Helicopter skiing or heli-skiing is a type of backcountry skiing / free-riding which involves a helicopter to access remote areas and slopes of virgin powder snow.
Chances are that you already know what heli-skiing is about, but for those who have never heard of it before, here is some information about this type of adventurous skiing: First of all, heli-skiing is an activity of downhill skiing / snowboarding which takes place in untouched snow, on remote mountainsides, away from the groomed slopes of a ski resort. What separates heli-skiing from other types of freeriding and backcountry skiing is that skiers and snowboarders are flown by helicopter to the top of these remote slopes. Using a helicopter allows the skier or snowboarder to quickly reach stunning heights and spectacular slopes otherwise difficult to access. Heli-skiing is a truly unique experience: it combines the magical sensation of getting a bird’s-eye view of the mountain world, and the thrill of gliding through powder snow, down pristine slopes may-be never skied before. This is why heli-skiing has become a popular thrill-seeking adventure, attracting more skiers and snowboarders every year, from first-timers to expert free-riders.
The terms “heli-skiing” and “heli-boarding” stem from a combination of the words “helicopter” and “skiing / snowboarding”. Heli-skiing emerged as a particular type of sportive holiday in Canada in the mid 1960s. Following the glory years of mountaineering during which the major European and Asian peaks were being conquered, mountain sports experienced a prosperous period; thousands of climbers skiers and would then set out to Canada in search of new adventures in the majestic Canadian Rockies. In 1965, Hans Gmoser -an Austrian mountain guide and immigrant to Canada who had started a guiding company in the Rockies- began using helicopters to transport skiers high into remote mountains, in order to provide them with a unique ski experience. Starting with some basic buildings far away from civilization and one helicopter, Hans Gmoser created a heli-skiing business -Canadian Mountain Holidays – which was to prosper rapidly and become very successful over the years. Today, leader in the heli-ski industry, CMH is the world’s largest heli-skiing company, operating 11 bases and luxurious lodges across the mountains of western Canada.
In addition to Canada, which is considered the most important heli-skiing destination in the world, the particular activity of off-piste skiing / free riding is also becoming popular in other parts of the world such as Alaska, New Zealand, Italy, Switzerland, Chile, Argentina and even the Himalayas. The famous Swiss skier Sylvan Saudan, ski instructor and the father of extreme skiing, experimented and introduced helicopter skiing in the Himalayas, some 30 years ago. In some European countries such as Germany, Switzerland and France, heli-skiing is restricted or prohibited; this is advocated by conservationists who believe that helicopters harm the natural environment and violate the peace of other mountain users. However, many mountain experts disagree, arguing helicopters have their place in the mountains; it is worth noting that helicopters have brought a major contribution to the development of mountain rescue, a service which benefit all mountain users. Furthermore, most heli-skiing is done in remote places, away from the mountain crowd, and leaves no impact in the environment but a few (temporary!) tracks in the snow. Adventurous off-piste and free-riding adepts, who are unable to heli-ski in those countries with restrictions in place, are now coming to the Caucasus Mountains where they can enjoy an exciting heli-skiing experience in the Mt Kazbegi region – the most attractive area for this type of adventure.
Thanks to its successful development, heli-skiing as a more adventurous variant of skiing is becoming increasingly popular among skiers and snowboarders, from experienced free-riders to off-piste first timers.
Winter fans are constantly encouraged to push further their skiing / snowboarding adventure; convenient infrastructure at ski resorts giving access to off-piste skiing areas constant exploration of new slopes revealing attractive descents, availability of high-tech safety gear for skiing in the backcountry, increasing number of travel agents specializing in adventurous holidays… are among the major factors.
Heli-skiing stands out because of the incredible freedom and convenience it gives – in remote areas- for moving from one summit to the next, and for providing a large choice of pristine slopes and powder runs.
Furthermore, heli-skiing is practiced in selected places, carefully chosen by professional and highly skilled guides leading the groups and striving to minimize the risks associated with this activity. This allows skiers/snowboarders to enjoy the natural environment -and the infinite joy of heli-skiing- with a feeling of safety, regardless of the degree of mountain experience and snowpack knowledge they may have.