Heli-skiing requires the combination of money, skill, adventure and health. Few qualify. Most of our clients are taking advantage of the heli-skiing window opened by disposable income, skill, and appetite for adventure, and closing by age.
Heli-skiing is an elite sport. Fewer than 1% of skiers ever heli-ski. For every day of untracked powder heliskiing, there are over 1,000 resort ski days.
Your heli-skiing window is Open when…..
The kids are gone or going.
The second wife has redecorated the house, etc.
You have disposable income.
Your trust fund is liquid.
The business can survive a week without you.
Your bucket list becomes real.
You realize a part of how measure life is by ‘peak’ events.
It is time to treat yourself.
How to Jump Through Your Heli-Skiing Window
Rally your best ski buddies.
Get early ‘Tower Clearance’ – you know how by now.
Make a deposit.
GET IN SHAPE!
Call or email HELISKI.com. Tell us your budget for time and money, as well as you wish list for powder, terrain, travel convenience, lodge atmosphere, group size, skiing speed, etc. We will give you the best options – free. Call 866-HELISKI
Small Groups, Unlimited Vertical, Flexible Dates and Easy from Calgary
1. How did you come up with your name – Great Canadian Heli-Skiing? [tongue firmly in cheek]
The name comes from the experience people get from skiing/riding with Great Canadian Heli-Skiing!
2. You are known as a boutique operator. What is different about Great Canadian Heli-Skiing?
Back in 2003 our owner, Greg Porter, first coined the term “boutique heli-skiing” to describe the format in which Great Candian Heliskis. Great Candian Heliskiing has been around since 1988 and now a few others have also started using the same term. In 1988 Great Canadian Heliski was the 1st Canadian heliskiing company to heliski exclusively in small groups of 4, then in 1994+1995 we tried out Unlimited Vertical Helisking, then in 2006 we became the 1st company to incorporate it full-time all -inclusive heliskiing packages.
What really separates us from the rest now is our FLEXIBILITY. Without doubt, we have the most flexibility in the Canadian heliskiing industry. With our location being the closest multi-day operation to an international airport (Calgary), most people can arrive mid-day and be eating dinner in our lodge that night and heli-skiing the very next day. Our guests can start ANY day of the week. And for ANY duration! We are the only company that offers this level of flexibility. This is a big advantage for time-sensitive people. We are here to accommodate our guests schedule!
3. Tell us about your format at Great Canadian Heli-Skiing – 3 groups of 4 per machine and unlimited vertical, right?
Without doubt, the Small Groups format with Unlimited Vertical is the best way to heliski. People are now catching on that skiing in a group of 4 is much more fun than a large group, plus you get more skiing done and it’s easier to match up people of similar abilities.
4. What’s your average vertical for a week at Great Canadian Heliskiing?
Our AVERAGE vertical in a week (6 days of skiing) is 141,000 ft! And note I said AVERAGE. So stronger skiers can ski more than that.
5. You are way to the East in BC. Compared to other British Columbia helicopter skiing, does that mean you get less snow, but it’s lighter?
It’s much lighter! And we get 46 feet of it every winter which is a huge amount. I think most people would prefer to ski dry, light, fluffy snow than a few more feet of heavier, wet snow. In addition, because of this we have WAY fewer down days. At Great Canadian, we average just 2 down days ALL SEASON long, so there’s more skiing and no need for snowcat backup….we’re here to heli-ski!
Eastern British Columbia Snow – Light and Dry
6. Describe the travel to Great Canadian Heliski from the Calgary airport?
Getting here is super easy. Arrive into Calgary around lunch time, take the major highway in Canada (the TransCanada) and in 4 hours you have checked into our lodge. This saves you money as no extra city hotel nights are necessary, and most importantly, it means few travel days and more days you get to skiing!
So is a Porsche!…. you get what you pay for! [I should never have told him what I drive]
The same with heli-skiing Canada. When comparing Canadian heli-skiing operations, it is important to compare apples with apples. It’s illogical to compare us, with small groups, to an operation that has 12 people in a group, as our operational costs per person are much higher, however the experience is so much better. We want to provide a more personalized, intimate and tailor-made experience to each of our guests.
8. That is a cool lodge. How many guests can you accommodate at Great Canadian Heli-Skiing at any one time?
We cap numbers at 24. We feel this is a perfect number. It also allows us to run 2 helicopters, each with 3 groups of 4 people.
If you want super deep pow and steeper terrain, join us Dec to early Feb. If you prefer high alpine and glaciers, come in mid-March to April. If you are after a mixture, join us in February. Having said that, you can get any of those conditions at any stage of the season!
1, 2, 3, 4….plus Guide = 5
10. How many down days do you average per season at Great Canadian Heliski?
Only 2 ALL SEASON LONG! We’ve even had a couple of winters when we have had ZERO down days!
11. Describe the terrain you heliski and how it compares to other heli skiing Canada areas.
We have hundreds of heli ski runs, offering every type of terrain – glaciers, open bowls, gladed trees, pillow lines – and every slope angle and exposure. Great Canadian stands out in the industry because of the quality and accessibility of our terrain above our base at Heather Mountain Lodge (our heli-pads are at the lodge and the closest runs are just 60 seconds away!). One of our greatest assets are the burnt forests. This is where a forest fire has come through and destroyed all the undergrowth and small branches, leaving beautifully spaced tree trunks. This terrain often has the best snow conditions and it’s steeper. Even guests who don’t normally like tree skiing really enjoy our burnt forests.
Best Use of a Burnt Forrest!
12. What do you do to accommodate heliboarders at Great Canadian Heliskiing?
I’m one of them! Also, our owner Greg Porter used to be on the Canadian National Snowboard team….although that was back when if you could do a 540 you’d get sponsored! [Oh, nice dis on the boss. Better give him credit for the photos at least]
Our guides are snowboard-aware, so they will avoid flat spots where possible and if there is a tricky transition, they will forewarn boarders.
13. How many of your clients are fist timers at Great Canadian Heli Skiing?
We have quite a few first timers joining us. They are attracted to our Small Groups. It’s much less intimating than holding up a large group! And Advanced skiers/riders needn’t worry about being in a group with people of much lesser ability, as with the small group format it is much easier to group people of similar abilities…..and people often come with friends or family to make up their own private group of 4!
Great Canadian Heliskiing, Kicking Horse Resort, Calgary BC
Yes! Kicking Horse rocks! I’ve skied both extensively and the terrain difficulty breakdown is very similar. Kicking Horse has 4,131 feet of vertical, just 8 feet shy of Jackson’s. And like Jackson, what is designed as a blue run is often a black run elsewhere! We can create combination packages for our guests who want to combine a few days of resort skiing with a few days of heli-skiing.
15. Anything else you would like to add about Great Canadian Heli-Skiing?
This winter is shaping up to be another BIG SNOW year. Reputable meteorologists are saying we are heading into another La Nina like last year….and last year was AMAZING! You will not want to miss heli-skiing this coming winter! Thanks TJ!
Thank you, Deane. I’m looking forward to taking you up on your invite. Best, tj
Tom Jackson CPO (Chief Powder Officer) HELISKI.com 866-HELISKI (866-435-4754)
Heli Skiing Colorado Interview Telluride Helitrax. 15 Questions
Heli Skiing Colorado lives in the box canyon made famous by Butch and Sundance – Helitrax Colorado – and now known for dry powder and steep slopes. Telluride (aka To Hell You Fly! ) is one of the best and steepest resorts in North America. It is also one of the best places to heliskiing Colorado on your resort skiing vacation. Helitrax Colorado offers single and multi-day heli-skiing in Telluride as well as from Vail and Aspen, Colorado! Get the story in this HELISKI.com interview of Telluride Helitrax.
1. When did Helitrax begin heli skiing Colorado out of Telluride?
Helitrax has been in continuous operation since 1982.
2. Do you still offer single-day packages heli skiing Colorado from Vail and/or Aspen?
Yes we do and they are becoming one of our more popular packages. We have developed very good relationships with several fixed wing air charter providers allowing us to cater to a wider range of group sizes and budgets.
3. What packages are you offering for 2012?
We will continue to offer single day, multi-day and Custom heliski packages. In addition, for those that want to visit the backcountry on their own terms we offer great backcountry tours and heli-assited ski tours.
4. You are skiing and riding at the highest elevation of any heli skiing in North America, eh?
That’s right, many of out top landing zones are over 13,000’. It’s hard to beat the clarity of the sky, dryness of the snow and views that these elevations!
5. Tell us about your terrain in the San Juan Mountains, please.
The San Juans are renowned for their incredible ski terrain. Almost all of our skiing is done above treeline with a mix of open bowls, pitched faces and exciting couloirs. Everyday we ski, we try to provide a great mix of terrain tailored to our guests abilities and based on current snow and safety considerations.
6. Groups of 4 in a Bell 407 is downright luxurious! Helitrax is about small groups, and fewer groups per helicopter, right?
We are all about keeping the experience intimate; you will never have 12 other skiers chasing you down the slope at Helitrax. Providing exceptional customer service and a tailored skiing experience is one of the pillars of our reputation.
7. What percentage of your clients do a single day?
This remains our most popular trip with about 50% of our guests joining us for just a single day. Some times it is their first heli skiing experience but we also have a solid repeat clientele.
8. What is the average vertical for a day of heli skiing Colorado with Telluride Helitrax?
You can expect to ski between 10,000 and 14,000 vertical feet during a day of skiing with us. Our runs range from 1200’ to over 3000’ and we try to provide a good blend of runs throughout the day.
9. What is the most popular multi-day package?
We have quite a few guests join us for 3 days during a week of skiing in Telluride. This allows them a couple of days to ski at the resort and acclimate to the elevation before they fly. And it is common for weather to keep us grounded for another day. So if they stay for the week they get a good mix of 3-4 days of resort skiing and 3 days helicopter skiing in the backcountry.
10. Tell us about lodging for multi-day guests?
Telluride offers a broad range of lodging choices from four-star hotels to the classic New Sheridan for a taste of the old days. We are based at the Iconic Peaks Resort and Spa, and have one of our heli-pads right out the front door. In addition we are able to offer very favorable rates to our guests who choose to stay there.
11. What are the options for Privates?
There are 2 options for a more private experience. We offer what we call a private cabin, some operations call this a semi-private. This is when you book all 4 spaces in the cabin of the helicopter. This assures that your group will both fly and ride together all day. It also allows us to really tailor the day to your group’s expectations and ability.
Our most exclusive package is the Custom tour, where your group has private use of the helicopter for the day. These trips are based on an hourly flight time rate allowing us provide an unmatched, one of a kind helicopter skiing experience.
12. If the weather grounds the chopper, can guests go catskiing or make it to the Telluride Resort (a GREAT mountain) in time to get a full day?
For sure, we are located slope-side, so even if we cancel at the last minute you are just steps away from jumping on the lifts. Telluride has over 1800 skiable acres and 15 lifts to keep you occupied. That sure beats hanging out at the lodge hoping it will stop snowing! [Amen]
13. What percentage of your guests are heliboarding?
I would guess that 30-40% of our guests are on boards now. It used to just be the younger crowd but anymore we see a broad range of clients showing up to Heli-board.
14. I understand that you provide complimentary powder skis for your guests. What are you riding?
This season we will be on the latest Atomic powder skis, including the Atlas, Bent Chetlers, Blogs and the Access. We do this because we feel that this allows everyone of our skiing guests to enjoy the experience as much as possible. We would not want to compromise the quality of our service for the price of renting a pair of skis for a day.
15. Is there anything else you would like to tell us about Heli Skiing Colorado with Telluride Helitrax?
The partnership between Telluride Helitrax, the Peaks resort and the Telluride ski resort has really come together in the past few years. We believe that the combination of services and skiing experiences available in one location are truly unmatched. The Peaks resort truly is one of the few, resort ski in/ski/out, heliski in/ski out resorts in the world. We hope you can join us.
Thanks. I would love to get back to Telluride and heli-ski with Helitrax!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Google can’t decide. The number of searches for heli ski and heli ski are the same, indicating that Google does not differentiate between the two spellings. So heli-ski and heli ski show up as one term in their search stats.
In terms of search popularity, heliski trumps heli ski and heli-ski combined, 18,000 searches/mo. to 12,000 in all search engines – good news for the recently launched HELISKI.com. The bad news is that more sites are competing to be listed in search engine results for heliski than for heli ski and heli-ski combined. And the search results show a difference. Search for heli ski in Google returns 663,000 results. For heliski, only 227,000 results.
The same is true for heli skiing, heli-skiing and heliskiing. The space and hyphen return 483,000, heliskiing 418,000. Not much difference, but it looks like the space is more popular than the hyphen.
One thing is certain…….
Untracked powder, all day, with your buddies and a helicopter lift…
We are getting lots of requests from customers who want to heli ski combined with resort skiing and/or cat skiing.
Many are looking to try helicopter skiing or heliboarding for the first time while on a resort ski trip. It’s easy to add a day or two at Whistler, Snowbird/Alta, Telluride, Sun Valley or just about any resort in SE British Columbia. It’s roughly $1000.
Some want to do some heliskiing without spending $6K+. By combining heliskiing with catskiing or resort skiing, you can cut the price in half.
Others are not in shape to heli ski every day for a week; others want the option to ski the result if the weather turns bad. For the same reasons, some want cat skiing as a warm up, or as a fall-back the heliskiing suffers a down day.
We now have multiple heli-ski operators with combinations to offer. They vary in trip duration and the combination of days. Shoulder seasons are less expensive. We recommend resort and catskiing first, so that your legs are in shape for the heli-ski days. Also, it’s hard to sit on a chairlift the day after heliskiing……..