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Bird's Eye View

Seeing Central Oregon from a helicopter offers a peek at our winter wonderland in a way no ski lift can muster

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Editor's note: The online version of this story has been updated from the print version. Details regarding "landing near Broken Top" have been removed.

If you're looking for the ultimate marriage proposal, here's an idea for you: Surprise your future spouse with a helicopter proposal that includes a tour of Central Oregon's snow-capped mountains. You'll land on private land overlooking the Cascades, where the pilot will set up a table and chairs, champagne and lunch. The pilot will then disappear for an hour or two. What happens next is up to you. 

That's just one way to take your Cascades adventures to the next level, quite literally.

On a clear winter's day just before Christmas, Source editor Nicole Vulcan and I experienced Central Oregon in a way few people have gotten to experience—yet. As we lifted off on the "Mt. Bachelor Winter Wonderland" tour, the sun was just dropping over the crest of the Cascades.

 We were getting a glimpse into the offerings at Big Mountain Heli Tours, a new company operating in conjunction with Leading Edge Aviation at the Bend Airport. With a fleet of 13 aircraft, the new tourism company offers dozens of options. There are nine scenic tours and an array of other lifestyle tours that include Heli-skydiving, fly fishing and horseback tours, wine tours and luxury three-day retreats that involve yoga, golf and other recreational activities. 

As we headed north, we could see the entire Cascade Mountain range as far north as Mt. Adams and Mount Saint Helens. Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, Three-Fingered Jack and Mt. Washington were in our lap. We then banked left and headed south, and as soon as we did, we could almost reach out and touch the North Sister.   

We continued south past the Middle Sister followed by sunset views of South Sister. The colors of the evening sun reflected by heavy snowfalls ranged from blue to purple. Nicole and I were in the rear seats capturing video (which you can view below>).

Big Mountain Heli Tours' founder Patric Douglas came up with the tourism idea after a near tragedy in August 2013. He and his wife were asleep when a wildfire erupted near his neighborhood overlooking the Deschutes River Canyon.   

It was late—around 12:30 am—when Douglas and his wife were shaken awake by the sound of a helicopter nearby. Then 19-year-old student pilot Keaton Snow was circling the canyon area with his instructor from Leading Edge Aviation when Snow spotted what he thought was a fire below the canyon rim. After watching it torch the ponderosas below, they called 911 dispatch to report it. The fire was climbing rapidly toward the Renaissance neighborhood where Douglas resides.   

The noise of the helicopter was also waking up neighbors, including Douglas. "They were definitely trying to wake people up," Douglas told KTVZ.  "The pilot and co-pilot are heroes in my mind. They took the time out to ensure people were getting up." 

Having seen the helicopter in action, Douglas' tourism idea crystallized. He contacted Leading Edge Aviation and the joint Heli Tour business was formed. Douglas' background is one many people would envy.  He lives for adventure and makes his living doing it.  His business card reads "CEO – Chief Excitement Officer." 

"I've always gravitated toward unique tours and destinations," he told us.

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The Southern California native found himself in the Virgin Islands at age 20 where he began his tourism career.  "I had an earring and a ponytail and conducted jeep tours taking people to hidden beaches."    

He was then asked to conduct tours of Peru's Machu Picchu.  Having never been there, Douglas read and absorbed as much as he could in preparation to lead a 21-day tour. It went well.  "The guests had no idea I had never been to Machu Picchu."  That led to full time employment. 

Later, he began diving for sharks, organizing a company that documented Great Whites off the coast of the Mexican Baja, beginning an aggressive conservation effort. He also produced videos of his ventures for CBS and the Discovery Channel. Ever heard of Shark Week? Yep. He took part. After selling the company, he and his wife moved to Bend.   

Tourism is important to Douglas but so is conservation, so $30 of every helicopter tour is donated to organizations dedicated to preserving Oregon's Natural Resources. Regarding his new venture, Douglas says, "Bend has been a two-dimensional town.  You can hike it, bike it, and kayak it.  But nobody has brought that third dimension – the air.  It's a new playground for us."

Big Mountain Heli Tours

550 SW Industrial Way Suite 223, Bend

541-668-7670

flycascades.com

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