Words by:
Mica Heli



Few people can say that they learned to ski, not on a bunny slope at a ski resort or a little hill behind their childhood house, but in the wilderness running laps with a helicopter. It’s possible no one in the world can say that, in fact, except Mica lead guide Jeff Gertsch.

Jeff is a member of one of the “first families” of heliskiing. His father Rudi was a Swiss mountain guide, as was Rudi’s father before that; Swiss guides were renowned for their training in snow, rock, ice, weather, maps, first aid and rescue. Rudi emigrated from Switzerland to Canada in the early 1970s, where he taught Hans Gmoser, one of the pioneers of heliskiing and founder of CMH Heli-Skiing, how to ski guide Gmoser’s guests, as Gmoser’s experience was in guiding mountaineering. Rudi himself guided at CMH until he founded his own operation in 1974, Purcell Heli-Skiing, which offered the then-rare option of day heli-skiing. There in front range of the Purcells that tower over the small logging town of Golden, Jeff learned, at three years old, to ski nestled between his father’s knees as they turned through spring corn snow in the backcountry.

It was never a question in Jeff’s mind that he would become a guide as well.


Starting when Jeff was sixteen, Rudi would take him out of high school occasionally to act as a tail guide for guests—a job that often involves helping skiers upright after falling, digging them out of crash craters, and hauling them out of tree wells. At sixteen, Jeff was not a big guy. He jokes that his father kept him small to save space and fuel in the helicopter, and he’s built like a jockey as a result. “Clients, often these big Bavarian guys, would be looking at me wondering—myself included—how I was going to get them out of trouble,” he says.

In one of his first avalanche certification classes on his professional path, he sparked a fateful friendship: he met Shane Kroeger. Once he was a newly minted ski guide, Jeff split his time working for his family operation of Purcell and with Shane, who ended up running Island Lake Lodge’s catski program outside Fernie. Then Jeff followed Shane to Mica, which was the new kid on the block of the heliskiing world at the time. Mica delivered another fateful relationship: Jeff fell in love with a lodge staffer named Katie, who would become his wife.


Jeff, Katie and Reudi

Jeff and Katie soon stepped away from Mica to take over the family business, running Purcell Heli-Skiing full time, although Rudi stayed on the periphery. They scaled the program way down, putting fewer guests with more guides, and “making heli-skiing the way I wanted it to be,” Jeff says. “We called it micro heliskiing, even smaller than private.”

The model gave Jeff freedom as a guide and fresh energy for the craft, and Purcell operated uniquely for several years until the family was ready for the next chapter. Ultimately, Jeff and Katie, with Rudi’s blessing, sold Purcell to CMH in 2021. It was bittersweet. Jeff had worked at Purcell for twenty years, running it for half of that. But the move felt right. Like coming full circle from where the Gertsch family had started all those years ago.

In 2022, Jeff returned to Mica as a lead guide, completing that circle as well. He only worked part-time that first season back with us to give himself a breather. But part-time was boring for a die-hard guide like Jeff. He’s back to full-time now, and we—and all our guests privileged to ski with him—are glad for it.

I'll never be over skiing, or over guiding, either. To share that passion, that excitement that the mountains bring for me—it’s part of my lineage. To help people in the mountains is deeply rooted in why I do my job.


~Jeff Gertsch,  Mica Lead Guide