In a recent interview at his home in Connecticut, Arthur Tauck Jr. said of his heli-hiking tour in British Columbia's Bugaboo, "I think this whole thing was probably one of the most rewarding things I ever did in my career."
If the appeal of the trip to clients is largely emotional, the experience of creating it was equally so for Tauck.
Although he conceived the idea of heli-hiking, he credits two people as being essential partners in making it happen: Hans Gmoser, an Austrian adventurer-businessman who founded Canadian Mountain Holidays, a seminal enterprise that launched mountain tourism (skiing, hiking, mountain- and rock climbing) in the Canadian Rockies; and Ivor Petrak, the general manager of what are today Fairmont's Chateau Lake Louise, Banff Springs Hotel and Jasper Park Lodge.
Tauck, who in the mid-1970s was already sending hundreds of guests on coach tours in western Canada each year, made heavy use of Petrak's properties. He didn't know Gmoser but knew of him.
"To my mind, he was the most creative person in all of western Canada," Tauck said. "He's the one who created the concept of helicopter skiing."
Gmoser had built two lodges in the Bugaboo and Caribou ranges of the Purcell Mountains in British Columbia, and Tauck had visited them while heli-skiing. What impressed him was not only the scenery and experience but the sense of camaraderie among guests who spent time together on the mountains. He wanted to make that sense of fellowship and access to the mountains available to nonskiers and older people.
"I think I related to older people even before I got old," he said.
Arthur Tauck Jr. was in Banff and attended a final night reception on a tour this summer. Posing for a photo with him are, from left, Aeri Yun, tour leader Dale Spurrell and Juri Yun. Photo Credit: TW photo by Arnie Weissmann
Tauck had to overcome Gmoser's skepticism. The Austrian had tried various other programs to fill his lodges in the summer, without success. And Tauck had to get Petrak to commit to giving him rooms in Lake Louise and Banff even though those lodges were already filled to capacity in summers. Tauck wanted to use the luxury properties to bookend the hiking.
A common love of the mountains, affinity for trying something new and personal chemistry ultimately created a strong bond among the three men. "I did millions of dollars of business with Hans on a handshake," Tauck said. "We never had a contract."
Heli-hiking was an immediate success, prompting Gmoser to open a third lodge, Bobbie Burns, in the area. But after Gmoser left the business and other "experiential" travel products entered the market, the appeal of the trip gradually waned. Heli-hiking was discontinued for seven years before being revived last year.
Current Tauck CEO Dan Mahar, a fan of the trip, celebrated a recent birthday at the Bugaboos Lodge. And Rick Baron, the company's managing director for worldwide accounts, said his first heli-hiking trip "changed my life." He is another strong internal proponent.
The tour's revival is modest. There were three departures this year, and three are scheduled for next year. As for its future beyond that, Tauck said, "You know, we're more corporate now. Dan's got somebody in charge of marketing. It's their decision, not his decision. It needs somebody in the company who really has the passion and the enthusiasm for it to make it work. If it's going to just be another one of our 133 destinations, it's not going to work."