HELI-SKIING: A COMBINATION OF HELICOPTER AND SKI
If you’re familiar with heli-skiing, you’re already aware of its remarkable nature. However, have you ever wondered about the origins of this sport and, more importantly, whether it’s something you can also experience?
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What is Heli-skiing
Heli-skiing is all about hopping on a helicopter and heading into the backcountry. The chopper lands on a peak you wouldn’t reach otherwise, drops you off, and then it’s time to ski down the face to the base. The helicopter skiing swings by to pick you up and whisks you back to the top for another round.
We’re not painting it as a dull affair, though – trust us, it’s about as thrilling as it gets! Your experience, however, can vary widely depending on factors like your skill level, group size, location, conditions, and the package you’ve chosen.
Avalanches and cornices are the main concerns when heli-skiing. For those newer to the game, we pick areas with a lower risk of slides and breakaways, usually opting for gentler slopes. But if you’re a seasoned rider and conditions allow, you can venture into steeper, more challenging terrain!
Where Can You Experience Heli-skiing?
Heli-skiing is possible in most snowy regions, and while that’s a bit of a broad generalization, it’s not too far from the truth. Ski resorts are typically found wherever there’s enough snow to hit the slopes.
The true magic of heli-skiing, however, reveals itself in areas abundant with snow and exceptional terrain but pose challenges for conventional access. This is why heli-skiing has gained immense popularity in places like the Alaskan and Canadian Rockies, the Sierra Nevada, the Himalayas, the Andes, the Caucasus Mountains, and more!
Heli-skiing essentially opens up a world of possibilities, yet there are specific hot spots that avid riders are drawn to. Given that numerous companies operate from these popular destinations, pilots develop a wealth of knowledge about where it’s safe, reliable, and, most importantly, offers an unparalleled experience!
Safety is paramount in this adventurous sport, and rest assured, pilots always prioritize it.
If you’re venturing north to Alaska, the unofficial mecca of heli-skiing, you’re in for a treat with several fantastic options. Among them, the Tordrillo Mountains stand out as the most reliable and coveted destination. Boasting an expansive 1.2 million acres of skiable terrain, an astounding annual snowfall exceeding 600 inches (that’s 50 feet!), and elevations soaring as high as 7,500 ft, with vertical feet extending up to 5,500 ft.
The Tordrillo Mountains are meticulously mapped and under constant surveillance, offering everything from jaw-dropping steeps and chutes to more forgiving powder fields. This makes the region a colossal playground catering to a diverse range of riders.
Alternatively, the Chugach Range near Valdez and the Cordova region are equally popular choices. The Chugach Range features peaks reaching up to 13,000 ft, averaging around 4,000 ft. While this might be lower in elevation, it compensates with the world’s highest snowfall, averaging a staggering 800 inches annually—that’s 67 feet of snow!
This abundance of powder translates to numerous exciting descents and the added benefit of avoiding some of the inclement weather found at higher altitudes.
The Cordova region offers a similar experience, with slightly less snowfall (still over 50 ft), but an equal amount of exhilarating fun to be had.
Heli-skiing in Canada is more of the same! Again, you’re spoilt for choice here, but we definitely recommend the west coast for the snow and terrain. There are a lot of different locations on offer, all averaging over 25 ft of snow per year, so there’s really no way to go wrong.
Heading southeast, you have access to the Kootenays, the Valhallas, the Goat Range, and the Purcell Mountains—providing an exhilarating mix of high-alpine and tree-filled runs.
As you venture further north, you’ll approach the Columbia Range, the Bugaboos (the birthplace of heli-skiing), and immerse yourself in the Rockies for even more thrilling experiences. Elevations are higher here, and you’ll begin to get above the treeline for more of that classic Alaskan-style heli-skiing.
Even further north, you’ll hit the Rockies, and opportunities become a little more sparse. But to the east, there’s lots of fun to be found in the Monashees.
Moving westward, the North Cascades present a myriad of thrilling opportunities. Continuing north from Vancouver, you’ll discover the Bastion Range and Clendenning Range, offering abundant chances to explore Powder Mountain, Whistler, and Blackcomb.
Opting for the right operator opens doors to exceptionally challenging terrain, allowing for some seriously ambitious rides. On the flip side, if you prefer a more laid-back experience, there’s ample accessible terrain catering to the less adventurous rider as well.
Other Notable Heli-skiing Destinations
The Alps stand out as another incredible heli-skiing destination. With expansive high-altitude terrain and an extensive ski area, numerous operators organize trips from France, Switzerland, and Austria. Heli-skiing is also a thrilling option in the lower 48 states of the US, with opportunities around major resorts from Utah to Colorado and Nevada to California, unveiling otherwise inaccessible and breathtaking terrain.
Beyond the United States, specialized operators offer heli-skiing experiences in the Andes, the Himalayas, and the Caucasus Mountains. While these locations may present more logistical challenges, embarking on a heli-ski trip in the Himalayas, for instance, would undoubtedly be a remarkable adventure for the history books!
For those seeking an Asian skiing experience, Japan provides an enticing selection of low-altitude heli-skiing—particularly appealing if you’re drawn to neck-deep powder. And let’s be honest, who wouldn’t be excited about that?