Epic Utah adventure takes helicopter podcasting to new heights

Avatar for Halsey SchiderBy Halsey Schider | November 5, 2021

Estimated reading time 12 minutes, 30 seconds.

My alarm woke me with a jolt at 3:30 a.m., taking me back to my days of flying air medical missions. This time, however, I didn’t mind the call to get up, as it marked the start of what would be the helicopter trip of a lifetime. The plan was to capture what I believed would be the first ever in-helicopter podcast recording, with York Galland (better known to many through his Instagram account, @iflyheli), and Hoss Golanbari (VP of Canadian operations at EuroTec Canada Ltd.) joining me.

The podcast was recorded while the aircraft crossed some breathtaking terrain.
The podcast was recorded while the aircraft crossed some breathtaking terrain.

As I boarded a commercial flight from Portland, Oregon, to Salt Lake City, Utah, to meet York and Hoss, I was battling an equal dose of excitement and nerves — cautiously optimistic that everything would go to plan.

After arriving in Salt Lake, I took a Lyft ride with my associate and friend Bryan Court to Provo, Utah. We were both mesmerized by the beauty of the Wasatch Mountain Range, which surrounded us on our journey. The giant mountains encased the entire valley — as if they were walls protecting hidden treasures that lay beyond. We sat quietly, awe-struck by the landscape, while our inner pilot thought process was going a mile a minute: How much weight are we carrying on the trip? These peaks must be 11,000-plus in altitude! How’s the helicopter going to manage such a climb? What’s our DA, where are we going, what have we signed up for?

Oh, the inner anxieties of two PICs, who would soon be passengers aboard iflyheli’s H130!

The campers unload their gear, ready to set up their site for the evening. Hoss Golanbari Photo
The campers unload their gear, ready to set up their site for the evening. Hoss Golanbari Photo

Distracted by both the exterior beauty and our non-stop inner monologues, our ride to Provo ended abruptly at a dead-end roundabout on the far southern end of the airport. As our driver departed, Court and I gazed at the giant hangar to our right — not sure if we were even in the right spot. That is, until Hoss’s familiar face poked out from a side door, greeting us in his standard fashion: “Buddy!”

We made it: no turning back now!

We entered the Galland family hangar and saw the two H130s that would be our caravans for the next 24 hours. At our forefront, York’s “Ashely Red” H130; just beyond, a two-toned grey H130 — both full of fuel and ready to lift off.

We consolidated our gear, loaded the helicopters, and in synchrony, both pilots flipped the switches to unleash the Safran Arriel 2D engines. Creating a thunderous roar (considered noise to some), it marked the beginning of what would be a helicopter experience not soon forgotten.

Crossing the mountains

Within minutes, the mountain fortress that had previously seemed like an impassable hurdle was cleared with ease by the two H130s, with power to spare. As we continued our journey into the wild, the remoteness of our surroundings felt like a new world, allowing us to feel like modern-day explorers.

But, with cameras rolling and audio recording, it was time for us to do what we do best: talk shop. We were doing it! We were podcasting about helicopters while flying a helicopter. We chatted about how York went from airplane pilot to helicopter pilot, and how nearly 20 years later, he is commanding his very own H130 — mesmerizing his more than 105,000 Instagram followers with his breathtaking aerial photography and adventures.

In between stories, we paused several times to be present in the moment, trying to take in the natural beauty of Utah. We captured the experience digitally from both inside and out; but it will be the mental pictures I carry with me forever. And even with the podcast ended, the journey was just beginning!

Soon we landed, now three helicopters (we had a 505 join the party). Our LZ appeared manufactured, but not by man. Three perfect ledges towered above a large canyon, each suitable for a helicopter.

The podcasters take a break to enjoy the view. Hoss Golanbari Photo
The podcasters take a break to enjoy the view. Hoss Golanbari Photo

Our reason for landing? Three in our party were not having enough adventure. Their cure? Wingsuit flying! They suited up, methodical in their gear checks, and boarded one of the H130s. Several thousand feet above us, they left the aircraft as mere specks. Before we knew it, they were flying at nearly 150 mph past us on the canyon’s edge. For me, helicopter adventuring was more than enough.

As the sun grew heavy, it was time to find our camping spot.

The majestic red rocks jutting from massive canyons gave way to a large grassy area, cut up with smaller slot canyons. As we ventured closer to our landing spot, the grassy plain gave way to giant boulders, some the size of a school bus.

“You see that ledge down there?” York asked. “That’s our spot!”

Looking below, I saw a large table atop one of the boulders, as if whatever created such geology thousands of years ago designed it for helicopters. We followed the two other aircraft down to the spot.

Our LZ was protected by about a two-foot gap that encircled us from the other two helicopters. Not loving heights, I sheepishly stepped across the crevice between us (which appeared a lot deeper than I’d expected) while the guys laughed at me. Reluctantly, I made several trips across the ledge; we had a helicopter full of gear, after all. We unloaded and set up our camp. It felt like we were somewhere no one had ever been before.

An overhead look at the campsite. Hoss Golanbari Photo
An overhead look at the campsite. Hoss Golanbari Photo

We enjoyed a home-cooked meal generously prepared by York’s wife. As the sun disappeared, we sat around the fire, sharing stories, laughing, and reminiscing about the day’s adventures. In a world of constant stimulation, all we had that night was each other’s company, a warm fire, and three helicopters surrounding our campsite. Nothing about the machines that got us there is simple, but the camping was just that: simple, serene and a much needed escape from the world.

We awoke early the next morning, excited for more adventures. Two helicopters departed, their societal duties bringing them back early, but York, Hoss, Bryan and I had one more day to explore.

It was just as magical as the first: flying around the beautiful Utah landscape with no mission other than finding untouched areas to explore. We landed at five LZs, each presenting a unique perspective, with my favorite being a remote area filled with what I can only describe as balancing rocks. They were large spires with perfectly-placed boulders resting on top; delicate sculptures you’d expect at a high-end art museum, but created by time, and lost to the outside world.

One of the more spectacular stops on the way back to the hangar took in this rock formation. Hoss Golanbari Photo
One of the more spectacular stops on the way back to the hangar took in this rock formation. Hoss Golanbari Photo

As our trip neared its end, we headed back towards Provo, spotting a large herd of elk just outside town. We didn’t say much — we didn’t have to — we were all just trying to soak in the last of our trip. As the city approached, so did the reality of life. It was time to get back, check emails, and return work calls.

I went to record a podcast and experienced much more than I could have ever imagined. It was an epic helicopter journey, in which we used one of man’s greatest creations to explore Mother Nature’s equal.

Editor’s Note: The podcast can be downloaded from Apple, Spotify, or Google.

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