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Ski Resort Life

The Heli High Life Part 4: Heli Sampler

You don’t need a week or thousands of dollars to fly. À la carte options are taking flight at resorts across North America.

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We woke up this morning still full from last night’s gluttony, which began with a three-tiered tower dripping with fresh Pacific seafood—lobster tails, oysters and sushi—and continued through at least five courses and wine pairings. We toasted a day of skiing and eating we knew might be the best we’d have all season. And it was. Until today.

Up with the sun, we load into the van outside our condo and, on the 30-minute drive from Whistler Village to Pemberton, B.C., chat about yesterday’s vertigo-inducing milky whiteout. Choppers couldn’t fly in that soup, but no biggie. We skied Blackcomb peak instead, warming up our legs and lungs, remembering how to feel our way through thick, buttery powder and crossing our fingers the storm would lift. 

It did, so now we’re playing it cool, as if skiing from a helicopter weren’t something we’ve dreamt about but figured would have to wait for until our schedules and family commitments become less demanding, our incomes more disposable. 

Turns out, you don’t need a week or a small fortune to heli-ski. Nor do you need to venture to the far reaches of nowhere. Local heli operations are popping up close to or right at ski resorts, offering single-day experiences that start and end outside your hotel. That’s what we’ve signed up for.

Coast Range Heliskiing’s base of operations in Pemberton isn’t fancy, but we’re not staying long, just a few minutes to meet our guides, get our safety equipment and have a quick breakfast. Besides, our digs in Whistler are plenty chic. After a quick beacon refresher, we’re in the bird—a pilot, a guide and five clients. 

Coast Range has 200,000 skiable acres spread among seven terrain pods. That’s the equivalent of 25 Whistlers, and we have it all to ourselves. We’ve cut up about 15,000 of it, mostly wide-open bowls and powder fields above treeline, under cobalt skies, before taking a break for a mountaintop lunch.

Our guide and our pilot set to work, digging and shaping a picnic table and benches from the snow. They lay down a tablecloth and offer us seat cushions before serving up delicious, steaming soup, gourmet sandwiches and baked-that-morning cookies. When we’ve finished, we’ll waste no time packing it up and getting back to what it is we came here for.

At the end of the day, our legs only half as tired from skiing as our faces are from smiling, we shuttle back to the resort, where the après scene is going off, and have our pick of a dozen first-rate restaurants. At dinner, we toast the best day we’ve had all season and wish we could do it again tomorrow. But then, we agree, today wouldn’t seem nearly as special.

Tip: Many outfits offer discounts if you book in advance, and give prorated or full refunds if you’re grounded by weather.

{ whistler, b.c. }
Coast Range Heliskiing’s birds fly out of Pemberton. Single-day packages start at $960;

{ Revelstoke, b.c. }
Selkirk Tangiers operates out of Revelstoke’s Hillcrest Hotel. Packages start at $747;

{ snowbird and canyons Resort, utah }
Lift off with the Wasatch Powderbird Guides from Snowbird or Canyons Resort. Starting at $1,050;

{ telluride, colo. }
Ski from Helitrax’s base in Telluride or charter a flight from Aspen or Vail. Starting at $899;

{ jackson hole, wyo. }
Since 1974, High Mountain Heli has guided skiers in the Teton backcountry. Starting at $1,050;

{ sun valley, idaho, and around alaska }
In addition to Sun Valley and Alaska, EpicQuest guides heli tours around the world. Starting at $1,100;

{ silver star, b.c. }
Beginning this month, Silver Star resort guests can spend a day skiing 270,000 acres in the Monashees with Eagle Pass Heli Skiing. Starting at $1,175;

Click here to read Part 1; Part 2; Part 3 of “The Heli High Life”