deer). There is also a helicopter tour at the entrance to Kananaskis provincial park next to the Stoney Nakoda Resort & Casino 40 minutes out of Calgary on the way to Banff.