Credit is generally given to an Austrian Mountain Guide, Johann Wolfgang “Hans” Gmoser, for offering the first commercial heli skiing adventures back in the early 1960’s. However, there are certainly several anecdotal accounts of helicopters being used to access the mountains for skiing before that, some as early as the late 1940’s.
Hans Gmoser immigrated to Canada in 1951. He went on to establish the largest heli ski company in the world at that time. Gmoser’s Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) was located in British Columbia, Canada. BC is now the epicenter of heli skiing worldwide and currently has more than 30 helicopter skiing operators spread throughout the mountainous areas of the province.
Heli Skiing in British Columbia
In each heli skiing area in BC there are operators that generally have exclusive rights to a large track of remote mountainous terrain. They each have a permit to operate commercial helicopter skiing in their specific area.
Each heli ski area is unique in character and typically offers vast options in available terrain. These include alpine bowls and glaciers, steep treed areas, and couloirs (steep narrow mountainous gullies).
Most BC helicopter skiing companies have run choices from moderate to extreme. Skiing them depends on the snow stability, current weather, and the ability of each participating group of heli skiers. In a typical day, these deep powder heli skiers can expect to ski 8 to 12 powder filled runs.
Small Group Heli Skiing
All helicopter skiing groups are accompanied and guided by professional, highly experienced mountain guides. Group sizes will depend on company. Originally, large groups of up to 12 skiers would ski together with a large helicopter such as a Bell 212. These helicopters would service up to 4 groups at a time.
Now-a-days, small group heli skiing is highly sought after and many of the new companies offer only small group helicopter skiing. In this case, a small group of 4 to 6 skiers ski together in a smaller, more agile helicopter such as an Augusta Koala, Bell 407, or A-Star.
These small helicopters generally service only 2 or 3 ski groups per machine and thus provide a more intimate, deep powder skiing experience. They also offer greater choices for heli skiing terrain.