Considerations for choosing a multi day operator
Just like booking a traditional ski vacation, you have to choose from a range of operators, all offering different products. There are a multitude of considerations to take into account and a range of prices to choose from. Consider all of the following:
- Size of tenure – Size overall and size relative to the number of skier groups and helicopters are both important. The bigger the better because if it has not snowed for a while a bigger area increases the chances of finding great snow and terrain. Terrain per skier is just as important - an operator running 8 helicopters will need a huge area to maintain the true heli-skiing experience. Too many skiers per acre and even when there is new snow, operators can be sparing with what groups track each day and it can feel as though the area is being “farmed” - not much better than resort skiing.
- Private or group heli-skiing. Do you travel as a private group or book in to join a wider group? ‘Regular’ group heli-skiing can include groups of as few as four skiers up to as many as 11. In large group settings, you rarely ski with the same people day after day. A mix of abilities and varying tour lengths means that guides constantly adjust the mix of skiers to ensure a good dynamic. If you can assemble your own group of similar standard skiers, this will usually result in a better trip. A private heli-ski trip offers guaranteed helicopter flying time, often from smaller, more nimble machines. In addition, personal ski guides means you ski as much as you are comfortable with, given the conditions of the day. The pace can be faster and guides are better able to work with clients to ensure an enjoyable experience for all.
- Helicopter size. Larger helicopters will carry up to 10 or 11 skiers plus 2 guides. 12 can feel like a crowd in the middle of nowhere (which rather defeats the object). Larger groups are slower and if one person loses a ski on every tenth run, you could do a lot of waiting. The group is limited to the speed of the slowest skier so if you are among the fastest, this can be frustrating, but being one of the slowest could leave you feeling under pressure and stressed.
- Vertical – the obsession of heli-skiers, “vertical” earns bragging rights, whether it is done in the day, the week, season or lifetime. The industry standard in BC is 30,000 vertical meters for a 7 day tour. For some this will be ambitious, for most “about right” and a few may need more. In choosing your operator, consider your fitness and ability. If you are of “average fitness” and enjoy skiing red run steepness, you are likely to ski an extra 20%-30% in a week. Some operators offer “unlimited vertical” which sounds great but has a premium attached and remember that, even if your skiing level and fitness are up to it, the guide is in charge (and paid by the operator) and that the weather may not cooperate. A better option can be “guaranteed vertical” whereby if you do not ski/ride the vertical guarantee, you are refunded at the same rate charged if you should choose to ski more.
- Quality of accommodation and service. Some are more luxurious than others, usually if closer to civilization. More remote locations are sometimes (but not always) less lavish – but the quality of the skiing can be inversely proportional and the seclusion has its own appeal.
- Logistics: Daily heli-skiing is close and convenient. Remote locations take more effort to reach – but they would not be there unless the skiing was worth the extra effort.
- Safety: British Columbia has an industry standard with specific safety management plans. When traveling to more exotic locations, safety may not be the operator’s primary consideration. Be sure to check the operator’s safety record before booking.
- Scott Dunn can arrange day heli-skiing for guests staying in Zermatt, St Anton & Lech, Val d’Isère and Whistler as well as multi day tours in British Columbia with our partners, Last Frontier Heliskiing and Bella Coola.