2013-12-18

No, You Don't Need to Jump Out of the Helicopter: 3 Heliskiing Myths, Busted

When I tell people I heliski I get reactions ranging from awe to shock. Their face reads either, "Wow, you must be an amazing skier," or "What an irresponsible mother!" So as much as I might enjoy undue admiration for ski prowess, I want to dispel some myths about heliskiing for those of you that think, "I could never do anything scary like that!" - or that I am an irresponsible mother!


Myth 1: Heliskiing involves jumping out of helicopters from mid-air and bombing down the slope like James Bond.

Fact: While James Bond has done much to connect helicopters and skiing in people's minds (he skis in five of his movies), typical heliskiers don't jump out of hovering aircraft. The helicopter lands with the engine running, and the guide exits and unloads the skis/snowboards from the storage cage as the passengers STEP down onto the skid and then the snow next to the heli*. Everyone stays low by the side of the chopper until the equipment is out and doors are closed. All very controlled and civilized, aside from the face blast of snow when the pilot flies off! After leading the group down slopes of pristine powder, the guide stops at an open clearing where the group undoes their bindings, bundles the skis, takes off their backpacks and prepares for pickup. The helicopter pilot lands next to the group, the guide loads the equipment and everyone gets on board for the next lift to another amazing run. It's like skiing with a chauffeur.


Myth 2: Heliskiing is only for expert skiers.

Fact: A strong intermediate with experience skiing powder snow can heliski. Powder ("fat") skis provided by the heliski operator make skiing the deep stuff much easier. Doing runs on consistent soft snow with virtually no other people is very confidence-building. If you are an intermediate considering a heli experience, practice your skills in deeper snow and then join an intro day trip with other first-timers. You will then discover what "first class" skiing is all about!


3) Heliskiing is extremely dangerous.

Fact: On the resort slopes, one of the biggest risks is a collision with other skiers/boarders. I know many people who have been injured by someone blindsiding them. Or people fall due to challenging conditions like icy runs, hard moguls or crusted snow because they wound up on a run they shouldn't be on. Heliskiing typically has NONE of these hazards. You are skiing in small groups with a guide, and usually head down slopes one by one. Guides are evaluating terrain constantly and choosing ability-appropriate runs that have the best snow conditions. Helicopters only fly in good conditions and most heli terrain is not super steep. The main risk is avalanches and many precautions are taken to minimize that danger.

*the exception being Chile, where hovering on very small landings is the norm.