Learn to Heli-Ski in These Magnificent Mountain Ranges

Ever want to stand at the top of a powder-covered backcountry bowl or big mountain chute and know you and your crew have it all to yourselves? It's the stuff of skiing dreams, but it's also the reality of heli-skiing. The freedom to fly promises an escape from in-bounds crowds and the chance to ski epic lines that nobody's touched since the last snowfall—or maybe ever.

You may feel like you're staring in a ski film, but you don't have to rip like a pro to take a heli-trip. Solid intermediates have plenty of options and little reason to fear for life and limb. Heli-skiing isn't nearly as dangerous as it looks, and outfitters include snow safety instruction. But be sure to show up with your quads in shape, because a heli-ski operation might log 20,000 vertical feet a day.

There are real mountain hazards to be managed, however, and many revolve around the cycles of weather and snowpack. Helicopters can't fly when the weather doesn't cooperate, and guides won't ski slopes that are likely to slide. No-fly days are an unfortunate reality, so when planning a trip to these powder paradises, be sure to explore travel insurance.

Heli-skiing first got off the ground in British Columbia's Bugaboos. It's there that mountaineer and heli-skiing pioneer Hans Gmoser pushed the sport forward, and the company he founded, Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH), might still be the best place for first-timers to launch their own heli-skiing adventures.

CMH boasts a dozen luxurious, all-inclusive lodges scattered though three million acres of mountain playground, an area one-third of the size of Switzerland. Six of those lodges offer week-long Powder Intro courses for intermediate/advanced skiers who are new to the backcountry. For experts, there's a limitless array of steeps, bowls, drops, trees, and other backcountry gems on tap from December to April—and more advanced instruction available to help you crush them.

British Columbia's open forests deliver more than the best tree skiing you'll ever enjoy. They also provide some insurance against the changing weather, often allowing skiers to boot up even when visibility is poor above the tree line.

NEW ZEALAND'S SOUTHERN ALPS

Heli-skiing in New Zealand tends to be a bit different, and not only because it occurs when Northern Hemisphere skiers are on their mountain bikes between June and September. Rather than the all-inclusive backcountry lodges popular in North America, New Zealand typically offers accessible adventures from centers like Queenstown, Methven, Wanaka, and Mount Cook.