Everything You Need To Know About Heli-Skiing

September 15, 2015

Last updated: August 26, 2022

Not one for the faint-hearted, heli-skiing is one of the more extreme forms of skiing. Accessing pristine slopes away from the masses using the chairlifts, you can experience stunning long descents, higher altitudes and challenging natural runs.

Not only that, but a thrilling helicopter ride with panoramic views of the mountains will mean you’ll never want to travel up the mountains any other way.

Here, we cover everything you need to know about heli-skiing, from its origins and history to staying safe on the slopes.

What is heli-skiing?

Heli-skiing is a type of off-trail skiing whereby you reach the top of the mountain by helicopter instead of a ski-lift. By doing so, you’ll access backcountry ski runs that are otherwise difficult to reach. It allows you to ski in natural environments and offers you powdery snow, natural terrain and low descents.

A popular assumption is that you need to jump out of a helicopter when heli-skiing, which isn’t the case! Instead, the helicopter acts as your lift to the top of the mountain. Once it has landed, you will exit the helicopter, put on your skis and begin the thrilling descent down the beautiful, snowy mountains.

The history and geography of heli-skiing

The history and geography of heli-skiing Heli-skiing has become increasingly popular since its birth in the 1960s. The last fifty years have seen operators establish themselves across Europe, North America, New Zealand and more. The most popular destination is Canada, specifically British Columbia, where heli-skiing originated. In 1965, Hans Gmoser was presented with an idea from his ski guests to use a helicopter to access remote skin runs in the Columbia Mountains – and there, heli-skiing was born. British Columbia hosts over 90% of all heli-skiing enthusiasts.

In some destinations, heli-skiing provides access to runs in excess of 3,000 metres. In North America and Canada, you can stay in a ‘backcountry lodge’ rather than in a traditional ski resort, giving you quick access to the most remote of ski runs, but you’ll be far away from the resorts and have to make your own après-ski. The terrain tends to be a good combination of above timberline skiing and alpine runs, whereas in Europe it tends to be more alpine and glacier sites combined with resort runs. In Europe, all operations are resort based so you can take advantage of the amenities as you would on a standard skiing break.

The glamour

Heli-skiing features heavily in ski films and tends to show the ‘sexier’ side of extreme skiing. It’s not the type of sport that makes you gasp and worry that someone is about to land on their head at the side of a halfpipe, but instead portrays a graceful depiction of untouched stunning mountain scenery. Offering highs, in more ways than one, that are unachievable with a standard skiing holiday, it’s a great tick in the box for the winter sports enthusiast. But you won’t just do it once, you’ll want to go back again and again.

How to go heli-skiing

To have a crack at heli-skiing yourself, you’ll need to join an organised tour – it’s not a sport where you just hire a helicopter and stop where you fancy. A guide will always go first to evaluate snow conditions, check for avalanche risks and advise you on the most enjoyable and safest routes down the mountain. As well as British Columbia, you can also try heli-skiing closer to home in European destinations such as Sweden, Finland and Switzerland.

Given the length of the runs and the challenging terrain, you’ll need the fitness levels of a pro – somewhat above the fitness levels of someone who’s embarking on a week’s skiing holiday. Crawling across the snow with your skis and poles to get back into the helicopter will become exhausting if your fitness isn’t up to scratch – in some locations, you may get back into the helicopter for repeat runs up to 12 times each day.

Before you go on your heli-skiing trip, it’s important that you assess your skiing ability honestly. If you’re not an experienced and confident skier, you should take more time practising on the slopes before you take up heli-skiing. Make sure you’re confident on challenging ski routes, back-country skiing, and following directions when on the slopes.

How much does heli-skiing cost?

A major factor to consider, heli-skiing costs a lot more than your average lift pass at one of the top European resorts. Helicopters are well known as the most expensive way to travel so it’s no surprise that involving one in your ski plans makes for a costly trip.

In France, it’s illegal to be dropped by helicopter to ski or snowboard, however there are a few places in Europe where you can give it a go. Given the relatively small number of resorts that offer heli-skiing, it is more expensive and quite different in style to heli-skiing offerings in Canada. It’s also more exclusive – join the club of heli-skiers in Europe and you’re one of the elite few experiencing euphoria from fresh powder that the majority won’t have the privilege of sharing.

Do I need sports travel insurance for heli-skiing?

Sports travel insurance is designed to protect you against the unexpected when you’re away. When you’re taking in the stunning mountain views and showing off your skills on the slopes, the last thing you want is to worry about what will happen if disaster strikes.

While heli-skiing is an exhilarating adventure, it can come with its risks when you least expect it. With sports travel insurance, you’ll have a helping hand to protect you when you need it – whether that be losing your ski equipment or having an unfortunate accident on the slopes. Sports travel insurance can give you the reassurance you need to enjoy your heli-skiing to the fullest, knowing you’re covered should something go wrong.

Heading overseas for some piste action? Our sports travel insurance has you covered should the unexpected happen and you need some support.