When is the Best Time to Go Heli Skiing?
The Canadian writer J.R. Rim once said, “It’s not about making the right choice. It’s about making a choice and making it right.” One can use the same logic for determining when to go heli skiing. There is no wrong time because it’s always ski time. However, each month offers something different.
Although our legendary ski tech Guido skis year-round, Last Frontier’s heli skiing season is only open from December to April. Yes, the ski season is short. However, it’s always changing and we’ve tried to illustrate this with actual photos from each month.
Early season is characterized by shorter days and colder temperatures. The sun clings to the horizon, making for some very dramatic lighting. For me, December and January are iconic months for winter. That’s when the blizzards hit and the temperatures drop. It’s exciting to watch as the trees begin to bend under the sagging weight of fresh powder and staff have to continually shovel. These are the months with the most snowfall, at almost 70 cm on average per week. Even with a disappearing sun, heli skiing days are still up to 8 hours long, which is adequate to work off that holiday turkey and fruitcake. Typically, a high-pressure system will set in for a few days to a week and allow us to ski high up in beautifully preserved power.
Since the early season has an average low temperature of -13C, the snow is light and fluffy. It’s like skiing in a cloud, only with helicopters. When the skies clear, we’ll head for the alpine. While the snowpack might not as deep as later in the season, the snow quality is often the best. Early season is all about tree skiing. Have you ever skied through ancient coastal rainforest where the trees are skyscrapers? I didn’t think so. Add it to the list.
Early season is also a quieter time of year for heli skiing. I worked for three seasons at both of our ski operations: Ripley Creek and Bell 2 Lodge. For me, this is my favourite time and when to visit. Guests would join staff for family Christmas dinners, gift exchanges and New Year fireworks. If the weather is clear, there can be northern lights that are so vibrant they’re worth telling the grandchildren about. Since we’re in the middle of the woods, there’s no light pollution and the stargazing is out-of-this-world. Prices for early season are lower so chances for scoring a deal are high.
This time of year is all about cold smoke: the silky, light, blower powder that northern British Columbia is famous for.
Typically, the snowpack is getting big at this point. Everything is starting to fill in throughout our heliski area, which spans over 10,100 square kilometres. The days are getting longer, warmer and the vertical numbers start climbing at more than 48,000 vertical meters skied each week. This is the time when we can get our longest runs at 2,000 vertical metres. Have you ever skied a run that long? Chances are you haven’t since another ski resort touts having the largest verticle drop in North America at just 1,700 metres.
February and March are high season for heli-skiing. Everyone wants it and for good reason. We spend more time skiing high-alpine peaks, bowls and glaciers. When the weather turns, we head into the valleys to plunder the trees. The options are endless. However, since it’s in high demand, being booked as far as 12 months in advance, it tends to be more expensive.
By the time April hits, many are over skiing and already mountain biking and golfing. It’s a shame really as it usually has some of the best snow conditions of the year. The snowpack is at it’s deepest and the days are lllloooooonnngggggg. For this time of year, you can expect alpine glacier skiing and panoramic vistas during long bluebird days. There are often opportunities to ski steeper lines as snow stability improves. We generally find powder on north-facing slopes and sometimes even corn skiing on the south aspects.
Late in the season, there’s even a chance for wildlife viewing. We once had skiers spot a grizzly bear waking up from a winter nap [true story]. Since the days are super long, it’s a good time to get a goggle tan. Similar to the early season, it’s less busy and there are cost savings. Heli skiing in April can be defined as requiring little more than a light softshell with powder up high and spring corn down below. The days often finish sitting under the evening sun with a cold beer in hand, flip flops on your feet and a barbeque. Is there anything better in life?
Simply, there is no wrong choice for deciding when to visit for heli-skiing. It just depends on the skier and what they want. All-time is ski time.