Heli Skiing Canada
Find the best heli skiing Canada trip for your group. Tell us what you want, and we will find best heli skiing Canada options - free! HELISKI.com represents essentially every BC heli skiing operator and will curate the best heli skiing in Canada for you. More heliskiing locations for – more heli skiing options, and we have been doing it the longest – over 25 years!
The Best Heli Skiing Canada Guide
ALL BC Heli Skiing Locations!
The Best Heli Skiing Canada Guide is designed to help you pick the best option for your next heli skiing trip.
How do we know? We have been doing this for over 25 years.
We have been conducting heliski surveys every year, so we have the input of thousands of heli skiing clients like you!
We have been there, heli skied that. We have gone heli skiing with almost all of the 40+ heliski operators we represent. We have first hand knowledge of all aspects of your heli skiing Canada trip.
There are many aspects to consider for your ideal heli-skiing Canada trip. Some of the things to ask yourself, and to tell HELISKI.com, will allow us to narrow down the dozens of destinations for your heli-skiing in Canada.
What to Consider in a BC Heli Skiing Trip
Heli Skiing Canada Locations & Terrain
British Columbia has the best heli skiing in Canada. BC is the center of the heli skiing world. It has the perfect combination of terrain, climate and precipitation. It is home to the majority of heli skiing and heliboarding operations on earth (90%). Within British Columbia there are different regions with different advantages and disadvantages.
Snow quantity is directly affected by proximity to the Pacific. In general, more snow falls in the Coast Ranges. Snow quality is based on a combination of factors, but most notably is the distance North (cooler temps) and the elevation (the higher the dryer).
A minimum amount of snow is required for both ground coverage and general stability and for this reason the vast majority of Heli skiing Canada occurs in the Interior ranges and the Coast Ranges. The Rockies generally have less snowfall, but what falls is dry! See a map of British Columbia Heli skiing and Heliboarding Locations.
All BC heli skiing is awesome! But all terrain is not created equal. Some locations are known for steep tree runs, others for wide open bowls and glaciers. Some locations offer very long runs, others do fast turnarounds. Many offer multiple locations / lodges, and the terrain differs significantly. Also consider that the fewer the number of guests, the more you can dictate the terrain you ski.
Alaska Heliskiing is home of the steep and deep. The season is later and there is not much tree skiing compared to BC. Most operators are out of Valdez and the Haines area, but there are a couple of others. Alaskan helicopter skiing can be more difficult to access. For example, Anchorage to Valdez flights are canceled over one third of the time in the season. Alaska has more down days than BC operators. Guests can plan to ski 4 out of 7 days, on average. Conditions are highly variable and it is STEEP. Do not go to Alaska on your first heli skiing trip.
There are some options better than others. The US offers heli skiing and heliboarding in the Lower 48 as well. Utah, Colorado, Nevada, Washington, California and Idaho all have heli skiing. Many of these are located at or near resort skiing and cater to one-day trips for bucket listers – although longer trips are also available from some.
Europe heli skiing is somewhat restricted, starting late and ending early. France outlawed it. South America has some epic options. New Zealand also offers heli skiing trips, but their safety standards vary…. India, Russia, Greenland and Iceland are also available for exotic adventures.
We’re happy to you find the best heli skiing for your group - free. The operators pay us a commission, and take to the best heli skiing in Canada, also free -which is why we do it.
Snow Quality and the Best Heli Skiing in BC Canada
When are the best times to go to get the best heli skiing in Canada?
British Columbia heli skiing operates December to early April.
Primetime is in February, but January and March are also very good. January and April can offer better deals. Be aware that late season can include ‘corn snow’ in addition to or instead of powder. Stability and weather are better later in the season. Stability issues and lots of snow means January is typically more tree skiing. January is colder, with less sunshine.
Here are some thoughts on January vs. March:
January Heli Skiing in Canada= Light Powder
March Heli Skiing in Canada= Long Runs and High Alpine, including Bowls and Glaciated Terrain
BC Heli Skiing Groups
The size of the group and the number of groups per helicopter, or machine, is very important. Some of the big operators like Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) and Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing use primarily big helicopters with 10-11 guests per lift/group. Almost all of the boutique, smaller operators use A-stars, Bell407’s or the new Koalas. These hold 4 to 6 guests. It is a more intimate group. In addition, smaller helicopters are more maneuverable. Small groups can access tighter areas that could not handle 13 sets of tracks. Smaller machines load and unload faster, reducing cycle time. However, the bigger machines such as the Bell212 are less expensive to operate and can offer economies of scale.
Groups per helicopter is another important criterion. A helicopter can easily service one or two groups without any waiting. Often even three groups can share a machine without much waiting. Operators will attempt to group guests of similar ability and speed. Because a group is only as fast as the slowest skier. But all groups can only go as fast as the slowest group….unless or until a group can be passed. The amount of waiting depends on the ‘weakest link’ and on the willingness of the guides to ‘leapfrog’ the slow group. This can be the cause of tension and discontent. This is especially true if the groups contain skiers with different ability and or speed. The passing group gets anxious and the group getting passed gets pissed.
Another issue can arise if some guests are interested in ‘extra vertical’ (for extra money) and some are not. Unless the lodge is close or there are logical groups, some guests may be disappointed.
One group per machine, aka Private, is best but expensive. Two groups per machine, a Semi-Private, is very good and usually comes at a premium. Three groups per machine, Classic or Regular, is the industry norm for smaller, more boutique operations. Be aware that many of the newer companies are calling their packages Private or Semi-Private but do not offer the same service as the more reputable companies. The practical reality is that the operators are very skilled at managing these challenges. Most guests never pick up on it, or care. But feel free to discreetly suggest to your guide that your group makes a pass.
Length of Your BC Heli Skiing Trip
Packages are available for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 or more days. The most common lengths are 1-day, 4-day, 5-day and a ‘week’. Most ‘week’ trips are 7 nights with 6 full days of skiing. Some ski a full 7 days. An important distinction, eh? Some will offer skiing on the morning of departure. Some can get up on the afternoon of the arrival day. Several companies now offer a full seven days as they are located with easier access and can have their guests ski a full day on the last day instead of using it as a change over time and lengthy transfer to an airport. But those are the exceptions.
Resort-based heli skiing operators cater to shorter trips, especially one-day trips. These day-trips are typically much more expensive per vertical skied. Training is required every morning, as opposed to once per trip for lodge-based operations. The first run is to make sure everyone can ‘hang’. So it’s pretty tame. One operator has a first run named Cry Baby, because the guests are whining about the mellow terrain. Most will ski four groups per helicopter. In addition, the ski level of “bucket list” guests is not as high. So the turn around is slow.
More remote operators justify longer trips. A travel day on each end may be required, but as mentioned access is the key if you want to ski more and travel less. So, longer trips make the best use of time and money. Down days, unfortunately, do happen. If the helicopter cannot fly, due to weather or mechanical issues, the bummer is magnified if it is a shorter trip. A handful of operators now offer catskiing backup. It can save the day and is worth considering.
Travel to and from BC Heli Skiing
Total travel time and convenience are important criteria that are often overlooked. Some of the oldest heliski operators require bus rides of five to eight hours on both ends of the trip. This is an ironic contrast to the fast, convenient service offered during heli skiing. It may not sit well with clients who can afford heli skiing.
It is a good idea to get the travel itineraries for everyone in the group before you book. Getting to and from a heli skiing Canada destination can range from straight forward or very challenging. Some places are easy to access with frequent ‘commuter’ flights. It’s best to book these in the fall, when they are on sale. Some operators now include the commuter or charter flights from the Vancouver airport, which is awesome and worth including in your price comparison.
Most operators have vans or buses for the last leg of the journey. The primary airports for heli skiing access are Vancouver, Calgary, and Anchorage, in that order. Many itineraries require a one night stay before or after the trip, some both. Some operators include this in the price, others do not. Some operators that are easy to access allow West Coast heli skiers to get to the lodge in one day. It may also be possible to ski the morning of the last day, which is cool, and should be considered when comparing options.
Several offer easy access with all the same feelings of remoteness without the additional travel time. Another benefit to easy access is that it may also increase the skiing time you have available during your package. This can add up to a full day more given the same package duration.
Heli Skiing Canada Cost and Value
Heli skiing is expensive. The good news is that it is worth it. Most packages run $1,000 to $1,500 per day, Canadian. This includes food, lodging, helicopter time, equipment and guides. Equipment includes safety equipment (avalanche pack, shovel, probe, and avalanche beacon), skis and poles. Alcohol and massages are usually additional costs.
Most packages include a guaranteed minimum vertical. Additional vertical is typically $40-50 Canadian per thousand feet. Extra runs are $100-150 Canadian. The operator requires a minimum number of skiers to agree to the extra vertical, to make it cost-effective. It is common to re-configure the groups late in the day to allow one or two groups to go for the extra vertical, while the others return to the lodge for a head start on the hors d’oeuvres, cocktails and hot tub.
If bad weather or mechanical downtime prevents reaching the guaranteed minimum, most operators will issue a credit toward a future trip. It is unusual to get a refund. Operators vary widely on their willingness to accommodate clients for missed vertical. In fact, some operators have been known to start late and quit early to minimize helicopter expenses.
Fortunately, this is the exception rather than the rule. Refunds and vertical achieved can cause friction on the last day. There is ample room for disagreement about the cause of slow groups and missed vertical. Negotiation can be successful, but it is best done in private and with a cool head and respect.
Some packages include unlimited vertical. In fact, a couple of operators offer unlimited vertical on every package! Others offer it during the early and late season. It may be built into a higher price. It is worth shopping around. Below is my blog post about the pros and cons of unlimited vertical heli skiing.
Unlimited vertical appeals to those who appreciate certainty, want to ski like hell, or both.
For many BC heli skiing operators, unlimited vertical is the standard including Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing, Great Canadian Heli Skiing, Snowwater Heli Skiing, TLH Heli Skiing, Eagle Pass Heli Skiing and Great Bear Heli Skiing. There is no stressing over how much you have skied, and no surprises at checkout (other than your bar tab). Proponents appreciate that there is no stress about racking up the vertical throughout the week; and no $1-3K bill at checkout. Northern Escape Heli Skiing now offers unlimited vertical as an option, for a higher base rate.
Detractors point out that unlimited vertical lacks goal congruence with the operator. The hourly expense of the helicopter provides a huge economic incentive for operators to shorten the day. Some think it may tempt operators to call it early, take a long lunch, start late, etc. or even to call a ‘down day’ early. The operator has your money and a disincentive to fly.
Operators who offer a basic price with extra vertical charges like to make the point that paying in advance for unlimited vertical can be very expensive if you don’t have a great week. It can result in a much higher price per run or per vertical foot. For some, the break-even point can be over 200,000 vertical in a week, although prices and extra vertical fees vary.
Here is a comparison of Unlimited Vertical vs. Pay As You Go Pricing.
Another consideration is the date of the trip. Unlimited vertical in Northern British Columbia in January is limited by the hours of daylight. And conversely, unlimited Alaska heli skiing in April could go on for 16 hours…..
We encourage clients to do the math before booking (or HELISKI.com will do it for you). These minimums and extra vertical fees vary (not to mention the math converting currency and meters vs. feet). Let us know if we can help. 866-HELISKI
Heli Skiing Canada Accommodations
Most BC Operators offer very nice lodges in remote locations. A few offer less expensive options, especially those that cater to day-trippers. Most will offer excellent amenities including bar, hot tub, wireless internet, ski shop, massage, pool, TV/movies, etc. Check them out online. Most are great.
Some are fishing lodges in the summer months. Lodging is in hotels in a handful of locations.
Alaska is considerably more rugged, with a couple of exceptions. The center of gravity is Valdez. Most operators shuttle clients back and forth from their motel in Valdez. A few have their own accommodations. Another interesting option in Alaska is a motor home. The operators make it easy to hook up and hang out when you are skiing, and go exploring when you are not. You have the option of cooking for yourself, too. In general, Alaska is far less luxurious, to say the least.
Down days do happen. Good down day (oxymoron) activities include ski touring, cat skiing, resort skiing, fishing, snowmobiling, sea kayaking and more.
The food is awesome! Destination heli skiing operators almost all offer great food and lots of it. Guides complain of Heli Belly. Many guests gain weight on their trips! Hotel based operations may be a little less gourmet. Some of the bigger operators do buffet style, but the food is great.
BC Heli Skiing Helicopters
There are several helicopters common in the heli skiing industry. Most popular with the boutique operators is the A-Star. It typically carries four guests across a bench-like seat in the back; the pilot and guide sit in front. It is also known as the A-Star B, for models B2 and the more powerful B3. Getting in and out is very easy. They are very maneuverable and fast.
Bell 205, 206 and 212 carries up to eleven guests, a guide and a pilot. Operators may run two, three or four groups of this size. There are trade-offs. Bigger helicopters have longer load and unload time and clients ski in lager groups. Some terrain does not lend itself to 12-48 tracks…… The Bell 407 typically seats five in the rear; the pilot and one more sit up front (usually the guide with the exception of the last ride home.)
Operators with smaller helicopters and groups have more flexibility in arranging groups, reaching terrain, etc. However, most will run three small groups per helicopter. The exception is Private or Semi Private packages that run one or two groups respectively. The price is higher, but the experience is the best. With 7 or more in a group, a private may be the best deal.
Requirements for skiing ability vary somewhat. The resort-based and one-day oriented operators suggest ‘intermediate’ ability is required and/or ‘some powder experience.’ The more remote operators suggest ‘strong intermediate’ or ‘able to ski any run at a resort in control.’ These are definitely minimum requirements. Most clients will be expert with good powder ability. Do not invite a buddy with marginal ability if you want to ski fast and make friends in the lodge.
The other requirement is ‘good physical condition.’ It is very important to be in good shape. You do not want to be straining to keep up. Worse, you do not want to be slowing down your friends (and former friends.) Get yourself in very good shape!
Best BC Heli Skiing: Safety and Guides
Most operators are members of the HeliCat Canada Association. This association set strict standards for its members and ensures that they meet them through standard audits of their operating procedures. A handful of companies, most notably Mike Wiegele, have their own standards and training. This is important as there are currently no government regulations for guides in Canada. The good news is that they have been very successful at self-regulation and have a very good safety record.
One of the critical points to consider is Guides Qualifications. HeliCat Canada recognizes only ACMG (Association of Canadian Mountain Guides) and the IFMGA (International Federation of Mountain Guide’s Associations) of which the ACMG is the Canadian member. There are many other training schools in Canada, but none, other than the ACMG are internationally recognized.
HeliCat Canada has a set of standard operating procedures and all members follow them so you’ll find that most companies operate, with regard to safety, in a standard manner. Be sure to check the operator credentials and safety record. You may be surprised to find out that the company you are considering is not a member, regardless of its longstanding reputation, and is therefore not regulated in any way.
Heli Skiing Canada Guest Safety Protocol:
On the first day of a heli skiing trip, clients receive detailed safety briefing and training. Some include video and/or slides, as well as field training. Among the most important topics are backcountry risks and how to ameliorate them. This includes how to recognize and reduce avalanche threats. Avalanche procedures are explained and practiced. This includes training and practice with avalanche beacons.
Clients learn how to wear, operate and charge avalanche beacons. Guides will check to make sure all beacons are set to ‘send.’ In the event of an avalanche, everyone in the group turns their beacon from send to receive, which is extremely important. Then the systematic search protocol is explained and practiced. Guides bury a beacon and the group practices search and recovery in a controlled outdoor setting. Most importantly, make sure the others in your group pay attention, as they will be the ones digging you out….
Most operators now provide avalanche airbag systems. In the event of an avalanche these devices significantly decrease the chances of being buried.
Use of probes, shovels and radios is part of the training as well. Typically all of these will be carried in the backpack of every client. That is a good place for an extra pair of gloves, goggles, neck gator and maybe a thin vest.
Finally, guests learn how to act around and in the helicopter. In addition, loading and unloading procedures are explained. Listen to the do’s and dont’s for the safety and enjoyment of everyone. Every guest needs to know the location of emergency equipment and how to use it.
Guides begin their day with safety reviews and forecasts. Heliski operators share data on snow conditions and stability. Guides combine this information and detailed weather and avalanche forecasts. This information is used to formulate plans for the day, including what aspects and slopes offer the safest and best skiing, and which to avoid. Throughout the day, guides continuously monitor snow conditions, including digging pits to check for depth and stability of snow layers. They may seem relaxed and casual, but the guides are constantly evaluating risks, and how to minimize them.
Heli Skiing Trip Insurance is a good idea. It covers injuries before your trip and travel problems. We do strongly recommend trip cancellation/disruption insurance. It is an add-on to the package price when guests make their final payment. It’s about $300 US, but varies by the trip length and the age of the guest.
Evacuation insurance is usually included, but some charge a modest fee.
How to Choose the Best Heli Skiing Canada for Your Group?
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