Heli skiing in Canada has long been considered the Holy Grail of the skiing world. Heli skiing is all about pristine, natural terrain on steep lines and long descents. While there are several territories around the world that provide this kind of environment, not all countries embrace heli skiing. Few of those that do can offer the incredible variety of vast, untouched mountainscapes and powder-filled glades that heli skiers seek. Last Frontier Heli skiing has the world’s single largest heli skiing tenure – a 10,100 square-kilometre area in Northern British Columbia, and a veritable Mecca for heli skiing enthusiasts from all over the world. Here, among the powder snow-coated mountains and trees, you will find the experience of a lifetime. If you’re a seasoned skier, outdoor enthusiast or all-round thrill seeker, but you’ve never heliskied before, here’s why you should.
To put it simply, heli skiing is off-trail downhill skiing that is accessed by helicopter. The ski terrain is wilder and more extreme than what you would find at an established ski resort. The point of heliskiing is to be carried to an out-of-the-way spot where the run-of-the-mill ski resort goers fear to tread, and enjoy long, steep runs through untouched, natural landscapes coated in powder snow.
Contrary to common misconception, you don’t need to jump out of a hovering helicopter. The helicopter flies you to the top of the slope, and then lands firmly on the ground before you exit in a safe, practised manner, under your guide’s supervision. Heli skiing is not an activity for novices, but it also isn’t necessary for you to be an expert-level skier. Before you try it, you should have acquired a fair amount of experience as a piste skier in a conventional resort environment. A little off-piste experience would help too. At Last Frontier, we have two main skiing areas within our tenure: Bell 2 Lodge, which is for intermediate to expert skiers and riders, and Ripley Creek, which is recommended for advanced to expert skiers and riders.
British Columbia is the home of heli skiing. It was here in 1965 that Hans Gmoser, an Austrian-born mountain guide, first popularized the sport. In its early days, it was regarded as something only for the most experienced and daring skier, but now it’s offered as a family holiday activity for individuals and groups with at least intermediate-level skiing skills. As long as you are a confident skier who can maintain control in a variety of terrain (and don’t have a fear of heights), then you can safely manage heli skiing and enjoy the unique experience it offers. We recommend that skiers are able to navigate at least single black diamond runs in any condition at their local ski resort before attempting heli skiing.
If you’ve had a few holidays at ski resorts in Canada and elsewhere in the world, you may well ask,
“Why should I heli ski? What does it have to offer that I can’t get on a resort slope?”
The answer: there really is no comparison between the two. They are two, quite different experiences.
Resort ski slopes are groomed and managed specifically for skiers. They’re covered in tracks, they have lift lines stretching over their entire length, and groomers and other staff are always on hand. You stand in long queues to get just a little slope time, and your experience is structured and regulated according to the busyness of the resort, and the establishment’s practices and rules. Heli skiing doesn’t have any of that. It takes place on kilometre after kilometre of untracked snow, in terrain that sees a minimal number of humans during the course of the year – especially in the winter. You ski on untracked snow, in small groups, without having to deal with crowds. Most laps will cover enough territory to open several ski hills. Some of these are up to 2,000 vertical meters – that’s up to 400 vertical meters more than even the longest resort slope – and all this on glaciers, in old-growth forest and beautiful alpine vistas that take your breath away.
One of the many joys of heli-skiing, compared to resort skiing, is that it takes place in small groups, which provides a greatly enhanced skiing experience.
Like many other activities, the quality of your skiing experience is a question of numbers. The smaller the guest-to-guide ratio, the personal attention each person gets, and therefore, the more benefits they will draw from their ski trip. There is more time for each skier to spend with the guide, and the time you spend with them will involve much more personal interactions and detailed instruction.
There is also less waiting with small groups. No matter how skilled the skiers in the group, larger groups mean longer waiting times. With a small group, it’s easier for everyone to stay together, which actually makes skiing more of a group-friendly activity than it would normally be.
Another benefit of small group heli skiing is that it allows for longer range and endurance for the helicopters. Last Frontier uses A-Star B2 & B3 Helicopters, which are quick and easily maneuverable. They can land in many places where larger helicopters cannot. Larger groups would require larger helicopters, such as the Bell 212, which are not as maneuverable and are more limited as to where they are able to land.
The guide-to-guest ratio at Last Frontier Heli skiing is 1:4 – less than half the size of many other heli skiing operations, and an even smaller fraction of what you get at a ski resort. Up until 2017, our standard group size was 1:5. The change allowed helicopters to carry more fuel, which enabled them to fly further, reach more remote terrain and offer more options within our tenure.
Another great thing about heli skiing is that each operation offers very different terrain. Last Frontier has the largest single heli skiing tenure in the world, and we can thus offer more variety than most. In particular, we have become a kind of Mecca for those who enjoy tree skiing or glade skiing.
Tree skiing is exactly what the name suggests: skiing through trees either off-trail or on a defined woods trail. In addition to glaciers and alpine bowls, Last Frontier offers well-spaced trees and beautiful old-growth forest tree skiing right to the valley bottoms. Our tree skiing is what really sets us apart in terms of the versatility of our offering compared to what is available in nearby Alaska.
Our tenure offers lots of landing zones in the subalpine and at treeline where we’re still getting big vertical runs. So even when it’s snowing, we are often able to fly and we average under 1 down day per week. One of the main benefits of tree skiing is that the snow in those woods and glades is deep. There is less wind affect, less wind scouring, less sun affect and no sastrugi (features formed by wind erosion). What you get among the trees is deep, fluffy powder snow – and lots of it, providing pure skiing bliss.
With heli skiing, aside from the thrill of the sport itself, you get the added advantage of accessing and experiencing wildernesses to which you wouldn’t normally have access. It seems there aren’t very many untouched wildernesses left in the world, and those that remain are often hard to reach. Northern British Columbia is home to many of these, and heli skiing grants you special access to them. Using helicopters to access the skiing terrain offers a stunning sightseeing experience, as well as landing you squarely in the midst of untouched landscapes that few people have the opportunity to see, let alone visit.
When you arrive at Last Frontier Heli skiing, you’ve left the world behind. It’s up here in Northern British Columbia where things get wild.
Last Frontier Heli skiing’s heli ski area, or tenure, spans more than 10,100 square kilometres, which is roughly a quarter the size of Switzerland and comprises two main bases of operation. Ripley Creek, in Stewart BC, sits at the southern edge of our tenure right on the border of South East Alaska and Bell 2 Lodge, our purpose-built heli ski facility further north, sits on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway deep in the heart of our tenure.
Packages include 30,500 vertical meters of guaranteed skiing on a seven-day package, private tours have unlimited vertical. You can ski or snowboard as much as you want, as fast as you want, or as slow as you want. It’s up to you.
Last Frontier offers a vertical guarantee – a promise that you will ski a certain amount of meters based on the length of your trip. Simply put, you pay for what you ski – a value offering that not every skiing operation provides. Should you not reach the number of vertical meters we guarantee for your ski trip – due to inclement weather or technical difficulties – we will refund you for the vertical you have not skied. For example, if you take a four-day trip, you would ski an average of 22,300m, we guarantee 17,500m, and if conditions are excellent, you could ski as much as 30,500m.