Heli Skiing in BC Canada
The combination of abundant snowfall, cool temperatures and regular breaks in weather systems make British Columbia, Canada ideal for heliskiing and snowboarding. Heliski operators are scattered throughout British Columbia north to south and east to west. In effect, all operators offer the same base experience: they all access vast expanses of terrain by helicopter in order to ski untracked snow. Our goal to ensure that no matter which operation you choose to ski or snowboard with, the safety measures taken are all the same. No one operation is safer than any other.
The differences between the operations are in the accommodation, the types of helicopters, the sizes of the groups, the numbers of groups per helicopter, and the locations of the lodges (some are remote; some are in towns). Some operations specialise in daily heliskiing from a ski resort while others offer only weeklong trips from a destination lodge. The important message is that British Columbia offers a range of products and services to meet almost any desire and budget.
When booking a trip, whether through a tour operator or travel agent, we would advise you to base the majority of your decision on tangible factors. As hard as it may be, try not to focus too much on predicted snow conditions or weather. Such prophecies are often unreliable.
Heliskiing can take place in remote mountain regions where seldom visited terrain exists. However, helicopters are expensive to operate over long distances, economically favoring operation near paved, plowed road heads. Controversy often erupts when heliskiing conflicts with wilderness values or overlaps with self-powered backcountry riding near established ski areas and population centers at these same road heads.
The primary safety concern of heliskiing operators is the danger of avalanches. Reputable heli-skiing operations employ guides and pilots who are trained and experienced in evaluating snow conditions, snow stability, and risk management. They may even conduct occasional explosive avalanche control in association with the land management agency. When weather is inclement for flying or avalanche conditions are elevated, select heli ski operators are equipped for alternate means of access by snowcat. With such operators one may still have an opportunity to ski safer, gentler or heavily treed slopes, with the use of a snowcat rather than the helicopter.
Most tours will include in the price the use of avalanche transceivers, shovels and probes and will provide training on the use of them and other avalanche rescue equipment. Some operators are beginning to offer additional avalanche protection that reduces avalanche burial potential or increases burial survival time, i.e. avalanche air-bags or Avalungs.
Other hazards of heliskiing include falling into very deep tree wells, “snow mushrooms” dropping from trees, suffocation after falls in very deep powder (rare), crevasses on glaciers, common mountain terrain features such as cliffs and creek beds, and — obviously — typical ski-related injuries. Helicopter crashes are also far from unheard of.