Take your skiing to even greater peaks with the adrenaline-fuelled sport of heliskiing
Nearly 55 years after the first commercial heliskiing trip, helicopter-assisted backcountry skiing remains every bit as thrilling, frivolous and addictive as ever
Nearly 55 years after the first commercial heliskiing trip, the adrenaline-fuelled sport of helicopter-assisted backcountry skiing remains every bit as thrilling, frivolous and addictive as ever, enabling us to ski the most remote and beautiful pockets of the world. Once you’ve tasted the sheer joy of floating through waist-deep snow, bouncing off bottomless powder pillows and between snow- cloaked trees, you too will be in thrall to what some skiers call 'the rapture of the deep'.
Since its earliest incarnation in 1963, heliskiing has offered a heady mix of excitement, adventure and camaraderie set against the serene majesty of pristine winterscapes. We have 60s pioneers to thank for a world in which helicopters provide the means to feed our addiction to untracked powder through helicopter-assisted off-piste skiing, and now modern heliski experts – such as Flory Kern – are sharing their expiditions with ski lovers.
Kern told Tempus: "I founded Flory Kern Ski Berge Abenteuer in 1998 together with some fellow qualified mountain and ski guides. I’m always on the lookout for new heliski destinations, forever fascinated by the endless possibilities of this sport. It’s given me the opportunity to stand on 6,000m peaks in the Andes and ski the Himalayas – unforgettable adventures I’ve shared with customers new and old."
Those adventures are markedly different in other ways, with accommodation in plush lodges with spas, wine cellars and private cinemas rather than basic mountain huts. Technological advances have resulted in safer, larger, faster and more agile helicopters and have given skiers added security in the form of avalanche safety equipment and mobile communications – as well as the option of specially architectured skis such as those by Florian Kohlbecker's Black Forest Skis. >>
Heliskiing has subsequently opened a world of opportunity for intrepid travellers. You can ski the Atlas mountains from a sun-dappled Marrakech riad, fly from the rooftop of the W Santiago to lap virgin peaks in the Andes, or bag first descents in Antarctica from the superyacht Cloudbreak – which comes with a custom helicopter, ski room and fireplace. You don’t even have to be a pro skier to take part, as less experienced skiers can start with a single heli-drop or a day on gentle, gladed terrain.
While each of these adventures delivers distinct ski and cultural experiences, heliski days across the globe share some commonalities. A daily safety briefing is a given, with information provided about avalanche safety kit, the local terrain, snow and weather conditions. Contrary to belief borne of extreme ski films, skiers do not leap out of the helicopter onto precipitous ledges but are deposited, with knife-edge precision, on safe spots.
After a heli-huddle, kneeling down together in the snow as the chopper takes off, the silence of the mountains descends, you clip into your skis and enjoy the best powder run of your life. And repeat, all day, all week long.
The number of runs in a day depends on each group’s ability and the terrain – greater vertical descent translates into fewer but longer single runs. Veteran heliskiers typically log their “vert” (vertical descent), which can range from 3,000-16,000 metres per day. And, although heli-guides jokingly refer to “heli-belly”, blaming a slight paunch on the relatively effortless nature of heliskiing, even strong skiers will find a full day’s heliskiing hard work. Heliski expert Flory Kern gives Tempus a glimpse into life as an expedition guide: