The history of Heli skiing
Looking back through history, the current heli-skiing scene might seem relatively new, with little adjustments and improvements being made all the time. Actually, it was almost fifty years ago that the first commercial heli ski operation took clients, for an extended period, to make runs in the Canadian Bugaboos. However the scene never rapidly expanded, as was heli ski pioneer Hans Gmoser’s prediction. It took well over thirty more years for the kind of outfits that we know and trust today to bloom and flourish.
In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, a small group of disparate skiers and boarders were pioneering the miniscule heli-skiing scene. Back then it was a case of turning up at a heli launch, paying the required sum, and being chauffeured to whichever of the mountains took your fancy. Guys like Shane McKonkey’s dad, Jim McKonkey, and others, were pioneering descents on the peaks surrounding Whistler in BC and other mighty ranges. Other people actually even owned their own small helicopters, like the Schweitzer 500C. Too small to land on the sharper peaks, guys would combine this method of mountain ascent with traditional ski touring, to establish lines they had always dreamed of making.
This gung-ho, ‘do-it-yourself’ approach suited only the real risk takers and required a very specific level of skiing expertise. There were no guidelines in place for any unforeseen circumstances, certainly no emergency relief or fully qualified guides. The pioneers in this area of skiing were just that. They lived and breathed the ‘sport’ before it became commercially, or more to the point, safely available to the general public. Sometimes living out of vans – as well as on the edge -people on the heli-skiing scene were committed to the sport long before it made it to MTV.
As we mentioned, it’s only relatively recently in the history of heli skiing, that companies such as ourselves, Last Frontier, have had the opportunity to share the pioneering, heli ski adventures with you, our clients. Shared guidelines and ethics between heli ski operators now mean that enjoying this exciting pastime is possible for almost anyone (with a decent level of skiing experience). Safety has been improved and developed to standards that try to eliminate accidents before they happen.
This is not to say the heliskiing scene has gone soft, but it’s certainly matured. Just look towards all the films coming out, not only this year, but from the past decade, and you will see the great athletes of this sport are always doing what they do best: pushing boundaries. And now you can at least sample for yourself what it feels like to be a professional, superstar skier, for one or two weeks of the year.