Ever been kicking back in a bar after a day on the slopes and seen one of those epic segments from a ski movie playing on the TV? You know – the ones where pro skiers are dropping into pristine Chugach backcountry, hauling down 55 degree faces, and eating powder for breakfast? These scenes are hard to forget, and they're exactly what keep most of us stoked to ski throughout the off-season. Floating through untouched powder in remote backcountry is the ultimate dream for most skiers and riders. The good news is you don't have to be a sponsored pro to get it.
Heli-skiing was not always accessible to the masses. Pioneers of the sport, like Jim McConkey, started skiing big peaks in British Columbia with the help of friends in high places in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, heli-skiing is becoming increasingly popular across the western states; for a pretty penny (about $1,200 USD ($1,718 AUD) per person), you can book a day of guided backcountry runs that can total up to 12,000 vertical feet. If you've got the cash and the desire to ski like a superstar for a day far away from lifts and crowds, this may be your ski vacation calling.
How does it work?
Heli-skiing companies work independently of ski resorts, but you'll find them wherever there is established big mountain skiing. Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, California, Alaska, and British Columbia are booming with top-notch guide services. A single day usually consists of 6 runs that total 12,000-15,000 vertical feet of shredding. Depart for the first run in the morning, break for lunch midday, and finish by late afternoon, with additional runs available when time allows. Groups of 4-5 work with a professional guides who supply you with (and instruct you on how to use) safety and avalanche gear. You should be an advanced intermediate or better, and be honest with the guides about your ability: that's how you're grouped for the day.
How much does it cost?
One day – 6 runs – runs around $1,200 USD ($1,718 AUD). Some guide companies offer full package deals that include multi-day ski and stay packages – ideal for anyone interested in charging hard in the backcountry for days on end. A seven-night package that includes 6 runs/day, lodging, meals, and safety gear runs around $10,000 USD ($14,316 AUD). Private group packages are ideal for groups of 4-5 of the same ability level, and also cut individual costs.
Where do I learn more?
Got an idea of where you want to ski? Great! Look into guide companies in the area. Plan to stay at a resort and book a day trip? Check in with customer service or a hotel concierge for tips on the best local guide companies. Be sure to check guides for certifications from organisations like American Mountain Guides Association and Heli Ski US.