Why Small Group Heliskiing is Best

January 03, 2020 Liam Harrap

Skiing is all about the numbers. What’s the depth of the snowpack? Is there much fresh powder? How long is that run? And how big is the après-ski? The size of the ski group is also extremely important, especially when it comes to heliskiing. For Last Frontier, small group heliskiing is best. Here’s why:

Better Guide to Guest Ratio

When it comes to schools and universities, they’re always rated on their student to instructor ratio. The smaller the class, the more time each student has with the teacher, and therefore the student has a higher chance of learning. Hence, smaller class sizes usually raise a school’s ranking compared to another.

For example, Ivy league schools in the U.S. have better ratios than other state universities. Taking Harvard as an example, they have a ratio of 7:1 for students to professors while most other universities in the U.S. have a ratio of roughly 18:1.

The benefits of having a smaller ski group are similar to those of an educational institution. Simply, there’s more time and opportunity for each skier to spend with the guide. At Last Frontier Heliskiing, our ski groups are four guests to one guide.

We have a better ratio than Harvard.

Our ski groups are less than half the size of many other heliskiing operations, where groups can be 11 people plus the guide. Talk about crowded.

Small groups are also more intimate. For example, instead of being “skier number 9”, you’re John, Karen or Theodore. It’s much easier for guides to keep track of just a handful of guests, rather than a dozen.

If you like to book ski trips with friends, it’s much easier to find three other skiers with similar abilities than 10. With smaller groups, the guide also has more time to scope terrain, note hazards and plan for the next run.

Less Waiting = More Skiing

No matter how good the skiers are, more time is spent waiting for larger groups than smaller ones. Perhaps skier 4 stops for a picture, skier 6 needs a snack and nature calls for skier 10. It’s far easier for small groups to stay together.

Less time is also spent waiting for people to assemble their gear at drop-offs and pick-ups. This all translates to more time on the slopes and enjoying that fluffy white stuff. After all, this is a ski holiday, not a wait-for-the-chopper-vacation.

We ski with up to 3 groups per helicopter. This creates a perfect flow where the machine is always flying and cycling between groups. Some heliski outfits with groups of up to 11 people, ski with up to 4 groups per machine. Once again, not only does this impact wait time but more people on the mountain means more ski tracks to navigate.

No one wants to save and scrimp for the heliskiing trip of a lifetime, only to wait in lines and ski tracks. Might as well stay at the ski hill.

Longer Heli Range and Endurance

Smaller groups considerably reduce weight for the helicopter. We use A-Star B2 & B3 Helicopters [now owned by Airbus], which are quick and easily maneuverable. They are popular with medical/law services and the military. A-Stars are particularly known for their excellent high-altitude performance as it can land in many places where larger helicopters cannot. Other operations with bigger groups use larger helicopters, such as a Bell 212. These are also great machines, but due to their robust size are more limited in where they can land.

For example, smaller helicopters have the ability to land safely in very tight terrain, such as on mountain summits and below treeline. They allow for efficient pick-ups and/or mid-mountain exit if the snow isn’t in the best condition at the “bottom” of the run. Did you know that the A-star is the only helicopter to have ever landed on top of Mt. Everest? Neat, eh.

Easier Access to Remote Terrain

In 2017, we downsized from 5 guests per group to 4. The change allowed our pilots to carry more fuel. Last Frontier Heliskiing has the largest single tenure in the world at 10,100 square kms, which is roughly a quarter the size of Switzerland and four times larger than the average heli-skiing area in B.C. Since our pilots are able to carry more fuel this allows us to fly further into our tenure and gives us more options for skiing, especially if the weather is marginal. More fuel also means fewer fuel stops, which also equals more time for skiing. Even with just one person [+gear] less in the machine, that’s a weight savings of roughly 100 kg.

Small group heliskiing is all about being flexible. It’s like going on an African safari. Would you rather take a 4×4, where you can go off-roading and visit waterholes, to get close to lions and hippos or be seated with the masses in a rumbling tour bus that doesn’t even leave the pavement?

When it comes to adventure, smaller groups are always better.

But don’t just take our word for it, come and see for yourself.

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