Many kids in Blue River got a chance to ski because of Mike Wiegele.
Every Saturday in winter, the founder of world-renowned heli-skiing company Mike Wiegele’s Helicopter Skiing would take kids out heli-skiing, said Bob Sayer, operations manager for MWHS. He would also offer “high level, high quality” skiing experiences to the Simpcw First Nation youth free of charge. He also pushed to keep the Blue River school open, supporting his staff and their families.
“Kids growing up in Blue River don’t get much of a chance to ski, so every Saturday, Mike took the local kids heli-skiing, including kids from Clearwater and Valemount and Avola,” Sayer said. “Every kid in Blue River grew up heli-skiing because Mike believed in supporting families…and he was very good to my family.”
Wiegele died Thursday (July 15) afternoon. He was 82.
“I’ve known Mike for a long time,” said Stephen Quinn, TNRD director for Area ‘B’. “He’s certainly a man of vision and has done very well. He’s pioneered an industry which hopefully will last a long time after he’s gone.”
Inclusive of the entire community, Weigele also reached out to former Simpcw Chief Nathan Matthew with an economic partnership — the Albreda Lodge, 45 kilometres north of Blue River. The community was invited to become a 50/50 partner in the lodge, an offer Matthew and Simpcw First Nation accepted. While the time frame of that partnership has passed, Matthew said it was a successful business venture for both parties.
“He was just so engaging,” Matthew said. “He always had a smile…he was so energetic it was hard not to just feed off his energy.”
When the project started, Wiegele flew Simpcw elders to the property to bless the ground, he added. Over the time of the partnership, community members would be invited to the lodge for planning sessions, and Wiegele would often visit the Simpcw community to discuss other plans and request feedback, as they shared a similar philosophy when it came to the environment.
“That’s the way he was, he wanted to be ultimately respectful to the culture,” said Matthew.
Wiegele first started his helicopter business in Valemount in 1970, with day trips into the Cariboo Mountains. The business was moved to Blue River four years later, where it remains today. The move was made because of the community’s abundance of snow and minimal wind, creating the perfect powder snow conditions.
MWHS now employs 220 people in the wintertime, making them the major employer in Blue River. People come from all over Canada and the world for an adventure with Mike Wiegele’s team. Wiegele also founded and developed the Canadian Ski Guide Association to train young Canadians, according to the MWHS website.
“Mike lived a remarkable life,” a statement from the MWHS reads. “He had an unparalleled passion for skiing, was a fearless entrepreneur and was a tireless and innovative advocate for safety in the mountains, efforts that leave many lasting legacies within the Canadian ski industry.”
Wiegele’s wife, Bonnie, took over the company about a year ago after he fell ill and she will continue to run it for the time being, Sayer told the Times. He said while the team is sad to lose Wiegele, “he lived a good life” and his passing wasn’t a shock or unexpected.
There are two ways those who wish to can share their condolences. The first is through a donation to a newly established fund through avalanche research to support safety and loss prevention called Mike Wiegele Avalanche Association Fund. It will be made up of a board of directors, members of the Wiegele family and senior MWHS management.
The fund was created in response to folks asking how they can help and support. The Wiegele family doesn’t need money, said Sayer, so Bonnie suggested the idea of setting up the avalanche research fund. Those who would like to donate can do so with the information found here.
In celebration of Wiegele’s love for sharing stories, the MWHS team invites those who wish to share their words to do so on their website here.