As someone who puts together heli-skiing and heli-boarding trips, especially for first timers, I am frequently asked this question or am told, “Oh, I’m not good enough for that.” As for the question, I can’t say for sure because I probably don’t know your level of fitness, your skiing ability or your enthusiasm. As for the second comment, you might just discover you do have the capability!
It’s important that potential heli-skiers are aware that this is not about jumping out of a helicopter. I’m constantly surprised by this very common misconception. Heli-skiing is actually a civilized activity. At CMH, you stay in deluxe mountain lodges with comfortable rooms and gourmet food– everything is done first-class. In the morning, after stretch class and a delicious breakfast, you put on your ski clothes, grab your skis or board, and walk out the door to the pickup. Everyone puts his or her skis in a neat stack next to your guide. The pilot lands the helicopter between the guests and the guide, the guests pile in on one side, the guide loads the skis into the basket on the other, and then gets in too. At a location deep in the mountains, the helicopter lands, the process repeats itself in reverse and the helicopter takes off to pick up the next group. Everyone gets on their skis, the guide tells you where to go and not to go, you ski the best run of your life (!) and this whole process repeats itself about 8-15 times during the day, depending on conditions.
Fitness is more important than ability when it comes to heli-skiing. A lot of people are skeptical when I tell them this, but it is true. That’s not to say that heli-skiing is for beginners; it very definitely is not. But you do not need to be an extreme, cliff-hucking expert skier. Skiing or boarding 5 to 7 days (depending on the trip) in a row is a lot no matter whether you’re skiing your local mountain or 50cm of new at CMH Bugaboos in British Columbia. After 18 years of doing this, I’ve seen a few very good skiers brought to their knees after just a few runs simply because they were out of shape. I’ve also seen skiers of modest ability get stronger and better as the week went on because they showed up in good condition. Now, I’m not saying you need the same fitness as Lindsey Vonn; it’s just best to be in good condition for you. Who wants to spend a lot of money to suffer? (Here is a good training program to get you ready for heli-skiing.)
So how good do you have to be? That’s a somewhat difficult, subjective question and as I mentioned, you can get away with a lot by just being in shape. You should be an advanced intermediate, able to ski blue runs at any ski area and black runs without hesitation. Now you may not look pretty getting down, but you can do it without cartwheeling to the bottom, you look forward to the challenge and you enjoy it. You should also probably ski at least 15-20 days per season.
A lot of potential heli-skiers (and potentially very good heli-skiers) don’t think they are good enough because they say they don’t know how to ski powder. This is largely because they’ve not had the opportunity to actually ski powder. Truth be known, it’s hard to learn how to ski powder at a ski area because powder days are rare and the powder gets tracked out so quickly. Even if you are first on the chair, you’ll get one run of untracked snow, maybe two, but then it’s mostly tracked up and chopped up and can actually turn into bumps. That said, you don’t need backcountry experience to come heli-skiing for your first time. And actually, skiing powder is very similar to skiing groomed snow, the main differences being powder’s softer surface, more equal weighting of the skis and the turns happen a little slower.
Instead of trying to teach you how to ski powder in a blog, I’ll let you know about CMH’s Powder 101 program. This isn’t any beginner lessons- this is the real deal. You’ll be skiing untracked powder in big remote mountains using a helicopter as your lift. You’ll have two guides who will also be your coaches and they will help you perfect your powder skiing technique. The best way to learn how to ski powder after all is to ski powder! My wife, Dorothy, did this program on her first trip and it was fantastic. All the skiers in her group were in the same boat, and she didn’t have to deal with feeling like she had to keep up with me or that I was going to instruct her on how to ski powder. Teaching a spouse to do anything can be tricky at best, but mostly it’s a lost cause. BTW, Dorothy has now been heli-skiing fifteen weeks and is approaching two million vertical feet.
So in review, if you are an advanced intermediate or better, in decent shape with a good attitude and a keen sense of adventure, you are definitely a good candidate for a CMH heli-skiing trip. It really is the best, most exciting skiing in the world. For skiers and boarders, this is a good one to knock off your bucket list. And who knows? You might just get hooked!