Canada Helicopter Skiing with Seth Morrison at Last Frontier Heli-Skiing

I know the title sounds sexy.  I actually met him at the lodge helicopter skiing Canada ,and we had a couple of meals together.  He and his Oakley film crew were off in their own chopper (and I can’t believe he poached my line!).    I also met Kazu Kokubo, an amazing Oakley team rider and nice guy.

 

I saw this video on the Last Frontier Heli-Skiing Helicopter Skiing Canada site, and it reminded me of that great trip.   It was the second half of a heli-safari, having spent the first week at Ripley Creek with Team Salomon – but that’s the subject of another blog post.

 

Last Frontier Bell 2 is all about small groups, excellent terrain, high-speed tree skiing runs and cabins with a wood-burning stoves.   I have  been there a couple of times.  What’s not to like?!

Back to Seth Morrison.  He is one cool dude.  Unassuming, soft spoken and genuinely friendly.   We screened his life-documenting video, Ordinary Skier, one night while he provided narration.  It’s a “Documentary about Seth Morrison’s journey from middle class suburban kid to world famous skier, and his struggle to stay on top of a rapidly evolving sport.”   Very interesting journey….and he really pushes the limits.

 

He is no ordinary skier, but he’s a pretty ordinary guy.  Very refreshing on a Canada helicopter skiing trip.

 

At the end of the trip I gave him a HELISKI.com hat, which I am sure he wears daily….Thanks, Seth!

 

Best,

 

tj

Helicopter Skiing Canda Advice for over twenty years.

 

HELISKI.com Operator Interview: Great Canadian Heli-Skiing and Heli-Boarding

Great Canadian Heliskiing and Heliboarding

Small Groups, Unlimited Vertical, Flexible Dates and Easy from Calgary

1. How did you come up with your name? [tongue firmly in cheek]

 

The name comes from the experience people get from skiing/riding with us!

 

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 we ski. We have been around since 1988 and now a few others have also started using the same term. In 1988 we were the 1st heliskiing company in Canada to heliski exclusively in small groups of 4, then in 1994+1995 we tried out Unlimited Vertical then in 2006 we became the 1st company to incorporate it full-time in all 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!

heli-skiing canada, heli ski canada

3. Tell us about your format. 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?

 

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!

 

heliskiing heliboarding bc canada, heliboarding heli-skiing british columbia canada

Eastern British Columbia Snow – Light and Dry

 

6. Describe the travel 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!

 

7. Great Canadian Heli-Skiing is a little pricey compared to some Canada heliski options. How do you justify it?

 

So is a Porsche…. you get what you pay for! [I should never have told him what I drive]

The same with heli-skiing. When comparing 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 personalised, intimate and tailor-made experience to each of our guests.

Heli Ski Canada, Great Canadian Helicopter Skiing Canada

8. That is a cool lodge. How many guests can you accommodate 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.
heliski canada, heli ski canada

 

9. Compare and contrast January, February and March at Great Canadian Heli-Skiing.

 

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!

 

great canadian heli-skiing canada, heliski canada

1, 2, 3, 4….plus Guide = 5

 

10. How many down days do you average per season?

 

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 ski 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.

heli skiing canada, helicopter skiing bc canada

Best Use of a Burnt Forrest!

 

12. What do you do to accommodate heliboarders?

 

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.

We carry the Burton Fish, Malolo and Supermodel in our rental fleet. Fat skis and snowboards are included for free in our packages.

 

13. How many of your clients are fist timers?

 

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!

helicopter skiing canada, heli skiing canada

Great Canadian Heliskiing, Kicking Horse Resort, Calgary BC

 

14. Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is nearby. Is it really the Jackson Hole of Canada?

 

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?

 

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
HeliskiingReview.com
866-HELISKI
(866-435-4754)

heliski canada, helicopter skiing canada heli ski canada, heli-skiing canada

heli-skiing canada, helicopter skiing bc canada

Expert Advice – Knowledge is Powder

HELISKI.com Interviews Points North Heliskiing / Heliboarding Alaska Helicopter Skiing. 15 Questions with HELISKI.com

This summer HELISKI.comvisited with Jessica Quinn, who co-owns and operates Points North Heli Adventures with her husband Kevin. As you might guess, she happens to be one bad betty! The conversation follows.

1. How do you contrast Alaska Heliskiing with BC Heliskiing.

Honestly there is no comparison. The terrain and snow pack that Alaska offers is unlike that of anywhere in the world! The warm moist air converges with the cold glaciers creating a maritime snow pack that allows snow to virtually stick to places that make riding some of the steepest terrain in the world accessible. Not to say that we have a wet snow pack, as that is not the case. The snow quality in the Chugach is perfect and can often times feel like Utah powder. Alaska is the super bowl of helicopter skiing. We like to refer to it as Disney Land on steroids!

Alaska heli-skiing, points north cordova heliskiing alaska

Got Steep?

2. Is your terrain all high alpine, or do you have tree skiing, too?

Trees are very limited in all regions of Alaska. We do have trees but remember, tree line is Alaska hovers around 1500’ above sea level. We do have tree skiing early season (Jan / Feb) when temps are cold and we can ski to the valley floors, but honestly the famous terrain of Alaska is in the alpine. Most often we are tree skiing at our local chair lift, Mt Eyak on “activity days”… Others refer to this as a “down day”. [nice euphemism!] At PNH there are no down days, just activity days riding our chair lift. Typical runs in the helicopter terrain in Alaska start at or around 6500’-7000’ descending down to around 2000’ or higher. Average runs are anywhere from 2000’ – 4000’ in vertical.

3. What sets Points North Heliskiing apart from other Alaska Heliskiing?

No matter who you decide to visit in Alaska, if you get good weather, you’re going to have a great trip! Everyone has something to offer and we are all different. What sets PNH apart from the other operators is:

We are truly “all-inclusive with a beautiful lodge located on Prince William Sound with the Chugach in our backyard and the ocean in our front yard. We have 3 beautiful A-star helicopters that are located outside your window and act as an “alarm clock”. We are away from the other 5 operators in Valdez meaning there is no race to access the terrain in the morning. You will never see another aircraft flying in our area. Additionally, Alaska Airlines flies into Cordova 3 times daily, meaning there are no commuter flights to connect to and then long bus rides and car trips to get to our lodge. PNH is the only operator in the area that is a member of the United Stated Heli-Ski Association. There are only 2 operators in Alaska that are part of HSUS.

Cordova has a chair lift, Mt Eyak. The chair came from Sun Valley in the early 70’s. It allows for great skiing on “activity days” when aircraft cannot access the heli-ski terrain. PNH has numerous yurts allowing for non-motorized ski touring access. Yurts are stocked with firewood, food and various amenities for your comfort. The objective at PNH is to keep you skiing everyday. If you choose not to ski, we also have sea-kayaks, a local surf break and boats to take you fishing. Cordova is home to the famous Copper River and a trip to town is unique in itself. No roads connect to Cordova meaning that each and every local that resides here has made an effort to get here. The Cordova chamber of commerce motto is “Alaska’s best kept secret”. We can only encourage you to find out the secret for your self. Our return rate alone speaks for itself. We are averaging just over 80% returns. Our clients come as new guests and return as our long time loyal friends. Last but not least, PNH has been featured in the last 10 Warren Miller films consecutively.

alaska heliskiing heliboarding, point north heli-skiing cordova alaska

Scenery and Steeps, Both EPIC

4. How much vertical do you average in a week and how many days of riding?

An average is anywhere from 60,000’ to well over 100,000’ if the weather is on your side. An average week comes down to the weather, no matter where you go in Alaska. No one has a “blue hole” or force field. All of us get the very same weather coming in from the Gulf of Alaska. We try to be very honest with people and tell them that they are going to experience weather in Alaska. In an average week guests should get 2-3 big days of riding. They can get more if the weather is in their favor. Some operations will keep you at their remote heli base waiting to get 1 run in at 6pm after waiting all day. Our view is simple. Send you to the chair lift, ski all day and in the event the weather cooperates, we will be flying you into the mountains when it does clear.

5. Alaska is known for steep. Do you advise newbie’s to try BC heliskiing before they come to Alaska?

We advise everyone to come to Alaska! What is so unique about Alaska is the amount of terrain it has to offer. At PNH we have over a 1000 square skiable miles of terrain. More terrain than one could access in a lifetime! Movies and magazines have made Alaska this extreme spooky place, however, we can tell you honestly; there is something for everyone. We can only encourage you to choose an operator that is a member of the US Heli Ski Association.

6. How can you tell on the phone if a client is going to be able to hang?

Everyone on the phone has questions. Generally the same questions arise. When is the best time? Will I get stuck with weaker skiers? How many to a group? These are all valid concerns. If we cannot match you with folks of the same desires and ability, we have 27 employees waiting to go ski and ride wherever you so choose. There is no best time. It’s when the weather cooperates. Alaska has something to offer everyone. We say this in confidence.

chugach heliskiing codova alaska, helicopter skiing points north alaska

Unique Spot in Cordova on Prince William Sound

8. Describe your lodging at Points North Heli.

Our lodging at PNH is very unique. We operate out of the Orca Cannery, a 20-acre parcel directly on the waterfront complete with a wood fired sauna. We do not have a 5 Star lodge like that of the CMH’s or many of the Canadian style lodges, but our facility is very clean and comfortable. Our dining hall is filled with a large screen TV, ping pong, foosball video games etc. Our facility feels like going to “camp” as a kid. All of our rooms are clean and spacious with their own restrooms and showers allowing for privacy. We are very proud of our facility and its something that separates us from many of the others in Alaska.

 

9. What helicopters do you use? How many guests per lift? How many lifts per helicopter? Sorry, three questions in one…

We utilize the A-star B2 exclusively. Groups are 4 riders to 1 guide. We are lucky to say that we have had the same helicopters, pilots and mechanics now for 12 of our 14 years. North Star Helicopters out of Juneau, Alaska is one of the top operators in the state. They are Alaskan pilots with thousands of hours flying in Alaska, winter and summer. On and average fly day one can expect to get 8-12 lifts in a day, averaging 25,000 -40,000’ of vertical depending on what it is your riding.

alaska helicopter skiing cordova, heli-skiing heli-boarding points north alaska

Ships, Birds, Choppers….A rose by any other name

12. What packages does Points North offer?

Our package includes ALL of your meals, lodging, transportation in and around Cordova including airport pickup and drop off along with all state of the art safety gear. Additionally, you get 4 helicopter hours of actual fly time. An average day is around 1 hour and 15 minutes of fly time in the early season and 1 hour and 30 minutes in the later part of the season. 4 helicopter hours is generally getting you 3 big days of riding. It is not common for guests to go over their 4 heli hour buy in, given the weather factors in Alaska. If in the event you do get 4 or 5 days of riding you simply pay as you go. Once you go over your 4 helicopter hours you are not expected to ski, however we bet that you will want to. A package for 7 nights lodging (all-inclusive, meals, lodging and transportation) and 4 heli-hours is $4,875.

13. Tell us about traveling to Points North Heliskiing.

Getting to Cordova and our location is very simple. Alaska Airlines flies in and out of Cordova 3 times a day. Access is from either Anchorage or Seattle. Our facility is 15 minutes from the airport. We pick you up and drop you off. It is about the easiest place to access in all of Alaska for heli-skiing.

14. What are the steepest slopes you ski with guests?

This is a question that depends purely on the guest and the conditions at the given time. It’s common for guests to come to Alaska and think they could never ski something like they just did. A common response is “that was the best run of my life” and the guide response is “ I thought the last run was…” Runs can range from 10 degrees down the glacier to 60 plus degrees and more. The snow pack that Alaska offers allows for access to these famous slopes. The skier and his / her ability is what allows them to gain access to the steep slopes if they choose. At PNH the guide will take you to your first few runs and from there you and your group decide where you would like to go next. If conditions allow for the run your choosing, the guide’s job is to make certain you can do it and make it happen safely. We are not selling you vertical. You will get that. We are selling you an experience of a lifetime!

alaska helicopter skiing, points north heliskiing heliboarding alaska

Wild? Ski with your own landing zone flag…

15. Anything else you want to add?

No mater where you choose to go Alaska, each operator has something for you. We can only encourage you to ask the proper questions and do your research prior to your trip. Additionally, when heli skiing in US, make certain the look for the US Heli Skiing Association logo.

Thanks for your time here with us!

 

heli-skiing codova alaska, heliboarding heliskiing points north alaska

No, Jessica, thank YOU for the giving us the full story about Points North Heliskiing out of Codova, Alaska. I have only been to a few places in Valdez, so I hope to get up there soon!
Best,
tj

Tom Jackson
CPO (Chief Powder Officer)
HELISKI.com
866-HELISKI
(866-435-4754)

All Photos: Court Leve

Skeena Heliskiing Lodge is Amazing

Skeena Heliskiing Update, and 3 Spaces Available

Skeena Heliskiing is a cool place, with easy travel and great skiing. Check out the Skeena lodge –

Skeena Heliskiing Lodge is Amazing
Skeena Heliskiing Lodge is Amazing

I spent a week with them and it was awesome.

They ski in small groups, usually fast skiing European friends of Jake, the GM. Jake is a former bump racer and probably the best skier I have ever had the pleasure of joining. He’s also a very cool, gracious host.

There are three seats remaining for Skeena’s mostly sold-out La Nina Winter.

2 Seats March 26-April 1

1 Seat April 1-8

Let us know if interested. Their Newsletter follows:

Skeena_Heliskiing_Update_February_2011

Skeena_Heliskiing_Update_February_2011

Heli-Skiing Canada, Helicopter Skiing Canada

Free Week of Heliskiing Contest about to close!

Cresent Spur Heli-Skiing is offering a Free Ski Week!

There are only a few more days until the draw ingon January 31st for a free week with Crescent Spur!

One lucky skier or boarder will win a 6 day/7 night package – all the skiing or boarding you can do, accommodation (based on double occupancy), meals and the use of specialized powder skis and poles.

There is still time to enter the draw! Just visit the Crescent Spur Facebook Page, click the “Like” button at the top of page, and enter to win!

Heli-Skiing Canada, Helicopter Skiing Canada
Many Crescent Spur runs are long and SWEET!

Women’s Heliskiing 4-day Trip at CMH Revelstoke

Jane Carswell of CMH tells us, “I guess our women’s trip is a little bit unofficial, but we are putting together a group for women at Revelstoke for 4 days – March 24 – 28. Price is $3820. It is being hosted by our very own Ellen Slaughter who runs our Bodacious in the Bugaboos Women’s heli-hiking adventures. We’re hoping for a group of 10 women and they will ski together. The guide could be male or female. They will lunch with the rest of the CMH Revelstoke guests, and hang out with them in the evenings. Sort of a group within a group.” Email if you are interested.

 

revelstoke heliskiing canada, heli-skiing revelstoke

 

CMH Revelstoke
The best of both worlds. Great terrain, excellent operator, and the nightlife and resort of Revelstoke. In case of bad weather, ski the longest vertical of any resort in North America. Packages from a day to a week. Keep in mind that it is harder to get to than most. Check it out.

Revelstoke – where the snow is deep, terrain is big, varied, and ideal for all skier-levels. A little different from a remote setting, it is based out of the Regent Inn in Revelstoke. More post-skiing opportunities like swimming in the local 25 m pool, running trails, a movie theatre, coffee shops and restaurants, and a solid internet connection.

Access to both the Monashees and the Selkirks, Revelstoke is defined by deep snow, big, open alpine and glacier terrain, and tree skiing equal to the best of any other CMH area. Its great size and quick accessibility by vans and helicopters allow CMH Revelstoke to find good skiing even in inclement weather.

In 2008, the newly expanded Revelstoke Mountain Resort opened: this once small-town ski area is now a world-class mountain resort, boasting over 5,000 vertical feet of skiing and an historical annual snowfall of 40 – 60 feet (that’s 1200 – 1800 cm). CMH guests are guaranteed skiing, even on those rare days when the helicopter cannot fly.

CMH Revelstoke, by Topher Donahue
CMH Revelstoke Heli-Skiing

A few other reasons why CMH guests love Revelstoke:
• Out-the-door proximity to quaint mountain boutiques, coffee spots, and a variety of fine cuisine restaurants and night clubs
• Access to the neighboring health club.
• Complimentary admission to the new Revelstoke Aquatic Centre — one of B.C.’s finest, offering an indoor hot tub with a ‘lazy river’, a 25 metre lane pool, a waterslide, a sauna and steam room, and an over-the-pool climbing wall
• Business Center with Full business connection for those who require it: phone, fax, email and internet access with wireless throughout the hotel; cell phone/iPhone/Blackberry coverage; and great selection of other ‘down day’ activities (is that an oxymoron?? including Nordic (x-country) skiing; snowmobiling; and the nearby Halcyon Hot Springs.

Revelstoke, Big Apple, by Topher Donahue
The only way to bite the “Big Apple” near Revelstoke is Heliskiing with CMH Revelstoke

Fly up AM, Heliski PM. Heliski 3, 4 or 5 Full Days. Last day, Heliski AM, Fly back PM….Sweet set up!

Our friend Beat Steiner, who runs Bella Coola Helisports, has a very cool offer. Heliski a half-day on each end of your trip, so you can get an extra day! This is especially cool for maximizing a short trip. And, not only do you get to heliski/heliboard on both travel days, Beat picks up your airfare from Vancouver and back!

bella coola british columbia heliskiing bc canada heli-skiing
Bella Coola squeezes in as much skiing as they can!

Bella Coola Helisports is the original and most experienced operator in Bella Coola offers 1.5 million acres of the most sought after heliskiing and boarding on the planet. This is now one of the largest tenures in the world.

They have one of the easiest accesses of any heliskiing destination in BC. Their goal is to have you heliskiing/heliboarding on the day of your arrival and the day of your departure.

So their 3-day package gives you 4 possible days of heliskiing/boarding. That is because you fly up one morning, ski the afternoon; ski three full days; then on the last day you ski the morning and fly out in the afternoon. 4-day package gives you 5 possible heli-skiing days, 5-day gives you 6 days…..you get the idea. You can also read our summary at BCHS.

And, Beat will include the airfare from Vancouver to Bella Coola and return!

Bella Coola has two options, (not including their Private Pantheon, a unique setting which is ideal for a group of 8):

Big Mountain program is a no frills, attractively priced choice (Put together a group of 4 and you can save money and rack up the vertical).

Tweedsmuir Lodge is the classic heli experience.

Availability during British Columbia primetime:

The week of Jan 22-29, including shorter trips ( Jan 22-26 or Jan 26-29).

Also during Feb 19-28 which is 9 nights, you can also be split into Feb 19-22 Feb 19-24, Feb 22-28 and Feb 24-28.

Pricing:

7-night/ 8-day $9,980
5-night/ 6 day $8,080
4-night/ 5 day $6,880
3-night/ 4 day $5,480

Email Beat, or call 604.932.3000….Tell him TJ sent you and I’ll throw in a massage.

heli-skiing Canada, helicopter skiing BC Canada
Don’t Waste a Second – Heliski with Bella Coola Heliskiing / Heliboarding
Heliskiing Canada

Top 10 Things to Consider in a Heliskiing Trip

Heliskiing Canada
How to choose among our 40+ Locations?

HELISKI.com Top 10 Things to Consider in a Heliskiing Trip

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?

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

Skeena Heliskiing SOLD OUT

Holy Economic Recovery. Bookings are good, but that is amazing.

Skeena IS a great heliskiing operator. I was lucky enough to ski with them for a week and it was great. Giacum (“Jake”), the owner and lead guide, is probably the best skier I have ever had the pleasure of joining on the slopes. He raced bumps in Europe for 15 years, then coached others in that fine art. He is generous with his advice, too, which everyone appreciated.

They ski in two groups of five. No waiting, and tons of vertical. Nearly a Private, for standard pricing.

The lodge is spectacular. It may be the best heliski lodge I have stayed in.

Helicopter Skiing lodge like you dream about
Best Helicopter Skiing Lodge??

As for Skeena Heliskiing, you will have to wait. They are now booking 2012.

But I digress. Bookings typically ramp up after Labor Day. And there are 40+ other locations with availability.

So, if you’re serious about going this season, drop me an email (tj@heliski.com) or call me at 866-HELISKI (866-435-4754) or visit HELISKI.com and Heli-skiing Review.com to check out the options.