Adventure

Three Inbounds "Heli" Runs

All skiers should have the chance to feel what it’s like to heli-ski. But if you don’t have the dough or can’t make the trip to a heli-pad this year show up to one of these resorts on a powder day, wait patiently in the dark with the locals, and seize your chance to be one of the first to slice through some of the most sought after lift-accessed terrain in the world.

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Although heli-skiing in North America dates back to the 1960's, it wasn't until Alaska burst onto the scene in the 1990's when skiers and riders…

Although heli-skiing in North America dates back to the 1960’s, it wasn’t until Alaska burst onto the scene in the 1990’s when skiers and riders became fixated on the dream to heli-ski. Heli-skiing and more specifically the idea of of heli-skiing are now engrained in ski culture. We’re hooked on the idea of accessing what we believe could be the run of our lives. Heli or no heli, that’s the ticket; the feeling of the best run of your life. But the reality of the matter is that heli-skiing is not cheap. Sure, it can be done on a dirt bag’s dime at some operations, but for most of us, putting in the time and effort isn’t realistic. So if you’re not able to go heli-skiing this year, why not take a trip to a ski town that offers the chance to get the equivalent of a heli-run-steep lines, limited crowds, and most importantly, untouched snow- every day there’s fresh snow. Here’s a breakdown of three places you can do just that. Each area has a unique lift, a varying amount of skiable terrain and vertical, and a thirsty group of hard core locals who wait patiently hours before the lift opens to make sure they get an untracked run each powder day—what they deem as the “free” heli-runs they get with each season pass purchase.

Cool Factor: According to long-time Squaw Valley locals, KT 22, aka

Cool Factor: According to long-time Squaw Valley locals, KT 22, aka “the mother ship”, is your gateway to some of the best lift serviced terrain in North America. While it comes in last on our list in terms of sheer vertical, it’s arguably comes in first for quality of terrain and options with regard to your chosen run. There’s a reason the late great Shane McConkey, Scott Schmidt, Tom Day, the Gaffney Brothers, and other venerable ski industry icons have called Squaw Valley and KT 22 home. It’s just that good. In fact, some skiers never even leave KT once it’s open. If you happen to score a fresh lap at some point in your career you’ll know why the lift garners the reputation is does.

Why Wait: Although KT can keep even the most jaded skier entertained for hours and days on end, the real magic comes in that one completely untracked run down West Face, Oly Chair Line, Chute 75, or, for the freeride boys and gals, the infamous Nose to Fingers run. With quality snow, whether it is one, two, or three-plus feet, that run will never leave your memory.

Ask a Local: Robb Gaffney, author of “Squallywood” says, “When KT gets hit with a wet westerly storm, the pasty flutes on McConkey’s (that form once every few years) can make you feel like you’re on a big Alaskan face. After smearing down the 60-degree flutes and landing off the bottom cliff, you can high speed it down to the technical baby fingers, which roll out of sight. Take some air or straightline onto the apron that leads down another wide open powder field to where your heli—uh, I mean the Olympic Lady chair— is awaiting.”

Cool Factor: It's been said many times over, but the truth is there's no place in the U.S. like Jackson Hole. Beyond the unreal backcountry access,…

Cool Factor: It’s been said many times over, but the truth is there’s no place in the U.S. like Jackson Hole. Beyond the unreal backcountry access, the tram at Jackson gives skiers and riders access to 4,000+ foot inbounds laps. Your terrain selection is endless, from mellow slopes to big airs, tight couloirs, and steep tree skiing. The locals who live and breathe this place are akin to those you’ll meet at Squaw; they rip hard and focus their lives in one way or another to make sure whenever the Hole is reporting something fresh they’re going to be in tram line. 

Why Wait: The tram only holds 100 people. Getting first box means it’s just you and 99 others on top of a big mountain with a whole lot of terrain. While locals may have another opinion, Rendezvous Bowl to the Hobacks is nothing short of a heli-run. The trick is getting your legs in shape so you can hang from top to bottom without stopping.

Ask a Local: Derek Depiero epitomized the ski bum roots of Jackson Hole by sleeping overnight at the base of the tram a few years back to ensure he was the first person to board the new tram after it was replaced. “I get so psyched. This is what I think about all year long,” he says “As soon as that tram closes in April, that’s what I start doing — counting the days until it opens again.”

Cool Factor: La Grave is regarded as one of the premier steep skiing resorts in the world. Its reputation has grown tremendously in the past 15…

Cool Factor: La Grave is regarded as one of the premier steep skiing resorts in the world. Its reputation has grown tremendously in the past 15 years, due in no small part to the work of the late great Doug Coombs and his wife Emily. The word got out to the States after they began their Steep Skiing Camps and quickly La Grave became the place for skiers who wanted to take the step from backcountry skiing into the world of ski mountaineering. The lift, the only lift at La Grave, is a five-car telepherique gondola that was built back in 1976.

Why Wait: Highly knowledgeable guides at your service, a reputation for epic couloirs, and the chance for a Euro heli-run make this place beyond cool. The guides can get you into anything you can handle, and might even push you to ski something you would otherwise pass on, and the 13,065 foot La Meige that rises adjacent to La Grave is one of the more spectacular peaks you’ll ever set your eyes on. La Grave really isn’t a ski area at all, but if you happen to catch it on a powder day you’ll see the same sort of early morning line-up that you’ll see at Jackson and Squaw. Locals and visitors alike wait for dibs on the four-car gondola and while many of them will be trying to get into one of the many famed couloirs first, just as many will be lined up so they can dart out of the Telepherique and dive right into over 7,000 feet of turns. If you think a non-stop run off KT-22 or the Tram at Jackson is tough in deep powder, try it at La Grave. 

Ask a Local: Ptor Spricenieks on turning down a chance to film for a day because La Grave had been closed and he wanted his “heli-run:” “The téléphérique [had] been closed by a major storm for three days. I wouldn’t have missed that first lift on a bluebird morning for anything.”  -Brennan Lagasse