It’s rare that you get something right on your first try. But that’s exactly what heli-skiing pioneer, Hans Gmoser, did. About 55 years ago, Gmoser, who founded Canadian Mountain Holidays, took the world’s first commercial heli-skiing clients out for a historical spin. After doing some intense recon in the years prior, Gmoser had identified the British Columbia Bugaboos (a range in the Purcell Mountains) as the ideal region to launch this daring new venture out of. He nailed it. These days, British Columbia is still the epicenter of the heli-skiing world and the proof is in the dozens of operators that are based out of the region.
Photo: Selkirk Tangiers/William Eaton
Well known as a popular destination for powderhounds, both among those who stick the resort or take to the sky, British Columbia regularly receives upwards of 700 inches annually. This is especially true of the popular heli skiing zones, like the Cariboo, Monashees, Purcell and Selkirks of the Columbia Mountains. Putting that in perspective, most major resorts in lower 48 receive 300 inches to 400 inches annually.
In short, your chances of enjoying creamy heli turns are high in British Columbia.
Photo: Canadian Mountain Holidays
Safer, less avalanche-prone snowpack is prominent in British Columbia due to a consistent range in temperatures and snowfall. This is especially true of the coastal mountains near Whistler Blackcomb. However, the interior Columbia Mountains are also considered to be quite safe because they are still close enough to the ocean to enjoy the coastal snowpack benefits. Inconsistent snowpack occurs when temperature ranges are inconsistent, i.e. it gets very warm very fast and cause the snow to melt and form air pockets between the snow particles. This combined with a lighter, drier snowfall and steep slopes create higher avalanche risk.
Photo: Selkirk Tangiers/Alain Sleigher
British Columbia’s most popular heli-skiing mountains, the Columbia Mountains, top out 10,354 feet and, generally, the top 500 to 1,000 feet of the mountain is above treeline. Most B.C. heli-skiing operators offer runs that average 2,500 vertical feet. This means a good deal of the terrain is below treeline, which not only provides fun skiing, but shelter on colder, windier days and further reduces the risk of avalanche.
Multitude of nearby ski towns
Photo: Whistler Heli Skiing
In addition to heli-skiing operators, British Columbia is home to dozens of ski resorts. Operators like Selkirk Tangiers (Revelstoke), Canadian Mountain Holidays (Revelstoke), rk heliski (Panorama), Whistler Heli-Skiing (Whistler Blackomb) and TLH Heli Skiing (Whistler Blackcomb) are located right in resort towns. This way, if you’re downed for a weather day or simply want to explore the local lift-accessed offerings, you have options on hand.
Plus, ski towns are great places for dining and nightlife diversions and they almost always have more than skiing on tap. Think, you could arrange for a day of guided snowmobiling or even better treat your weary heli legs to a day at the spa or local hot springs.