Heliskiing vs. Resort Skiing, We Do the Math to Maximize Powder Value

Heliskiing vs Resort Skiing – We do the Math to Maximize Powder Value


Written by Tom Jackson

This time of year skiers and riders start to make plans for their winter trips.  Most assume that a resort trip is less expensive.   That may be true (although by a surprisingly small margin when you compare, so keep reading.)  But heliskiing is more cost effective.

It is not obvious, so we did some analysis. We compared a week of heliskiing Canada to a week at Vail, Colorado. And we love Vail.  I spent two seasons and many, many weekends there!  This analysis is getting long in the tooth.  Time to revisit it.

heli-skiing canada, vail colorado helicopter skiing
Full Disclosure: as the leading heliskiing Canada broker/agent, HELISKI.com, I will admit we are biased. HELISKI.com and HeliskiingReview.com represent over 90% of all Canadian heliskiing, so we know the best options.

The lodging we chose for the Resort comparison was Vail’s Tivoli Hotel – a nice 4 Star within easy walking distance of the lifts (although significantly farther than the chopper is from the lodge…..)   It is also not the kind of remote lodge/setting you can get when helisking.

We skied every day, hired an instructor to skip lift lines, ate at moderately priced (for Vail) restaurants and rented nice equipment.  February is the month we chose. We assumed the same airfare for both (even though some heliski operators actually pick up the last leg of the trip.)  Now that the Denver airport (DOA) is in Kansas, we assume the travel hassles to be comparable. In either case, guests can drive, ride a couple of hours in a shuttle or take a puddle jumper.

The cost of the Resort Trip:

February week-long trip to Vail, 1 Person

heliskiing canada costs, helicopter skiing canada vs resort skiing
We also looked at 5 of our favorite Canada heliskiing operators.  For one week, we got an average cost of $8700 Can., $8,430 US

Preliminary Results

Vail Resort:  $8,055
Heliskiing Canada:  $8,430

Amazing, eh?  Admittedly, we conveniently omitted extra vertical charges – some Canadian heli-skiing operators include unlimited vertical, some charge over 100,000 vertical.  Extra vertical is optional, that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.  In any case, the Resort is still cheaper, even if only barely.


The rest of the Story:

Any comparison must include qualitative information, too. It is hard to compare a week in a remote heliskiing lodge and the convenience, decadence and comfort it offers.  The reader will have to weigh the difference.

Heli-skiing canada lodge, canadian helicopter skiing lodge

Skeena Canadian Heli-Skiing Lodge

How much more exciting and enjoyable is heliskiing?  Untracked on every run, all week, without hurrying?!?  It’s subjective, but for me a powder run is probably ten times better than a non-powder run.  Maybe it’s five, maybe it’s 20.  Let’s use Powder Value (PV) to compare. Each vertical foot of powder will be one PV. One vertical foot non-powder is therefore is 1/10 PV or 0.1 PV.

heliskiing british columbia powder, backcountry heliskiing bc

Is a powder run 10 X better?

A powder run which you do not have to hustle and compete for is certainly more enjoyable.  We could say there is nothing like it on earth, but that’s Vail’s slogan.  So, we give a heliski powder run 25% more powder value (PV).  I know the locals ski until it’s tracked (11-12:00 and that is getting earlier every year…)

The average Vail resort skier/rider accumulates about 12,000 vertical feet/day, totaling 72,000 for the week.  Anyone interested in heliskiing is probably doing more, so we bumped it by about half, calling it 100,000 vertical feet for the week.

On average, one storm will hit in our week. In Vail, that’s a foot of ‘new’, if you’re lucky.  Untracked powder runs will dry up by 11:00 or 12:00, unless you know the mountain and hug the trees.  A side note: this is getting worse every year with faster chairs and fat skis proliferating, but I digress.  We give the benefit of the doubt, and assume ½ of one day, so 9,000 feet of powder skiing (PV) with some effort.  The rest of the week amounts to 9,100 PV (91,000 feet * 0.1).

The Resort total is 18,100 PV.

Canadian Heliskiing operators include 100,000 vertical feet (or more), with 25% higher PV than the resort.

The heli-skiing Canada total is 125,000 PV


Final Results

Vail Resort 18,100 Powder Value  for $8,055
Heliskiing Canada 125,000 Powder Value for $8,430

Fun Ratio: 125/18.1 = Almost 7 times more fun to heliski Canada than a week at a resort!

The price is roughly comparable.  And you can certainly do a resort week for less.  You can also pay more for heliskiing, but the PV will also increase.

But the kicker is that, for about the same price, Heliskiing Canada trip is 7 times more fun!


Tom Jackson
CPO (Chief Powder Officer)


On Key

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