Weather can change fast in the icefields of Yukon's Kluane National Park.
What started as a beautiful blue-sky day in late September soon turned to a stormy day, and a local sightseeing company found itself with a plane stuck on a remote snow-covered airstrip.
The company almost had to abandon the $200,000 plane for the winter.
Yukon charter company Icefield Discovery was flying three B.C residents for a sightseeing day trip on Sep. 30, to Mount Logan, the St. Elias mountains, and the Icefield Discovery base camp near Mount Logan.
But when landing on the snow-covered airstrip, one of the plane's skis broke through the crust.
"Literally our last day of flying for the season," said Sian Williams, operations manager of Icefield Discovery.
She said it was lucky that there was a helicopter also working in the area for Parks Canada.
"So when they finished work for the day, we were able to get that helicopter to come in and fly our clients out," she said.
For two days, Williams and a small crew stayed at the camp to try and pack down a runway for the Helio Courier STOL (short take off and land) plane to be able to take off.
But the weather didn't cooperate. Williams said it rained and the snow just became heavier and sloppier, making it impossible to construct a useable runway.
The crew decided to leave the plane, stuck in the snow at an altitude of 2,590 metres. It would be a while before conditions improved enough to go back for the aircraft.
"That's kind of the danger at this time of year is that, you know, winter storms are coming in off the ocean, the snow is getting deeper and deeper," said Williams.
Waiting for the weather
Icefield Discovery has been providing air charter support for scientists, mountaineers and other tourists since the early 1970s.
The flight charter company is mostly a summertime operation with many international clients. But this year, it has only been Yukoners and people from B.C. because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two weeks after leaving the plane behind in the mountains, the weather improved.
Williams said they contracted Horizon Helicopters out of Whitehorse to help them out. Horizon Helicopter flew to the site with an engineer and an Icefield Discovery pilot, to de-ice the plane and dig out its skis.
"Our pilot flew back to Silver City and slung in a snowmobile — that way they could pack and make a runway," said Cole Hodinski, operations manager and chief pilot for Horizon Helicopters.
Hodinski says Horizon also had a plan B — bring in a heavyweight Airbus H215 helicopter, which can lift up to 4,500 kilograms, to hoist the plane out.
But plan A worked out. The snowmobile was able to pack down a kilometre-long runway for the plane to take off and fly home a few days ago.
"It's been a couple pretty stressful weeks, really worrying about getting that plane out of there," said Williams.
"So we're really grateful for Thanksgiving weekend. You know, we're like, 'OK, we got our plane back. This is wonderful.'"
The aircraft is now safely back in Icefield Discovery's hangar near Destruction Bay, Yukon.