Choosing The Right Heliski Operator

May 20, 2015 D'Arcy McLeish

Choosing a heliski operator can be a little overwhelming. Heliskiing is a big investment and the hope is that when you book a trip, you’re booking the trip of a lifetime. Living in a ski town, I often hear stories of no-fly days, mediocre accommodations and hard earned money spent on skiing fifteen degree slopes in average snow. That doesn’t sound like heliskiing to me. So how do you choose? What are the key things to look for in an operation? Canada has a range of heliski outfits to choose from; from day trip heliskiing close to some of the major ski resorts to remote, fly-in lodges nestled deep in some of BC’s best mountain ranges.

At Last Frontier, we believe we have the right mix of terrain to keep you satisfied.  Photo - Aeurelien Sudan
At Last Frontier, we believe we have the right mix of terrain to keep you satisfied.
Photo – Aurelien Sudan

When I imagine a perfect week skiing from a helicopter a few key things come to mind. First is the snow. Consistency and volume are key. There’s no point going somewhere that doesn’t get massive amounts of pow. Second, I want to be somewhere that can only be accessed by helicopter. Show me a place untouched by time and off the beaten path.

Bad weather up high? No worries, let's go shred the trees.  Photo - Grant Baldwin
Bad weather up high? No worries, let’s go shred the trees.
Photo – Grant Baldwin

The next important thing is the operation itself. Large groups? Small groups? Big lodge and operation? For me, heliskiing should be an intimate affair. Give me small groups and small numbers. Booking a week of heliskiing to compete for turns with multiple groups of eleven guests (the norm for many operations) seems too close to a busy powder day at the resort. Less is more and in my experience, operations focusing on small groups tend to have better service and a finer attention to detail.

Bel 2 Lodge. Remote, cozy and in the middle of the some of the best skiing in BC.  Photo - Steve Rosset
Bell 2 Lodge. Remote, cozy and in the middle of the some of the best skiing in BC.
Photo – Steve Rosset

Accommodation. I want a cozy lodge, roaring fire, good food and some fine drink to await me after each day on the snow. Accommodation should be elegant, but with a touch of rustic mountain charm. I want somewhere to unplug from the world and spend my days living and not posting.

Small groups.  Photo - Reuben Krabbe
Small Groups.
Photo – Reuben Krabbe

Next, the terrain has to have everything. Heliskiing is dependent on weather. So take me somewhere that has options; steeps, trees, glaciers, a mix of mellow and burly, the more varied the better. Elevation is key here. If an operating area has limited tree skiing, marginal weather days become more of a challenge. Having the choice between higher drop zones and lower drop zones gives that much-needed flexibility when dealing with marginal conditions.

Heli Skiing Terrain Size
Big Terrain.

Finally, I want somewhere that employs the best guides in the business. Guides are a critical part to any operation and at the end of the day, your safety and the safety of the operation is dependent on their skills and experience. Do some research. Do all the guides have proper certification? Do they hire experienced hands? Look online and read reviews. Call the company up and ask some questions.

Why our guides come back, year after year.  Photo - Dave Silver
Why our guides come back, year after year.
Photo – Dave Silver

There aren’t too many places that truly fit the bill out there. No one is going to be perfect. Weather, snow stability, and a whole host of other factors outside a company’s control play a role in how a ski week will turn out. But trying to stack things in your favour is the key. So do your research. There are some great operators in Canada and BC especially. Look them all up and see what they offer.

Be safe, ski hard.