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Backcountry

2021 Editors' Choice: Telluride Helitrax

Telluride's backcountry terrain is legendary. Book a heli-ski day to see what all the fuss is about.

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When it comes to heli-skiing, sometimes you get lucky, and sometimes you don’t. We got lucky. It had been windy and overcast the previous days of our trip, but the morning of our heli-ski day with Telluride Helitrax dawns to a Colorado bluebird sky.

“It’s going to be a beautiful day out there,” says Sonja Nelson, longtime Helitrax guide and the one leading our morning safety briefing. We may not find fresh snow, Nelson tells us, but when skiing the San Juans in February, that can actually be a good thing—with avalanche risk fairly low, we may get on some steeper slopes that can remain off-limits until later in the season, when Colorado’s fickle snowpack begins to stabilize.

After our first lap, I realize that when you’re getting heli lifts to 10,000-plus feet above sea level and exploring a 200-square mile area, you don’t have to worry about finding fresh snow.

Everything we ski up here is untouched, and the high altitude has helped keep the older snow soft. We get to ski six runs throughout the day, each entirely unique and in different zones within Helitrax’s tenure that extends south, east, and north of Telluride Ski Resort. The terrain ranges from mellow, open bowls above treeline to the steeper chutes Telluride’s fabled backcountry is known for, and it’s all set amid some of the most breathtaking and dramatic peaks in all of Colorado. 

SKI's Jenny Wiegand samples the Telluride's backcountry terrain with Telluride Helitrax
SKI editor Jenny Wiegand samples Telluride’s backcountry terrain on a day out with Telluride Helitrax. Photo: Keri Bascetta

Each run has us racking up 2,000-3,000 vertical feet, our legs shaking and grins becoming etched in stone by the time we reach the Eurocopter AS350 B3e waiting at the pick-up zone to whisk our group of four plus guide away so we can do it all over again.

After our sixth run, our guide, Joe Eppler, tells us there’s time to squeeze in one more if we want to go again. Everyone in our crew—including, to my own disbelief, me—happily declines. It’s not that the skiing wasn’t good (it was fantastic), but our legs have over 10,000 feet of vertical on them and they’ve turned to Jell-O. With that, our pilot flies us back to Mountain Village, a quick 10-minute trip that includes sweeping views of Telluride Ski Resort.  

On the flight back, I realize that sure, there’s a lot of luck that comes into play when booking a heli-ski day—you hope the weather will cooperate, that the snow will be good, and that you’ll get put in a group and with a guide who will allow you to make the most of your day. But you can also make your own luck when it comes to heli-skiing. Find an operation that runs small group sizes, flies within a massive tenure with peaks that afford 2,000-foot T-to-B runs, and is located in a geographical region blessed with both big winter storms and abundant sunshine. 

About Telluride Helitrax

  • Cost: $1,395 per person for single day heli-skiing; includes powder ski rentals, avalanche safety gear, and lunch.
  • Info: helitrax.com

A family-owned and operated business, Telluride Helitrax has been offering heli-skiing and heli-assisted ski touring in the San Juans since 1982. Its tenure is made up of more than 200 square miles of US Forest Service Land to the north, east, and south of Telluride Ski Resort. Most runs range from the equivalent of double blue to black diamond difficulty.

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