How To Go Heli Skiing

Many skiers are quite content staying on the groomed runs of a fancy (or not-so-fancy) ski resort.  You'll still be able to cover a lot of terrain and get to see some beautiful mountaintop views.  However, if you're looking to move beyond maintained runs and want to taste the ultimate in skiing adventure, you may want to consider heli skiing.

While heli skiing isn't offered at every ski resort, it is offered at the big name Western ski resorts like Telluride, Whistler, Sun Valley, Jackson Hole, Diamond Peaks, etc.  Some heli skiing, such as that in Washington state's North Cascade Mountain Range and the Chugach Mountains near Valdez, Alaska, isn't affiliated with any ski resort and caters specifically to those planning their entire trip around heli skiing.  And don't think that heli skiing is limited to the U.S.; trips are available in New Zealand, Switzerland, Argentina, Chile and many other international ski destinations as well.

There's a lot to consider before booking your heli ski trip.  You must decide where you want to go, how many days or runs you want to ski, and whether or not you are an advanced enough skier to participate, among other things.  Below I'll discuss some things you should take into consideration while you're planning your heli ski vacation.

  1. Determine your skiing ability.  Is everyone in your party at least an advanced-intermediate skier?  If you are not at least an advanced-intermediate (meaning towards the advanced end of intermediate) skier, then you'll probably have to take a few more lessons and spend a few more days (or seasons) on the slopes before you can safely expect to heli ski.  You should at least be comfortable skiing a groomed black diamond run.  Some heli skiing companies may require you to be an advanced skier depending upon the location's terrain and conditions.
  2. Determine the number of runs and days you want to heli ski.  If you are going to plan your entire trip around heli skiing, it's likely that you'll want to heli ski for multiple days.  Most companies offer a multi-day heil skiing package of 6 or 7 days.  This can be pricey but will typically include lodging, meals, guides, skis, avalanche transceivers and transportation.

    If you just want to try heli skiing for a day, or even just one run, you'll be able to find these options at many of the larger ski resorts.  For example, you can choose a full day (of 6 runs) at Whistler in British Columbia, or opt for a single run.  The option you choose may be largely based on cost as heli skiing, as you can likely imagine, is not a cheap pastime.

  3. Establish your budget.  Some typical prices for the 2007 heli skiing season are as follows:
    • 7 day, all inclusive trip: $6,000-8,000 (depending on location and time of year)
      -includes lodging, all meals, guides, powder skies, avalanche equipment, helicopter fees and transportation
    • 1 day (6 runs): $625-900
    • Additional run (on top of first six): $85-100
    • Single run: $150-200 (this may include a day's ski pass for the main ski resort you're visiting)

  4. Decide where you'd like to go.  This will depend on your budget and the amount of heli skiing you intend to do.  If you're only planning to do one run and ski at the resort for the rest of the day, you'll have to choose a big resort like Whistler, Jackson Hole or Diamond Peaks.  You won't be able to choose a mountain that only offers heli skiing.  If you're looking for a week-long heli skiing adventure, you'll have more choices, both in the states and internationally.

    If you've never heli skied before, it might be best to try a day trip in an area you've skied before.  It's an expensive sport and if, for some reason, you don't like it, you could spend a lot of time and money on a trip you'd rather forget.  Type "Colorado Heli Skiing" or "British Columbia Heli Skiing" into your favorite search engine and you'll be able to quickly determine what your heli skiing options are in that region.

  5. Understand the risks.  With skiing, as with any sport, there will always be risks.  Skiing inherently involves potential collisions and falls, which is why you see more and more skiers wearing helmets.  But backcountry skiing adds risks like avalanches, crevices, cornices, and unfamiliar terrain. You should recognize that heli skiing does pose these additional risks.  Make sure you're confident enough in your skiing ability that you can deal with and/or avoid these problems with the help of a trained guide.  Even a professional skier will not be able to anticipate every problem, so whether you're an experienced backcountry skier or an advanced black diamond skier on your first heli skiing trip, you will be putting yourself in a potentially dangerous situation.

    However, as long as you're honest about your ability level, how you're feeling that day, and you have a skilled guide, the likelihood of encountering such dangers will be greatly diminished.  Talk with your guide about the conditions that day and the make sure you feel comfortable with the avalanche training you receive.  If you take the necessary precautions and have the appropriate training, you'll more than likely have an amazing trip that you'll never forget.

  6. Research your heli ski company and, if possible, your guide.  This is easier said than done, but make sure to read about the history of the company that you're planning to go with.  While occasionally there may be only one heli skiing outfitter in an area, oftentimes you will have a choice. Compare companies and their guides and make sure that they both seem legitimate and well-educated about the hazards that heli skiing inherently possesses.  Also make sure that they are concerned about your level of ability.  While many guides will be able to tailor the runs to the least-advanced person in the group, they should still ensure that everyone has the appropriate skiing experience before flying your group to the top of a mountain and dropping you off.

    Your heli skiing company should be happy to answer any questions you have and to provide you with lots of information about themselves, heli skiing in general, the region, the minimum skill requirements, the risks, the conditions, your guide, and anything else you're interested in.

  7. Heli Ski!  Get in a helicopter with your ski gear, fly to a mountain peak, take in the phenomenal view and enjoy your fresh tracks down the pristine powder that blankets the mountainside.


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