Heli-skiing sure ain’t cheap, but it’s a heck of a rush.
To get the best powder, the most pristine runs, and the possibility of the first descent down a drop, you can’t beat heli-skiing. Heli-skiing involves taking a helicopter that drops you on a mountaintop in open country over acreage often measuring in the millions. A private guide accompanies you, and the chopper picks you back up at the bottom of the mountain.
It’s the ultimate in luxury adventure travel.
Before booking for the 2020-2021 season, double check that the ski resort (if applicable), lodge, and heli-ski operators all offer full amenities and functionality. If you plan to take advantage of nearby nightlife or other ski village amenities, check on what will be open locally as well. The COVID-19 pandemic has not been kind to the hospitality industry.
The open expanses of British Columbia and the U.S. boast the largest heli-skiing areas in the world. Just don’t expect much wiggle room for saving money on this vacation. If you’re looking for affordable travel, look elsewhere. If, however, you’re willing to spring for a unique experience you’ll always remember, here are the best heli-skiing destinations in North America.
Booking Options: By the Day or Week?
The traditional booking period for heli-skiing is a full week. That usually comes to five digits per person in costs.
That weeklong booking period makes sense from a logistics standpoint. Most heli-skiing operations lie in the deep wilderness of remote mountain ranges. Just getting there often takes a full day of travel.
Still, most heli-skiing operations now offer shorter packages for more budget- or time-conscious skiers. Be prepared to pay more on a per-day basis for shorter trips, though.
Some traditional ski resorts even offer single-day heli-ski packages to score a luxe skiing experience for under a thousand dollars.
Finally, bear in mind that pricing also varies by month. Like traditional skiing, it costs less to book for December and April, the fringes of the season, than for peak ski months.
Pro tip: Heli-skiing packages can be expensive depending on the location and the number of days you choose. Consider travel insurance through a company like World Nomads to protect your travel investment.
Best Daytrip Heli-Skiing in North America
For those of you who aren’t one-percenters, the list below starts with traditional ski resorts where you can buy a one-day heli-skiing package. While not necessarily cheaper on a per-day basis, you can get a taste of luxury without having to commit to multiday packages or isolated chalets in the middle of nowhere.
The resorts below are ordered by minimum per-day price from least to most expensive. They start at about $815 per person per day and climb to $1,500 or higher for more expensive resorts or additional runs beyond the base number. Note that per-day price is not the same as per-run price. Make sure you use a travel rewards credit card to earn bonus rewards on this once in a lifetime experience.
Load up on some top skiing gear before you hit the helipad, and enjoy the ride!
1. Whistler Blackcomb, British Columbia
Whistler Blackcomb is the largest ski resort in North America. And the resort acreage is dwarfed by its heli-skiing area, which is 60 times larger.
That makes Whistler the best bang for your buck since you can stay at or near the resort and buy a one-day heli-skiing package. It’s also much easier to get to than most heli-skiing on this list, located an hour-and-a-half drive from Vancouver.
In fact, given that the resort lies north of the border, Americans can expect particularly favorable rates, as it charges in Canadian dollars.
Day packages start at three runs and go up to six with the option to pay for additional runs. The more runs you make, the less you’ll pay per run. With cumulative drops measuring up to 15,000 feet for the six-run package, you get elite skiing without the elite pricing.
2. Selkirk Powder, Idaho
If you don’t usually think of Idaho as a ski destination, consider that the snowpack averages a midwinter depth of 120 inches. And like most heli-skiing destinations, the Selkirk Mountains offer varied terrain, from bowls to tree runs to narrow rock-lined chutes.
The range’s runs measure up to 2,200 feet, and Selkirk Powder Heli-Skiing offers unlimited runs with a cap of one hour of helicopter flying time. For a (hefty) extra fee, you can buy another 20 minutes of flying time.
As with other daytrip heli-skiing, lodging and meals are not included, although they do include lunches on the day of skiing. You can book as an individual or book a private helicopter for a group rate for up to eight skiers.
The 2020-2021 ski season at Selkirk Powder is shorter than usual, and heli-skiing will operate from late January through the end of March only.
3. Telluride, Colorado
Telluride offers outstanding skiing along with an adorable – but not so adorably priced – town. But as Colorado skiing goes, it’s harder to get to than many of the resorts along the I-70 corridor west of Denver.
Heli-skiers benefit from daytrip pricing and the ability to choose among standard resort lodging. The standard one-day Telluride heli-skiing package includes six runs totaling between 10,000 and 12,000 feet.
With over 200 square miles of mountain ridges to choose from, you have a lot of options for the relatively affordable single-day heli-skiing experience.
Best Multiday Retreat Heli-Skiing
Most of the list below falls under the category of “If you have to ask how much it costs, you probably can’t afford it” – at least if you’re traveling as a family rather than a wealthy solo skier.
That said, some options prove more affordable than others, and the packages below include lodging, meals, and equipment. (Not that the typical heli-skier uses rental equipment.) On the lowest end of the spectrum, expect to spend about $4,000 per person for a four-day excursion. At the high end, prepare to pay $15,000 per person for seven days.
If you want to roll in the best powder but aren’t rolling in the dough, you can always consider picking up a job working at one of these establishments. Given how remote many of these lodges are, many of the jobs include free housing in addition to free skiing.
4. CMH, British Columbia
The Selkirk Mountains don’t end in Idaho. They extend into Washington and British Columbia, offering millions of acres of pristine skiable runs.
But Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) doesn’t just operate in the Selkirks. They boast 12 lodges spread across the Selkirks, Purcells, Monashees, and Cariboos.
Some are less expensive than others, and some are easier to get to than others. All offer outstanding heli-skiing and luxurious lodges.
The founder of CMH, Austrian transplant Hans Gmoser, actually invented heli-skiing back in the 1960s. CMH remains the oldest and largest heli-skiing operation in the world, and their size and diversity allows for some more affordable options than most retreat heli-skiing.
5. SEABA, Alaska
Travel to remote Haines, Alaska, for outstanding heli-skiing in the Chilkat Mountains at SEABA. Guests can fly into either Juneau or Whitehorse, then fly or take a ferry to Haines. Leisurely travelers can even get to Haines by boat from Seattle.
It’s a smaller, more intimate operation, with a maximum of four groups per helicopter and a guest-guide ratio of 4-to-1 or 5-to-1. But a smaller operation doesn’t mean small terrain. SEABA covers over 100,000 acres of the Chilkats, with three separate heliports along a 40-mile corridor. Each heliport is strategically located for different weather patterns to give guests the maximum odds of great powder and weather.
SEABA also claims to have the highest tree line of any heli-skiing destination in Alaska, allowing for great runs even when the peaks cloud over.
Expect a more rugged, ski-oriented experience at the SEABA lodge but without the massages and Champagne welcome. It’s all about the skiing here, as demonstrated by the unlimited runs package for the serious skier who wants to squeeze in the maximum possible slope time.
6. Bella Coola Heli Sports, British Columbia
Named after the nearby town of the same name, Bella Coola Heli Sports maintains a permit to operate across a monstrous 2.64 million acres. Fearless heli-skiers could potentially find a virgin first descent in this massive wilderness.
Each of Bella Coola’s five lodges are small and intimate. They can accommodate a maximum private party of 18 people at a time.
As a company, Bella Coola Heli Sports wins the respect of the hardest possible critics: other ski nuts. It was voted the world’s best heli-ski operator three years running for the 2017, 2018, and 2019 World Ski Rewards. But Bella Coola offers plenty more than just skiing, with lots of niche or combination programs that include fishing, ski touring, sledding, snowshoeing, and bonfires.
7. Last Frontier, British Columbia
Like most of the options for retreat heli-skiing, Last Frontier’s lodges offer intimate luxury. You’ll enjoy saunas, hot tubs, fitness centers, games rooms, après ski drinks and upscale meals, plus nonskiing activities like snowshoeing, skeet shooting, and archery.
Last Frontier’s original lodge is the Bell 2 Lodge, a tiny, off-the-grid village in the Skeena Mountains built specifically for heli-skiing. More recently, they opened a second lodge in the “quirky hotel town” of Stewart near the Alaska border. There, they converted old prospecting buildings – including an old clothing shop, prospector’s house, and even a former brothel – into a modern, upscale ski lodge.
As for the skiing, Last Frontier claims rights to the world’s largest single heli-skiing area. That massive terrain means you could potentially snag a first descent – but it also means Last Frontier’s lodges take a long time to reach.
First, you fly to Vancouver. Then, you take an hour-and-a-half flight to either Smithers or Terrace. If you’re looking for them on a map, pull out a magnifying glass and keep looking further north, then further still. From there, you take a four-hour ground transport to the lodges themselves.
But wow, does the skiing look gorgeous.
8. Valdez Heli-Ski Guides, Alaska
For some serious backcountry heli-skiing nestled among 10,000 square miles of the Chugach Mountains, check out Valdez Heli-Ski Guides. But only if you’re an expert skier.
Valdez doesn’t do beginner or intermediate or “my mom says I’m advanced” skiing. They do 3,000- to 6,000-foot vertical drops. Their longest run keeps going for a seemingly endless 6,200 feet of drop.
And the powder? They get over 500 inches of snow per year, which you need to survive the terrifyingly steep runs.
As an upscale – and up-priced – niche destination, Valdez’s Tsaina Lodge offers massages after a long day’s carving, a hot tub, an appropriately oversized fireplace, firepits, and a fun snow-side bar with bottles literally wedged into the snow.
9. Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, Alaska
Nestled near North America’s tallest peak, Denali (formerly known as Mount McKinley), Tordrillo Mountain Lodge offers luxury and ski runs in abundance.
They’re licensed to use over 1.2 million acres, and many of the available runs surpass 5,500 feet in vertical drop. The region’s high-pressure systems mean it sees more blue skies than most of Alaska, despite its 600 inches of average annual snowfall.
As for the lodge, it’s the kind of place that holds small daily yoga classes for you to limber up before hitting the slopes. After you get back, they encourage you to dive into their frozen private lake, then hop into the wood-fired sauna or copper hot tub.
After a post-sauna massage, sit down to dinner with a bottle from their 500-plus-label wine cellar. But don’t expect either the massages or the wine to come included with the price tag.
10. Bighorn Lodge, British Columbia
If you really want to live like a one-percenter, there’s no better luxury heli-skiing experience in the world than the Bighorn Lodge.
It sits just outside Revelstoke’s resort in the heart of the Monashee and Columbia Mountains, which is not as remote as many of the locations above. You can drive there from Vancouver in seven hours or fly into Kelowna and drive the remaining three hours.
When you get there, the Bighorn Lodge greets you with a Champagne toast. From there, you spend the next week being pampered by a private team that includes a personal chef, servers, house manager, housekeepers, and driver. Also, all drinks are included. They’d better be, at prices starting at over four times the per-person price of the most expensive alternative.
The good news is the lodge cost includes eight rooms that accommodate up to 16 guests. At full capacity, you might be able to push the per-person price low enough to compare to the other high-end options on the list above.
There’s a reason it was named the world’s best ski chalet at the World Ski Awards for four consecutive years and Canada’s best ski chalet for the last six years running. However, this reason has nothing to do with frugality or value for the money.
The 0.1% Option
If private heli-skiing lodges are still too pedestrian for you, you could always take your private yacht and stake out your own ultra-private heli-skiing. Assuming your yacht has a helipad, of course.
Snake your way down the coast starting in northern Alaska and down along British Columbia. When you get sick of shivering, keep heading south and enjoy some warmer latitudes until you reach the coast of Chile.
Think of it this way: Every run will feel like a first descent because you’ll have no way of knowing if another skier has ever carved their way down it.
Heli-skiing isn’t cheap, even when you do it for a single day at a public ski resort. And for a family of four to do a week at a boutique heli-skiing lodge, you could easily spend $60,000 – before even figuring out how to reach it.
It sure makes for a good way to shock your sneering teenagers into silence when planning a trip with teens, though. “Oh yeah? Disneyworld is too childish? Well, pack your ski gloves, jacket, and some crutches, because we’re going heli-skiing with vertical drops longer than a mile.”
And hey, if you dream of heli-skiing but can’t afford it living in North America, you can always move to Europe or South America. Try these countries where you can live comfortably for under $2,000 a month to really max out your savings rate.