Sun Valley Heli Skiing

How to Properly Spend $1,100 in Idaho.
Sun Valley heli

They are my best-spent 20 minutes of 2009. And I’m riding bitch, crammed alongside three other dudes in the back of an A-Star. While there’s little room for movement, there is no room for complaining. Besides, I’ve got a window seat.

Cruising at 10,000 feet above Idaho’s expansive, undulating Smoky Mountains—one of three ranges open to Sun Valley Heli Skiing—I’m starting to get an idea of what 750,000 acres of skiable terrain look like. As I gawk out the window, Erik Leidecker, our certified IMFGA guide, rides shotgun and casually selects a few runs for us, portioning individual crumbs of the empire to explore. Only each crumb is 2,000 feet long.

The helicopter touches down on Paradise, a sweeping pyramid with several lines that roll down its ridges and faces. Surrounding us are myriad peaks, enormous bowls, innumerable cirques, and the remains of one savage forest fire. We are four clients, including Olympic downhiller, X Games medalist, and aspiring guide Reggie Crist, who have come to lap Oh, Baby, one of several hundred named runs in the middle of Idahoan nowhere. Unlike other heli operations, with 11 guests per group, SVHS’s four-to-one client-to-guide ratio ensures that we move quickly, streaking down no-brainer, gladed trees.

I trail Erik by five turns, spooning the foot-deep trench to my right. We’re skiing fast, passing each pine with increasing speed. I skim over the undulating rollers, my skis leaving the snow. I can hear Reggie, Mr. Olympian, behind me, hooting as I dip and dodge through shin-deep snow until we come in hot to the pickup zone.

Sun Valley Heli Skiing is the oldest heli operation in the U.S. Bill Janss founded it in 1966 after helicopter skiing in Canada with Hans Gmoser (the inventor of North American heli-skiing), figuring he could do the same thing in Idaho. And he did. Recently, SVHS partnered with EpicQuest, a global, high-end adventure-travel companythat pairs clients with world-class athletes. I’m here with Reggie, but you can snowboard Alaska with Jeremy Jones or surf the Seychelles with Laird Hamilton. All you need is enthusiasm and a thick wallet, as this form of travel isn’t cheap.

By 2:30 that afternoon, we’ve eclipsed 20,000 feet of vertical and now it’s a countdown to the bar. By day’s end I’ve dialed getting in and out of the back of the ship—that is, until Erik throws me a curveball. “You should ride up front,” he says.

I don’t know how to respond. I thought that seat was guides-only and off-limits to clients. Then Erik notices me standing wide-eyed, trying to conceptualize sitting shotgun in a chopper, and clarifies the offer. “I mean, why wouldn’t you?”

Lodge: EpicQuest partners with a half-dozen Ketchum-area hotels (take your pick); a good place to stay is at a Thunder Spring condo (

Food: Lunch in the field is sandwiches or wraps, hot soup, chips, and a drink. After skiing, hit The Pioneer, a Ketchum institution, for dinner.

Max Elevation: 10,000 feet

Max Vertical Drop: 3,500 feet

Average Daily Vertical: 14,000 feet

Price: $1,100 for six or seven runs, which average 2,000 feet. Lunch and hotel transfer included.



Reggie Crist in Sun Valley

Inside Line: Sun Valley, ID

Sun Valley oozes history. In 1936, it debuted the world’s first chairlift and became a full-fledged destination resort, drawing visitors like Marilyn Monroe, Ernest Hemingway, and Louis Armstrong. And in 1946, Warren Miller started making ski movies there. Today, Sun Valley’s the home of ski-film stars Zach and Reggie Crist and the premier heli-ski outfitter in Idaho. But the real reason it’s a resort for the ages: Sun Valley’s terrain—ranging from high-speed rippers to wide-open bowls—never gets old.

Bald Mountain’s shady north face is named after the hot springs-fed creek that runs through the base area. The signature run, Warm Springs, is one of the classic groomer descents in the country. If you can’t have fun on Warm Springs, you need a fresh tune and a ski lesson. This is not the place to slide a turn or suck at skiing. Few things compare to over 3,000 vertical feet of high-speed GS turns down this alley. Your legs will tremble and your lips will quiver with a strange mix of terror, excitement, and exhaustion. Warm Springs will make you remember that like powder, carving is pretty damn exhilarating. Plus, if you luck out with a fat storm with southwest flow, The Burn, the sidecountry zone created by the 2007 Castle Rock wildfire just off Warm Spring’s western boundary, is some of the best powder skiing in the country.

Secrets to Skiing Sun Valley

It’s a simple existence in Sun Valley, Idaho. Ski, party, repeat. But combine a demanding mountain with celebrity sightings and seemingly bottomless schooners of beer, and spending time at America’s most storied ski resort is anything but easy. Here’s a guide to doing it right.

Sun Valley has a wealth of restaurants, both fine dining for a romantic date and casual family-friendly hotspots.  To play it fancy, visit the Lodge Dining Room.  For a hearty prime rib, go to the Pioneer Saloon.  Look no further than Il Naso for an urban Italian experience.  To spend quality time with your family overlooking the ice rink, head to Gretchen's.

Sun Valley

Sun Valley’s terrain—ranging from high-speed rippers to wide-open bowls—never gets old.