The Good Life: Tordrillo Mountain Guide Wes Wylie
If you ask Tordrillo Mountain Lodge heliski guide Wes Wylie what makes him uncomfortable, it’s not skiing high-consequence couloirs or exploring remote peaks that have likely never been skied.
No, Wylie, a 64-year old with compact brawn that belies his age, is most nervous when talking about himself. “I’ve done some podcasts, and I never even listen to them,” he said. “I’m terrified I sound stupid.”
Tordrillo Mountain Lodge's heli ski guide Wes Wylie getting the goods.
Ironic words from someone who, in our opinion, might just be the smartest man alive. This guy spends winters skiing blower pow in one of the world’s most spectacular playgrounds with the biggest legends in the industry—Tommy Moe, Dave Hahn, Mike Overcast, Lel Tone, and Mike Rheam, to name a few. During the rest of the year, he manages a successful medical practice—did we mention he’s an ER doctor?—from his home in Park City, Utah, where he lives with his beautiful wife and their two black Labs, who have a penchant for swimming in his pool. One spin through his Instagram feed—don’t do it—will make you doubt every decision you’ve made in your life.
Wylie’s self-effacing nature may stem from his upbringing. Originally from Calgary—his sing-song Canadian accent still strong—he grew up as the son of a professional football player for the Stampeders. “My dad was in the Canadian Hall of Fame. It was a tough act to follow. I was known for years as, ‘Harvey’s son,’” he said, laughing.
Ironically, it was his famous father who influenced him to go in the opposite direction, toward a stable job he could do from anywhere. After Harvey’s football career, he became an engineer and had many close friends lose jobs and struggle financially. It made a huge impression on Wylie during his formative years. “It was terrifying to me,” he said. “One of the things my dad engrained in me is job security. I knew I wanted to pick where I wanted to live, so I looked around at what was pretty consistent, and it was medicine.”
Wes also happens to be one of TML's photographers.
Having the ability to choose his home location was so important to Wylie because before he was a doctor, he was a skier. Growing up skiing in the Banff region of the Canadian Rockies, he considers Lake Louise his home hill, because to get to the top of Sunshine Village in those days you had to ride up the canyon in a school bus with chains on the tires. “You had the option to ride down or ski out, but the run wasn’t maintained and there was so much carnage everywhere,” he says, again laughing.
He came to the States to attend medical school and do his residency, and during whatever free time he could carve out, he skied. “I did a lot of backcountry skiing here, and back then there wasn’t really a guiding certification process per se in the States. Experience was by learning. People asked me on trips and one of the things I learned a long time ago is never say no.”
Eventually, he found himself leading others into the backcountry, so he decided to go back to Canada to get his guiding certification, which led to him working part time for a heli op in Valdez, Alaska. Along the way, he met Overcast at Chugach Powder Guides in Girdwood, who now co-owns TML. “I don’t think anyone took me seriously at that time, like, ‘He’s a doctor.’ But Mike has a keen eye for people he likes and respects in the field.”
Of course, now that he is an established guide, being a doctor on the side comes in handy sometimes in remote Alaska. Thankfully injuries and illnesses at the lodge have mostly been minor, but “I think people feel reassured about the fact that I’m there,” he said. “I guide a lot of gentlemen in their advanced age, and they recognize that going into a wilderness area means they may not get out quickly if there’s a problem. For me to be with them makes them feel good.”
The lodge is also very generous with their resources when others in the area get into trouble in the backcountry. The area is so remote and consequences so potentially dire, “we’re happy to help,” he said. Recently, for example, Wylie and fellow guide Mike Rheam rescued a neighbor who badly fractured her leg in a snowmobile accident. Her husband splinted her leg and pulled her by foot in a trailer five or six miles to the nearest cabin, and then walked all the way back to their lodge to get a satellite phone to call TML. Overcast and Wylie jumped in the heli and flew her out to where an ambulance could pick her up. “Fortunately, I’m not wearing that hat too much,” Wylie said.
Wes about to drop in.
When Wylie’s not guiding or practicing medicine, he’s skiing, mountain biking, or traveling with his wife, Kirsi. “I’m married to the most amazing woman in the world, and I’m madly in love with her,” he said.
It almost sounds too good to be true. So what’s Wylie’s secret to having created such an amazing life? Perhaps it’s more hard work than luck, though Wylie may refuse to admit it.
“It was just walking through doors. If you told me 30 years ago where I’d be now, I would have said, no I’m not going to do that. I feel real blessed and fortunate, and I owe a lot to people in the industry. It’s been a great trip, and I want to keep it going.”
Article by Kimberly Beekman
Kimberly Beekman is the former editor-in-chief of the late, great Skiing Magazine (RIP), and a longtime editor of SKI Magazine before that. She currently uses the title of “freelancer” as a beard to ski powder all over the world. She lives in Steamboat, Colorado, with her wonderful daughter and terrible cat.