Big Mountain Heli Experiences, a Bend, Oregon-based helicopter tour company, began in November 2016 and offered scenic flights and tailored adventure tours for those looking for something a little more unique. With the help of
Big Mountain Heli Experiences, a Bend, Oregon-based helicopter tour company, began in November 2016 and offered scenic flights and tailored adventure tours for those looking for something a little more unique.
With the help of the largest helicopter and fixed-wing flight school in the West, Big Mountain Heli Tours operates out of Bend Municipal Airport. After a morning trek to Tumalo Falls with our host Danner, the Portland-based boot purveyors, our group of journalists and photographers — some native Bendites and some first-time Bend tourists — arrived at the airport on a sunny mid-May late afternoon.
We were greeted by Patric Douglas, the property’s owner, when we arrived. While we waited for the team to come, I learned that Douglas is no stranger to the world of adventure entrepreneurship. When he first started Shark Diver on Mexico’s Isla Guadalupe, he was the first to do commercial white shark diving there. When we checked to see that everyone in our crew had followed the instructions to bring sunglasses and a light jacket, it became clear that we weren’t just taking a heli tour of the Cascade Range; instead, Douglas had arranged for a “doors-off experience” on his Ring Of Fire Tour of the snowy mountains. In addition to the gravity-defying thrills of helicopter travel, Douglas’ doors-off flights provide passengers with breathtaking, unimpeded views of the surrounding landscape. There are several popular tours, but the Ring of Fire Tour is the most well-known, offering views of the Cascades from Mount Hood to Mount Jefferson to Three Fingered Jack to Mount Washington to Broken Top to Mount Bachelor.
Groups of 3 formed, and local flight instructors presented themselves to their students. Basic helicopter safety and communication were taught to us; we were also cautioned to keep our hands, cameras, and mobile phones inside the helicopter; the ladies were advised to arrange their ponytails into tight buns in anticipation of “heli hair” and to zip or hide away anything that could fly out. A series of cautions about keeping our hands in the cockpit led us to put on our communication headsets as we readied for takeoff.
In the bright green R44 helicopters, we took flight and experienced the euphoria of defying gravity and the lightning-fast maneuverability of the aircraft. While flying over Bend, our pilot described the city’s great golf courses, the Deschutes River’s meandering path through town, and the massive lava fields that bordered the town. Driving west along the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, we were greeted by views of Mount Bachelor and a vibrantly green environment punctuated by tall pines and their long afternoon shadows.
Mount Bachelor dominated our view as we rose in altitude and the cabin temperature dropped. I sat atop the peak and stared down at the snowcats grooming the upper Cow’s Face snowfield, admiring the complex of tree runs off Cloudchaser and Northwest from this unique vantage point.
We made our way north toward Broken Top, which beckoned in the distance. Backcountry skiers and snowboarders’ tracks were visible in the couloirs and snowfields, as well as mountain goats’ rocky cliffs, as our pilot circled Broken Top many times. The uplift on the west side of Broken Top gave us a rush of excitement as we sped down the mountain. Central Oregon’s spectacular landscape was displayed in every direction, from the Cascades to the horizon.