What’s it like to OWN a Heliskiing Operation?

It is the ultimate cocktail party trump card. Like having a jet!

What’s it really like? Who are these lucky pro leisure tour heliski gods?

Many helicopter skiing operators are former guides. The trick is to put together investors, usually former clients. They continue as lead guide, saving cash (and making turns.) Somebody’s gotta do it.

Actually, as John Forrest of Northern Escape Heli-Skiing puts it, “Heli Ski guiding is really a very difficult job. The hours are long, the remuneration is minimal and it’s certainly not in line with the risk taken each day. That said, I wouldn’t trade it for any other vocation. There is nothing like seeing the faces of your new group at the top of their first run. It’s a combination of utter amazement and absolute awe combined with a twinge of angst.”

Some heliski operators are very wealthy heliskiing enthusiasts. They like the psychological income and the carte blanche availability.

heli-skiing Canada, heliskiing Canada

Want to Own This?

No matter how it begins, owning and operating a heliskiing company is a complicated undertaking. First, you need permits for everything you do. After you get the permits, there are more permits needed… You need a food service permit for your restaurant, a liquor license for your bar, a water and septic license for your lodge, a taxi type permit for your vans and so on… Imagine owning and running this many separate businesses all at once: a lodge, a restaurant, a bar, a retail outlet, a transportation company and a guiding company. Crying yet?

Do they have the ultimate toy AND make money. Some do, most don’t. A few of the well established heliskiing companies make money, but for many it’s only a labor of love. CMH (Canadian Mountain Holidays) and Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing run like small corporations. Volume = economies of scale = profit potential.

For the boutique operators, expenses and risk combine to make it a challenge.

The big expenses, in order:

1. Helicopters, per hour and minimum commitments. This is generally a company’s single largest expense. Most helicopters cost about $0.50 per SECOND
2. Personnel – guides, chefs, cooks, lodge staff. Most companies having well over a 1:1 Guest to staff ratio.
3. Food – You can never spend too much on food! Where do you think “helly belly” comes from?
4. The Lodge – Many are leased. If you own the lodge, you must use it in the summer. If you lease it, you only need to fill it for the winter.
5. Ground transportation – Heliskiing generally requires the company to have several vans, trucks and other equipment. That includes vehicles, gas and drivers.
6. Other equipment includes required environmentally safe fuel tanks as well as all the other safety equipment to operate. Additionally, there are a select few companies that are investing in ensuring their guests will ski everyday by buying snowcats as back-up to their heliskiing program. That’s roughly the equivalent of having a complete catskiing company on stand-by, just in case you need it and that is really not cheap.
7. Insurance – Definitely more than the insurance on your Porsche.
8. Fuel – about 10% of the cost of running the helicopter. Some purchase futures to hedge against a sudden increase.

There you have it. That’s what it’s like own a heli-skiing company.

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