Heli skiing is tough to beat: It’s the ultimate backcountry ski experience and we consider ourselves very fortunate to be living the bucket list year after year.

It's tough to imagine anything but pros and upshots. Photo: Courtesy of Steve Rosset

It’s tough to imagine anything but pros and upshots. Photo: Courtesy of Steve Rosset

But, despite the obvious upsides — like skiing untouched powder in some of the world’s most beautiful and remote terrain — there are a few things people don’t often tell you about heli skiing.

Sometimes there are down days

It happens. Photo: Courtesy of Jun Yanagisawa

It happens. Photo: Courtesy of Jun Yanagisawa

The same storms that deliver knee-deep fresh powder can be problematic for helicopters and their pilots. Unlike with airplanes, these guys need visibility in order to fly, so when the big weather systems move in, sometimes we have to stay put.

The good news is this: Down days are relatively few and far between, and they tend to be followed by the most epic of ski days.

It’s not all sweeping alpine bowls

Not so bad. Photo: Courtesy of Caton Garvie

Not so bad. Photo: Courtesy of Caton Garvie

Depending on a number of factors, the majority of a heli ski day could be spent below tree line. Of course, the image most people conjure when they imagine heli skiing is of panoramic vistas and long runs from mountaintop to valley bottom.

This simply isn’t always the case.

Fortunately for us, our massive tenure gives us enormous flexibility in terms of terrain, enabling us to find incredible skiing in a wide variety of conditions. If you’ve really got your heart set on the picture-postcard high alpine, the best time to book a trip is March or even April, when the winter storms start to taper off.

It’s sweaty and a little bit exhausting

There’s a common misconception, particularly among people with limited experience skiing in powder, that heli skiing will be easier than a day at the resort. While we’re certainly partial to it, there is a certain level of physical fitness that will allow for greater enjoyment and fewer aches and pains at the end of the day.

For starters, there are no groomer laps when your quads are screaming for you to take a break. You’ve got to keep up with the group, which in most cases is composed of relatively fit and experienced skiers/snowboarders.

What’s more, the breaks you do have in the helicopter are much shorter and quicker than the average lift or gondola ride.

The upside is that there is the potential to cover much more terrain and ski nothing but powder for an entire week, if you’re able. To ensure that you’re well prepared to maximize a heli ski vacation, it’s best to establish a fitness regimen like the one above, combining cardio with strength training, a few months in advance.

You must be one with nature

Not even an outhouse. Photo: Courtesy of Katie Marti

Not even an outhouse. Photo: Courtesy of Katie Marti

This comes as a surprise to some people, but there are no toilets out/up there. There are plenty of trees, but no indoor plumbing or rustic facilities in which to relieve oneself.

If this is something you need time to wrap your head around, consider this your fair warning.

You are not in control

A decidedly ideal scenario. Photo: Courtesy of Dave Silver

A decidedly ideal scenario. Photo: Courtesy of Dave Silver

Guides want their guests to have the best possible experience, and they will go to great lengths to ensure a variety of terrain to suit the abilities and desires of their groups.

Having said that, a number of factors play into delivering a day of heli skiing. Snow stability, travel logistics and unexpected delays due to injury or a change in weather can all throw a monkey wrench into the most carefully laid plans.

It’s important to go into a heli ski vacation with a clear understanding that things may not always unfold exactly the way you would like or even expect. One way to minimize a few variables is to book a private tour or rally enough friends to make your own group of five.

This means that, at the very least, you won’t have to compromise with other skiers or snowboarders who may have a different perception of what makes a day ideal. Of course, even on a private tour, the lead guide is the boss in terms of setting parameters as to what can be skied on a given day.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Despite the curve balls, any day spent zooming around in a helicopter and dropping into endless powder with a small crew of good buds is a really, really great day.

Even if you’re tired and you have to pee and you spent all morning crushing pillow laps in the trees before taking an early return trip to have beer in the hot tub while it dumps snow all around you, it’s a really great day.

Like, maybe the BEST. DAY. EVER.

Katie Marti

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