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The Thrill And Risks Of Heli-Skiing: What You Need To Know


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Bibby Conrad



Imagine soaring high above snow-capped peaks, with nothing but pristine slopes stretched out beneath you. The adrenaline courses through your veins as you contemplate the thrill of carving your way down untouched, untouched powder. Welcome to the world of heli-skiing, an exhilarating adventure that takes skiing and snowboarding to new heights.


Heli-skiing is a bucket-list activity for adventure enthusiasts seeking an unforgettable winter experience. It offers the opportunity to access remote, untouched terrain that is inaccessible by traditional skiing methods. By taking a helicopter ride to the top of majestic mountains, skiers and snowboarders can carve their way down steep descents, through jaw-dropping couloirs, and across vast expanses of powdery snow.


In this article, we will explore the world of heli-skiing, delving into its history, how it works, the thrills it offers, as well as the risks involved. We will also provide important safety precautions and considerations to keep in mind when planning a heli-skiing adventure. Whether you are a seasoned skier or a snow lover looking to take your mountain experience to the next level, this article will serve as a comprehensive guide to all things heli-skiing.


So, fasten your seatbelt and prepare for an adrenaline-filled journey as we delve into the exhilarating world of heli-skiing.


What is Heli-Skiing?

Heli-skiing is a form of backcountry skiing or snowboarding that involves using a helicopter to access remote and untouched terrain. Unlike traditional skiing, which takes place on groomed slopes at resort areas, heli-skiing allows adventurers to explore pristine mountains and experience the thrill of untracked snow.


The concept of heli-skiing originated in the 1960s, when a group of skiers in British Columbia, Canada, realized the incredible potential of using helicopters to access untouched terrain. Since then, heli-skiing has gained popularity worldwide, with enthusiasts flocking to destinations known for their epic snow and challenging terrain.


One of the key aspects of heli-skiing is the freedom it offers. Instead of being confined to crowded ski resorts and pre-determined runs, heli-skiing allows participants to explore vast areas of backcountry terrain. Skiers are dropped off at the top of a mountain or ridgeline via a helicopter and can choose their own path down, creating a sense of adventure and exploration.


Heli-skiing is typically carried out in remote mountain ranges with deep snow and challenging slopes, such as the Canadian Rockies, the Alaska Range, the Swiss Alps, and the Himalayas. These locations offer an abundance of steep chutes, wide-open bowls, and tree runs, providing a diverse range of experiences for heli-skiers.


It is important to note that heli-skiing is not suitable for beginners or inexperienced skiers and snowboarders. It requires a high level of skiing or snowboarding ability, as well as physical fitness and stamina. Heli-skiing often involves skiing in deep powder, navigating through tight trees, and tackling steep slopes, so it is important to have the necessary skills and experience to handle these conditions.


Now that you have a basic understanding of heli-skiing, let’s dive deeper into its history and how it actually works.


The History of Heli-Skiing

The idea of using a helicopter for skiing access was born in the early 1960s when a group of adventurous skiers in British Columbia, Canada, recognized the untapped potential of the vast and remote mountain ranges surrounding them. These skiers saw an opportunity to explore untouched terrain and ski down slopes that had never been touched by human tracks.


In 1965, Hans Gmoser, a mountain guide and pioneer of heli-skiing, founded the Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) company, which became the first heli-skiing operator in the world. Gmoser’s vision was to provide skiers with an extraordinary experience, allowing them to access pristine snow and awe-inspiring landscapes. He introduced the concept of using helicopters to transport skiers to remote areas, opening up a whole new world of possibilities for avid skiers.


As the popularity of heli-skiing grew, other operators began to emerge in different parts of the world, offering their own unique experiences. In the 1970s, heli-skiing gained traction in Alaska, where the vast and rugged mountain ranges attracted adventure seekers looking for untouched powder and steep descents.


Over the years, the sport continued to evolve and expand, with heli-skiing destinations spanning across North America, Europe, Asia, and even Antarctica. Today, heli-skiing remains a dream adventure for many, combining the exhilaration of flying in a helicopter with the thrill of carving fresh tracks down untracked mountainsides.


Throughout its history, heli-skiing has also played a role in the development of modern skiing equipment and techniques. The challenging terrain and deep powder conditions encountered during heli-skiing expeditions have influenced the design of wider and more versatile skis, as well as the development of specialized avalanche safety gear.


As heli-skiing continues to grow in popularity, operators focus on maintaining a balance between providing access to untouched terrain and preserving the natural environment. Sustainable practices, such as responsible helicopter use and adhering to strict environmental guidelines, are employed to minimize the impact on the fragile mountain ecosystems.


Now that we know the history of heli-skiing, let’s delve into how this thrilling adventure actually works.


How Does Heli-Skiing Work?

Heli-skiing is an intricate process that involves careful planning, experienced guides, and specialized equipment. Here’s a breakdown of how heli-skiing works:

  1. Choosing a Destination: The first step in heli-skiing is selecting a destination. There are numerous heli-skiing operators around the world, each offering unique experiences in different mountain ranges. Factors to consider when choosing a destination include snow conditions, terrain, accessibility, and the level of challenge you are seeking.
  2. Booking a Trip: Once you have selected a destination, you will need to book a heli-skiing trip. Helicopter skiing trips typically range from single-day excursions to multi-day adventures. It is important to book well in advance, as availability can be limited, especially during peak winter seasons.
  3. Pre-Trip Preparation: Before embarking on a heli-skiing trip, you will likely receive a thorough briefing from the heli-skiing operator. This briefing will cover important safety information, skiing techniques, and what to expect during the trip. It is crucial to listen carefully and ask any questions you may have to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.
  4. Gearing Up: On the day of the heli-skiing adventure, you will be provided with the necessary equipment, including skis or a snowboard, boots, poles, and safety gear. It is essential to have properly fitting and well-maintained equipment to ensure optimal performance and safety.
  5. Helicopter Flight: The heart of heli-skiing is the helicopter ride. Once you are fully equipped, you will board the helicopter, usually with a small group of fellow skiers or snowboarders and a certified guide. The helicopter will take off and transport you to the top of the chosen mountain or ridgeline.
  6. Skiing or Snowboarding: Once the helicopter lands, it’s time to hit the slopes. Your guide will provide instructions based on the chosen route and the conditions of the terrain. As a heli-skier, you have the freedom to choose your own line down the mountain, experiencing the joy of untracked powder and breathtaking scenery.
  7. Repeats and Lunch: Depending on the package you selected, your helicopter pilot and guide will coordinate multiple trips up the mountain throughout the day. You will have the opportunity to ski or snowboard a variety of runs, exploring different aspects of the mountains and enjoying the diverse terrain. In between runs, you may stop for lunch at a designated spot, typically in a scenic location.
  8. Wrap-Up and Celebrations: At the end of the day, the helicopter will pick you up from the last run and transport you back to the base. There, you can celebrate the day’s achievements with your fellow heli-skiers and guides, sharing stories and relishing in the incredible experiences you’ve had.

It is important to note that heli-skiing trips are weather-dependent and safety is the top priority. If weather conditions are unfavorable or if there are safety concerns, the heli-skiing operator may alter the planned itinerary or postpone the trip to ensure the well-being of participants.


Now that we know how heli-skiing works, let’s move on to explore the benefits and thrills of this adrenaline-fueled adventure.


The Benefits of Heli-Skiing

Heli-skiing offers a myriad of benefits for avid skiers and snowboarders seeking a unique and thrilling experience. Here are some of the key benefits of heli-skiing:

  • Access to Untouched Terrain: Heli-skiing allows you to explore remote and untouched terrain that is inaccessible by traditional means. You have the opportunity to carve your way down pristine slopes covered in fresh, untouched powder.
  • Breathtaking Scenery: Heli-skiing takes you deep into the heart of stunning mountain ranges, offering panoramic views of snow-capped peaks, majestic glaciers, and picturesque valleys. The breathtaking scenery enhances the overall experience, making it not only an adrenaline rush but also a feast for the eyes.
  • Freedom and Adventure: Heli-skiing provides a sense of freedom and adventure that is unparalleled. Instead of being restricted to set runs and crowded slopes, you have the freedom to choose your own lines, explore diverse terrain, and create your own unique ski or snowboarding adventure.
  • Exclusive and Personalized Experience: Heli-skiing trips typically cater to smaller groups, allowing for a more personalized and exclusive experience. With fewer skiers on the mountain, you can enjoy the slopes without overcrowding or waiting in lift lines, immersing yourself in the solitude and serenity of the backcountry.
  • Challenging and Varied Terrain: Heli-skiing destinations often feature challenging and varied terrain, including steep chutes, wide-open bowls, and gladed tree runs. This diversity of terrain caters to different skill levels and offers a rewarding and exhilarating experience for both advanced and expert skiers.
  • Improved Skiing Skills: Heli-skiing pushes your skiing or snowboarding abilities to new levels. It offers the opportunity to develop skills such as powder skiing, navigating through tight trees, and handling steep descents. The challenging conditions and varied terrain can help improve your overall technique and confidence on the slopes.
  • Memorable and Unique Experiences: Heli-skiing creates unforgettable memories and unique experiences that will be cherished for a lifetime. From the thrill of the helicopter ride to the exhilaration of carving your way down untouched slopes, every moment of a heli-skiing adventure is filled with excitement and awe.

It is important to note that while heli-skiing offers incredible benefits, it is an activity that requires physical fitness, skiing or snowboarding proficiency, and an understanding of the risks involved. It is essential to choose a reputable heli-skiing operator and adhere to safety guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.


Now that we’ve explored the benefits, let’s delve into the thrill of heli-skiing and the adrenaline rush it provides.


The Thrill of Heli-Skiing

Heli-skiing is a thrill-seeker’s dream come true, offering an adrenaline rush like no other. Here are some of the reasons why heli-skiing is so thrilling:


Uncharted Territory: The thrill of heli-skiing lies in exploring uncharted territory. You get the opportunity to ski or snowboard down slopes that no one has ever touched before. The feeling of being the first person to carve tracks in fresh powder is nothing short of exhilarating.


Steep and Challenging Descents: Heli-skiing takes you to some of the most challenging and steep slopes imaginable. As an advanced skier or snowboarder, you can push your limits and tackle descents with a gradient that would be difficult to find in traditional ski resorts. The adrenaline rush that comes from conquering these daunting slopes is unmatched.


Deep Powder Snow: Heli-skiing often involves skiing or snowboarding through deep powder snow. The feeling of floating effortlessly through light, fluffy snow is a sensation unlike any other. The powder offers a soft landing and enhances the overall experience, allowing for thrilling and graceful turns.


Couloirs and Chutes: Heli-skiing grants access to narrow couloirs and steep chutes that are not easily accessible through conventional skiing methods. These challenging features require skill, precision, and commitment, adding an extra layer of excitement and thrill to your heli-skiing adventure.


Speed and Freedom: Heli-skiing allows you to unleash your speed and experience the freedom of the mountains. With wide-open bowls and vast expanses of untouched snow, you can let go and carve fluid, high-speed turns down the slopes. The rush of wind on your face as you navigate through the untouched snowscape is both exhilarating and liberating.


Spectacular Scenery: While the thrill of heli-skiing is primarily driven by the physical activity, the breathtaking scenery only adds to the excitement. The panoramic views of towering peaks, pristine glaciers, and dramatic landscapes provide a backdrop that enhances the overall thrill of heli-skiing.


Sense of Adventure: Heli-skiing appeals to those who seek adventure and are willing to step outside their comfort zone. The experience of flying in a helicopter and being transported to remote mountain ranges, far away from civilization, evokes a sense of adventure and exploration that adds an extra layer of excitement to the overall experience.


Heli-skiing combines the thrill of skiing or snowboarding with the adrenaline rush of exploring untouched snow and challenging terrain. It offers an exhilarating and unforgettable experience that caters to the desires of adventure seekers and those looking to push the boundaries of their abilities.


However, it is important to understand that heli-skiing does come with risks, and safety should always be the top priority. In the next section, we will delve into the risks associated with heli-skiing and important safety precautions to consider.


The Risks of Heli-Skiing

While heli-skiing offers thrilling and unforgettable experiences, it is important to acknowledge the risks involved. Here are some of the potential risks associated with heli-skiing:


Avalanches: One of the primary risks in backcountry skiing, including heli-skiing, is the potential for avalanches. Heli-skiing takes place in remote and often untouched areas where the risk of avalanches can be higher. Proper avalanche safety training and equipment, along with the expertise of experienced guides, are essential for mitigating this risk.


Weather Conditions: Weather conditions can change rapidly in mountainous areas, and inclement weather can affect the safety and feasibility of heli-skiing trips. Low visibility, strong wind gusts, or heavy snowfall can pose challenges and may result in cancellations or alterations to the planned itinerary for safety reasons.


Equipment Malfunctions: While heli-skiing operators ensure that all equipment is properly maintained and suitable for the conditions, there is always a small risk of equipment malfunctions. It is crucial to have well-fitting, functional gear and to report any issues promptly to the guides or operators.


Physical Exertion: Heli-skiing requires a certain level of physical fitness and stamina. The terrain can be demanding, with deep powder and steep descents, which can be physically taxing. Fatigue can increase the chances of accidents and injuries, so being prepared and maintaining a good level of fitness is essential.


Terrain Hazards: Backcountry terrain poses various hazards, including hidden rocks, tree stumps, and unmarked obstacles. It is important to stay alert and have the necessary skills to navigate safely through the terrain and avoid potential hazards.


Human Error: Errors in judgment or decision-making can increase the risks of heli-skiing. Overconfidence, taking on terrain beyond one’s abilities, or not adhering to the instructions of experienced guides can lead to accidents and injuries. It is important to listen to your guides, assess your own abilities realistically, and make informed decisions based on the conditions and your skill level.


Remote Locations: Heli-skiing often takes place in remote and isolated areas, far from medical facilities or quick emergency response. In the event of an injury or any emergency situation, evacuation and rescue may take time and require careful coordination with local authorities. Comprehensive travel insurance that covers potential risks is essential.


Altitude and Acclimatization: Heli-skiing frequently occurs at high altitudes, which can lead to altitude-related illnesses such as acute mountain sickness. Proper acclimatization, staying hydrated, and listening to your body are important for mitigating these risks.


It is crucial to understand and acknowledge these risks and take appropriate precautions to minimize them. Choosing a reputable heli-skiing operator with experienced guides and adhering to their safety guidelines is essential.


In the next section, we will discuss the safety precautions and considerations that should be taken when planning a heli-skiing adventure.


Safety Precautions and Considerations

When embarking on a heli-skiing adventure, prioritizing safety is paramount. Here are some important safety precautions and considerations to keep in mind:


Select a Reputable Operator: Choose a heli-skiing operator with a strong reputation for safety and professionalism. Research their track record, read reviews, and ensure they have certified guides with extensive experience in backcountry skiing and avalanche safety.


Understand Avalanche Safety: Before heading out, make sure you have a basic understanding of avalanche safety. Take an avalanche safety course, learn how to use essential safety equipment like transceivers, shovels, and probes, and regularly practice your skills.


Listen to the Experts: Follow the instructions of your certified guides at all times. They have in-depth knowledge of the terrain and weather conditions, and their experience will help ensure your safety. Pay attention to the pre-trip briefings and ask any questions you may have.


Personal Safety Equipment: Wear appropriate safety equipment, including a helmet, avalanche transceiver, backpack with avalanche airbag or balloon, and protective clothing. Ensure that your equipment is well-maintained and functioning properly.


Stay in Bounds: Follow the designated routes and boundaries set by your guides. Venturing outside these boundaries can lead to dangerous situations and increase the risk of avalanches or encountering other hazards.


Assess Your Fitness and Skill Level: Be honest about your fitness and skiing or snowboarding abilities. Choose terrain that aligns with your skill level and avoid pushing yourself too far beyond your limits. Fatigue can impair judgment and increase the risk of accidents.


Stay Aware of Weather and Conditions: Pay attention to weather forecasts and any updates from your guides. Weather conditions can change rapidly in the mountains, and it’s crucial to adapt your plans accordingly. If conditions are unfavorable, trust the judgment of your guides and be prepared for itinerary changes or cancellations.


Buddy System: Ski or snowboard with a partner and maintain visual contact with them. If an incident occurs, having a reliable companion can provide assistance and speed up any necessary rescue efforts.


Stay Hydrated and Nourished: Drink plenty of water and eat nutritious meals throughout the day to maintain your energy levels. Dehydration and lack of proper nutrition can lead to fatigue and compromised decision-making.


Travel Insurance: Make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance that includes coverage for heli-skiing, emergency medical evacuation, and trip cancellation. Review the policy details to understand what is covered and ensure it meets your needs.


By following these safety precautions and considerations, you can significantly reduce the risks associated with heli-skiing and ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Remember, safety should always be the top priority, and it’s better to err on the side of caution when it comes to backcountry adventures.


In the next section, we will explore important factors to consider when choosing a heli-skiing operator.


Choosing a Heli-Skiing Operator

When planning a heli-skiing adventure, selecting the right heli-skiing operator is crucial. Here are some important factors to consider when choosing a heli-skiing operator:


Reputation and Experience: Research the reputation and experience of the heli-skiing operator. Look for well-established companies with a track record of providing safe and memorable heli-skiing experiences. Read reviews, check their certifications, and inquire about their safety protocols and procedures.


Professional Guides: Experienced and certified guides are essential for a safe and enjoyable heli-skiing experience. Ensure that the guides employed by the operator have the necessary qualifications, such as certifications from recognized organizations like the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) or the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA).


Destination: Consider the destination offered by the heli-skiing operator. Research the mountain ranges and terrain they operate in to ensure they align with your preferences and skill level. Different regions offer unique experiences, so choose a destination that suits your desired level of challenge, scenery, and snow conditions.


Group Size: Inquire about the group size that the operator accommodates. Smaller groups offer a more personalized experience, with more flexibility and less time spent waiting for others. This allows for a more intimate connection with your guides and fellow heli-skiers.


Safety Precautions and Procedures: Safety should always be a top priority. Ask about the operator’s safety precautions, including their avalanche safety training, risk management protocols, and emergency response procedures. Ensure that they prioritize safety and have measures in place to minimize risks.


Equipment and Maintenance: Look into the quality and maintenance of the equipment provided by the operator. Good heli-skiing operators ensure that their guests have access to well-maintained safety gear, ski or snowboard equipment, and appropriate clothing to handle the mountain conditions.


Flexibility and Itinerary: Consider the flexibility of the operator’s itinerary. Can they accommodate different skill levels and preferences? Do they offer single-day trips or multi-day packages? Look for an operator that can tailor the experience to your needs and goals.


Environmental Stewardship: Choose a heli-skiing operator that values and practices environmental stewardship. Operators that have a commitment to sustainability and minimizing their impact on the environment demonstrate their dedication to preserving the mountains for future generations.


Cost and Value: While cost is certainly a factor, it should not be the sole consideration. Look for operators that provide good value for the experience they offer. Compare prices, services included, and the overall reputation of the operator to find the best balance between affordability and quality.


Recommendations and Referrals: Seek recommendations from friends, fellow skiers or snowboarders, or trusted travel agencies. Referrals from those who have personal experience with a heli-skiing operator can provide valuable insights and help you make an informed decision.


Take your time to research and gather information about different heli-skiing operators. By selecting a reputable and reliable operator that aligns with your preferences and priorities, you can ensure a memorable and safe heli-skiing experience.


In the next section, we will discuss what essential items to pack for a heli-skiing trip.


What to Bring for a Heli-Skiing Trip

When preparing for a heli-skiing trip, it’s important to pack the right gear and essentials to ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Here’s a list of items you should consider bringing:

  • Ski or Snowboard Equipment: Bring your own skis or snowboard, boots, and poles. Make sure they are suitable for the type of terrain and snow conditions you’ll encounter during heli-skiing.
  • Safety Equipment: Essential safety gear includes an avalanche transceiver, shovel, and probe. These items are crucial for avalanche safety and rescue purposes. Check that your transceiver is in good working condition and ensure you know how to use all of your safety equipment properly.
  • Helmet: Wearing a helmet is highly recommended for heli-skiing to protect your head in case of a fall or collision. Choose a comfortable and properly fitted helmet designed for skiing or snowboarding.
  • Appropriate Clothing: Layered clothing is essential to adapt to changing weather conditions. Bring thermal base layers, mid-layers for insulation, and a waterproof and breathable outer shell. Don’t forget warm socks, gloves or mittens, and a neck gaiter or balaclava to protect your face from cold winds.
  • Backpack: A small backpack is useful for carrying essentials such as extra clothing layers, snacks, water, and sunscreen. Make sure it’s comfortable to wear and has straps to secure your skis or snowboard while hiking.
  • Eye Protection: Ski goggles with interchangeable lenses are ideal, including lenses for varying light conditions. Sunglasses that offer UV protection are also important for when the sun is out. Protecting your eyes from harmful UV rays and glare is crucial in the mountain environment.
  • Sunscreen and Lip Balm: High-altitude sun exposure can be intense, even on overcast days. Apply sunscreen with a high SPF rating, preferably waterproof, to protect your skin from UV radiation. Don’t forget to bring lip balm with SPF to prevent chapping and sunburn.
  • Water Bottle and Snacks: Staying hydrated and nourished is essential during a day of heli-skiing. Bring a water bottle and energy-rich snacks such as granola bars, nuts, or dried fruit to keep your energy levels up throughout the day.
  • Extra Batteries and Charging Cables: If you plan to use electronic devices such as GoPros or cameras, bring extra batteries and charging cables. The cold temperatures can drain the batteries of electronic devices faster than usual.
  • Extra Clothing Layers: Pack extra clothing layers to accommodate changing weather conditions. This includes additional base layers, fleece or down jackets, and extra gloves or mittens. Being prepared for fluctuations in temperature will ensure your comfort throughout the heli-skiing adventure.
  • Travel Insurance Documents: Carry a copy of your travel insurance documents, including details of coverage for heli-skiing activities. This will ensure that you have the necessary information in case of any emergencies or accidents.
  • Cash or Credit Card: Bring some cash in the local currency or a credit card for any incidental expenses or emergencies that may arise during your heli-skiing trip.

It’s also important to check with your heli-skiing operator if they provide any specific gear or equipment, such as airbag backpacks or powder skis. Always double-check the requirements and recommendations of your operator to ensure you have everything you need for a safe and enjoyable heli-skiing experience.


Now that you know what to pack, it’s time to get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!



Heli-skiing is a thrilling and adventurous activity that takes skiing and snowboarding to new heights, quite literally. It offers the unique opportunity to explore untouched terrain in remote mountain ranges, carving your way down pristine slopes covered in fresh powder. The adrenaline rush, the breathtaking scenery, and the sense of freedom make heli-skiing an unforgettable experience for avid skiers and snowboarders.


In this article, we delved into the world of heli-skiing, exploring its history, how it works, the benefits it offers, as well as the risks involved. Heli-skiing originated in the 1960s, and since then, it has grown in popularity, with operators around the world offering unique experiences in breathtaking locations.


We discussed the thrill of heli-skiing, from exploring uncharted territory and tackling steep descents to experiencing deep powder snow and enjoying the freedom of the mountains. However, we must also acknowledge the risks associated with heli-skiing, such as avalanches, changing weather conditions, and the physical demands of the sport.


To ensure a safe heli-skiing adventure, we emphasized the importance of taking safety precautions, such as choosing a reputable operator, understanding avalanche safety, wearing appropriate safety gear, and listening to experienced guides. We also provided a packing list of essential items to bring for a heli-skiing trip, including equipment, clothing, and safety gear.


As you plan your heli-skiing adventure, remember to consider factors like destination, group size, safety precautions, and environmental stewardship when selecting a heli-skiing operator. Taking the time to choose the right operator will enhance your overall experience and ensure a well-rounded and enjoyable trip.


Whether you’re a seasoned skier seeking an adrenaline rush or an adventure enthusiast looking for a unique mountain experience, heli-skiing provides an unparalleled opportunity to explore untouched terrain, push your limits, and create lasting memories.


So, gear up, be prepared, and get ready to embark on an exhilarating heli-skiing adventure that will leave you breathless and longing for more.