Looking for the biggest thrill on snow? Heli-skiing is the way to experience the greatest untracked powder of your life.
Escape the resort and get into the mountains: no traffic, lift lines, crowds or hassles – just mountains, powder, and a huge amount of pristine open terrain. But it does come with a hefty price tag.
Heli-skiing is off-trail downhill skiing or snowboarding that is accessed by a helicopter as opposed to a ski lift. As early as the late 1950’s helicopters were used in Alaska and Europe to access remote terrain. It is now banned in Germany, and was banned in France in 1984, while neighboring Austria allows just two landing sites. No worries, though, as there are still plenty of heli-skiing destinations to try.
Here are five of the best:
This destination is out there and up there with a base altitude of 6561 feet near Manali at the head of the Kullu Valley in Himachal Pradesh. Swiss pilots fly skiers – 6 to 10 times daily – in Eurocopter B3 helis. The potential here is over 32,808 feet of vertical, greater than a descent of Mount Everest. Under certain conditions you can ski to the valley floor through massive cedar forests, but most skiing takes place on long rolling ridge lines through glades of birch and oak trees, down steep cirque bowls or on huge undulating glaciers. Both during and after storms the skiing in the trees is excellent. It’s high elevation at a high price: $114,810 for four to eight skiers for 6.5 days of this mountain bliss.
One of the best-kept secrets in the lower 48, Ruby Mountain Heli Experience starts from a helicopter pad in a cow pasture near the cowboy town of Lamoille, Nevada and drops off adventurous backcountry skiers in the Rubies, ten peaks each with and elevation higher than 11,000 feet. 200,000 acres of wilderness provides limitless terrain for any age or skill level in wide open bowls and heart-racing fall lines. The powder is deep: these mountains get pounded with an average of 350 inches of snow annually. An all-inclusive three day ski adventure goes for around $4350.
This area gained fame in the 2005 Warren Miller film Higher Ground and now mere mortals heli ski the untouched terrain along the coast of the Kenai Peninsula that closely resembles the fjords of Norway. Snowfall amounts are legendary here thanks to the area’s close proximity to the Gulf of Alaska. In this pristine winter playground every day is an incredible adventure. There are countless first-time descents and unnamed peaks. A group of eight can thrill to a seven day ski adventure for around $84,000.
One destination on every heli-aficionado’s bucket list is the fjord-fringed Kalaallit Island. The slopes are untracked and there’s a thrill waiting in the icy chutes from Kisaq. There are literally thousands of peaks and slopes to ski and explore in a landscape, nature, and culture unlike any other. Snowcapped peaks tower over this frozen landscape of fjords and islands. Greenland remains one of the world’s special places for heli-skiing. A week long Greenland heli adventure starts at $12,500.
Looking for some place you can actually afford? Heli-skiing is just $179 per ride or $999 for a six day run at Colorado’s Silverton Mountain. This is the only heli-experience in the continental United States that offers single drops in addition to all day heli-skiing. That means you can ski the lift-accessed backcountry all day and add one or more additional heli laps at just $179 per person per drop. The mountain has the highest skiable peak elevation in North America at 13,514 feet, and the high quality of the snow on 22,000 acres of terrain is consistent. And if the weather is too bad to fly – which it rarely is – you can still ride the lifts.
Photo credit: Dreamstime