BC is the birthplace of heli skiing (or heliskiing or helicopter skiing as it’s variously known) and is home to more heli ski operators than anywhere else in the world. The rugged, majestic mountains, deep snowpack and world-class lodges have made it a mecca for those seeking the ultimate powder skiing experience. But it’s important to understand the different heli ski regions of Canada’s westernmost province, and the conditions in each throughout the winter so you know when to go heli skiing in BC.
The Heli Skiing Regions of British Columbia
Studying a topo map of BC, you’ll see there are seven major mountain ranges and many sub-ranges. The Monashees, Selkirks and Purcells are well known and many powder seekers are familiar with them. But instead of focusing on all these individual areas, to make it easy, we’ll focus on two main heli ski regions in the province, the Interior region, located in south-central BC and the Northwest region, located some 700kms north of Vancouver.
The Interior region encompasses many well-known mountain towns like Revelstoke, Golden, and Nelson and is home to the Selkirks, Monashees plus some other sub ranges known for heli skiing. The Northwest region, bordering the Alaskan Panhandle, includes lesser known towns like Terrace, Bella Coola and Smithers and ranges like the Skeena Mountains, a northern extension of the Coast Mountains.
Early Season Interior vs Early Season Northwest
Many skiers from Europe and the US think that December may not have enough snow for good heli skiing. But this is a misconception. December is always a very snowy month in British Columbia. Heli Skiing guides love December as early season storms roll in off the Pacific delivering knee (and often chest) deep powder skiing.
Interior- Early Season
While there definitely can be some good powder at mid-high elevations, the Interior can be a bit thin for early season tree skiing at lower elevations with rocks, stumps, bushes and other hazards not fully covered. Generally, by early January, there have been enough storm cycles that the snow depth is sufficient to cover these hazards and the tree skiing can be excellent here.
Northwest- Early Season
The Northwest region, due to its northern location and proximity to Pacific storms, often starts getting snow in the mountains by mid-October, and continuing through November and early December. By late November the base is well established at most elevations, with an average of one meter or more at pickup points and double that higher up. So December in the Northwest can be exceptionally deep, with hazards fully-covered.
Peak Season Interior vs Peak Season Northwest
The time period between late January and early March is considered to be ‘peak heli ski season’. And while there is no question that Peak Season offers some really good powder skiing, it is definitely the time that has the highest demand, least availability and highest prices. Typically BC gets abundant snowfall with lots of powder days in January and February, but most years there are also periods each month with clear skies and sun to enjoy Heli Skiing in the alpine.
Interior Peak Season
This is the most popular time for Heli Skiing in the Interior with lodges fully booked throughout the region. It offers a good mix of tree and alpine powder skiing. About 70% of the skiing at this time is in the trees and glades throughout the Interior and when weather and stability allow, the machine is ready to whisk guests higher into the Alpine.
Northwest Peak Season
As with the Interior, mid-Winter is the most popular time for International clients to book. This is the time when the big storms come in weekly dropping huge amounts of snow and the powder can seem almost bottomless! So it is important to have a heli ski lodge that offers cat skiing backup for those storm days when the machine can’t fly.
The Northwest region also tends to have better snow stability than the Interior. The Interior is known for its very dry snow. On the one hand, dry snow is amazing for skiing but it does not bond as well to the snow base, so can be prone to snowpack instability and higher avalanche risk on steeper pitches. But in the Northwest, you get a better type of powder for steeps. It is mostly dry snow, but has a slightly higher moisture content. This creates a very creamy type of powder that adheres to the snowpack better and is more stable. This gives expert skiers the chance to ski steeper and more challenging terrain.
Late Season Interior vs Late Season Northwest
Late season Heli skiing is typically defined as mid-March to the season’s end in mid-late-April. It is important to note that heli skiing operators close because demand totally drops off in April, not because all the snow has melted. The big question is, what are snow conditions like in late March and early April?
Late Season Interior
Early-mid March in the Interior can be magical with long daylight hours, runs on scenic glaciers, and bluebird days in the alpine. But typically the mid-elevations and lower runs get sunbaked by the last couple of weeks in March and offer lower skiing quality.
Late Season Northwest
This is definitely a time where the Northwest offers a better powder skiing experience than the Interior. The key thing to note here is that winter just lasts longer the further North you go. And in addition to being much further north, the mountains are typically bigger. Really long daylight means 30-45,000 vertical feet skied most days. And while there may be some tree skiing at mid-mountain elevations, most of the skiing will be done up high in the alpine on big north-facing slopes where snow stays deep and dry till late April, and even into May most years. Southerly aspects have nicely skiable corn and firn snow.
In Summary, there is no bad time to visit BC for your dream Heli Skiing vacation. Hopefully the information here gives you the confidence to try booking your bucket list trip in Early or Late season. Too many people see the very low prices in December and April and assume it means the powder skiing must not be good. But it just reflects really low demand from guests who (mistakenly) believe it’s not a good time to go heli skiing in BC. But if you give it a try, you’ll discover a great ‘secret’ and enjoy world-class Heli skiing at a reduced cost. See you soon in the BC Mountains!
About Northern Escape Heli Skiing
Since 2004 Northern Escape Heli Skiing has operated small group heli skiing in Northern BC’s Skeena Mountains, near Terrace, BC. Our boutique heli ski experience, new Mountain Lodge, snowcat skiing backup and big mountain, deep powder skiing attracts riders from around the world. Our lodges are easily accessed from Vancouver via Terrace Airport. For more information, give us a call toll free at 1-866-619-3184, contact us by email or see our booking page.