Heli-Shopping

The latest craze? I wish!

You’ve probably heard of heli-skiing, where they take you to the mountaintop in the ultimate “lift”: a helicopter. And heli-hiking, where they take you by helicopter to a remote trailhead and pick you up someplace equally remote. Well, thanks to one of my regular passengers, I’ve now started doing heli-shopping trips.

Here’s the deal.

Wickenburg has serious limitations on its shopping opportunities. Sure, there’s a great supermarket (which even has a Starbucks now, if you can imagine that) and there are a handful of shops down and around town for buying souvenirs, items for your home, and gifts. And even a little boutique.

But for hard-core shoppers, that might not be enough. For these people, it’s Scottsdale or bust.

Scottsdale, by car, is a good 90-minutes from Wickenburg. And that’s if you don’t hit any traffic and push the speed limit a bit. But by helicopter, it’s only 30 minutes away. The obvious benefit for the shopper: less time in the car, more time in the shops.

Last year, a couple who flies with me every time they come to stay at one of Wickenburg’s guest ranches, drove down to Scottsdale for a shopping day. The weather was awful and rainy and since people who live in Arizona don’t know how to drive on wet roads, the traffic was terrible. When they got to the shops, she got right down to business while he tried, in vain, to get a seat at one of the mall restaurants for lunch and a few hours of reading time. But the mall was packed and he couldn’t get a seat, so he wound up in their rental car in the covered parking garage, reading by the car’s dome light. Then, when she was finished shopping, they had another long, miserable drive back to Wickenburg.

This unhappy memory stuck with them. So this year, when they came to visit, they asked me if I could simply fly her down to Scottsdale, while he did something in Wickenburg that he enjoyed: a round of golf.

I’m never one to turn down a good charter, so yesterday at 10:30 AM, I was winding up Three-Niner-Lima with my eager passenger on board. We had an uneventful flight down to Scottsdale, landed, and locked up the helicopter on the ramp. Then, since I had only one passenger and my Scottsdale airport car is a two-seater, I drove her down to the Scottsdale Fashion Mall and let her loose by herself for four hours. Then I spent the time doing some errands, having a nice lunch, and doing a bit of shopping on my own.

I picked up my passenger at 3:30 and drove back up to Scottsdale Airport. I put the car away and we carried our bags back to the helicopter. I stowed everything under the seats and, a few minutes later, we were heading north for a slightly different route back to Wickenburg that would include an overflight of Lake Pleasant and Castle Hot Springs. We were back on the ramp at Wickenburg in time for cocktail hour at the ranch.

Mission accomplished. In style.

Heli-shopping isn’t for everyone. For one thing, it ain’t cheap, so potential heli-shoppers have to be really serious about their shopping time. And shoppers simply have to say no to that great deal on an end table at Restoration Hardware — or anything else that won’t fit in the helicopter.

But heli-shopping is more than just transportation to the shops awaiting your discretionary spending dollars. It’s a scenic flight from one world (the sleepy retirement community of Wickenburg) to another (the busy city of Scottsdale). The transition from town to open, empty desert to suburbs to city is something to see. And you won’t believe the kinds of things you can see from the air that are simply invisible from the road.

Heli-shopping takes shopping to new highs. Pun intended.

What do you think?