MAX VERTICAL DROP:
AVERAGE VERTICAL LOGGED PER DAY:
Six runs for $595 (lower-priced packages available).
From Salt Lake City, take I-15 north to Ogden and the 12th Street exit. Turn east, and take routes 39 and 158 to Powder Mountain ski area (where Diamond Peaks is based).
Beta: Diamond Peaks heli-skiing is to Powder Mountain ski area what Wasatch Powder Guides is to Snowbird: a resort-based, on-site heli operation you can easily hook with should the powder deities vomit upon the Wasatch. Of course, the Northern Wasatch, where Diamond Peaks flies, gets far less traffic and attention than the mountains located in the suburbs of Salt Lake City.
Once you're there, Bell Long Ranger helicopters whisk you and up to three other skiers from the gravel parking lot outside Powder Mountain's Hidden Lake Lodge to conifer-flanked peaks that roll away into endless sagebrush horizons. Then it's just a matter of releasing your edges and dropping into wide-open drainages as you execute swooping turns around well-spaced trees and boulders. It's not the steepest heli-terrain (there's a lot of stuff in the 32-degree range), but the rippling peaks include every aspect. "No matter how the wind blows or the sun hits, you can find the goods," says guide Robert Rose. "Untracked a week after a storm-that's our gig."
What's more, few other operations seem so emblematic of the rustic American West: The pilots work forest fires all summer, and, with 15,000 acres the place is run like a giant powder ranch. "All the terrain is on private land, so there's great access and no hassles," Rose says, making a subtle reference to the disputes Wasatch Powder Guides has had with backcountry skiers in Little Cottonwood Canyon. "If you're looking for frills and gold-plated faucet handles, go somewhere else."
SNOWPACKDiamond Peaks claims nearly the same average snowfall as Alta: a whopping 500 inches per year. And like Alta, the flake is dependably light and dry. Instability does rear its ugly head from time to time, but heli-skiers are relatively safe-much of the terrain is benignly pitched, and the eyes watching it are keen (see Guides).
TERRAIN HIGHLIGHTSSix upper landing zones put skiers above ridges littered with boulders as well as piñon and white pines-with lots of room to turn between them. Champagne is the ideal run for slaloming trees while kicking up featherlight snow.
WEATHERA northern location means Diamond Peaks often gets more-and bigger-storms during January and February, but fewer spring dumps than Salt Lake resorts.
THE GUIDESYou're in good gloves here: Diamond Peaks' heli-ski guides are National Ski Patrollers (NSP) certified in avalanche response; most have been with the company for more than 10 years. Lead Guide Craig Olsen is the NSP's avalanche adviser for Wyoming, Nevada, and Utah.
THE LODGEThe Snowberry Inn (snowberryinn.com), located down the road in Eden, has five theme rooms (think roses and bearskin rugs). Diamond Peaks will land a helicopter there to pick you up at no charge.
THE CHOW The Hidden Lake Lodge at Powder Mountain serves as Diamond Peaks' lunch restaurant (pizza, sandwiches). Dinner choices abound in Ogden, just 19 miles away.
BANG FOR BUCKDiamond Peaks' affiliation with Powder Mountain guarantees no down days. If the heli can't fly, just ride the lifts. The logistics are also slick-several runs feed into the resort, so you often ski powder until the piste, then ride the lifts back up to Hidden Lake and your next flight.
MUST-KNOWDiamond Peaks is the only heli-ski outfit in Utah that offers single drops. One flight, plus all-day privileges at the resort, is only $150.
ESSENTIAL GEARSince the chopper is hauling you uphill, leave the soft shell pants at home in favor of somethingg super bomber, like these Stretch Element pants with built-in suspenders from Patagonia ($299; patagonia.com).