Heli skiing or heli boarding is the ultimate freeriding and freeskiing experience. The ride up the mountain in a helicopter is a surreal experience in itself, and once you’ve finished taking photos of the spectacular views, the ski or snowboard down the mountain is even better!
Heli skiing operators have access to vast areas of backcountry terrain so the likelihood of riding virgin snow is very high, if not guaranteed. And for powder-holics, heli skiing can be absolute nirvana; a place to visit the powder room where you not only powder your nose but your whole body!
Heli skiing is an experience that’s not just exclusively for the rich and famous or Warren Miller stunt skiers. Sure heli skiing costs much more than a lift ticket, but addicted powderhounds will claim that it is great value for money considering the number of quality powder turns on offer.
Benefits of Heli Skiing and Heli Boarding
Why heli ski rather than resort ski?
Benefits of heliskiing over ski touring
- Heli skiing out in the backcountry offers an opportunity to get away from the hordes commonly found at ski resorts. With heli skiing you don’t have to stand in lift queues or race to get first tracks, and fresh tracks won’t have disappeared by 9:30am.
- At ski resorts you may find slops rather than slopes. At the higher elevations often achieved with heli skiing, the snow conditions are generally superior.
Why heli ski rather cat ski?
- Some people like to earn their turns by ski touring or hiking. The advantage of heli skiing is that you spend much less time going up the mountain and more time doing what you love most – skiing or snowboarding down the mountain!
- Backcountry touring requires a lot of knowledge, skill and equipment. As most heli skiing is guided, you can largely rely on the expertise of the guides for route finding, avalanche mitigation and radio communication.
Types of Heli Skiing
- Heli skiing tenures are usually significantly larger than cat skiing areas, so there are more opportunities to find great quality snow and fresh tracks.
- Helicopters are less restricted than snowcats in regards to the terrain they can access. Helicopters can get right up to the really magical terrain.
- Helicopters get up the mountain much faster than snowcats, so it’s often possible to get a lot more skiing or boarding in each day.
The format of heli skiing packages varies somewhat. Some heli ski operators offer single day packages
which range from one run to full day affairs. Single day heli skiing is the norm in New Zealand and Japan, and can also be found in North America and Chile. Many of these operators are based at or near ski resorts.
are common in Canada and Alaska. These multi-day packages are inclusive of the heli skiing (or at least part of it), accommodation, and meals. You typically pay for extras such as massage services, drinks, and additional vertical skied beyond the guaranteed vertical. In Canada the accommodation is commonly provided in remote backcountry lodges, some of which are only accessible via helicopter. For a truly novel and luxurious heliski experience, it’s also possible to stay on a yacht or boat!
Operators also typically provide a range of packages that vary from mixed group
packages where the helicopter is shared by 2 to 5 groups, up to private
deluxe trips where you only have to share the helicopter and the lodging with your closest friends.
Typically heli skiing is guided
whereby a lead guide takes responsibility for safety instruction, snowpack stability testing and route finding. Some companies also have a tail guide who brings up the rear and provides additional support. In very rare cases, heli skiing is unguided
. In some parts, Europe heli skiing
is essentially just a lift to the top of the mountain, and then riders find their own way down.
Heliskiing terrain varies remarkably from steep chutes to mellow bowls, but the largest variable is probably related to the presence of tree skiing
. Canada and continental USA usually have a combination of alpine
and tree terrain, whilst heli skiing in New Zealand, Alaska and Chile is all above the timberline. Tree skiing can be highly advantageous because commonly the snow quality is superior to that in the alpine, although many heliski aficionados prefer the majestic alpine where they can let it rip!
Canada Heli Skiing and Heli Boarding
Heli-skiing was pioneered in Canada, and BC Canada continues to be the home of heli skiing. British Columbia has at least 34 heliski operations that have huge backcountry tenures. Multi-day trips that are based at remote lodges is the norm, with only a handful of companies offering single day heli skiing.
Heli skiing Canada
is world renowned for good reason. Snowfalls are prolific, particularly in northern BC where there is 20 to 30 metres of snow per season. Further south in the BC Interior the snow is legendary, with 12 to 20 metres of light dry powder per season. In amongst the trees in particular, it is not just face shot territory – it’s snorkel country!
See our Canada heli skiing
overview and comparison of BC heliski
operators for more information.
See Canadian Heli Ski Packages here >>
USA Heli Skiing
In the lower 48 states of the U.S. there are only nine operators, so heli skiing is somewhat rare. This is in part due to the many regulations in the USA that make it difficult to start up a heli ski business. And unlike Canada, all operators offer single day packages.
The largest concentration of heli ski operators in the United States is in the Chugach Range of Alaska.
See our USA heli skiing
overview and US heli ski comparison
for more information.
Alaska Heli Skiing
The gnarly Alaska heli skiing
terrain has been made world famous via many ski and snowboard movies. The maritime snowpack is reasonably strong, so the likelihood of skiing super steeps is higher than many other parts of the world. The Alaskan mountains get tons of snow. The only downside of the stormy weather that produces all that snow is the high rate of no-fly dates.
Most of the operators offer either multi or single day packages, and as a general rule, the multi-day trips are very economical.
New Zealand Heli Skiing
New Zealand has the most helicopters per capita so it makes perfect sense that NZ has lots of heliski operators. New Zealand heli skiing and heli boarding provides access to the amazingly spectacular Southern Alps, the backdrop for the Lord of the Rings movies. Like Alaska, the terrain is all in the alpine and there are a large proportion of no-fly days. The quality and quantity of the New Zealand snow may not be a match for North America, but it’s really inexpensive so you get more snow for your dough!
See our heli skiing New Zealand
overview and New Zealand heli ski comparison
for more information.
See New Zealand Heli Ski Packages here >>
Europe Heli Skiing
Considering the abundance of European ski resorts, heli skiing Europe
is somewhat scarce. Many of the European countries are highly regulated and unfortunately (for heli skiing enthusiasts) heli skiing is banned in many parts. Tirol Austria has one operation, Italy and Switzerland have about four companies, and there are a few in Sweden. Eastern Europe has a couple of outfits in Romania, whilst in the far east of Russia, heli skiing in Kamchatka and Caucasus is becoming particularly trendy.
South America Heliskiing
There are only a handful of Chile heli skiing operators, some that offer multi-day packages with lodging, and others that are based at ski resorts and provide single day heli tours.
The heliski terrain is way up high in the alpine of the gigantic Andes Mountains, and runs are typically super long. Whilst Chile offers a magical experience, the heli skiing can be a little pricey. Even resort skiing in Chile is targeted to the elite of South America. See our heli skiing Chile
summary for more information.
Two great Chile heliski operators are Powder South Heli Ski Guides
and Andes Heliboarding
Argentina heli skiing is less common. Powder South
also have an operation in Argentina.
Japan Heli Skiing
Japan is a truly intriguing country and it’s the powder capital of the world, so it’s a shame that there's negligible Japan heli skiing
. The Japanese ski resorts are sometimes overly zealous with safety considerations just in the off piste areas (!!), so heli skiing is generally considered a very hazardous activity.
There are a couple of operators (at Tsugaike Kogen and Kagura ski resort) that offer a really lame form of heli skiing where they repeatedly use the same drop-off zone, so fresh tracks are hard to come by. Tomamu ski resort
used to offer a little heli skiing but it no longer does. There's a new Niseko heli skiing
outfit and at least one U.S. company runs charter heli ski trips to Japan.
Other Heli Ski Trips
Visit India to spice up your life. High up in the Himalayas in the Kashmir region of India, heli skiing not only offers a vast backcountry and truck loads of fresh lines, but an opportunity to lap up a fascinatingly unique culture. Kashmir Heliski
offers single run trips or week long packages, and there is also helicopter skiing in Manali.
Other exotic heli ski destinations include Nepal, Uzbekistan (frequently very inexpensive), and Greenland.
Go Heli Skiing
Heliskiing is an unforgettable experience - infinite lines of virgin snow that are yours for the taking. For some it’s a once in a lifetime experience, whilst for others it becomes an addiction, because once you’ve been spoilt with heli skiing you may never want to go back to resort skiing ever again.
See all heli skiing packages here >>