Best Heli-Skiing: Best Short Heliskiing Trips Coast Range

Best Heli-Skiing Series:

The Best Short Heli-Skiing Trips – Coast Range

clients often ask us to put together the best short heli-skiing trips.  This usually includes 3 or 4 days of heli-skiing with minimal travel time and minimal risk.  For some, it is more about getting the best deal.   Others want to combine heli-skiing and resort skiing.

Here we discuss the best short heli-skiing trips to destination lodges.  Here we discuss the best short heli-skiing trips to destination lodges in the Coast Range.  In future posts, we will offer advice for the best heli-skiing in and around Revelstoke, Southeastern BC, and the best heli-skiing combined with resort skiing and boarding.

Travel Time

Travel time is often paramount.   Many clients need to minimize their time away from the office and the family.  So our list includes options with the most convenient travel, as well as the most reliable.  Not all airports are created equally when it comes to flight cancellations.

Convenience

If convenience is very important, we recommend operators that pick up clients at the airport.    Renting a car and driving on unfamiliar roads introduces hassle and risk that some clients would rather avoid.  And some clients hate buses.

Heli Skiing Cost

Cost is also a factor for some.   Unfortunately, the price-quantity curve dictates that the best deals are for the longer trips.  But we have some alternatives for clients looking to stretch their dollars.  There are also trade-offs between unlimited vertical options and fixed-price plus extra vertical.

Down Day Risk

A down day on a 7-day trip is not the end of the world.   Re-group, rest, recuperate and enjoy some other activity.  But a down day on a 3 day trip is a disaster.   So our recommendations include operators with very few down days, as well as those with catskiing and resort backup.

 

The Best Short Heli-Skiing Trips – Coast Range

northern escape heli-skiing lodge and helicopter

Northern Escape Heli-Skiing – One of the Best for Easy Access

Northern Escape Heli-Skiing is an excellent choice for short trips.  NEH is located just 20 minutes from the Terrace BC airport.   Guests can leave San Francisco at noon and easily make dinner at the lodge!   Another great feature at NEH is cat backup.    NEH guests ski even when the chopper cannot fly.

Northern Escape also offers a unique Vertical Option.  For a few hundred dollars per day, committed in advance, clients can add unlimited vertical to any package.  One catch – guests must decide in advance to add the unlimited vertical option.

bella coola best heli-skiing logistics Bella Coola Heli-Skiing Guests Make Turns on Arrival and Departure Days

 

 

Bella Coola Heli-Skiing has a unique travel set-up that works great for short heliski trips. Guests can heli-ski on BOTH Arrival and Departure Days!  This is how it works: after staying the night in Vancouver, guests take a 70 minute, mid-morning flight to Bella Coola. On arrival, lodge staff provide a picnic lunch, followed by a safety briefing from the guiding team. Once this is completed, guests heliski their way from the airport to the lodge.  Departure Day is just as cool.  Guests heliski their way to the airport, arriving about lunch time. Since the flight arrives back in Vancouver around 2pm, guests are able to fly home that evening!

And airfare is included in their prices.  On a 3-night trip, guests ski two full days and two half days.  4-night trips include three full days and two half days of heli-skiing.  Cool, eh?

Bella Coola Heli-Skiing also has two packages for short trips.  Tweedsmuir Lodge is their classic remote lodge experience.  Big Mountain is hotel lodging, no frills and attractive pricing.  By the way, BCHS uses the same approach on their longer heli-skiing trips, too.

Let me know and I will put together the best options for your short (or long) heliskiing trip.

Best,

tj

Valdez Heli Ski Guides Interview – Valdez Heli Skiing with Comfort

Is Valdez Heli Ski Guides the Best Alaska Heliskiing in Valdez?

Valdez Heli Ski Guides Interview

To interview Valdez Heli Ski Guides about Valdez Heli Skiing, I had the pleasure of meeting Scott Raynor and Mandy (marketing manager and Scott’s handler) at the Hog Island Oyster Bar in San Francisco in December.   Scott, owner/manager of Valdez Heli Ski Guides, has an impressive resume including avalanche expert, guide, ice climber, ski bum, fisherman (running a crab boat ala Deadliest Catch), Valdez heli skiing pioneer and now Valdez Heli Ski Guides owner.  Mandy is also a bad betty from Utah.  Oysters, chowder, beer, tequila and a view of the Bay resulted in the following discussion.   Enjoy.

Best Heli-Skiing in Alaska, Mandy the Goddess of Valdez Helisk Guides

1.  Mandy, who does nearly everything at Valdez Heli Ski Guides, is hot.  She could be the best Alaska heliskiing rep.  Can you think of any reason our subscribers should call me instead of her??

You are more objective?

 

2.  Valdez Heli Ski Guides built a cool new Valdez heli skiing lodge for 2013. Tell us about it, please.

 

Built in 2011, the new lodge is an 18,000-square-foot custom designed heli-ski lodge built on the footprint of the historic Tsaina Lodge. Perfectly staged in the heart of Thompson Pass, the Tsaina houses 32 guests in 16 single- and eight double rooms with private baths. The restaurant is phenomenal and, of course, the bar, reminiscent of the original, is always a great time. All of it, including a boot and gear drying room and fitness room, is just steps away from the VHSG heli-pad.  [Could be the best Alaska heliskiing lodge.]

Valdez Heli Ski Guides’ New Valdez Heli Skiing Lodge

Valdez heli skiing lodge, Valdez Heli Ski Guides

 

3.  Does this mean Valdez Heli Ski Guides is going soft, and catering to FGP clients???

 

Yes and no. The core of our Valdez heli skiing business continues to be geared toward the advanced and expert skier and rider. But one of the many beauties of the Chugach is that there is also a lot of terrain that is suitable for the advanced-intermediate skier and rider.

best heliskiing alaska lodge, valdez heli ski guides Valdez Heli Ski Guides, best heli-skiingvaldez heli skiing, Valdez Heli Ski Guidesvaldez heli ski guides, valdez alaska dining room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4.  Scott, you are one of the old timers in the Valdez Heli Skiing business.   Will you summarize your heliski resume?

Valdez Heli Ski Guide, Scott Raynor

 

I started out as a self-employed backcountry ski touring guide in the western Chugach. For five years I combined this with snow safety work at events throughout Alaska. As the Alaska heli-ski industry evolved, I was lucky enough to be connected with some of the best heli skiing  companies. During my second year heli-ski guiding I became the VHSG operations manager and avalanche forecaster. Four years later, in 2000, I bought the company. I’ve also heli-ski guided internationally, in places like Chile, New Zealand and Greenland.

 

5.  Valdez Heli Ski Guides is unique in how you organize your groups.  How do you run two helicopters and up to 24 guests?

 

Actually, we run three helicopters with up to 32 guests. We offer different package styles that determine which helicopter each client will be in: a public or private ship. The public ship is for up to 16 guests in four groups of four. We also offer the exclusivity of a private ship for groups of up to eight guests.

alaska Heliskiing, best heli-skiing

6.  Tell us about the Valdez Heli Ski Guides Lodge location, and why you chose it.

 

It’s really the location for the best heli-skiing in the Chugach. Located 35 miles inland in the heart of the range, our terrain gets hit with the coastal storms but also benefits from clearing skies of the interior. Our base at the Tsaina Lodge is just north of Thompson Pass and the clouds typically abate at this location. [Check out this video of the early days of Valdez heliskiing]

 

7.  Describe the Valdez heli skiing terrain, please.

 

We have an incredible variety of terrain at our fingertips, most of it heavily glaciated. There are steep mountain faces, large powder bowls, long couloirs and everything in between.  Valdez heli skiing has it all.

 Alaska Heliskiing Terrain

8.  How many days do you fly in an average week at Valdez Heli Ski Guides?

 

Five. We typically fly 80 percent of our season.

 

9.  You price it by runs, why?

 

It’s a lot easier for the client to track.  [I resemble that!]

 

10.  What is the average vertical in a week that a guest can expect to book at Valdez Heli Ski Guides?

 

120,000 vertical feet [VERY GOOD FOR VALDEZ HELI SKIING]

 

11.  What dates are you open at Valdez Heli Ski Guides?

 

Early March through April .

 

12.  Why is it that the snow ‘sticks’ to the steeps better in the Chugach / Valdez heil skiing region than other areas??

 

Typically our snow comes in warm and leaves cold, [ Like my old girlfriend….]the perfect recipe for snow sticking to all aspects of steep terrain. It’s also a great recipe for good snow stability.

 

13.  Many BC heliskiers are intimidated by Valdez heli skiing.  Ski porn makes it look death-defying. Can the CMH and Wiegele clientele handle Valdez heli skiing?

 

Yes they can. Ski movies and magazines always showcase the steepest of the steeps; it is the most dramatic. What they don’t show is the vast, and equally spectacular, terrain that most heli-skiers enjoy in reality. A majority of Valdez Heli Ski Guide runs are just straightforward steep powder skiing. No cliffs, no jumping; just good, old-fashioned steep skiing fun!

Valdez Heli skiing, Valdez Heli Ski Guides

14.  How about first time Valdez heliskiers?

 

First-timers are always welcome. A successful Valdez Heli-Ski Guides stay for a first-timer is not based so much on prior heli-ski experience as it is on his or her powder skiing skills. Guests need to be confident and capable of skiing in deep powder snow.

Valdez Heli Ski Guides, valdez alaska heli skiing

15.  Enough Valdez Heli Skiing, can we see more of Mandy?

Mandy of Valdez Heli Ski Guide and Friend

Thanks, Scott! and Mandy!

tj

HELISKI.com

 

P.S.:  Valdez Heli-Ski Guides ownership and offerings have changed since this interview.   Call or email me to get the latest review and advice.  866-435-4754

Heliskiing Canada, Best Heliskiing Canada

Top 10 Things to Consider in a Heliskiing Trip

Top 10 Things to Consider in a Heliskiing Trip

Heliskiing Canada, Best Heliskiing Canada

The Top 10 Heliskiing Trip Factors

1.  Location

British Columbia Canada is the center of the heliskiing world.  It has the perfect combination of terrain, climate and precipitation.  It is home to the majority of heliskiing and heliboarding operations on earth.   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 if 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 Heliskiing 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 Heliskiing and Heliboarding Locations.

Alaska 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, but there are a couple of others.  Alaska can be more difficult to access.  For example, Anchorage to Valdez flights are cancelled over one third of the time in the season.  Alaska can have more down days than many BC operators.  There are some options better than others. The US offers heliskiing and heliboarding in the Lower 48 as well.  Utah, Colorado, Nevada, Washington, California and Idaho all have heliskiing.  Many of these are located at or near resort skiing and cater to one-day trips, although longer trips are also available.  Europe heliskiing is somewhat restricted, starting late and ending early.  France outlawed it.  South America and New Zealand also offer heli skiing trips.   India, Russia, Greenland and Iceland are also available for exotic adventures.

2.  Dates – When to go, not whether or not to take one…..

BC operates January to early April. Whistler may offer December days.  The Christmas to New Years week is also available from some operators.

Primetime is February, but January and March are usually very good.  January can offer better deals, including unlimited vertical.  Be aware that late season can include ‘corn snow’ in addition to or instead of powder.

See related posting on January vs. March Which is best?

Alaska has a much later season.  Some operators open in February.  Prime time is March and April.  Some will accommodate early May.  It may be corn snow, however.  There is twice as much sunlight at the end of the season than at the beginning.

3.  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 11 guests per lift.   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 is better.   However, the bigger machines such as the Bell212 are less expensive.

Groups per helicopter is another important criterion.  A helicopter can easily service two or three groups without much waiting.   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 on the ‘weakest link’ and on the willingness of the guides to ‘leap frog’ the slow group.  This is frequently a cause of tension and discontent.  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.  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 there packages Private or Semi-Private but do not offer the same service as the more reputable companies.

4.  Length of Trip

Packages are available for 1, 3, 4, 7 or more days.  Most ‘week’ trips are 7 nights with 6 full days of skiing.  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 exception.

Resort-based operators cater to shorter trips, especially one-day trips.  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 shorter trip.  A handful of operators now offer catskiing backup.  It can save the day and is worth considering.

5.  Travel

Total travel time is an important criteria that is often overlooked.  Some of the oldest heliski operators require bus rides of eight hours on both ends of the trip.  This is an ironic contrast to the fast, convenient service offered during the heliskiing.  It may not sit well with clients who can afford heliskiing.

It is a good idea to get the travel itineraries for everyone in the group before you book.  Getting to and from a heliskiing destination can range from straight forward or very challenging.  Some places are easy to get to with frequent ‘commuter’ flights.  Book these ASAP.  The good flights often sell out, and the cheap seats sell out first.  Others’ charter flights, require lengthy bus rides and are susceptible to weather delays.  Most have vans or buses for the last leg of the journey. The primary airports for heliskiing access are Vancouver, Calgary, and Anchorage, in that order.  Many itineraries require a 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 heliskiers to fly up in the morning and ski that afternoon.  It may also be possible to ski the morning of the last day, and fly home that afternoon. This allows three days of heliskiing in a total of four days.

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 may actually add up to a full day more given the same package duration.

6.  Cost

Heliskiing is expensive.  The good news is that it is worth it.  Most packages run $800 to $1100 per day, Canadian.  This includes food, lodging, helicopter lifts and some après ski hors d’oeuvres.  Alcohol is always an additional cost.

Most packages include a guaranteed minimum vertical.  Additional vertical is typically $35-45 per thousand feet.  Resort-based operators are around $100/extra run.  Everyone in your helicopter group or ‘lift’ must agree to the extra vertical, or the day is over.  It is common to re-configure the groups late in the day to allow one or two groups to go for the extra vertical.

If 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 are often the cause of friction on the last day, as type-A guests butt heads with cash-strapped operators.  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.  See this blog post about the pros and cons of unlimited vertical heliskiing.

7.  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 a far less luxurious, so say the least.

Down days do happen.  Good down day (contradiction in terms) activities include ski touring, cat skiing, resort skiing, fishing, snowmobiling, sea kayaking and more.

The food is awesome! Destination heliski operators almost all offer great food and lots of it.  Hotel based operations may be a little less gourmet. Some of the bigger operators do buffet style, but the food is great.

8.  Helicopters

There are several helicopters common in the heliskiing 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.

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.) Bell 205, 206 and 212 carries up to eleven guests, a guide and a pilot.  Operators may run two to 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……   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!

9.  Safety and Guides

The first and most important factor in choosing a company to ski with is to ensure it is a member 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. Most companies are members, however a handful of companies did not meet the operational standards of the association and therefore are not members. This is critical as there are currently no government regulations for guides in Canada. To date 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.

Trip insurance is a good idea.  It covers change of plans or 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.  This ranges from $200-$300, depending on the date of the tour, and the age of the participant.

Evacuation insurance is usually a daily fee of $8-10 and it is a must.

10.  How to Choose?

 HELISKI.com offers free, objective advice and recommendations that is base on experience.  It’s free to the client.   Call 866-HELISKI (866-435-4754) Intl:  925-683-7676 or Email tj@HELISKI.com.com