This guide is going to cover every detail of your heli-ski trip to BC, so you get the most out of this bucket list experience.
Let’s start by dispelling a myth…you don’t need to be an elite skier to go heli skiing! Yes, you read it right. Contrary to what you might think or have seen in pro skiing videos, heli-skiing isn’t just for the world’s elite shredders. You don’t have to be an expert who leaps out of a moving chopper and launches off of cliffs. If you’re a strong intermediate (blue-square) rider or above on your local mountain, you have enough skills to try heli-skiing.
Ok, so now that we’ve got that one out of the way, let’s clear up another myth… no, you’re not jumping out of the helicopter. This never happens! After the helicopter lands, you get out, wait for it to take off, then safely put your skis or snowboard on and start your powder ski adventure from there.
Amazed? Fascinated? Keep reading.
How Much Does Heli-Skiing Cost?
Heli-skiing in BC is admittedly the dream for any powder ski junkie, however, once you cross-check the price, it usually becomes apparent why the ‘once in a lifetime’ price tag is thus appropriate and is crucial to do it right.
A few runs at a day heli ski operator, operating out of a resort like Whistler, might cost $1,000 or less, depending on the vertical package you purchase. Lodge-based heli trips generally start around $2000/day and are all-inclusive. All the same, most heli-skiing trips measure across-the-board and embrace five-star meals, a range of accommodation options, powder skis or snowboards and even spa treatments. On the extreme end of the spectrum, a fully private experience in a luxury lodge or chartering a superyacht off Greenland’s coast could set you back well into the six-figures.
A lot of factors go into the cost of heli-skiing. If you’re on a budget, look for a day operator who flies large groups of helicopters near established resorts or towns with cheap accommodation to keep costs down as much as possible. Regardless of which you choose, British Columbia abounds with options for heli skiing and snowboarding.
What Do You Need Wear Heli-Skiing?
The right outdoor clothing should never be overlooked and will help you get the most out of every downhill run, so here are a few tips to help you when packing for your heli-skiing trip.
1. Solid Waterproof Shell (Outerwear: Jacket and Pants)
This seems like a no-brainer, but we wanted to take a moment to stress the importance of a good outer layer. The emphasis should be on waterproofing and breathability. A high-quality Goretex Pro Shell is de rigeur on backcountry slopes. This isn’t the time to wear the stylish hoody that you love so much, or those cute corduroy snowboard pants, or any other jacket or pants that don’t have the level of protection you need. You get the picture.
2. Layer up
Ok, so here’s the deal. Layers are a balancing act. Your ski jacket is waterproof, breathable and compact, allowing lots of layers underneath. You just want to stick to the rule of three.
Top: A single base layer like a down sweater/vest that can be removed if you get too hot.
Mid: Opt for a good mid-weight layer made of merino or synthetic.
Bottom: Here a base layer such as Merino wool is great to keep you warm and comfortable if you are working up a sweat.
While you’ll typically use 3 layers up top, for pants you can use insulated bibs, or a bib shell and just keep it to 2 layers, and a bit lighter than your upper body, since it’s not so easy to change lower/pant layers in the field.
Note: be aware of the NO COTTON rule, too. There’s nothing worse than sweating, and then freezing. It is a quick way to be unhappy and to ruin the best turns of your life, so opt for Merino wool or synthetics, NOT cotton.
3. Face Protection
Multiple Pairs of Goggles – Changeable Lenses or Having Options
When the machine lifts off, it blows a lot of snow and you need goggles to protect your face. But you also need to consider goggles for different conditions. Many goggle brands make goggles that come with lenses that can be swapped depending on the lighting. Make sure you’re not only bringing your blackout lenses and expecting it to be bluebird.
Although the mountains were once packed with pioneering badasses with flowing locks, now is not the time to rock a headband. A good ski helmet is a better alternative, and it has many benefits. Nothing keeps your head warm like a helmet does and most have vents that can be opened or closed depending on the temperature.
Your helmet is your safeguard; if you have a rough fall a helmet will make a difference. Even something small, like hitting a branch in the trees, can end a day on the slopes so don’t forget to bring your lid.
5. A Few Pairs of Gloves
A good pair of ski gloves is essential. The leather gas station gloves you purchased last winter just won’t cut it. Choose something that will offer comfort and warmth and are waterproof.
We recommend bringing a minimum of two pairs. Although most lodges have drying rooms, that won’t help much when you’re out on the slopes. So a decent pair of backup gloves is still a good idea to stash in your backpack.
6. Ski/Board Bag (Rolling)
This is huge! Having the right bag to get your equipment to and from your destination is worth its weight in gold. Though many heli ski operators have rental equipment for use, you should bring your skis or board with you if you have a setup that you like and feel confident about.
So get a rolling bag that can fit all your gear. It will make your life so much easier for getting around.
7. Comfortable Ski/Board Boots
We’ll just say this: COMFORTABLE BOOTS WILL MAKE OR BREAK YOUR TRIP. You’ve been saving up for this and have finally pulled the trigger. Just imagine being on the trip of a lifetime when all of a sudden, the arches of your feet hurt so bad you wanna break one of your fingers just to take your mind off the pain in your feet.
Make sure your ski boots are ready to rock. Have a solid footbed, and make sure you can go all day. Invest in a new pair, especially if that old pair of snowboard boots have just given up, becoming lifeless and packed out. Get them fitted by a boot fitter.
Lights. Camera. Action. If it isn’t on Instagram, it didn’t happen. Seriously! Don’t you want to re-live this awesome memory over and over again? Plus, it’s time to make everyone jealous of your epic trip.
Is Heli-Skiing Dangerous?
Every year, despite the high price and risk, tens of thousands of powder enthusiasts keep flocking to the mountains of BC for heli ski trips. And if you’ve done it once, you’ll be back. For skiing by helicopter, it is you who mark the territory’s first claim, often laying down the first tracks.
There are a lot of unknowns in Canada’s mountain wilderness and there are real dangers. Safety is the number one priority. Without exception, everybody should follow the most stringent safety protocols and operating procedures to minimize that risk.
In general, heli-skiing is very safe. However, there will always be an inherent degree of risk (just like when driving a car), which cannot be completely eliminated.
Guides, pilots, and helicopters are fundamental to your safety, and no compromises are made in these departments. Only go with the best. Heli ski guides are experienced professionals accredited by the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA) or affiliated IFMGA such as the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG). This means they have completed years of specialized training and were assessed to the highest standards.
You will be provided with the latest in safety gear (avalanche airbag backpack, transceivers) on your tour and be shown how to use them.
What Else Should I Bring Heli-Skiing?
- A good attitude! Every day in the mountains, adventure and unique experiences are available.
- Swimsuit: Because every heli-skiing day should end with a dip in the hot tub, pack a swimsuit for soaking after skiing.
- Slippers: Often overlooked, but essential. Slippers are going to be the first thing you want to throw on when you get to the lodge.
- Comfortable Clothing: Bring the type of clothing you’d wear at home, as the dress code at most heli lodges is casual.
- Travel Insurance: Never travel without travel insurance and make sure your policy covers heli skiing and medical evacuation.
- Some other useful items are ibuprofen, sunscreen, something to read, and maybe a harmonica.
How Old do You have to be to Heli-Ski?
All heli-skiers and riders need to be a minimum age of 16 years. They also need to meet the minimum ski ability level just like everyone else – i.e. be confident on blue (intermediate) runs at a resort.
How Much Should You Tip?
Your guide is the most integral part of your Heli-skiing experience, and they work very hard to ensure that you have the trip of a lifetime. A respectable gratuity is greatly appreciated and is very important to your guide’s income. We suggest $200 a day per guest for your trip which will be shared among the guides, lodge staff, chefs and ground crew.
Where is the Best Heli-Skiing in the World?
If you’ve ever wondered why 90% of the world’s heli-skiing operators are based here, check out our 4 reasons why Heli-skiing in BC, Canada is a must for everyone’s bucket lists.
They say size doesn’t matter, but in the case of heli-skiing, it does. Canada’s sheer scale makes it the perfect place to use a helicopter to access skiing, which otherwise would be impossible to get to. On top of this, the variety of terrain in Canada is unrivalled; you can expect endless pillow lines, giant alpine bowls, massive glacial runs as well as amazing tree runs. So, it is safe to say, in terms of skiable terrain – BC has it all.
If you’ve never been to British Columbia, now’s the time to go. Not only is the powder here incredible, the area is 90 times the size of France’s Val lees, and larger than the Swiss Alps, with some 2.64 million acres of snowy slopes nestled close to the Pacific coast, making it one of the world’s biggest skiing paradises.
2. Snow Quality
There’s an abundance of snow in Canada, which is why it is regarded among the best ski destinations in the world – with many areas seeing reported annual snowfall of 12-15 meters.
However, the devil is in the detail; not all Canadian mountain ranges in western Canada have been created equal for skiing.
The Rocky Mountains, for example, are further east and as such most of the precipitation has already fallen by the time the systems reach there, so they have a lower (relative) snowpack. In contrast, there are the Coastal Mountains to the west (home to the well-known resort Whistler) where there are big snowfalls from systems straight off the Pacific, however, these can often lead to heavier snow. The magic really happens in the Northwest of BC, near Terrace and the interior Columbia Mountains, which have the best of both worlds, namely heaps of light, dry, snow.
3. Tree Skiing
If you’ve only skied open alpine runs, you’re missing out! The tree skiing in the interior ranges of western Canada is unique and a blast. The trees are where the powder tends to be the deepest and stays perfect for longer as the snow is less affected by the wind and sun. The huge bonus of skiing in the glades are all the terrain features, such as pillows, steeps and the trees themselves that really make things interesting. So when it’s not sunny and you can’t ski the big glaciers up in the Alpine you can still ride in these beautiful majestic forests. The trees provide protection from inclement weather and better visibility for pilots and skiers, massively reducing the risk of the dreaded ‘down-day’. This is, without doubt, the reason why the Northwest and Interior ranges of British Columbia have the most reliable Heli-skiing in the world.
4. Choice of Heli Ski Operations
You are spoiled with choices when it comes to Heli-skiing in BC, Canada because about 90% of all the heli operators in the world are based here. Each lodge offers something a little different in terms of ski terrain, level of accommodation, dining, and group size so whether you’re an expert looking for a faster program or a newcomer to the sport looking for an introduction to powder, you’ll find a place here that suits you!
We’ve tried our best to cover all the details you need to know about heli-skiing in BC and hope this article has helped you. Start planning your ultimate ski vacation today!
Heli Skiing with Northern Escape
Since 2004, Northern Escape Heli Skiing has operated small group heli skiing in Northern BC’s Skeena Mountains, near Terrace, BC. Named World’s Best Heli Ski Operator in 2022 by the World Ski Awards, our premium ski experience, three boutique lodges, snowcat skiing backup and big mountain, deep powder terrain attracts riders from around the world. Our lodges are easily accessible from Vancouver via Terrace Airport.