How To Heli-Ski

A handy step-by-step guide 


For most of us, heli-skiing sounds a little bit intimidating and out of reach, but any strong intermediate skier can do it. Plus, once you’ve given it a shot, you’ll likely find it’s one of skiing’s most freeing experiences.

Here are five easy steps to get you prepared for your first heli-experience.

Step One: Do your research

For your first heli-ski experience, choose wisely. Canada’s western provinces are home to more than 20 heli-ski operations, from week-long, luxe-filled getaways in remote locales to single-day trips close to ski areas. While dreamy and deluxe, multi-day heli-ski stays can be expensive and exhausting for first-time heli-skiers. Consider single-day outings in spots like Panorama, Revelstoke, Whistler, and Kelowna, British Columbia.

Also, when planning a trip, pay attention to keywords such as “unlimited vertical” and “metres guaranteed.” These terms refer to how many runs—and how much vertical (vert)—you will ski in a day. Sure, skiing unlimited vertical is the dream, but can your legs keep up?

Step Two: Do some prep work

Spend some of your pre-heli prep getting fit. You don’t need the fitness level of a World Cup skier, but strong legs and cardiovascular fitness will improve your heli endurance. Power up with squats, lunges, and fast walking or running to help you enjoy deep powder and lots of vert. And consider at least one lesson in how to ski powder before you sign up. For strong intermediates—skiers with good balance who can turn both skis at the same time in basic parallel—learning to ski deep snow is not that tough, especially if it’s the dry and fluffy stuff.

Step Three: Get the right gear

Think of it this way: width equals float. Fat and superfat skis are the only gear to consider for a heli-ski drop. If you don’t have a super-wide pair of powder skis—and most of us don’t—rent a pair from your heli-ski operator.

Also, be sure to layer up. A single run in a high-alpine setting can pass through three different climate zones, from howling wind at the peak, to windless glades, to sun-baked bowls. Wear layers of clothing that can be vented and removed when you—and your skiing—get especially hot!

Step Four: Know the risks and be prepared

All heli-ski operators will outfit you with an avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe and spend time teaching you how to use each. It is not information you need to know before you go, but while your guides are giving you the goods, listen up.

Many heli-ski operations now add an avalanche airbag to your backpack. Airbags inflate with the pull of a cord, helping skiers caught in an avalanche rise to the top.

Step Five: Pay some respect

Finally, heli-ski guides are there to give you a good time, yes. But they’re experts in the field and they deserve your respect. They’ve earned a PhD equivalent in snow science, weather, and avalanche safety. Do as your guides tell you, ski where they tell you to ski, and never, ever talk back.

For stories of a first-time heli-skiier, check out our feature To Heli and Back.  

For a list of Canadian heli-skiing operators, see

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