Your Resource For the Best Skiing in Canada- Let’s Hit the Slopes
Heli Skiing isn’t just for experts – Even intermediate skiers can try out heli-skiing. Make sure you are going with people who ski at your level. As they say – If you don’t know how not to get into the gerry group – you are the gerry.
Heli skiing is basically skiing after getting dropped off on the top of a mountain by a chopper. Instead of taking the lift to your destination – you’re taking a helicopter! That’s what the “heli” stands for, after all. The helicopter takes you to an off-piste spot where there’s very little activity and often breath-taking views.
Thanks to the helicopter – you can get more untouched vertical than with a simple lift. Think of the helicopter as your replacement lift or a flying snow cat.
Heli skiing became popular in the year 1965 when a businessman named Hans Gmoser started offering it to his guests during mountain tours. The first few runs were done in the Columbian Mountains, utilizing helicopters to reach areas of pristine snow and uninterrupted runs.
Today, heli skiing is done anywhere where there’s an abundance of snow-covered mountains where helicopters can reasonably land. There are sites in New Zealand, Alaska, British Columbia, Switzerland, Japan, and more.
You don’t have to be a ski expert to participate in heli skiing. Intermediate level skiers are more than welcome to try. The biggest learning curve would be skiing on powder, which can be difficult if you are used to groomers.
Fortunately, there is gear specifically made for powder skiing. It gives you better control on the surface, especially when it comes to grips and turns. If you’re used to skiing on packed and smooth snow – heli-skiing may not be a good option for now. For skiers who have experience with variable snow conditions – heli-skiing is an option. If you don’t have the right gear most Heli outfits can sort you with loaners or rentals.
For beginners in powder, guides can have some coaching options before the actual run. This should help build your confidence but is not an actual substitute for experience. Perhaps the best measuring tool to figure out if you’re ready for heli skiing is on black runs. If you can make turns and small jumps on faster gradients, you’re good to go.
All heli-skiing runs start off with safety guidelines including first aid, basic avalanche training, how to keep in contact, and what do in case you lose sight of your skiing buddies. You’ll be accompanied by an expert during all these runs and they’ll guide you through the runs.
I used to think this was mandatory when I was a kid.
No. If you’re imagining yourself jumping off the helicopter with your skis on – you might want to reign in your imagination. As exciting as it may appear, jumping off the helicopter is NOT ideal. Instead, the helicopter would gently land on the surface and you’ll be given a few minutes to prep on the top of the mountain.
During this time, your guide will give a last-minute talk, help you through your fittings, and offer you an overview of where you would be passing during the run. Guides typically go first so you can follow them. A second guide may be at the back just to make sure everyone is OK during the decent.
Heli skiing runs rarely encounter large jumps or cliffs you are forced to drop off with no alternate way around. For safety however, it’s best to have a little bit of experience navigating on rough snow so you can adjust for any possible situation on the slopes.
The cost of heli skiing really depends on where and when you’re doing it, and how many people would be taking the trip. It doesn’t matter if there’s just one or five people in your heli-skiing adventure – the helicopter will still use the same amount of gasoline. So if you’re thinking of doing all this solo – be prepared to shoulder the full cost of hiring the helicopter. Does anyone do that? No one I know.
Most heli-skiing tours are done in groups. If you’re alone, you’ll be joined with a group to lower the cost per head. It can also change, depending on the time of the season, the number of days you’ll be skiing, the scale of operations, amenities, your travel options, and the vertical feet of skiing space.
During the high-season, the cost of heli skiing can reach around 3900USD for a five-day trip. Day packages can cost close to 1,250USD per person for a 9km run. If you reserve in advance, you might get to pay around 1,500USD. However, if you’re standby for a helicopter – the rates may be as little as 750USD per head, allowing you to significantly save on the costs of the trip. In short it’s a pretty big spread. Also, a lot of places require you to book multiple days that can cost over $10K altogether.
Since the season varies per territory, the peak-season may be different, depending on where you plan to go. In most cases, the high-peak months would be from late December to March. You should start seeing cheaper packages for dates in early December or in the middle of April.
The number of days will also predict the cost of your heli skiing trip. Most trips will cover 5 to 7 days – taking you to different parts every time. Note though that these packages won’t cover heli-skiing every time. You’ll be taken to different spots using different vehicles across the resort. Most touring companies combine cat skiing with heli-skiing, allowing you to make the best of both worlds. One-day trips are also possible and way cheaper if all you really want is to experience heli skiing.
Also check the scale of operations. Will you be using a large helicopter or a smaller one? Larger helicopters can accommodate more people and would therefore spend less on gas. Note though that the waiting time can be longer since there are multiple seats that need to be filled.
Finally, don’t forget the vertical feet of your skin runs. Most packages will guarantee you at least 100,000 feet of snow per week. Since helicopters are more expensive to operate – any distance beyond that 100,000 feet would be an added cost. Typical range is around 30USD to 45USD per thousand feet.
Heli skiing requires the same equipment for typical cat skiing or resort powder skiing. Note, since you’re farther away from a resort, you’ll need extra items such as multiple goggles, extra gloves, airbag pack, protective gear, and of course – your skis or your board. Some places can sell or lend you gear as well.
Every skier is given avalanche safety gear and you’ll get a walk through about each item and how to use it. Listen closely – you don’t want to make the news. Fortunately, heli-skiing operators are very mindful of weather changes, and will quickly inform you if conditions are deteriorating.
Heli skiing and heli boarding are practically the same. You’ll be taken by a helicopter to the top of the mountain where you’ll be riding down. The only difference would be the equipment you’re using. If you’re used a board instead of skis – go for it! A lot of folks that can do both prefer boarding in heavy powder. I myself suck at boarding.
You can get the best out of heli-skiing regardless of your one-plank or two-plank status. Hating the other group is very 90’s anyway.
Cat Skiing refers to the vehicle used to reach your skiing terrain. Skiers are ferried using snowcats or snow caterpillars which are like buses built to move through the snow. They are the same machines you see grooming snow at a resort but have a box on the back for seating folks. These snowcats often take you to skiing terrain where you can do between 3,000 to 4,500m vertical in a single day. In contrast, heli skiing gives you around 4285m vertical per day. If you go above the industry standard for heli skiing, you might need to pay an extra amount for the cost of the helicopter.
But what makes one different from the other? Well, heli skiing puts you on fresher snowy terrains with very little traffic. Snowcats also need to move on snow roads, which is typically maintained by a ski resort. As a result, you’re rarely far from civilization with cat skiing. In some cases, you’re booked in a skiing resort if you’re engaged in this activity.
Heli skiing and resort skiing are widely different activities. The biggest difference would be on the quality of the snow. Heli skiing gives you access to untracked powder. There’s also a freedom of movement since there’s very few people on the run with you – giving you as much space as you want to make some s-turns for the gram. Plus – there are no lines! The helicopter takes you directly onto the top of the mountain.
Resort skiing is more public-access. You need to take the lift and follow other resort-goers to the top of the hill. If you arrive late – then expect tons of tracked snow, giving you very little chance to poach the fresh powder.
In terms of quality – heli-skiing is miles beyond a resort-skiing experience.
– Pyrenees in Spain – Spain is known for having a premier ski resort – which is why it isn’t surprising that it’s also home to some of the best off-piste skiing areas. The beauty here is that with a top-grade ski resort, few people decide to take the extra mile for heli-skiing, allowing you to take full advantage of the packages. The heli-skiing can cover heights of 5,000 to 10,000 feet with beautifully powdered snow. Day rates can cost as little as 250USD!