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Heliskiing First Timers

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
So a couple of friends and I have decided that we've reached the point where we can just about afford a heliski trip if we go without food for a bit, and want to get one in whilst we can still just about ski like we did when we were in our 20s.

Looking around online there seems to be about a million options, and I've become keenly aware that I don't really know the questions to ask.

Can anyone recommend a good operator / agent for a first time heliskiing trip, and any other tips for the first timer?
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
I wrote this a while ago, which might help: http://www.luex.com/magazine/2016/01/23/how-to-choose-heliskiing-or-heliboarding-trip

I used to work for that agent and still do some freelance stuff, but I genuinely think they're one of the best around. Ask for Claudie and tell her Matt C sent you - you'll get great advice with no obligation to book.

Edit: Some thoughts on more affordable heliskiing too: http://www.luex.com/magazine/2016/03/02/most-affordable-heliski-trips/
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
@flaming, I've been 10 plus times around Whistler with 3 different companies, so I might be able to add a little to the excellent guide provided by @clarky999.

The main thing to decide is if you are going to a lodge (dedicated heli-skiing trip), or day skiing. With lodge skiing it is more critical to get thing right as you a effectively committed to the location, weather, company, and those you are skiing with. With day heli-skiing, you have more flexibility, as you can try different operators (if available).

The next thing to decide is whether you are going for the experience of skiing from a helicopter, or if you will only go if there is spectacular deep snow.

I'm happy to answer any questions related to my heli experiences, both good and bad.
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clarky999 wrote:
I wrote this a while ago, which might help: http://www.luex.com/magazine/2016/01/23/how-to-choose-heliskiing-or-heliboarding-trip

I used to work for that agent and still do some freelance stuff, but I genuinely think they're one of the best around. Ask for Claudie and tell her Matt C sent you - you'll get great advice with no obligation to book.

Edit: Some thoughts on more affordable heliskiing too: http://www.luex.com/magazine/2016/03/02/most-affordable-heliski-trips/


Ah, I was exchanging emails with her a couple of months back about this trip, but she went quiet, which is kind of why I was looking for other tips, I assumed I'd come across as a dreamer and she'd stopped wasting her time with me...
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
@flaming, hmm, that's unusual. It may have had something to do with relocating to Bali and the time/complexity involved with that, but not good anyway.
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@clarky999, Ok, well I've done the online chat thing with them again, so we'll see what comes of it!

And a Heliski expert who lives in Bali...? Now I'm jealous...
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@flaming, it's also a surf travel agency. In the past they/we relocated to a beach (from the Alps) every summer, but this time will be for a bit longer (it also means they are closer to places like Japan in the winter, though I understand some of the team will also spend a lot of time in the Alps and visiting other operators too).
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After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
@clarky999, not any less jealous!
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CMH are handled in the UK by http://www.purepowder.com/ who are very helpful.

Heliskiing can be wonderful, we had a great trip to CMH Galena in 2012. I've two trips with TLH, the second one was a reminder that the weather gods are capricious with 5 1/2 down days out of 6 1/2...

If you are going down the lodge route, try and make up a full heli load of mates who all ski around the same ability. I appreciate this isn't easy but while the operators will try and make sure you have a group suitable, remember that much of their constituency are wealthy NA blokes, who tend to have the fitness and skiing ability of people who've spent all their lives slaving behind desks.

Also note that it's not all perfect powder. A chum who admittedly does a few weeks a year had a couple of weeks of rained on ice a few years back.
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Agree with the posts above.

Have done about 40 days heli and it can be the best of the best but also (usually conditions-related) a bit average.

An agent who you might want to look at is James Morland at Elemental Adventures.

There is also another UK based specialist but I have not used him myself.

CMH and Wiegele are the 2 largest AFAIK but may not suit.

You really need to say more about budget, ski level, how many days away etc. Feel free to PM me if you have specific questions.
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Quote:

If you are going down the lodge route, try and make up a full heli load of mates who all ski around the same ability


This would be ideal. If it is you and two mates then you should look for a lodge flying a-stars - these are 6 seat helis - pilot, guide and four guests. Unless you are going at peak times you'd likely find you were skiing in a group for guide + you three which is ideal - can do even better terrain in a small group.

Others have much more experience than me but I've done some days plus one lodge trip. You definitely want to go for a lodge - its a vastly superior experience I think. I went with Mica Heli Guides (Mica Creek, "near" Revelstoke) who were superb
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
In fairness, you can get a budget heli terrain holiday without the heli expense just by tipping up at Kicking Horse.

Also, a good friend who is a very good off piste skier went cat skiing a few years back and there are some advantages to that...
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@jedster, Mica have a great rep, but apparently are often booked up close to a season in advance.

There's another op opening up (or opened last season) called White Wilderness, who seem great. I've spoken with the owner, and they did some stuff with Glen Plake. They started up with the premise of solving issues they'd had at other heli ops in the past.

@under a new name, I haven't been cat skiing, but def some advantages. Like being able to go out in a huge storm when the powder's at its freshest!
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
flaming,
In terms of budget, have you considered cat skiing as an option, instead of heliskiing?

We've done 4 or 5 cat skiing trips in Canada (as well as a heli trip) and have stayed in remote lodges (with fantastic facilities and food), as well as doing a couple of day trips.

I'd have no hesitation in recommending Monashee Powder and Mustang. Both have excellent guides and fantastic lodging, with both lodges being an hour into the mountains by snowcat. Each had gourmet catering and a hot tub in the wilderness. The plus points of cat versus heli seem to me that:-

- there is always a minimum of 2 guides with each cat skiing group. - one at the front and (at least) one at the rear. In the event of an accident, any stragglers at the rear stand a good chance of being picked up by the tail guide. Many heli companies offer only 1 guide per group, so they can accommodate an additional paying customer.
- Unlike heli trips, you are guaranteed to ski, whatever the weather. In storms we skied in the trees - brilliant!
- we found cat skiing to be very sociable. Yes, the ascent in the cat takes longer than the heli - but that's the point. During the ascent you can chat, eat (snacks and lunch) and drink coffee. Heli lunches are often taken outside, regardless of the weather.
- and there's the small matter of cost.... Cat skiing usually costs half the price of heli skiing. Some have referred to cat skiing as the poor mans heliskiing - but feel free to call me a pauper any day!

We've also done 5 day trips with Fernie Wilderness Adventures (2 days), K3 Cat Skiing (near Revelstoke - 2 days) and a day trip at Winter Park, Colorado. On 4 days we had exceptional, untracked powder but encountered 2 or 3 crusty runs on day 2 at K3. Nevertheless, we had a great 2 days with them.

We've not skied with them but Island Lake (near Fernie) looks particularly luxurious. That seemed to be the name that cropped up repeatedly when we asked fellow cat skiers for recommendations for the future.

Our heliskiing experience is limited to 1 day, with Purcell in Golden. On the booked day we sat in their lodge for 2 hours only for the helicopter to be grounded as a storm rolled over the distant horizon. We were gutted but, luckily, managed to rearrange for 3 days later. Others in the group weren't so lucky, however. Unfortunately, on the rearranged day Mrs B twisted her knee on the first run(!) and had to be taken off the mountain in a sled - end of her day, her heli trip and her skiing week... If we were gutted by the earlier cancellation you can imagine how gutted we were by the accident. However, Purcell staff were fantastic throughout and the fact that they had a tail guide saved the day. We were unlucky with conditions however and, due to snow instability, my group was restricted to skiing only one face of one mountain. Powder conditions were excellent but the downside was that it felt like we were skiing the same run repeatedly, albeit in untracked powder.

All operators (heli and cat) provide fat skis - almost as wide as a snowboard on each foot! Some charge for the ski rental and some include it as part of the package.

I would recommend giving cat skiing a go! I'm sure you wouldn't be disappointed.
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
P.s. looks like Clarky999 posted his response as I was typing mine.... I haven't nicked his storm comments - honest! wink
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
On the OP, questions to ask:
- how big is the group size (expect 4 for an A-Star, 5 for Bell 407, 10 for a 212)
- how many guides per group (correct answer: 2 for a big heli, 1 for the A-Star)
- how many groups per machine (correct answer: fewer than 4, unless you're slow / paying for extra vertical in which case you may not care)
- how much vertical do I get/ what is the extra vertical charge (you will be paying it if you're any good)/ what is the refund rate (for unused vertical).
- what happens if you're down (correct answers: (a) daily, you get a 100% refund; (b) weekly: you pay).
- is powder gear rental included or extra (you need powder gear or you'll waste the day).

That allows you to compare operators. If you see a significant difference then ask yourself "why": there's will be a reason.

Operators: you can't really go wrong with the operator, the main difference you'll find is the clientele: who the product is aimed at. So deep woods stuff where you have to drive 15 hours to get there and there's no dancing on tables: expect experts. Resort based stuff: expect a wider range of clients.

I've used a lot of operators and would happily use them all again. I run the booking system for Powder Mountain Whistler, and for a resort operation that's hard to beat. It's owned by snowboarders but the operations manager Gord is a skier and he looks after people. Wiegele has great food and enough people to "group" sensibly, and they have enough terrain in the right place to have the best snow around almost every season. They also have great trees and unlimited vertical with all the correct answers to my questions.
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I'd also seriously look at cat skiing options. Island Lake Lodge always gets a good write up as others have said, and can be combined with a longer trip skiing Fernie. Similarly, Baldface Lodge is consistently packed with pro level riders and the terrain is by all accounts outstanding (on my bucket list), and can be combined with a stop in Nelson (really nice town) and skiiing at Whitewater.
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Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
The most important thing is to take a good, long, hard look at your - and the other members of your group - ability AND fitness.

Heli-skiing is a very different animal from resort accessed 'slackcountry' and 'backcountry' off-piste skiing.

Unless you book the whole heli, you're on the clock.

99% of the clientelle are there specifically to rack up as much vertical per day/week as possible, with scant consideration for the aesthetics of off-piste powder skiing and the views.

They are the 'money rich, time poor' crowd who measure success and enjoyment in numbers.

However for most this won't be their first trip of the season.

Either they will have had a number of resort days in the weeks leading up to the trip, or skied at a resort for a number of days directly before the heliski day/week.

To enjoy and feel you've had value for money for the considerable outlay, you need to be able to ski all kinds of off-piste snow, be confortable skiing trees, be fit, be ski fit, and be able to ski at a good clip for most of the day.

I've done day heliskiing and it's a real buzz, but for me it's not a relaxing day.

Catskiing days and weeks are more relaxed but you're still on the clock so to speak.

I don't enjoy the competitive, 'no friends on a powder day' mentality so I choose to ski at resorts which have excellent snow records with terrain which doesn't get blasted in a few laps.

They're out there. Skied three excellent areas this past winter. All considerably more relaxed and cheaper than heli skiing.

Kiroro, Hokkaido, Japan


http://youtube.com/v/BlnjZEcBWgg


Gudauri, Georgia


http://youtube.com/v/Cd9oFhlVD6g


San Martino di Castrozza, Dolomites, Italy


http://youtube.com/v/GjnHUzOHGbo
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Thanks for all the advice everyone, much to ponder!
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flaming,

Happy pondering! It's a great "problem" to have. Very Happy
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@Mike Pow, would you say that the conditions you found in Italy and Georgia were down to you being able to "storm chase" and go last minute? I've often said that's the way to get great powder in Europe!
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Mike's correct that heli isn't, in principle, relaxing. It's supposed to be kind of exciting wink

Catskiing is more relaxed because: (a) the speed of the group is limited by the speed of the machine; (b) as you're in a relatively small area with two guides it's easy to split the group if some people can't hack it; (c) really weak people can ride down in the machine; (d) the customers are paying less and therefore have lower expectations. If you're nervous of your ability, this is the place to go because there's no risk you'll annoy everyone, and no risk of a complete failure. Cats work well for daily stuff because often you get a range of abilities, and you don't know who can ride what until you're committed to a location. That's why daily heli tends to be mellow, and some people maybe think paying big bucks for that isn't efficient.

Helicopters don't work the same way. The "vertical competition" was a 1980s/1990s thing as far as I know; I've not come across it this century. As far as "no friends", actually heli is grate for that - let the guests all go, ride last. There's plenty of untracked out there. Plus snowboards are faster than skis, and guides almost always ski, so you do not want to be sitting on their tails.
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Quote:

Mike's correct that heli isn't, in principle, relaxing. It's supposed to be kind of exciting



But his point is a good one - we were skiing three groups of four to an A-star at Mica, with that ratio you hardly stop all day, you are never waiting for the heli. It's go go go.
We did about 11000m vertical on the first day before as the guide put it "I'll think we'll call it - you're falling more than skiing now" - I was in a sort of powder trance after that. Every run started with an open alpine bowl but the bottom half was pretty demanding tree skiing - not at all cruisy!
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As ever, @philwig, good comments. 2 things though. Out of my small sample of 3 trips, there was competition vert on 2.

And the skiers were faster than the boarders on all three... Twisted Evil
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@jedster, that sounds like a great recommendation - I've not been there, yet.

@under a new name Try Wiegele., They have unlimited vertical so they've no commercial incentive to hack out vertical. They built lots of higher pickups when they made that change - there's no need to ride down to the valley bottom if the snow down there poor. They do not post vertical. You can ask what it was but I never bother. From what you're saying others still do it - that's a bad thing in my opinion for all the obvious reasons. So that would be another question I'd ask: is there commercial pressure on the operator to fly when conditions are dangerous or poor? I would not fly with people who faced that pressure.

Quote:
And the skiers were faster than the boarders on all three...

Sadly that's all too common: most snowboarders are slow. Snowboards however do run faster than skis. If you start first, you'll spend the whole run up the guide's backside sinking your tail. Tip #5368: snowboarders start last.
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kitenski wrote:
@Mike Pow, would you say that the conditions you found in Italy and Georgia were down to you being able to "storm chase" and go last minute? I've often said that's the way to get great powder in Europe!


'Storm Chasing' is definitely a factor, luck another.

However, research plays a big part too.

Reading the ski magazines, forums, instagram, talking with people on chairlifts / in bars you get a good idea of the snowsure resorts which don't attract the powder frenzy.

Typically these are the resorts classed as 'family resorts'.

For example, I went to Trafoi in the South Tyrol this past March. It was where I learned to ski many moons ago and is classed as a 'small, family mountain' with just 3 lifts and 1 t-bar.

However, it has almost 1000m of lift accessed vertical and close to 1500m vertical if you skin above the lifts and drop down to the access road.

The day I skied there was 3 days after the last snowfall and this area was untracked


http://youtube.com/v/06mfZxCeZAM


San Martino di Castrozza falls into the same category despite having a cable car accessed off-piste area and hosting the King of the Dolomites photography competition

http://www.kingofdolomites.com/en/


If you're prepared to step outside the UK tour operator offerings, then there are hundreds of these areas across the Alps, and beyond.

----------

Back on track, if I was going to go heliskiing then these guys would be very high on my list

Based out of Gudauri resort, Georgia
http://heliski.travel/
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
@Mike Pow,

Now you've got me hatching a plan!
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 So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
@flaming,
Purcell Helisking out of Golden/Kicking Horse is great but ditto from me on the cat skiing. Island Lake at Fernie and their "cold smoke tracks" were outrageously good. Helis very exciting but sooo susceptible to the weather.
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
jedster wrote:
@Mike Pow,

Now you've got me hatching a plan!


Too right, Trafoi is on the list!
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
If you don't fancy a long trek around the world you could always try riksgränsen in Sweden. You can start the day with a couple of resort runs to warm up the legs then jump on to the heli. Each run might be only 500mtr vertical but the are good fun. The skiing is not to difficult and i think is a very good introduction to heliskiing. They provide all the avi kit in the price if you don't have your own.
http://riksgransen.se/en/skiing/heliskiing/
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Totally echo what @Mike Pow, says.

I would add...

Be a competent Off Piste/Backcountry Skier

Do not over estimate your ability

Make sure you can handle all conditions or be prepared . The POW can change to breakable Crud without warning.

Make sure you know how you can get back on your feet/skis after a wipeout . Snow in the Backcountry can be metres deep, just putting your foot down you will be upto your waist & this become very exhausting & sometimes people panic.

Check the elevation your be skiing. Heliskiing in Colorado is a whole lot different to Canada. Heli Skiing above 3000Metres burns the lungs till you can hardly breathe unless you have acclimatised.

Lastly many Heliski operators go with big groups (8-10) & the ability of these groups can be vast. If your a proficient Off Piste skier and the others are carpet skiers (Piste) this can ruin the day & cost you lot of money ..

I only book with a max of 3 people & a guide.

But CatSkiiing is way better IMO

Very Happy
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Heliskiing in the European Alps is gash.

Powder is shallow and wet.

The Alps are sunny (melty) and close to the sea (damp).

Go somewhere with deeper or dryer snow, like Alaska or Canada.

Or just go straight to Northern Japan. It gets 2 to 4 times more snowfall than the Alps.
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
@Whitegold, Heliskiing should be banned in the Alps!
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Not seen anyone mention Snowwater, they have the heli or cat optionas the same lodge and do combination packages.
No down days if the help can't fly, great spot, varied terrain and great hospitality.
I was there not long after they opened and it has improved with each visit.
Never saw any competition for vert or any pressure put on less able skiers. Great atmosphere. If anyone had started getting competitive, I'm sure Pat the owner would have cut them down to size..
They did mix the groups up, left my dad to ski with another group and headed out with a few really great boarders and their film crew..
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Iceland!!! Midnight sun heli-skiing, and it is affordable.

I wrote a feature and shot a film there, see here: http://www.powderguide.com/magazin/abenteuerreisen/artikel/freeride-in-der-mitternachtssonne.html

http://www.arcticheliskiing.com

Email Jokull and his team and tell him I sent you, he does great rates!
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Yeah, and it's a very short flight from here. But they do have very few trees. On the plus side their season is much later than others, so you can stretch it out that way.
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Quote:
Iceland!!! Midnight sun heli-skiing, and it is affordable...Email Jokull and his team and tell him I sent you, he does great rates!
Really?? 4 days heliskiing for a bargain €6600 -7300 per person! Shocked - compared to daily catskiiing rates of $CAD500 in British Columbia (Fernie Wilderness Adventures - highly recommended - we've done five days with them).

You can do a week in BC FOR TWO including flights, car hire, lift tickets, catskiing and motels (say 3 days at Fernie Mountain plus 3 days' catskiing) for far less than those prices for one!
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After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
^^Kyrgyzstan and Russia are* relatively cheap right now, at least those run/priced locally rather than by European operators, due to exchange rates.

*A couple of months ago, I haven't looked at it lately. May not apply if paying in Sterling anymore either...
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^^^What operators have you looked at clarky999??

On a backcountry note, I recently came across a ski touring outfit in Kamchatka - for about €1600 a week, which I didn't think was too bad (vs Jagged Globe, Icicle etc) for such an exotic location.
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Just Googled 'Kyrgyzstan Heli Ski' and came up with a couple of very interesting looking operations:

- Looks incredible.
- Prices amazing - from about $400 a day on a five day trip.

BUT:
- Seemingly bank transfer only - no credit cards.
- Says subject to filling the helicopter with 13 guests. It's a bit unclear whether all (or just some) trips will take smaller groups or whether you have to book a full group of 13...
- Not clear where you have to get to to start the trips.

And some pretty up front advice about what's not included - must admit I haven't seen this in the Crystal or Inghams small print....
Quote:
Personal Expenses:Personal expenses could include charges for extra vertical, ski shop, alcohol, saunas and massages, telephone/internet and gratuitie, blackjack and hookers.
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