The phrase “a white wedding” conjures up many images: a bride in her wedding gown, the tiered wedding cake, a Billy Idol song. But for one California couple, their dream of a white wedding included endless stretches of untouched powder, snowcapped mountains, and clouds dancing at their feet.
So they ditched the limo for helicopter.
Bride Elizabeth Pane said that she and her husband Justin didn’t begin their wedding plans thinking of a heli-wedding. “Justin and I began researching traditional weddings and it was taking longer than it should have, and now looking back, I think it was because we knew it wasn’t right for us,” said Pane. “We thought of what our dream wedding would be, if we could do anything, and we both knew that a heli wedding would be perfect for us! “
Pane and her then fiancé found that avoiding a traditional wedding also alleviated a lot of stress. Even their families and friends supported their unique idea, already having an idea that Elizabeth and Justin were planning a destination wedding. “We told both families and they were stoked for us. Our friends were blown-away and super excited.”
Elizabeth and Justin, who met while working at NASA (“No, we’re not astronauts!” proclaimed Elizabeth), have been snowboarding together for several years in Mammoth and Lake Tahoe. Both have done their share of backcountry snowboarding, but neither had been heli boarding before.
Heli boarding is always subject to the whims of mother nature, so you are at the mercy of the weather. ”We didn’t know exactly where the ceremony would take place until the heli plunked down and the guides and pilot said, ‘we’re here!’, said Pane. “The wedding ceremony took place on Mt. Turnbull in the Thompson Mountain Range above Queenstown, overlooking Lake Wakatipu.”
Additionally their transport company, Queenstown based Southern Lakes Heliski, had to make an extra run to drop off the celebrant and pick up an extra guide. Pane said their primary concern was “the amount of runs we would be able to get with the length of the ceremony and the sunlight each playing a role.”
At the end of the day the newlyweds got in three runs. “We were stoked for our heli wedding, so we just had to hope for the best,” said Pane. “Three runs ended up being fine, but more would have been even better! Everything worked out in the end and we were really happy with how things turned out.“
You might think it would be hard to find a wedding officiant willing to take a helicopter to the top of a mountain to perform a ceremony, but in adventurous New Zealand it was routine. Pane explained, “In New Zealand, a wedding on a mountain is somewhat common. A person that is able to perform a wedding is called a ‘celebrant’, and the celebrants in NZ are familiar with mountain top weddings.” After contacting several celebrants from a list provided by the New Zealand government, Elizabeth and Justin found Betty Turnbull, the celebrant they felt was the best fit.
While Elizabeth, Justin, their celebrant, photographer, and videographer were the only people at the ceremony, their families weren’t completely left out. “We included our parents and grandparents by asking them each to write us a note to be read for the first time during our ceremony,” explained Pane. “They were a voice in our ceremony, which traditional weddings don’t usually offer, and wrote the most beautiful words that may not have been easy to say in person.”
With their ceremony and riding complete, the newly married couple returned to their campervan to feast on the leftovers from the lunch the heli company provided. “After we were stuffed, we walked around Queenstown in our wedding attire and ate dessert. Once we were ready to turn in, we settled into our campervan and watched a video Justin’s brother had compiled for us. We didn’t know what was in store…he told us not to watch it until our wedding day. Turns out, it was a compilation video of all our family and friends wishing us well on our big day! So awesome!”
It may be hard to think of a honeymoon after you just got married on the top of a mountain, but for Elizabeth and Justin it was all part of the plan. In fact, tandem bunjy jumping off the Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown the day before the wedding was just the warm up for many adventures to come. The couple honeymooned by continuing to travel all over New Zealand for the next three weeks.
“We went snowboarding in some epic pow, hiked, saw glaciers, took a plane to Milford Sound, went ZORBing, the list goes on! After our NZ stint, we spent 2 weeks backpacking in Australia. We went up the Gold Coast from Sydney, flew from Brisbane to tropical Cairns, then snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef off Cape Tribulation and zip-lined through the Daintree Rainforest.”
If you wondered what one wears to a heli wedding, Elizabeth told us the groom was decked out in traditional black including a tuxedo shirt while she wore all white including a veil on her helmet and a bouquet of wool flowers from Nepal. The Bride and Groom rode a Burton Feelgood and a Burton Custom Squeezebox, respectively.
When asked what the best part of her wedding day was Elizabeth recalled, “For me, the best memory was dropping down a spine that headed straight for Lake Wakatipu with the heli thundering above us, shooting photos and video. Epic!”
A little more on Elizabeth and Justin Pane…
“We work on the business side of the house [NASA] supporting various programs and projects for the Agency. We met at work while supporting the Kepler Mission: A Search for Habitable Planets. We realized we were both outdoorsy people and had an instant connection. When we’re not at work, we love to snowboard (of course!), mountain bike, wakeboard, hike, and care for our mid-century modern home.”
Photography: Camilla Stoddart
Videography: Jase Hancox, Basket Productions http://basketproductions.co.nz/
Heli Guides: Southern Lakes Heliski http://www.southernlakesheliski.co.nz/