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Planning a Heli-Skiing trip to BC

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 

I am looking to plan a Heli Skiing trip for 5-6 guys to travel to British Columbia and are looking at early March timeframe for the trip. I know it may be a bit late as many book a year in advance. Does anybody have any good recommendations for location and operator to use? We are probably looking for a 5-6 with 3-4 days on snow so options may be limited. Based on this timeframe it looks like Revelstoke may be the best option with CMH or Selkirk Tangiers. I was also looking at Bella Coola and Canadian Heli as other options but think the group size may be a bit big as it seems like these operators would be better for a group of 4. Any insight on planning would be helpful and much appreciated.

 

Thanks!

post #2 of 22

Don't have time to look through them, but you may find useful info in a few threads that are tagged as "Heli Skiing" under Topics Discussed (on Desktop).

 

Paging @Tony Crocker .

post #3 of 22

Yeah you are a bit late  Another few weeks and you could look at AK.

 

Try http://heliski.com/ and see if they can help you out.  Filling a bird of similar minded folks is a great plus.

post #4 of 22

I have 30 lifetime heli days vs. 69 snowcat, so have sampled the latter more comprehensively.

 

Any prior cat/heli experience for any of this group?  How much powder experience?  The people who chase storms to ski fresh snow in Vermont trees are as prepared as anyone, but my observation is that most eastern weekend/holiday skiers don't have a lot of powder experience.

 

4 days in the heli is potentially a lot to bite off for the first trip without powder experience or an extremely strong technical ski background.

 

Conversely heli skiing for the day works well for first timers due to typical 3 or 4 run packages, but is not a great value in terms of vertical per $ spent.

 

My first 2-day heli experience was with TLH in 1998.   TLH's lodge is a 3+ hour drive north of Whistler.  The 1998 trip was awesome, 47K vertical in 2 days, which is about as much as I could handle then.  TLH has vast tenure of 830,000 acres, mostly in the alpine.  Tree skiing on bad weather days is somewhat limited.

 

I had a single day with Selkirk Tangiers in 1999.   Very deep snow, mostly in the trees because visibility up high wasn't great.  Selkirk Tangiers is supposed to have good alpine terrain too. It's also a big operation so should be able to sort people out by ability.   Now connected to Revelstoke resort, presumably there's some flexibility in terms of number of days.  I also had a good day with Eagle Pass Heli in 2009, also based near Revelstoke.

 

I had 3 days scheduled with CMH Kootenay in 2002, lost one to weather.   Skiing is primarily in the trees.  One first timer was shot after the first day there.  Probably not the best option unless you have extensive Vermont powder in the trees experience.

 

I spent a week at Mike Wiegele in 2006.   First class operation: Cariboos are mostly alpine, Monashees mostly trees to cover the gamut of weather conditions.  With 90-100 skiers they will sort by ability appropriately after the first day if needed.   They want you for a week, but I was able get in for 2 days in 2007 on about a month's notice.

 

I've been to Alaska 4x, first time in 2007 produced the best ski day of my life.  The other 3 trips did not have favorable weather and/or snow conditions.

 

My annual trip is for snowcat, current favorite Mustang where I've been 6x.  I've also been to Chatter Creek and Island Lake 4x each and a few others once.

post #5 of 22

The two operations I've experienced are Selkirk Tangiers out of Revelstoke and Snowwater out of Nelson. S-T is a larger operation running Bell 205 helicopters or A-Star for the more personal experience (i.e., much more expensive). The 205 flies 11 skiers and a guide so if your group is 5 or 6, you will be partnered with others you don't know. The downside; you don't know each others' abilities and the potential to get stuck with a slower group or group that can't ski what you want is higher. 

 

Snowwater flies smaller helis with either 4 or 5 skiers (not sure which machine they're using now and it's varied in the past) so you could all fly together in a group but, more likely, you will split into two groups and they'll send multiple guides/employees to go out and ski with you, depending on how it all breaks down. The treatment at Snowwater is more intimate/boutique as you're in the mountains for lodging and it's mostly just your group. At S-T, you stay in Revelstoke at the Hillcrest Hotel (nice place), eat together in the hotel with your group but with other groups and the public also there. The upside is you can go out in Revelstoke or do what you want in the off hours.

 

I've been to both several times and probably like Snowwater a bit better, especially now that RMR owns Selkirk Tangiers. S-T's gotten a little more corporate and not as personal as it was in the past. However, S-T definitely has a bigger tenure and more eye-catching terrain as it's higher and further north. On down days, you have the resort to ski. With Snowwater, their backup plan for bad weather is a cat. That's pretty fun terrain and a better choice, in my opinion, for down days.

 

I'm certain there are a lot of other ops that are excellent (Mica, for example) but I've not skied them. Like Tony, I've had more cat days than heli and agree that I'm a huge fan of Mustang. Of the cat ops, they had the best terrain I've skied and Nick is a great guy. Unlike Tony, I haven't logged my skiing days and am not sure how many heli/cat days I have but probably pretty comparable numbers. 

post #6 of 22

We went with Great Canadian last year. Top notch. We would go back with them in a heartbeat.  Small groups, great terrain, great guides.

 

post #7 of 22

@NESkiBum   - is this the first heli trip for you and your friends? If not, where have you gone? 

post #8 of 22
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by spindrift View Post
 

@NESkiBum   - is this the first heli trip for you and your friends? If not, where have you gone? 


Yes, this is our first heli trip. 

post #9 of 22

I have done some weeks with CMH.  Revelstoke was my first heli-skiing week.  CMH gives you alot of bang for your buck, especially at Revelstoke.  You guys will have a blast if you go there, and don't be surprised if you get hooked on helicopter skiing.

post #10 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rubberduck View Post
 

I have done some weeks with CMH.  Revelstoke was my first heli-skiing week.  CMH gives you alot of bang for your buck, especially at Revelstoke.  You guys will have a blast if you go there, and don't be surprised if you get hooked on helicopter skiing.


My conclusion the one time I splurged for a whole week was to go with Mike Wiegele:

1) As weather is never predictable I liked the access to the primarily alpine Cariboos as well as the primarily tree skiing Monashees.  Some but not all CMH locations have this type of balance.

2) 3 groups per large heli at Wiegele vs. 4 groups at CMH.

3) A large heli group at CMH is 11 customers with one guide. At Wiegele it's 10 customers with a lead and a tail guide.  Get a group separated in the trees and you'll appreciate the latter configuration.

4) Unlimited vertical at Wiegele explains the ~10% higher up front price. Which means if you get lucky with a great week Wiegele will cost less.

post #11 of 22

Eagle Pass Heliski out of Revelstoke has some nice looking terrain, but I can't say much more than that. http://www.eaglepassheliskiing.com/

 

Powderhounds would be a good place to search out and maybe ask questions

post #12 of 22

I had an excellent 23K vertical day with Eagle Pass in 2009.  

post #13 of 22

Pondering pulling the trigger on a heli trip in december at either CMH or Wiegele. Did CMH K2 last year for 5 days , unfortunately had two down days , but the other three days were good enough to get me hooked. Loved CMH , however wiegele's unlimited vertical and additional tail guide have me leaning in there direction. The price for 7 days seems about on par with cmh right now. 

 

Does anyone have any experience skiing Wiegele's standby program as the price is insanely good? 

 

Is the week before christmas too dicey coverage wise in an average season at cmh or wiegele? , should i mortgage the house and do bella coola in late jan (which is still there early season prices i believe)

 

The 2 CMH lodges i was looking at were cariboos ( which includes tail guide) and Galena (only one guide) , any insights would be greatly appreciated. 

 

Thanks in advance!

post #14 of 22

I started typing and it turned into a bit of a stream of consciousness piece. No time to tighten it up... Hope it is of some use, even if a bit of a ramble....

 

IMO the first thing to digest is that no matter who you fly with, you are at the whim of the weather. The longer you stay, the better your odds of that perfect day. 

 

It is also worth understanding a bit about the logistics of heli skiing. This is not random stuff - it is at the heart of the economics of the business. And it impacts your experience. Every helicopter has a certain number of people it carries - a “load”. In general, most operators seem to run 3 loads per helicopter. Sometimes 2. I’ve seen as many as 4.  If someone books a private trip, their helicopter will carry one load. 

 

You can buy a “private load.” This is not a private charter. It means your group is a load. There are no surprises in who you ski with. If a full load is 8 and your group of 6 wants to ski just as your group - you can usually buy the load. It just ups your per person cost. If your group is exactly the size of a load and you want to ski together, you get a de facto private load.

 

When your helicopter is serving more than one load, it becomes sort of a game of leapfrog. The machine takes your group to the top, zips to the bottom, takes another group to the top, then comes down and picks you up…repeating for however many loads being served. This can complexify first and last runs since operators try to make each hop short - so starting and finishing near the lodge/base is good for them. Sometimes you may be bussed to a staging area to limit those legs.

 

A big part of the guides’ and pilots’ job is making that leap frogging go smoothly. It also means that if your group does not move fast enough, you can lose your slot in the rotation. If you move just a bit too fast, you can spend time waiting in the queue. If you are uber-fast, you may get some extra laps (if you are up for them).

 

In a nutshell - operators try to balance skills and temperaments within and between loads. But the fact is that your life is impacted not just by the people you are skiing with, but by the other loads being served by your helicopter. This applies to both timing and the type of terrain you will ski. It also impacts how long you stay out. If you are tired - unless a run to base can be coordinated with a fuel run, you will be “encouraged” to keep skiing alongside your fellow loads. 

 

Many operators market small loads and small numbers of loads per machine. If it is not there in black and white - ask for it in writing & see what happens :) That said - good operators just make it work. The right guides and pilots in the right terrain can make several loads pretty seamless. Nonetheless, IMO it is worth your time to understand exactly how each operator does things. 

 

The net effect is that your trip will be heavily influenced by how many folks you are with, the machines being flown, and what you are willing to spend. A private load takes some questions out of the equation. A charter is expensive as heck - but it takes issues of other groups out of the equation, and extends your flying range (only one load burning fuel).

 

Every place has a vibe. You can read reviews to get a sense of that. Even with the same operator, different locations can have different vibes. Bella Coola's Pantheon is a different beast than the main lodge. And CMH lodges are a different beast yet again. Figure out if you want a big bustling lodge, a little boutique lodge or a ranch/farm house. Know if you want a sommelier vs a wine bottle honor bar. A living room to gather in or a gym, pool room, set of hot tubs, etc... Etc. 

 

Lots depends on your specific guide(s). I would not be shy about asking your friends who have done the heli thing or even spending time on the phone with one or more folks at any given operation trying to pre-arrange a guide who probably suits your group. I look for guides who "get" modern skis and how I like to ski them. I look for guides who are maybe willing to push me a tiny bit, but who err very much on the side of safety if there is any question about snow, or me being tired, or off, or whatever. Of course if there are others in the group and multiple loads on the machine --- well, guides have to manage all that and you are along for the ride... Still, if your group has a personality - getting lined up with the right guide is a good thing.

 

Most operators pitch perfection in their blurbs. Reality is often something else. Wind, temperature, precip of any form, etc can make things great or less than great. When you read those guarantees of vertical - think hard about that. Every operator offering such a guarantee is motivated to meet that mark and not carry a liability on the books (a slight simplification, but you get the idea). That means if they can fly and avy conditions are safe enough somewhere - they are taking you out. Maybe I'm just jaded - but I hate skiing crap. I hate skiing runs being used concurrently by other loads. I hate skiing multi-mile almost flat pitches because that's the only thing safe and it burns vert &/or clock time. Etc. But - if they can fly & ski and you don't go out - they will count what other groups are doing against your vert - since it is your choice not to fly/ski.... For my .02, I'm fine with that. Or with negotiating some meeting in the middle if things are real crap. Don't take this as negative -- it is just the real world. Very few trips deliver perfection every day IME.  And as noted by others - be aware of what will unfold for no-fly days.

 

I know the last bit runs counter to what we all like to think we are buying. But it is reality. Depending on location, various heli and cat ops offer different odds and returns. But no one, and I mean no one can guarantee what you will ski. Or even if you will ski on any given day. Again - the longer you stay, the better your odds of that perfect powder (or corn) day. Simple as that. On the coast, your odds of weather issues are higher. But I like perfect maritime snow best of all. So it is all a bet... 

 

For my .02, most of heli skiing is not that tiring if you are on the right gear, conditions are decent, and you do not rush/stress about the logistic of loading and unlading.. And by right gear, I mean definitely >115 and probably >125  waisted powder/soft snow skis. 

 

Regarding the operators you seem focused on - I skied with CMH for the first time last year. They'd be a good bet for a first time trip. However, they are a heli tourism machine. A 40-50 person lodge can be fun in terms of meeting new people. But intimate it is not. And when you check into the staging hotel, you realize they have a ton of lodges in play. They have their own info desks at more than one hotel. Still, they know their craft inside and out.

 

I've flown with Balla Coola a couple times. But unless they have changed the mix of helicopters, they might not be a match for you. Though I am sure they could be talked into rolling an 8 client  212 in for a Pantheon exclusive/private. Would not be cheap though.

 

I know little about Selkirk Tangiers other than from folks who have worked there and one who still works there. I have heard good things in general.

 

Another operator you might look at is Purcell. I've never flown with them. But I spent an evening skiing elsewhere with the owners. I really liked them. I liked them personally. And I liked the professional vibe I got - even just skiing with them through some funky conditions. They do not have the most exciting reputation in terms of terrain - but picking the right operator in terms of "fit" matters a ton IMO. They are high  on my list of new places to try.

 

As noted by others - Mica has a good reputation but they fly small loads so your group might be split.

 

Their season might fire up a bit late for you, but you might look at Arctic Heli in Iceland (the only ones I'd use there). Very much a boutique operation. They are my favorite heli ski operation anywhere.  Skiing with them is an annual event for me at this point. I and several others have posted trip reports - readily found if you use the search function. It is a very different place in terms of terrain --- it is all alpine down to the ocean, I like it  a ton. No trees though. Access is surprisingly easy and affordable. Depending on flights, you might be able to get to Arctic Heli as readily (or maybe moreso) than many of the BC lodges. Also, while a tip is apporpiate - the reality is that the wage structure is a bit different Iceland. In BC, you should factor in a tip of 10-15%  (otherwise your guides and staff are getting stiffed). In Iceland, a quarter or third of that will show your appreciation. 

 

In that light, be sure to factor in not just base price, but all taxes, fair tipping, travel costs, etc. to sort out real pricing. Some places use the bar as a major profit center, while some throw in basic beer and wine - so depending on how much you like your wine/cocktails/beer - know what is included vs what is a separate charge. This is not usually a big deal, but I've seen a few double takes on departure day :)

 

post #15 of 22

Excellent post above by spindrift.

 

With regard to timing, I believe pricing of cat/heli is right in line with expected snow conditions.  Operators with high snowfall but mostly lower altitude tree skiing tend to have a high season that starts a little earlier and ends a little earlier than operators with primarily high alpine terrain.

 

If you go early shoulder season, choice of terrain is more limited. Go late shoulder season and you need high altitude and north exposure for good surfaces unless it has snowed recently or alternatively a good corn cycle.  If weather/snow safety limits where you can fly, the probability of good snow/terrain being available is reduced vs. mid-season. 

 

This is not like resort skiing where pricing/demand is more driven by work/school holiday schedules.  Christmas is still early shoulder season skiing at most cat/heli ops. 

 

I have 30 heli days and 69 snowcat days lifetime.  I try to select the safest time frames for most of those trips and have experienced good powder about 85% of the time.   Your odds will be progressively lower than that the farther out into the shoulder seasons you go.

post #16 of 22

Typically Early March is still a fairly safe bet, but anything can happen with weather, it doesn't matter if it's December, Jan, Feb, March or April all of those months can have some bad days. I personally have had some epic Early March ski days in Revelstoke.  I'd go with Selkirk Tangiers as they have a large tenure and much of their area can be in glacier or high elevation with excellent snow quality. I've put skied quite a few days with this operation, they are excellent. But as Spindrift mentioned, if possible try and fill the bird with your friends or acquaintances that you know how they ride. There is nothing more uncomfortable to be in a group where you have a couple of people who aren't ready for it and slow the whole group down or your group is mixed with a group of pow pros who are serious about their skiing and your group is holding them up.

 

Selkirk Tangiers is top notch with excellent terrain and extremely knowledgeable guides. Heli skiing is something you have to do at least once in your life, DO IT!!!

 

Here's a video from our trip a couple of years back.

post #17 of 22

I have had just one day with Selkirk-Tangiers, but I know they have both high alpine and good tree skiing. Early March should be as good as any time there.  The lower half of Revelstoke ski area is likely to be in melt/freeze mode by then.

post #18 of 22

Does anyone have experience with Last Frontier Heli? Being way further north than and more coastal than revelstoke, i imagine their ski season and snowpack might differ? We would try and switch our trip date to mid/ late january which will also avoid pissing off the wives and girlfriends by missing the holidays in December. The pricing seems pretty competitive in comparison(still insanely expensive)  with other samll group operators and after reading everyones feedback small group of 4 seems like it may be worth the premium. 

post #19 of 22
Quote:

Originally Posted by powderpanda View Post

 

The 2 CMH lodges i was looking at were cariboos ( which includes tail guide) and Galena (only one guide) , any insights would be greatly appreciated. 

 

Thanks in advance!


I've skied at both CMH Cariboos and Galena.  Both were a lot of fun.  Galena skiing includes a lot more steep, tight trees.  (I had been nervous about this before going, however I found it to be exciting but not super scary.)   The Galena terrain in general seems to have lots more features -- powder pillows, holes, the works.  If you like that sort of thing I'd recommend Galena.

post #20 of 22

That far north, my guess is that Last Frontier would be best February to early April.  I think the skiing is primarily alpine and I suspect midwinter visibility is not the greatest.   

post #21 of 22

If your still thinking of heading further North in BC for a heli trip I've had a couple of trips to Northern Escape Heli located in Terace BC. They have huge tenure, catski back up on those no fly days and lots of varying terrain. Here's a rundown on their op.

 

post #22 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Freeride View Post
 

If your still thinking of heading further North in BC for a heli trip I've had a couple of trips to Northern Escape Heli located in Terace BC. They have huge tenure, catski back up on those no fly days and lots of varying terrain. Here's a rundown on their op.

 

I actually had an opportunity to get in at a prime week in mid february at Crescent Spur Heli. I haven't heard too much discussion about them , but what i have heard seems very promising. Has anyone ever rode with them? 

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