Flying over the groomed pistes, avoiding the queues and experiencing an adrenaline rush on untouched snow; it’s not difficult to see why Heli-skiing is becoming more and more popular, particularly as a day trip package.
The ability to access previously inaccessible terrain is enough to excite most of us who love skiing. However, opinion is divided when it comes to offering heli-skiing and only a small number of resorts offer it. So here’s our look ahead to heli-skiing in 2011-12.
One of the main draws of heli-skiing (apart from flying around the mountains in a helicopter) is the ability to get dropped onto slopes which are inaccessible by almost all other means of transport, particularly to other skiers using traditional means to get around the mountain. You won’t find any ski lifts here. The arguments against have been two fold, namely cost and safety with a weekend’s heli-skiing costing several thousand pounds and fears of avalanches in the minds of those considering it.
In reality, heli-skiing doesn’t have to break the bank and is a safe (if not quite as safe as skiing on the groomed pistes) activity and all reputable companies have professional guides. Whilst heli-skiing is an extreme sport, safety is of paramount importance and avalanches are rare. The guides will always do safety checks including a dig at the start of each run to ensure the area is safe and they will also know the local weather patterns and the tried and tested areas.
As a result, accidents are very rare and everyone doing heli-skiing will also get a full safety briefing prior to the trip (so you know what to do in case of an avalanche). There have also been great advances in technology (ski airbags and tracking equipment as examples) which has helped to improve survival rates when these rare occurrences do happen.
Skill Level Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be an expert skier to go heli-skiing. Most companies offer packages that cater to the intermediate skill level. That being said, beginners should stick to the groomed runs of their local mountain before considering this as an option.
Where can you heli-ski and for how much?
Good question as heli-skiing is viewed very differently depending on where you are in the world. There are only a few options to heli-ski across much of Europe. If in Austria, the resort of Lech offers heli-skiing, which means that you can also try it from close by resorts such as St Anton (25 minutes in the car). In Italy you can heli-ski at the resort of La Thuile, meaning it’s also accessible from La Rosiere in France. Heli-skiing will also be available in Sochi, Russia but not until after the winter Olympics in 2014.
The majority of heli-skiing is therefore in Canada. You can do day packages from most resorts on the West Coast, but Whistler and Panorama have heli-skiing from the resorts themselves with prices starting from around $800pp. For more information about heli-skiing from Whistler please visit http://www.whistlerheliskiing.com/or for more general information about heli skiing (particularly in the USA) you can visit http://heli-skiing.findthebest.com.
As a side note, Cat skiing is also very popular and a cheaper alternative to heli-skiing. It won’t get you to the same height (for obvious reasons) as the heli-skiing but does access places other skiers can only dream of. In Canada the best place to go Cat skiing is Fernie. If you’re off to the U.S, Colorado resorts also offer it. As a guide Cat skiing tends to start from around $400pp for a day package.
I’ll also point out that even experienced skiers can struggle without the right equipment. Powder skis (really wide skis) make a huge difference and can be hired for a day’s heli-sking from any good ski rentals shop.
In summary, whilst possible in Europe, Canada offers the best choice and opportunity to try heli-skiing for yourself. If you want to experience something a little special why not consider it this winter.