How Heli Skiing Works

Heli Skiing Skills

The Rosablanche in the Swiss Alps
The Rosablanche in the Swiss Alps

Heli skiing is, by nature, difficult skiing, so if you're considering a heli ski experience, you should be at least an intermediate skier (you won't find a bunny slope at these types of elevations) in good physical condition. You should be confident in your abilities, have lots of experience with deep powder and be familiar with skiing difficult runs in a wide variety of conditions. You need to be able to make controlled parallel turns on steep terrain, as well as be extremely proficient at ski skills such as kick-turning, traversing, side-slipping and snow-plowing.

A heli ski trip requires fitness and endurance. Go with a group of skiers with similar abilities and fitness levels. If you go with less experienced skiers, you may feel held back by their speed and ability. The overall speed and adventure of the trip will be determined by the ability and endurance of the worst skier in the group.

Because of the deep powder, you'll use wider, shorter skis that any heli ski guide will be able to outfit you with (for a charge comparable to regular ski rental fees). Of course, you can snowboard if that's more your thing -- and the same physical and skill requirements still apply. Skiers and snowboarders are usually mixed into the same group.

By being honest with the guides before the trip, you'll give them the opportunity to tailor the perfect trip for you. Not all heli ski trips are what mere mortals would consider a suicide mission -- there's lots of pristine, virgin powder in this world, and not all of it exists on a near-vertical plane. If your skill level could put other skiers in danger or hold them back, you can still have the ultimate cross-country skiing experience (just on a less-extreme scale).

Unless you're starring in a Hollywood action movie or you're sponsored by a ski-gear company that's producing an extreme video shoot, you won't be jumping out of a helicopter that hovers above a rocky slope. Pilots take great caution and care in selecting safe landing sites, and they'll land and let you off directly on the snow at the top of the run.

Next, we'll learn about heli skiing safety.