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So, You Want to Go Heli-Skiing in North America?

1/26/17 by Beth Lopez

It’s on every powder skier’s lifetime bucket list. Heli-skiing is glorified in ski and snowboard films as the best way to access pristine terrain, making most skiers salivate at the thought. It also scares away quite a few people, because most of us can’t nail near-vertical Alaskan spines or glide over monstrous cliff drops. We also imagine these trips costing an absurd amount of money.

While yes, it’s generally expensive and often challenging, the options are a little more nuanced than that. Here are a few detailed tips regarding who can or should heli-ski, what to know, and where you can go to have that amazing experience you’ve been dreaming of.

How good do you have to be?

You and your friends will have an epic story to tell for years to come.
You and your friends will have an epic story to tell for years to come. kcxd

For many, the main drive to heli-ski comes from the desire to get on soft, untracked snow. But to have a great time (and not slow down your entire group), you’ll need to be an intermediate skier who can make their way down black diamond runs. Not every turn has to look magazine-worthy by any means, but you’ll need some experience on more challenging routes under your belt. You’ll also need to be in great shape to ski long runs, all day, at high elevation.

Having a baseline comfort level skiing powder means the trip will be worthwhile for you and will keep your group moving at a solid pace through their day. If you’d like to keep terrain choices mellow, that’s completely fine—just choose a heli operation known for its access to more mild terrain, and you’ll have a blast without any jitters.

And the big question on everyone’s mind—do I have to jump out of the helicopter? While it might sound exciting to some, the answer is no, you don’t. Your guide will review safety procedures for getting on and off the helicopter before you head out, and then the pilot will find a safe place to land. All you need to focus on is having the time of your life!

How do you choose a trip?

Heli-skiing doesn’t have to break the bank.
Heli-skiing doesn’t have to break the bank. Alex Grechman

Obviously, budget is one unignorable factor. If you choose a premium, weeklong experience where you stay in a nice lodge every night, eat chef-catered meals, and ride the chopper all day long to scrumptious powder turns, you’re probably looking at about $10-15k. Many people decide that price tag is well worth it—and it definitely is if you have the expendable income.

There are several other ways to approach it as well. Some operations let you stay in less expensive lodging or lodging of your own choosing and they’ll fly you in the helicopter for a set number of runs per day. Others offer day trips starting at $750, which is a more feasible price to pay for one of the best days of your life.

Another option is "heli-assisted ski touring," in which you only get a chopper ride to a pristine backcountry ski touring area, then you’re left to your own devices (usually with a capable guide) for the day before getting a ride back. This option minimizes the number of heli rides you take and the amount of expensive fuel spent, resulting in a much cheaper price, although you’ll work hard to earn your turns all day.

In addition to budget, think about accessibility from where you live, what kind of terrain you want to ski (gnarly or mellow), and the local weather (how likely are you to arrive during a window when the helicopter can fly?). Travel insurance might be a swell idea considering the cost of the trip and the number of variables that are out of your control, like no-fly weather or a ski-preventing injury.

Where are a few of the best places to go?

The hardest part is picking a place to go!
The hardest part is picking a place to go! kcxd

Here’s the best part—there are too many reputable and amazing heli skiing operations to include in one list, but we’ve put together a list of several tried-and-true operations here. Fly with any one of them, and you’ll be in good hands and set up for the absolute thrill of a lifetime.

1. Tordrillo Mountain Lodge in Alaska Co-owned by Olympic alpine ski racer Tommy Moe, the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge is truly a trip to the Alaskan Wilderness (and that’s before you even get on your skis!). Their guides have more than 30 years of experience finding the best lines for any level in the Tordrillo Mountains. With more than 1.2 million acres to explore, the Tordrillos get about 600 inches of snow annually, so there’s plenty to go around. The best part about this area is that the weather is more consistent and stable here than other parts of the state, so there’s less chance of a weather-related delay or cancellation.

2. Canadian Mountain Holidays in British Columbia With multiple base lodges to choose from in British Columbia, this operation is a class act. Their "least expensive" options are still fairly pricey, as you’re staying in a luxury chef-catered lodge. But if you can save up and throw down, they offer an impeccable experience. They even have special workshops and weeklong programs for different types of skiers (or women-specific clinics).

3. Telluride Helitrax in Colorado You may or may not have heard of the San Juan range—a favorite of backcountry hut-to-hut skiers—but take a look at the jaw-dropping summits and bowls in the general Telluride area, and you’ll yearn for a Helitrax trip. They also have elevation on their side—most of the terrain they access is above the tree line, so riders can open the throttle in wide-open untracked snow.

4. Powderbird in Utah Looking for a completely customized experience? Check out Powderbird. Located in the heart of the Wasatch range in Utah, the company offers trips out of both Park City and Snowbird. Before signing up for a trip, you’ll put in a Skier Profile and then their team will help you create the best experience possible. They have Premium, Private, and Charter options depending on what you and your crew are looking for. Both bases are located near world-class ski resorts with a solid selection of lodging and restaurants.

5. Sun Valley Heli Ski in Idaho Sun Valley Heli Ski has been around since 1966, and has access to three mountain ranges from their headquarters in Warm Springs, Idaho. Collectively, their guides have more than 100 years of experience, and the guide to skier ratio is 1:4, so if you’re looking for more personal service but without having to charter a private experience, Sun Valley is a great option.

6. Ruby Mountains Heli Experience in Nevada Ski Nevada? Yup. The Ruby Mountains aren’t well-known, and this family-owned operation conveys skiers and boarders to stunning 11,000 foot peaks. On top of that, they offer one special boon: when weather doesn’t permit the helicopter to fly, they can usually still run their snowcat to access alternative (but awesome) terrain. So there’s little fear of a "down" day.

7. Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing in British Columbia The Monashee and Cariboo mountains in British Columbia get more than 32 feet of snow each year, which is why Mike Wiegele has been offering three, five, and seven-day heli-skiing trips there since 1970. Located in Blue River, BC, just off a Trans-Canadian Highway, you can access their headquarters regardless of weather conditions, and they have an astounding 95% fly rate, thanks to two different base options. This family-owned business offers powder skis and snowboard rentals at no additional fee, and their Heli-Ski Village has everything you would want after a long day in the backcountry—massage, sauna, a wine cellar, and more.

8. Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing in British Columbia Based in Revelstoke, British Columbia, Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing has been guiding heli-skiing trips for more than three decades in the Selkirk and Monashee Mountains. They have a variety of day trips, including heli-assisted ski touring, for a range of budgets. They also have a ‘Powder Excursion’ option, with fewer runs and a relaxed pace, for people who might be trying heli-skiing for the first time.

9. North Cascade Heli in Washington A photo of the Northern Cascade mountains is nearly indistinguishable from the European Alps—this terrain is legit. The location also dodges coastal "cement" snow and offers quality powder for those seeking a communion with the proverbial white room. You can book single-day or multi-day trips, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better time in this part of the world.

Some say the entire experience can be summed up in one word: Hüttenzauber. The German word represents the idea that no matter what your age or background, a heli-skiing trip with a few of your best friends (or a few new ones) will give you a sense of camaraderie. It’s the bliss of a day filled with powder in an amazing location, and an evening by the fire in a cozy cabin, filled with laughter, conversation, and hard-earned fatigue.

Originally written by RootsRated for Marmot.