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Heli-Skiing in Canada's Rockies: What Will It Cost?

Author: Matthew Jackson

Can you put a price on the dream of limitless, trackless powder skiing in the magnificent Canadian Rockies? Sure you can. To keep it simple, your helicopter-assisted ski fantasy is going to run you between $1,100 and $2,000 per person, per day. (And sometimes a lot more, but we'll take a look cheaper options here, too.)

Once you've accepted that four figures a day is a reasonable price for a once-in-a-lifetime, unparalleled, multiday heli-ski adventure, the trickier question is what exactly am I getting for my money? Primary factors to consider as you compare different operators' offerings are: what's included; where you'll ski; how much skiing you'll actually do; and how safe you'll be.

What Packages Include

Almost all of the multiday trips Canadian operators offer are all-inclusive, meaning that you'll get food, lodging, guide services, helicopter transport and ski gear suited for the Rockies' famous deep, dry powder. All you need to bring is your boots, warm layers of clothing, a camera, and, if you're smart, a helmet. In some cases, you also get medical-evacuation insurance, cutting-edge safety equipment, refunds on bad-weather days and transportation to and from nearby airports.

Top Spots

Heli-skiing was invented a half century ago in British Columbia by Hans Gmoser, the founder of Canadian Mountain Holidays, now known as CMH. With 10 snowy mountain ranges and about 20 heli-ski operators, British Columbia boasts 90% of the world's heli-skiing, with Revelstoke as its jewel. Other Canadian Rockies resorts with heli-skiing include Whistler Blackcomb, RED Mountain, Silver Star and Panorama in BC, and the Banff–Lake Louise area in Alberta.

Range of Prices

[Prices are in USD, based on the September 2015 exchange rate of $1.30 Canadian for one U.S. dollar.]

Prices rise as trips get smaller and more customized. Factors that affect cost include the guest-to-guide ratio and the number of skiers per helicopter, plus whether that copter is dedicated exclusively to your group's travel. More guides and few skiers is preferable, since that means more ski time. One of CMH's premium trips, for example – a seven-day private excursion for 10 people to its luxurious Valemount Lodge with use of a dedicated copter – is priced at about $178,000 for the group (based on double occupancy). By contrast, CMH's seven-day, Signature heli-ski trip to its Galena Lodge is $5,745 per person (also based on double occupancy).

For those who are either frugal or uncertain about heli-skiing, day trips may be the way to go. Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing offers a 2 Days No Frills package where you choose your own lodgings and dinners and join them for two days of day skiing in Revelstoke. You and nine other skiers led by two guides get breakfast, lunch, after-ski snacks, gear, safety equipment and 10 ski runs total for $1,380 to $1,595, depending on which week between January and March you go. R.K. Heliski in the Banff area offers even less expensive one-day options: three runs for $650 and five runs $760, including breakfast and lunch.

Tips When You Go

Other important things you should know about planning a heli-ski trip:

Book early. By September, many of the best trips are already spoken for. Except for day trips, heli-skiing is not a spur-of-the-moment option.

Be prepared. You should be in good physical condition and competent skiing on blue or black diamond runs. Heli-skiing is not a sport for novices. No one younger than 15 is allowed to heli-ski.

Know the dangers. Backcountry, or off-piste, skiing carries with it the risk of death or injury by avalanche, so be aware and choose an operator who puts a priority on safety. Ideally, your operator will equip you with an avalanche transceiver, a snow probe, a small shovel and an airbag backpack that will inflate to bring you to the top of the cascading snow in a disaster.

Understand refund policies. One of the bragging rights of British Columbia is that there are very few bad-weather days, especially in the Revelstoke area. Even when it's overcast or snowing, heli-skiers are often able to go out for tree-line skiing. That said, though, weather events do happen and if they happen to you, you're going to want to know just how much, if any, money you get back for lost days. Make sure you read your tour operators' fine print and understand how its policies work.

Remember the GST. There is a 5% national Goods and Services Tax in Canada. It is usually not factored into prices quoted by operators. In addition, British Columbia has its own 7% Provincial Sales Tax (PST), so be prepared for some tax sticker shock.

Enjoy the exchange rate. Although Canada's currency is dollars, the Canadian dollar is seldom at parity with the U.S. dollar. Right now, the U.S. dollar is buying $1.30 or more Canadian, which means that as an American, you're getting a lot more for your buck in Canada than you would at home.

The Bottom Line

For adventurers in good physical condition who are competent skiing on blue or black diamond runs, heli-skiing can be the experience of a lifetime. Just don't expect to jump from the helicopter, James Bond–style. Your transport chopper makes a soft landing at the top of the run, and you disembark one foot at a time. Then the adventure begins.

For more adventure vacation ideas, see 5 Specialty Vacations And What They Cost and Top 5 Unique Winter Vacations.

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