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American Heli Skiing

post #1 of 56
Thread Starter 
Although there is a small amount of Heli Skiing in the Alps there is nothing comparable to the US (and Canadian) experience that I keep hearing about.
Really it is beyond my pocket but but just once in my life I want to experience it and as I am 56 I have decided it must be next year while I am still skiing at my best.
Consequently I need advice as to where to get the best experience I can and what month is the best to do it.

For many years now I have skied off-piste most of the time and am always in the top group when with guides, being happy to ski 40º or even 45º slopes and narrow gulleys any sort of heavy crud (or even breakable crust , though I'd rather not). However I'm certainly not an extreme skier and my one experience of skiing a 50º slope above a 300 metre cliff I don't really want to repeat! (Mind you, I doubt an American guide would have taken a group of clients there. One mistake and you are dead).

I doubt if I can get together enough people to make a private group so I need a company who can put me in a group of the same standard (it would be terrible to be restricted to easy slopes by less good skiers if this is, perhaps, my only go at it).
I also gather that some companies put pictures of challenging skiing on their brochures but don't actually ski it with their groups, which I also want to avoid.
I don't need luxurious accomodation, I just want good skiing and a good likelyhood that the conditions will let me fly.

All advice gratefully received.
post #2 of 56
it ain't cheap, but this is what I've been eyeing for a couple years. And hell if you're gonna do it once, and only once, doing it right might be worth the expense.

post #3 of 56

Ruby Mtns, Nevada

i've been eyeing this: http://www.helicopterskiing.com/

when you enter site, check "the experience" at top of page for links to vid and pics.
post #4 of 56
There is also Canadian Mountain Holidays (http://www.cmhski.com/), which is a good operation, but I know some people that like Mike Wiegele's better. I think they are comparable, except that MW's runs 2 guides with each group (one front and one back), but CMH only runs one guide per group.

One note about heliskiing trips; when the weather is bad, they can't fly, so you may spend some time/days not skiing.

You could also go skiing at Whistler/Blackcomb, and go out withe Whistler Heliski. Their operation is on a daily basis, as opposed to a weekly basis. The advantage is that you can ski the resorts on days when the birds can't fly, and you don't get charged. I don't know if the dedicated heli operations give any sort of refunds for days missed due to weather.
post #5 of 56
Ditto on Ryan's suggestion.

I've unfortunately never been there (long story), but I've heard the heli-skiing in the Ruby Mountains is just unbeilevable. Big mountains, big vertical drops, no people. *Plenty* of steep stuff if that's what you're after.

If someone said to me, "Bob, we're giving you a free week of heli-skiing anywhere in North America", that's where I'd go.

post #6 of 56

Jackson Hole

There is also a popular and longtime operator out of Jackson Hole(the valley).


i am wary of the operation in the Ruby Mts only cause they had a crash several years ago that killed a popular young local filmaker, Mike Hoover, and his wife.
post #7 of 56
If you want the best chances of skiing steeps you should look into AK. Any of the intercontinental heli places are likely going to restrict you to either low angle pow fields or fairly thick trees due to instable snowpack.
post #8 of 56
There are the Valdez guys up in Alaska, I believe Doug Coombs runs their show.
post #9 of 56
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the input so far: I'll look through the web sites tomorrow. Zion zig zag: "AK" ? Is that the name of a company ?
Any ideas about which month has the best ballance of good snow against risk of storms and no fly?
Actually I enjoy tree skiing but I am hoping for steeps too.
Over here its generally considered unsafe for one guide to ski with more than 6 clients (for real steeps sometimes less) so I'll look at the guide / guest ratio someone mentioned: a high ratio might be a sign the skiing is more gentle.

PS: Perhaps I'll be able to afford to go again when I inherit my mother's house etc, but I'm hoping she lives a good while yet, so my skiing may be more sedate by then.
post #10 of 56
I believe his AK reference was to Alaska
post #11 of 56
Here's my 2 cent take on the whole heli thing;

Mind you, I've never done it. But I have friends who have, and a bit of resarch under my belt.

It's too risky (financially) for me at this point in time. You book this great trip, then you get there and experience one of the following scenarios;

1. Bad weather socks you in the whole week, you read lots of paperbacks, no skiing, and you lose lots of cash.

2. Bad weather socks you in for HALF the week, then your guides chase you down the hill mach schnell trying to meet their guaranteed vertical claims so they don't have to give you back any money. This doesn't sound that fun. :

3. You have bluebird days, but it hasn't snowed in 2 weeks, and you end up skiing crust, hardpack, or god knows what for about $600 USD a day. :

4. You get good weather, and good snow, but get stuck with a party of mega-jongs who are quite content to ski only wide open snowfields with 30 degree pitches, or the resort equivalent of blue terrain.

5. You get bluebird skies, 28 degrees with no wind, and 4 days of waist deep pow in varied terrain, followed by gourmet dinner and hot tub nightly. I heard this happened to somebody. Once.

Now even if we assigned odds evenly across those 5 choices, that's only a 20% chance of attaining the only acceptable outcome for me. You'd enjoy far better odds at the blackjack table.

So here are my suggestions. Plan a 10 day ski holiday at a resort that offers heli skiing relatively close by, e.g., Snowbird, Sun Peaks, Kicking Horse. Then 2 or 3 days after a dump, hopefully on like a Tuesday or something, go on standby for a seat. Maybe you could do this for 2 or 3 days out of 10.

Alternatively, book the trip with an outfit that offers a cat skiing backup plan. I know this exists out there.

Anyway, good luck.
post #12 of 56
I went out last winter with a company called Park City Cats (Utah). They offer both heli & catskiing. They also offer a combo deal. Half day of heli in the am and catskiing in the afternoon. You meet at a hotel in Park City and head out to the ranch from there. I was told they have 36,000 acres of skiing terrain. We signed up for the combo deal because that why if the weather didn't coorperate then at least you could go cat skiing. Unfortunately, we did not go up in the heli because of the heavy snowfall. Fortunately, we did go cat skiing that day in thigh deep powder and with the $ we saved we went back out the skiing the following day in the cat. I highly recommend this company. www.pccats.com
post #13 of 56

RK Heli

I've skied at RK Heli in Panorama B.C. a few times. Their prices
aren't bad. And the skiing can be pretty good on a good snow year.
It has some of the higher altitude mountain country in B.C. in the southern Purcell mountains. Lots of glacier skiing. And good tree skiing on the snowy days. It won't be as extreme as Valdez, AK. though. It depends on what you are after.
post #14 of 56
What type of terrain is commonly skiied by groups at CMH and Mike Wiegele? Is it low pitch open bowls where you doing boring powder 8 turns or can you actually get into some challenging technical terrain with narrow chutes, drops etc? I don't think it's worth the high price if you have to do boring low angle stuff.
post #15 of 56
A BIG thing is not just the groups ability, but also the snow stability, that can limit the terrain. More snow = less stability = lower angle. Not to ofter that you find 45' and 30" fresh.

skiing in AK is generally steeper due to a more stable snow pack, but also 3/7 down days is average.

snow can be ANYTHING: usually its 6-12" fresh, but I've skied breakable crusts to 100 cm deep. overall it will be better then a day on hill

guide vs guest: not really based on terrain, more based on the operations / guests choise. tail guides really help with things. nice to have

If the operation has enought guests they try to get the same skiers together. Makes everyone happier (slow skiers, and guides)

MW and CMH are high end. day only skiing is $500 CAD with MW, so save 1/2 but sleep in your car, local hotel, etc. Cat skiing gets you $400ish CAD a day, but also 1/2 the vert (cats take 20 - 30 minutes to gain 2000 ft, helis take 2-3 minutes) nothing avail with CMH as they are fly in only so week only

MW has a larger terrain. Its 100km long by 50km wide. They have a few options. CMH has 15 differnt lodges and each area is smaller, but you have 15.

Usually MW has .75 down day / week (might be a few foggy mornings that you dont leave till 10AM rather then 8:30)

any more questions?
post #16 of 56
Originally Posted by mntlion
any more questions?
Yea, Dave.... Is there a frequent flier program?

post #17 of 56
you should know???? not me.

are you up next week for the spring fling thing?

Hug girlguide for me, they all have had a hard week
post #18 of 56

Yea, I heard. I'll give her a hug.

Yes, I'll be there for the 35th. And I just got my tux. Oh boy.....

post #19 of 56
Ya know I have been cat skiing a bunch. Its cheaper and just as good of skiing. I went once at steamboat, and once... hmmm now where was taht??? gosh I cant remeber now.. here in colorado. Either way it was really good skiing and 1/2 the price. If you get enough people you can get your own cat and its cheaper ussually too
post #20 of 56
http://www.steamboatpowdercats.com/ Here's what we did in steamboat
post #21 of 56
down side daily vert is 1/2 a helis as cat turn around times are so much longer.

plus side is you can ski on heli down days (high winds, fog, or no vis)

1/2 the very for 1/2 the price = same deal (but no cool heli ride)
post #22 of 56
As mtnlion says CMH has 15 lodges to pick from. Some lodges are noted for steeper terrain and some steeper tree skiing which may mean less no ski days. Weigle also flys A stars (4 skiers) which CMH does not. The smaller machine can mean easier to match skier skills and landings on smaller sites.

Great Canadian also flies 4skier machines and does 3 or 6 day packages. Easy access 20mins west of Golden on hwy1.

Bella Coola has a couple of new operations and some amazing skiing akin to AK. Weather may be more of an issue there as well. In AK there is also Chugach powder guides.

There are advantages to catskiing but there are also disadvantages some which mtnlion mentioned. Another disadvantage is limited ability to go to new terrain if lack of snow or avie conditions warrant it. Same goes for elevation for better snow conditions. Helicopters just get to cover a whole bunch of terrain if the need dictates.
post #23 of 56
Oh ya, most cat's can't do glacier skiing
post #24 of 56
I've been cat skiing in Fernie (Fernie Wilderness Adventures). While the snow was great, I found the terrain too mellow (e.g. not as challenging as inbounds Fernie). Also the cat rides are way too long for each run (20-30min) and the vertical is too short (1000 average maybe including runout). Skiing untracked without any work was great but overall I think heli would be worth the extra money.
post #25 of 56
Thread Starter 
Well, thanks for all the info, guys, it will take a while to absorb all this.

I think Weigele at $8,764 each for a week plus air-fares is a bit much.
Valdez sounds steepest and ski in groups of 4 with each guide. At $5,560 it seems better value (plus about $800 to get there, unless I can find something cheaper than I've found so far).
They claim only 10 no fly days in 2003 (but I assume that means it was worse since).
post #26 of 56
Check the Valdez closely, I looked into one of them up there and there was weirdness as to what was and wasn't included. ie: meals and lodging. That can rack up a bunch of cash pretty quick up there I would guess. You should look into great canadian near golden for a more affordable 3 day 4 person heli option.
post #27 of 56
most of the places will be cheaper early or late season (spring has LONG fly hours too. Dec you are onthe ground at 3, April at 5:30+ and can still be winter)

Some places charge for vertical above 100,000 for the week too (MW and I thing CMH do not)

AK season is 3 months vs a BC season of 5-6 month so the 10 down days are a bit off. Also some of the AK places have a cat ski backup.

Also, like L7 said, some operators fly 1 guide to 4 guests. (mw does some A star stuff like that or a 212 with 2 guides to 10 guests)
post #28 of 56

If you want steep, Alaska is the place to go. If you want cheap, cat skiing is the way to go. If you want something in between day trips out of a resort is the way to go (e.g. Jackson, Salt Lake).

I've been cat skiing in a few places (Targhee/Deer Valley, Alyeska). It's a good way to get introduced to backcountry skiing to see if you'll like it/can handle it. It sounds like your only reason for cat skiing would be the reduced expense over heli ($225-350/day vs 450+/day).

I've done heli in Portillo (cheap but slow and tame) and Alyeska (Chugach Powder Guides). I did the cat backup at CPG. The weather coming in off the Gulf of Alaska is flaky. Out of 10 potential flying days 1/2 were no gos because of weather. Forecasts were a joke. The cat backup made sure I was powder skiing/riding every day and eliminated any weather problems. The CPG guides were all top notch. They freely talked about the other Alaska operations out of Valdez that routinely went to more dangerous terrain. Pros and cons. Given that we could see slides going off all around us, I was glad we kept off the 40 degree pitches until the last day. On day one, we shut down early so the guides could assist at a massive slide across the bay - stupid snowmachine highmarkers, 6 dead, one body unrecoverable under 50 feet + of debris - video made CNN. That kinda toned things down for a while. Nonetheless, I'd go back in a hearbeat if only I was not such a resort slut.

If you go with an operation that runs multiple groups per heli, and you go for multiple days (i.e. they trust you), the guides will get you into a compatible group and go where you want to go as long as it's safe. But you spend a lot of time doing hurry up and wait as the chopper goes from group to group. If you go more $$$ you wait less.

A couple of guys I rode with a lot were heli veterans that had done CMH and Wiegeles. Better snow, better weather, worse attitude in Canada. They were ready to try Valdez next. I'd go interior on my next trip. As previously noted, heli skiing is a crap shoot. Add you're own quirks/desires/penchant for risk and it's even more. If you've got the money, even a bad trip is worth every penny.
post #29 of 56
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by L7
Check the Valdez closely, I looked into one of them up there and there was weirdness as to what was and wasn't included. ie: meals and lodging. That can rack up a bunch of cash pretty quick up there I would guess. You should look into great canadian near golden for a more affordable 3 day 4 person heli option.
Well, the Valdez site drawn to my attention offers all lodging, meals and snacks, but not alcoholic drinks, which is fair enough.

Therusty, No, of course I wouldn't want to take big risks with avalanches (I've been in one already) but I gather that snow conditions in AK make steeper slopes safer there. I'm used to skiing that sort of thing.

I've skied 5 times from a single helicopter drop over here (this year 110 Euros per drop), but in the Alps this is either severely restricted by law or forbiden (depending which country you are in).
post #30 of 56

Points North Heli Adventures

Give Points North Heli Adventures in Cordova,AK a try. They're the best. Kevin Quinn runs a terrific operation. Great snow, terrain, guides, and tons of down day activities. Three helis, small groups, and something for all abilities. Warren Miller has filmed there many times (as have all the other film companies) including this years "Impact", . They have a great web site alaskaheliski.com. Check it out. You won't be disappointed.
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