For any keen skier, heli-skiing is the ultimate form. Videos portray skiers “straight-lining” incredible lines of untouched powder on vertiginous faces, but is this a realistic aspiration for mortals who may only ski for a week each year? In a word, “yes”. Your guide will choose slopes to challenge rather than terrify you so that any strong intermediate skier prepared to invest the time and money can experience skiing that dreams are made of. Like any other ski trip, heli-skiing varies and location, weather, accommodation, your group and guide will determine the success of a trip. Given that this is a big investment, getting it right is critical.
It is not cheap but can offer fabulous value. A well planned heli-skiing trip will deliver experiences that you will remember and recount for the rest of your life – excuse the cliché but the experience is priceless and, compared to what you may spend on a car, boat or skiing hard-packed pistes, heli-skiing can look cheap! Allow anything from £300 for a one day taster to £7,000 per person for a seven day tour with accommodation.
The mountain rather than the lift type determines the terrain so the extreme skiing of videos is not necessarily representative. If you have some off-piste experience, ski red runs comfortably and get down European black runs, you are ready. Indeed, the flexibility to ski where the snow is light and untracked usually makes conditions more forgiving than what you might encounter off-piste in resort. Fitness is also important. Nothing is more frustrating than legs and lungs unable to make the most of conditions you have spent years dreaming about and considerable money reaching.
Where there are mountains, there is generally heli-skiing. That includes exotic and remote locations in the Arctic, Patagonia, Turkey and India. Argentina and Chile operate during the Northern Hemisphere summer. Europe offers limited heli-skiing within smaller prescribed areas. Alaska will forever be the home of big mountain, super steep heli-skiing but the storms that plaster snow on 50 degree slopes often mean days of frustration for eager skiers waiting for the weather to break. Canada has 40 years’ history of heli-skiing and British Columbia accounts for 95% of the world’s market. The size and scope of the many mountain ranges in BC means that every type of heli-ski experience is possible.
Budgets vary hugely. Consider exotic yacht-based heli-skiing with 5:1 staff/guest ratio and all toys on deck, including the helicopter. Compare that with skiing from an ex-military helicopter in questionable terrain with a local ‘guide’. The potential risks involved with the latter are a legitimate concern. Generally, the experience sought by most falls somewhere in between.
Like any skiing trip, conditions vary by time of year. December and January if tree skiing is your thing. In March and April, milder bluebird days are more common and the alpine terrain tends to be more accessible. February can offer a great balance of both. However, the “average” conceals considerable day-to-day variance and ultimately it is best not to get too hung up on picking your week based on weather – luck is a bigger factor than judgment.
Day heli-skiing is convenient and a relatively low cost introduction. Close to a “resort”, this teaser will have you wanting more. If you are not sure if heli-skiing is for you or are not confident in your ability, this is how to find out. The downside is that tenures are smaller and guides do not have long to get to know you as a skier and to tailor the experience. It has to be said that the Canadians are the heli-skiing experts and this can be apparent elsewhere. Nevertheless, it can be a sensational day and is easily integrated into a “normal” skiing vacation.
If you know that heli-skiing is for you, a multi-day trip is far preferable. Often based from a small town or lodge offering trips of three days or more, operators use small helicopters with space for five skiers or larger machines for groups up to 11. Other multi-day operations are remote and purpose built, catering to skiers seeking a combination of phenomenal skiing, comfortable accommodation and hearty meals. See Considerations for choosing a multi-day operator for more.
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 Bella Coola and Last Frontier Heliskiing.
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