Heli skiing is an elitist sport on snow. Getting to remote mountain locations
that are drenched in deep snow is the first travel challenge, then being
chauffeured in a private helicopter only adds to the cache if you will pardon
our pun. Logistics and price are prohibitive, then there are safety concerns.
Seems daunting…all to ski deep snow.
Well like many of the best things in life, with the high cost and risk come the
reward. You need to be prepared, knowledgeable, and in good physical and mental
shape to have the best heli ski trip, a ski trip of a lifetime.
Here are our tips to have the best heli ski trip
1. Do you homework on heli ski operations. There are many heli-skiing companies
in British Columbia, Canada especially that range from a few days to a week.
Some heli ski outlets like CMH and Mike Wiegele serve a large clientele, using
bigger helicopters and large lodges. Others are smaller and more exclusive like
Bella Coola Heli Sport which hosts just 15 skiers in their lovely Tweedsmuir
Lodge and private cabins. Bella Coola’s A-star helicopter seats just four skiers
and a guide plus the pilot so you access awesome terrain.
Purcell Heli Skiing and also use smaller
helicopters for their day heli ski operations.
2. Start with a heli ski day before committing to a week, with a heli ski
operation located near a ski resort. Revelstoke offers heli skiing
with Selkirk Tangiers and Eagle Pass Heli Ski, plus cat skiing, and you can ski the resort on down days.
At Kicking Horse you can day heli ski with
Purcell Heli Skiing. Also in BC, Panorama
has RK Heli Skiing next door so you can heli ski for a day to see if you want to
book a week. It’s likely you will be hooked on heli skiing.
3. Think about the kind of skiing you want, and get in shape. You don't want
to be the weakest link, holding up your heli ski group. Condition are variable,
so is the terrain, be ready to ski anything and everything. Some heli ski
tenure, like the Monashees with Eagle Pass,
includes skiing in the trees - so high alpine weather and
avalanche danger are reduced, but heli glade skiing is different from the photos
of endless snow covered summits and wide open powder bowls.
4. Be prepared for the wild helicopter ride. This is a big part of the price of
admission, and a large part of the fun factor. Flying around untouched mountain
peaks in remote mountain ranges is spectacular and exciting. Being deposited
with just your skis and your guide on a pointed summit at 10,000 feet with the
flurry of snow and chopper blades whirring above is your average commute.
5. Heli skiing lodging can vary greatly. At the beautiful
Tweedsmuir Park Lodge in BC, you have your own private cabin, a hot tub and
masseuse at your beckon call, the helicopter picks you up right outside the main
lodge after a chef’s bountiful breakfast, and returns you at day’s end to the 60
acres resort compound for an evening of fine dining, with an extensive wine
list, and camaraderie with your new ski buddies around the fireplace. There are
also places that resemble winter camping with yurts, woodstoves, and
outhouses…not our cup of tea at luxury ski trips.
6. Pay Attention. Heli skiing is relatively safe, but you are significant factor. Your guide
presents the safety protocol, how to use beacons (transceivers), shovels and
probes. But it’s your job to pay attention during the heli skiing safety
briefing, to wear your helicopter seat belt, to be aware of your surroundings
while you are skiing, and to ski where the guide tells you. Do not ever ski pass
your guide, or you could find yourself in a crevasse or an avalanche slide. Heli
ski guides are highly trained and very thorough in their snow safety checks,
analyzing snow stability and weather to assure the safest ski conditions. Most
heli-ski accidents happen when skiers or snowboarders ski beyond the guide’s
designated zones. Take the heli ski safety seriously, and respect the guide’s
instruction, experience, and discretion.
7. Dress in layers. Heli skiing is a work out, in good way, from your heli
ski safety training to loading and unloading the chopper, skiing deep pow and
waiting for the heli copter to pick you up and do it again - your core temp and
extremities will fluctuate from warm and tingly to chilly. Technical fabrics
with wicking and quality base layers, plus water resistance outerwear to keep
you dry in deep snow (and in the event you fall - no worries the snow is usually
fluffy) are highly recommend for heli skiing. Goggles are a must, helmets are
recommended but not usually a requirement. Magnetic zippers are a no-no since
they can interfere with your avalanche receiver.
8. Fat powder skis are often provided and included in your heli ski cost. If
not, you will want fat skis or a powder board. Bring your own ski boots for
comfort. Transceivers, also known as peeps, or avalung avi air bags are
outfitted by your heli ski tour operator as well.
9. Eat a healthy breakfast the morning of your heli ski trip. You will need
energy to sustain you until the on mountain catered picnic lunch served chopper
style - in a flat spot on the mountianDrink lots of water the week prior to your
heli ski adventure to hydrate in anticipation of the elevation, you will be at
significant elevation in a quick copter ascent.
10. Ladies, who are a distinct minority in heli skiing (our editor Heather is
usually the only girl in the group), be prepared that your
restroom facilities will be entirely au naturelle outdoors during your heli ski
day - call it your big powder room. Read: you will have to pack out a place in the snow to squat and go. No one
said heli skiing was glamorous, but its great. Represent well among the guys,
Heli ski safety stats:
Heli skiing is safer than highway travel. According to a Backcountry.com study,
the heli ski fatality rate is .018 % (usually from avalanche) versus .022% for
car accidents. The Avalanche Airbag, a Swiss designed inflatable neck ring that
you deploy if you are caught in an avalanche reduces your risk even more.
A. Heli skiing has its ups and downs literally. Helicopters require visibility
and moderate wind. High alpine terrain isn’t always clear or calm, so there are
times when you just can’t fly into the mountains. Operations that also offer cat
skiing can improve your options of getting out. Heli ski down days happen, about
20-50% of the time depending upon the season and your location. Accept your
fate, relax and enjoy your new ski friends with games, or enjoy a good book. Be
ready when the clouds break, but be patient when they don’t.
B. Snow conditions are variable. Just like at ski resorts, heli skiing snow
conditions change daily with weather. There are no groomers, so the terrain is
wild and untouched. That can mean deep powder, but it can be windblown too. To
enjoy heli skiing you should be an expert skier or snowboarder, skilled to
handle any terrain from trees to wide open white out conditions. Heli skiing is
not for intermediate skiers. Tip: when packing
for your ski trip use the skis provided at the heli ski company,
they have fat reverse camber powder skis and poles, so you don’t have to lug
your gear or pay airline fees for skis or worry about lost luggage. Just
your ski boots – in your carry on with your ski clothes.
C. The helicopter and the vertical package matter. An A star B2 copter holds
just 4 skiers and a guide, plus the pilot, so your group is going to have very
exclusive service and snow and maneuverability. Compare that to a big 212
chopper that holds 11 people and that means more tracks, more potential for
mediocre skiers in your pack and more waiting while you are skiing, loading and
unloading. Ask about the size of the helicopter, how many guides per group, and
how many groups will be sharing the helicopter on your fly day.
Similarly, vertical feet of skiing included in your heli package is a major part
of the expensive. Often heli skiers tend to go over their allotted 100,000
vertical in a week for example, adding onto your already expensive heli ski
vacation. Some heli aficionados claim that you are better off paying for flying
time, even at $2,500 an hour, split 4 or 5.
D. Heli skiing is expensive, but it’s worth it. When you fly to the top of a
spectacular snow covered mountain, high in elevation, with untouched snow and
magnificent peaks surrounding you, no civilization in sight…well, there is
nothing like it in the world. Bouncing down deep fluffy powder, miles away from
any ski lift or lodge, just you and the snow and the hoots of your few heli
mates is heavenly. Heli skiing is excusive, extraordinary and every expert
skier’s dream. It’s also addictive, warning: in bounds ski resort terrain may
seem mundane after a week of heli skiing.