Ready to go heliskiing, if those pictures in the Warren Miller and Teton Gravity Research movies of skiers and snowboarders carving through virgin snow make you want to go heli-skiing or heli-snowboarding our Northern Rockies can fill your desire to do so.
The popular sport of heliskiing is downhill skiing that is accessed by a helicopter, not a ski lift of hiking up a mountain with climbing skins. Heliskiing is about skiing in a natural, albeit highly selected environment without the effort or gear compromise required for hiking into these areas as in ski touring or ski mountaineering.
Our Greater Yellowstone Region has a plethora of awesome mountains around the periphery of Yellowstone and Grand Teton Parks that make for perfect Heliskiing. The mountains of the Absaroka Range, Beartooth Range, Gallatin Range, Madison Range, Centennial Range, The Grand Tetons, Snake River Range, Wyoming Range and the Wind River Mountains all have fabulous heliskiing opportunities but not all are served be heliskiing operators.
Most heliskiers seek conditions that are hard to find in ski resorts: seekers of untouched powder snow and natural terrain contours and features, smooth corn snow, old-growth tree glades, steep and extreme slopes, or for the more adventuresome, wild snow and a natural, variable environment. Anyone going heli-skiing should be of an advanced to expert skiing ability, able to make good parallel turns in all conditions. With the advancement of powder and fat skis, powder skiing experience is not completely necessary.
The helicopter and guide typically meets the ski group in an open area in a valley. The presence of the guide and helicopter offer protection against the risks and discomforts unavoidably associated with entering this mountainous environment, allowing skiers with little or no mountain sense or athleticism of local ski mountaineers to enjoy a wild environment.
Avalanche transceivers are required and a buddy system is mandatory because of the danger of avalanches. Clothing needs mirror ski resort activity level: layered clothing fit for sub-zero temperatures, goggles, hat, ski gloves, and neck warmers.
Heli-skiing leapt ahead in the early 1990s with the advent of fat skis that made deep-snow skiing easier. Fatter off-piste, powder, free ride or "all-mountain" skis are used by the majority of heliskiers. They are less tiring in use and handle difficult terrain more easily. The introduction of these skis, originally known as "fat boys", has led to an increase in the amount of vertical feet skied, as the skiers become less tired and spend less time looking for lost skis. They have also been linked with decreased injury rates. Fat boys also lend a psychological comfort too those contemplating heliskiing but fear their lack of deep powder experience will hinder their ability to stay on top of the snow.
Most helicopter skiing outfits offer packages that include lodging, meals, equipment and heli time. Costs for helicopter skiing alone drop as you add package amenities. Instead of comparing packages, this partial list compares daily costs of helicopter skiing. Costs for packages can be found on websites. Most operators urge vacationers to buy some form of travel insurance, because refunds are rare. Unless otherwise noted, prices are per day.
Am I ready? Can you answer YES to the following?
- You have extensive skiing experience for a number of recent seasons at conventional, big mountain downhill resorts.
- You choose black runs in all snow and weather conditions without hesitation.
- You’re keen enough about the sport to have made multi-day ski trips, and you’re fit enough to ski a number of consecutive days. Fitness is often more important and can make up for lack of experience.
- You can keep up with most skiers, even if you don’t have the style of someone with more experience.
- When the situation warrants you can, with your skis on: side-slip, step uphill sideways, traverse, and make kick turns (changing your direction while standing in one spot).
- You may never have skied powder, but you have ventured off the groomed slopes and can stay well in control in backcountry conditions.
- You are now skiing on high performance gear and notice the difference. Powder skis are essential for heli-skiing and will maximize your enjoyment of the sport. It’s the right tool for the job.