Heliskiing Criteria Series – How to Pick the Best Heliskiing. #3 – Groups

How to Pick the Best Heli Skiing

Best Heli-Skiing:  Groups

Heli-Skiing Group Size and Number of Groups per Helicopter

The size of the group and the number of groups per helicopter, or machine, are both important when choosing your heliskiing operator.  Some of the big operators like Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) and Mike Wiegele use primarily big helicopters with 10 or 11 guests.   Almost all of the boutique, smaller operators use A-stars or Bell 407s.   These hold 4, 5 or 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 (remember two guides) or 52 sets of tracks if you share a drainage.  Smaller is usually better, if for the simple reason that you are only as fast as the slowest skier/boarder.  And if one person falls or loses a ski, the entire group waits.

bc heliskiing robson pick us up Hey, Pick Us Up!!!

However, bigger helicopters are more cost effective.   To lift 12 guests, guides and a pilot, it takes a Bell 212 one trip.   It takes three trips in an A-Star, ferrying the pilot and guide as well.  So the bigger helicopter trips should be less expensive, but they are not always…..

An ideal situation is to find an operator with groups size that match yours.  One group per machine, aka Private, is great, but expensive.   One operator does one group of ten for each helicopter!

chopper downhill Skeena Rips with two groups of 5

Groups per helicopter

Groups per helicopter is another important criterion.  A helicopter can usually service two or three groups without much waiting.   Four groups per machine can be slow.   Our friend Dave Geis of Alaska Snowboard Guides points out that Alaska is an exception, “I would note is that 4 groups out of one heli in AK, especailly the Chugacth, is different than BC. This is due to run length. Because of the long runs there is very little waiting with 4 groups – barely enough to get a drink of water. In BC so many short runs makes the helicopeter much busier with take offs and landing which burn quite a bit of time.

Operators will attempt to group guests of similar ability and speed.  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 upon the slowest group, and upon the willingness of the guides to ‘leap frog’ the slow group.  This is frequently a cause of tension and discontent.  It can also hamper the lead guide’s flexibility in choosing the terrain.  This is especially true if the groups contain skiers with different ability and or speed.

Another issue can arise if some guests are interested in ‘extra vertical’ (for extra money) and some are not.   This requires a group of the right size, so that the helicopter economics work.   And is requires proximity to the lodge to take the others home, usually on a fuel run.   Again the bigger the groups, the more difficult it is to make everyone happy.  Three groups per machine is the industry norm for smaller, boutique operations.  But there are notable exceptions.  We are happy to help.


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