Heli Skiing

Heli Skiing Glossary

The unique term for this snowflake is dendrite.Here you’ll find a few of the terms you need to keep up in conversations with your heli ski guides and to sound like an expert around the lodge. Enjoy!




205 and 212: This refers to the medium-sized Bell 205 and Bell 212 helicopters commonly used in heliskiing. These helicopters fit groups of 10-11 passengers (or 6 people with a lot of legroom!).

407 and A-Star: These are small-sized helicopters used in small-group heliskiing. The Bell 407 holds five passengers, and the A-Star holds fourBeacon: AKA avalanche transceiver. These devices are worn by all heli skiers and send a signal that can travel through the snowpack in the event of an avalanche.

Canting: The process of shimming a ski boot to sit in a more neutral position to allow the ski to rest flatter on the ground. This allows for a more comfortable stance, more ski contact to the snow, and more control.

Chute: A steep, narrow slope often lined by trees or high rock walls on both sides.

Cornice: An overhanging mass of snow found on ridge tops caused by storm snow loading. These can be very hazardous to stand on or to ski the slopes beneath them.

Couloir: A steep ‘chute’ which is also a gulley or drainage.

Crown: The uppermost fracture line of a slab avalanche, where the slab has broken away from the snowpack beneath it.

Dendrite: A word meaning “tree-like” and can be used to describe the branching crystalline formation of the typical six-pointed snowflake.

Durometer: A tool used to measure the hardness of a material. These are used in skiing to determine the hardness of ski boots. Higher numbers mean stiffer boots, which translates to high responsiveness and provides more confidence to experts for racing and navigating challenging terrain.

Firn: Snow that is leftover from seasons before. It has recrystallized and has a consistency of wet sugar, but is hard enough to be resistant to shovelling.

Frazil ice: A collection of small, elongated ice crystals that are formed in the turbulent water in cold climates. These ice formations collect to form a slushy slurry that can block drainage and impede water flow.

Funicular Regime: This is wet snow that contains more than 14% liquid water in its pore volume.

Gaper: A newbie skier who may react erratically and without reason, and identified by their bright clothing and gap of bare skin visible between their goggles and helmet.

Glissade: Standing or squatting and sliding down a snowy slope without the use of skis.

Graupel: Round and bead-like pellets of snow that forms in high altitudes. Graupel is distinct from hail as it is softer and less dense.

Helly Belly: The food really is so good that frequent heli skiers have been known to pack on a few pounds by the end of their trips. This condition afflicts many heli ski guides.

Herringbone: A technique for efficiently climbing up a hill on skis in a ‘V’ formation that resembles herringbone. Seldom done in heli skiing.

Koala: The Ferrari of heli skiing helicopters, the Italian-made Koala provides one the best rides you can ask for while out in the mountains.

Kicker: A small, sharp, snow-covered outcropping that can be used as a jump.

Machine: Another name for ‘helicopter’.

Nacelle icing: Nacelle refers to the engine compartment of an aircraft and its icing can be a dangerous event that can block air intakes. This is dangerous and requires de-icing before wintery flights to prevent this build-up.

Névé: A type of snow that is granular and has been melted, refrozen and compressed. This type of snow leads to glacier formation through nivation. This snow is called firn after it survives a season.

Off-piste: Skiing done in untouched areas that are not prepared for skiing, AKA backcountry skiing.

Penitente: Snow formations found in high elevations that present as tall, thin blades of snow and ice. They form closely together and are oriented towards the sun.

Polycrystal: Snowflakes that are composed of many individual ice crystals combined into one.

PWL: ‘Persistent weak layer’. These form between storm cycles when the new snow does not bind to the layer beneath, and can be caused by various weather events. They often have a date associated with them, for example ‘The December 14th PWL’.

Sastrugi: Wind-eroded ridges of snow that resemble sand dunes. They can be several meters tall and typically found on wind-swept mountain ridges, frozen lakes, or polar regions.

Schussing: Quickly skiing or snowboarding downhill in a straight line without turning (aka bombing downhill).

Snow Barchan: A crescent-shaped dune of snow that is oriented in the direction of the wind.

Snowburst: A heavy snowfall in a short amount of time. A snowburst can dump two inches per hour over 10-14 hours.

Snow squall: A sudden moderately heavy snowfall combined with strong, gusty winds and short in duration.

Sun cups: A snow formation characterized by shallow bowl-shaped depressions in the snow. As per their name, they are made from the sun melting in warm sunlight.

Treewell: A deep hole that forms around the base of trees after large accumulations of snow and can be hidden by tree branches. They are a hazard while tree skiing.

Verglas: A thin layer of ice-covered rocks.

Watermelon Snow (aka Blood Snow): This is a phenomenon in which the red-coloured green algae Chlamydomonas nivalis grows in a patch of snow.

Yukimarimo: Balls of fine frost formed at very low temperatures. In the absence of wind, electrostatic attraction of snowflakes causes these snowballs to form.


A Premium Small Group Heli Skiing Experience

Since 2004 Northern Escape Heli Skiing has operated small group heli skiing in Northern BC’s Skeena Mountains, near Terrace, BC. Our boutique heli 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, see our Guide to Heli Skiing in BCcontact us or visit our booking page.