You hit the deck as the ”thud thud thud” turns into a continual motorised drone. You look at the floor as a wall of powder, projected by the blades, envelopes you finding its way down your back and onto any uncovered skin. A short stooped run, and the next thing you know the floors dropping away and you’re heading for virgin powder and the ride of your life. Heliboarding is untouchable, it’s the ultimate. Some think it’s just for the rich and famous. It’s not, you don’t have to be famous.
Imagine it: “Oh Mr Pilot can you drop me on the top of that, I’m just going to ride that virgin snow, and then if you wouldn’t mind you could pick me and my friends up at the bottom and take us straight back to the top of that peak over there.”
Having the use of a helicopter for a day or better a week, is the dream of any self-respecting boarder. Costs can vary from plain criminal to “you’re having a laugh”. Although it costs a lot of money, if you can wrangle a deal it may be the best money you ever spent. Instead of falling for all the marketing hype of needing the latest kit each season, blow the cash on a helicopter. Just don’t buy a new board or the latest jacket, keep the old one and instead have a day you’ll be bragging about years.
In Europe you have a few winter options; Switzerland has a healthy policy to heliboarding. Most of the larger resorts allow you access to the back country without you having to breaking into a sweat, other than when you hand over the cash that is. You can also Heliboard in Spain, Georgia, Turkey or pretty much anywhere there’s a mountain with snow on it if you’ve got the cash you can board it.
If you want to heliboard in Europe’s summer then you have to head for the Central Asia or the southern Hemisphere. The US and Canada have some amazing possibilities: Fernie, Red Mountain and Whistler in Canada, Colorado in USA and the big boy Alaska, and that’s just to name a few. The main difference between Europe and North America is that in Europe it’s normally day hire or even ½ day. In North America it’s predominantly sold as a week long package, including being airlifted in to a back country lodge and flying around the area for a week before being flown back to civilisation, with a granted number of vertical feet boarded, but this is not always the case. Some places will offer day trips as well as week long trips that cost thousands of dollars.
The most important things to find out are safety record and garneted vertical decent metres. If they don’t want to discuss it, spend your cash elsewhere. Insure they insist that everyone has a transceiver and shovel and knows how to use them. Also find out what their money back policy is for bad weather days and ask if the guide will be boarding or skiing. Being the only boarder on a drop will not necessarily lead to a bad day, but it would be better to be in a group of boarders. Ensuring the guide is a boarder will guarantee you’re taken to suitable terrain.
Within Canada there are many options with most major resorts having a Heli-operator. Few offer day trips but shop around and you may be able to strike a deal for a day riding.
Kicking Horse/ Golden
Purcell Helicopter Skiing Ltd run day trips with 3 or 5 descents for $610 and $730 with the chance of additional descents at $65pp with a minimum group of 8. They claim to have close to 200 runs offering every conceivable type of mountain terrain and exposure, and will transfer you by bus from Lake Louise and Banff for $40. www.purcellhelicopterskiing.com
Great Canadian Heli Skiing offers 3 day and week long packages out of the village of Golden. Trips are based out of Heather Mountain Lodge on the boundary of the Glacier National Park and near Rogers Pass, where peaks resemble the Matterhorn. Most of the boarding take place in the nearby Purcell Mountains with small groups being lead by a local guide with a guaranteed 15,250 vertical meters in a 3 day package or 30,500 m in the 7 days. www.canadianheli-skiing.com
Bring it on. Only 65km north of Whistler, is the Chilcotin mountain range. This is a huge area where you can pick and choose your slopes. There are around 300 different runs, which have around an 800 meter of vertical descent, and there are also some great tree runs. This area gets a massive snowfall of 14 to 18 meters a season, so it should be steep and deep which is just what you’re looking for. All this, as always, comes at a cost. Two days with lodge accommodation is $2400. Now that is a lot of cash. Elemental Adventure offers a week trip at £2658, without international flights. Klondike Heliski offer trips to 23 different areas with over 300 descents to choose from, which encompass an area of 6,000 square km. Based out of Atlin, B.C. almost $7000 can will get you 32,000 true vertical meters of boarding over a week with fully catering, www.atlinheliski.com
In the far North West of Canada just south of Alaska are the Skeena Mountains. This is a vast area of 9,000sq/km and that’s big. An area that size has runs for all and endless fresh tracks. Based out of the town of Terrace, Northern Escape run heli trips in this area for 3, 4 or 7 days. A week costs $6590. If you’re in the UK you can book trips with Elemental Adventure.
Heliboarding is banned in France, unless you gain special permission, as most undeveloped areas are National Park. You can fly over the border into Italy for a couple of runs, but why bother? Unless you’re holidaying in France, you may as well start in Italy. From Chamonix and Tignes you fly over the border and board in the Val Grisenche and Monte Rosa areas.
In the town of Gudauri you can catch a twin turboengine MI-8-MTB-1 helicopter which can carry a capacity of four tons. The cabin seats 24 passengers so there’s plenty of room for your board. There’s good snow and lots of varied terrain. www.alpintravel.ch has been running trips here since 1989 so it can’t be all bad.
The best thing about heliboarding here is that the price of around 3000 euros will get you a week long trip with a vertical descent guarantee of 15,000 meters, a hotel with sauna and pool, food and most importantly a transceiver and ABS avalanche airbag system. Runs are between 1,500 m and 4,200 m, the average run being 800 to 1,200 m long, which is small in comparison to many places but then so the cost.
Greenland is accessible via Copenhagen. Maniitoq is right on the Artic Circle trips are run here by www.eaheliskiing.com .The season lasts from March to Mid June. From April the sun never really sets, allowing for some late night boarding, and with loads of the runs ending on the beach, this is truly a mad place to board. Most of the mountains are under 2000meters and the majority of the boardable runs are around 1000meters of vertical decent. While in the area you can also go Whale watching and sea kayaking.
Here as always is the draw back: 7500euros gets you a week without international flight or insurance, and things are expensive once you’re there so make sure you get some booze at the duty free.
Surprisingly India has commercial Heliboarding operations running throughout the winter into early April. The best locations are in the Himalayan region of Hanuman Tibba, Deo Tibba, Rohtang Pass and Chandrakhani Pass, all close to the Manali valley which is a wild place where loads of marijuana is grown.
Yhe Gulmarg in the Kashkir regions also offer heliboarding, but only experienced travellers and boarders should try these places, as if you have an accident, it’s a long way for any help. www.himachal.com run heliboarding trips out of a small village north of Manali but expect to pay $6500 for a week trip. The main attraction of heliboarding in India is the guarantee of great light fluffy snow and the chance to take on some fantastic Oak tree runs.
Using old soviet military helicopters which will seat up to 20 people, Kazakhstan is another adventurous place to heliboard. The choice of terrain is endless and being the only helicopters with the ability to land (and more importantly take off again!) at altitudes of nearly 6000 meters you really can just choose any hill you want.
The main draw back other than cost, is the cold with temperatures of -10 a winter norm in Alam-Ata, the capital, and the high peaks can easily drop below -30. Having said that, with hundreds of peaks higher than Mont Blanc, you can forget about boarding in January and go in the summer. The cheapest and easiest way is to stay at Karkara base camp (you will need a Kyrgyzstan visa) and take a short 20min flight into the mountains.
If you don’t fancy camping or being stuck in only the base camp bar listening to stories of the days riding then you could stay in Alma-Ata. However, it’s an hour flight and at around £1000/hr to keep the helicopter in the air, the cash could be better spent flying in the mountains than back to the city. A flight to Inylchek Glacier to see Khan-Tengri and peak Pobedy is a must. You can sleep at the climber’s base camp but take a good sleeping bag. Check out www.khantengri.kz.
Cheaper than its larger neighbour Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan offers access to the same mountains at less cost. July and August are the best time to Heliboard in the Tien Shan Mountains. This is really high, ranging from 4500m up to 5800m. Using a Russian Helicopter you can fly from Karkara base camp up to the Northen Tien Shan.
In a week’s program it’s possible for 7/8 dissents of 700/800meters a day. After a few days acclimatising to the altitude you will board from 5500 meters down to 4000meters up to 4 times in one day. On the last day if you’re lucky you can board from Semeyonov Peak (5816m) down to 4000m. That’s well over a vertical mile of untracked powder and there aren’t many places in the world with that on offer.
The main bases for heliboarding in New Zealand are Queenstown and Wanaka. Unlike many heliboarding locations, both towns have the fantastic advantage of offering day trips. There is no need to sign up for an expensive week, and more importantly if the weather is bad you can just choose another day. The season runs from early July to early October and, conditions permitting, heliboarding starts up with the season. www.nzadventure.com offer some great day trip options for around NZ$800 in the Harris Mountains, Clarke Glacier and Mount Cook areas. Methven near Christchurch offers some varied terrain with an area of 1000 square kilometres.
Mount Potts, the highest resort in New Zealand at 2200m, consists of three huge basins and has some fine slopes which are accessed with cats after you’re flown up by helicopter. Also check out BCH www.heliskinz.com who are based out of Wanaka and fly daily into Mount Aspiring National Park. They sell 3 runs for NZ$660, 4 runs for $710 and 7 runs for $880. In good weather you could get up to 11 runs for the price of 7.
There are many options for Heli boarding in Russia. You can board on peaks like Mount Elbrus in the east, to Kamchatka in the very far west of the country. There truly are loads of possibilities and www.snowboarding.in-russia.com is a good site to check out where you can go. The helicopters are normally huge ex-Russian military beasts and can land as high as 5300m, carrying groups of 10 riders plus a guide.
Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus mountains, which are almost 1500km long, offers some great boarding. Operations are run from the resort of Dombai which is close to the Georgian Boarder and only a 15min flight from Elbrus where it’s possible to board from its very summit, 5670 metres. There are numerous mountains over 4000 meters in the area with some great and varied terrain as well as some good tree runs. It’s also possible to acess the area from the Black Sea resort of Sochi see www.eaheliskiing.com Week long trips run for around £2500.
Kamchatka the land of Reindeer, volcanoes and nomadic shepherds also offers some heliboarding on some very varied terrain. Many peaks reach over 4,000 metres and offer runs in excess of 3000 vertical metres. A 7 night, 6 day trip costs €4200 / £2838 and can be organised through www.eaheliskiing.com You will have to fly to Petropavlosk and when you get there don’t expect luxury.
Things here are basic but that’s Russia for you. Most boarders prefer to ride at Viluchinskiy (2173 m), Mutnovskiy (2323 m), Avachinskiy (2741 m), Goreliy (1826 m ), and Opala (2460 m) volcanoes. The average route length is 6 km, and the average vertical drop is 1500 m. The helicopters can be paid on a flight time basis. The price per flight hour is $500 - $1800 depending on the type of helicopter. There are several agencies which provide heliboarding tours, but you need to book it at least a few months before, otherwise it will be hard to find an available helicopter. To hire the helicopter you can contact www.krechet.com. It’s the only company which owns its own helicopters. www.helipro.ru also organise and run tours across Russia, Chile, Canada
Out of Riksgraensen it’s possible to fly north to some unvisited areas. Although the peaks are low, its position so far north in Lapland makes it a great destination for Spring boarding. Departures run until late April. Another option is to fly south to the area around the highest mountain massif of Sweden the Kebnekaise where there are some real wild spots. www.aeroski.com
Schweiz has many companies offering packages from 1 day to a week so do your research before you book an over priced trip.
Situated in Valais, Helicopter Service sell trips through agencies in resorts such as Zermatt. They’ll fly you to glaciers and peaks on mountains between Zermatt and Chamonix. Every area offers a variety of descents ranging from 1300 to 2500 metres, suitable for all abilities. Flights operate every fair weather day from December to May. The helicopters seat 4 to 6 passengers so groups are small with all guides being UIAGM certified. www.heliservice.ch
Valdez is the main town of Alaska, the Main Man, the Big Daddy, the Queen of all, and the Goddess of powder faces (no trees here). Whatever you want to call it Alaska is steep and deep personified. The seaport of Valdez is located in the Chugach Mountains, an 8 hour drive from Anchorage.
Lots of companies run trips out of Valdez with day trips to week long holidays on offer. Blade Runner Adventures www.heliskiworld.com have some great prices with lower end accommodation keeping the cost down. 7 night and 5 days with the helicopter start at $3300 with 6 drops /day. A day with 6000 metres of vertical decent is $600. www.valdezhelicamps.com offer day trips at around $700, up to $4900 for a 6 day, 7 night package, with 80,000 vertical feet per six-day package guaranteed.
It’s lots of cash but it’s not actually that expensive in the grand scheme of things. If cash is short you can mix the helicopter in with some snowcat boarding at $200/day and if the weather is bad at least there are snowcats to get you up the hill. If you’re in the UK you can book similar deals through www.eaheliskiing.com ensuring you can talk to someone on the phone who knows their stuff before departure. Trips run from Feb to April.
Helitraxs run trips out of Telluride and claim the highest mountain access in North America. This winter, Telluride Helitrax are offering a One-Run Heli Ticket. Early each morning snowboarders can start their day with a helicopter flight to an area outside the boundary of the Telluride ski area. For a run of approximately 1,100 vertical feet, the price is $250 per person. $895 will get you six drops in one day and if you’re in Vail, Aspen or Crested Butte $1045 will get you a fixed winged flight to Telluride and a six drop heliboard day. www.helitrax.net