There’s nothing more exciting for a diehard skier than being one of the first people to ride on complicated, untouched terrain. That’s why so many skiers choose to Heliski Alaska.
The thrill of taking a helicopter to a remote destination can be worth the trip on its own. Throw in the opportunity to ski beautiful topography and you’ve got a match made in heaven.
Most resorts give you 5,000-10,000 acres of slopes to accommodate hundreds if not thousands of riders. Heliski trips tend to drop off 5-25 people a few times a day. Not to mention you could have over 750,000 acres of terrain all to yourself.
Sites like Alaska’s Chugach Powder Guides boasts 750,000 acres of rideable terrain.
There are a wide variety of operators offering just as wide a variety of packages. Your package determines the amount of vertical, the type of terrain, the size of your helicopter, options to snowcat, and how many people you ski with.
It’s a big investment, so read on for some tips to navigate your possibilities.
Check your Calendar
Is this your first time? Arriving in February or early-March means that it’s possible to see the Northern Lights. Timing can determine whether you’ll end up with ideal snow conditions, a challenging adventure, or the most economical option. Below are the pros and cons of timing your trip to Heliski in Alaska.
Early Season Can Be Ideal
If light, dry powder is your thing, you’ll want to hit the terrain early. February and March will offer you the longest runs of the season.
You’re going to want to be sure you feel comfortable on a pair of good powder skis because you’ll be riding deep powder slopes that might end up tracked out on a typical ski area.
Late Season is Industry Season
If you’re thinking of coming in late-March or April, expect a crowd. As most of the North American ski season winds down, ski instructors, operators, and industry people show up.
This can be the busiest time as industry people love to Heliski in Alaska. With 10-50 times the acreage, heavenly powder and so many possible drops, it’s what ski instructors dreaming about as they stare off during a lesson. Timing will determine the possible drops on your trip, how many runs you take, and how much it will cost.
Have a Plan B
Whoever you decide to Heliski Alaska with, the weather is never guaranteed to be perfect. Most operators have an idea of how many down days they expect per season, even by month.
Go with an operator that has a backup plan. Catskiing and lifts may not be what you came for, but it’s better than sitting out the whole trip. Find someplace with a nearby resort just to be safe.
You could Heliski Alaska for weeks and never touch the same terrain twice. The adrenaline of one drop can feed hours of runs in a day. If you’re out of shape, you’ll start to notice it fast. It will be hard for you to enjoy several days of runs ahead of you if you’re sore after the first day. Make sure you spend the weeks before your trip getting fit for your adventure.
Stretch it Out
Hours of runs on dense power are going to tax every muscle. Start integrating stretching into your daily routine. Whether you’re hitting the gym or spending your weekends on the slopes, commit to 20 minutes of stretching before and after every session. It sounds like a lot but you’ll be thankful to be able to bounce back after the first day that you Heliski in Alaska.
Try Strength Training
Downhill skiing uses a different muscle group than most workouts. Squats and lunges will help you work your quadriceps and protect your knees.
Your calves pick up a lot of the slack from your bent knees. Seated calf raises will help work your calves into shape.
For your upper body, think about your core. Lat pulls, bicycle crunches and back extensions will help you protect your back and strengthen up for those long runs. Don’t forget about your biceps and triceps. Keep your arms and shoulders strong for pushing off with your poles.
Find a routine that works for you and stick to it. There’s no such thing as being too prepared, whether you’re packing your bag or getting your body in shape. Try a few different workout combinations until you find the right fit.
Practice in Powder
First, get comfortable with powder skis, which are wide. They keep you balanced and on top of the snow. You’ll also be using shorter poles. The rhythm of powder skiing entails a bobbing movement to maintain momentum, different than the typical downhill runs.
Your feet will do some extra work. You want to push off with even weight and balance. They key is to stay above the snow. Practicing with small slopes can be a useful exercise. Deep powder is fun to ride on but can be a foreign experience to even highly experienced downhill skiers.
Get the right gear
Like any trip, it’s important to pack all the right gear. Once you’re out in the wild, you’ll have a tough time getting something you forgot.
Be realistic about the adventure you’re about to embark on. The excitement about being on untouched terrain needs to come with the realization that you’re many miles from civilization.
Have a sturdy helmet. If your helmet is aging, cracked, or ill-fitting, consider replacing it.
You’ll be doing long runs on deep powder. You’ll need a pair of skis you feel comfortable on. If you’re not used to the width of powder skis, rent a pair for a day and get acquainted with the different feel.
If you’re in the market for a new pair, take them out on a few runs before you head to Heliski in Alaska. Even a well-seasoned rider needs to get comfortable a new pair of skis.
Light and Warm
Again, these runs are sure to be much longer than your every day slopes. This may be what has attracted you to Heliski in Alaska in the first place.
Be sure you’ve got a compressible down jacket that’s lightweight enough to move around in but warm enough for long periods of exposure.
You want to keep your hands warm and dry for movement. An extra pair of gloves will come in handy, not only for long rides but in case your gloves don’t dry between rides.
You might be used to keeping your boots next to the fire overnight to let them dry out. But after a long day and a couple of runs, that might not be enough. It’s becoming more common for people to look into a boot dryer when they Heliski in Alaska.
Get what you need
Not every skier wants an extreme experience. You may be arriving in a helicopter but that doesn’t mean can’t have a gentle and fun ride.
Deciding to Heliski in Alaska can ignite the fire missing in the humdrum of your everyday life. It can just as well be the vacation you need after a high-intensity holiday season or end-of-quarter at work.
Choose your timing depending on the conditions. Remember that early season is the best time to get more gentle powder skiing in.
How intense are you?
Are you accounting for just a single day to Heliski in Alaska as part of a larger trip or are you and a group of friends getting together for a week of high-intensity skiing?
Packages to Heliski in Alaska can vary widely in price. If you’re going to put together 5 close friends for a week, you can go in on a single helicopter and have a lot of control over what you do and where you go.
Otherwise, one day in an open group can feed your hunger for adventure. If this is your first chance to Heliski in Alaska, going with a group can answer a lot of questions.
You’ll save money and leave with an idea as to what it could mean to take it up a notch for next time. Take some pictures to make your friends jealous enough to go in on a trip with you next time!
Choosing to Heliski in Alaska is for the most adventurous few. But that doesn’t mean it can’t get relatively crowded. Your helicopter size will determine how many people you’re traveling with. It can even dictate which kind of terrain you’re going to hit.
A smaller group means less time waiting and more time skiing.
Which isn’t to say a smaller group is better. A smaller group can be more expensive. It also limits the number of people you’re going to be able to network with.
If this is your first chance to Heliski in Alaska, consider a cheaper, larger helicopter to travel with. You’ll be able to get to know other skiers, pick up tips and even meet future travel partners.
Rest and Relaxation
Typically the more you pay, the better your accommodations. More luxurious lounges will offer you high-end dining, large rooms, and a quiet environment.
If this is going to be a trip that’s more about relaxing, you may want to consider one of the higher end options.
For the more rugged types, there are plenty of lodges where you can get your minimum needs met and prepare yourself
Bang for Your Buck
Most operators will give you some idea of how much vertical you’re going to get. Comparing group size, the number of drops and vertical promised by operators gives you a pretty concrete measure of value.
Five days of deep powder skiing can be taxing on the body. It’s hard to know how in shape you are until you hit the snow.
More than likely, operators will allow you to purchase vertical on a day to day basis. It might cost a little more but the flexibility might suit you perfectly.
Keep an eye on the bill as you rack up extravert. The last thing you want to leave your trip with is a sour face from an unexpected bill.
Packages can range from $300-$1500 a night. Choose wisely by calling up operators and going through your options
Remember that you’re skiing untracked snow out in the wilderness. Safety conditions on the ground will vary from day to day but that doesn’t mean you can’t be cautious.
Thankfully operators take this seriously and demand their staff takes a variety of different training courses.
Training to be a guide is rigorous and the job attracts the best of the best, a skier needs to remain practical. You can always check the credentials of your guides.
The choice to Heliski in Alaska comes with the assurance that weather patterns create stable and predictable terrain in the steepest places. However, the possibility of an avalanche is completely natural.
Be sure that any guides you work with have avalanche qualifications. Ask your operator whether their guides are fully qualified as UIAGM mountain guides.
If they bristle at this, look at another operator. Your safety comes over their hurt feelings.
Helicopter operators know the high costs of maintenance and repair as well as the high risk of what they do.
Heliski in Alaska is an Adventure of a Lifetime
A Heliski in Alaska trip will be one of the most memorable trips you take in your life. You’ll see terrain and ranges that are unseen and untouched by anyone except the most daring travelers and mountaineers. The added excitement of riding the terrain is a rush that most people don’t feel in their lifetime.
Every great adventure comes with preparation and research. Once you’ve gotten in shape, gotten your gear together and finished researching, you won’t be able to think of anything else. Don’t forget to pack your GoPro so you can make everyone jealous when you get back!
Leave a comment below with any questions or recommendations. There’s a lot to navigate and it need not be stressful. A trip to Heliski in Alaska is the adventure of a lifetime!