What Is Heli Skiing? | Tordrillo Mountain Lodge


September 15, 2020

You don’t have to be a seasoned skier to enjoy the thrills of heli skiing in Alaska. It’s no secret that helicopter skiing is quickly becoming one of the area’s top attractions, and Tordrillo Mountain Lodge offers some of the industry’s best guides to lead you on this one-in-a-lifetime mountainside adventure.


Heli skiing is off-trail, downhill skiing that is accessed by a helicopter. It’s about skiing in natural environments without the effort that comes with hiking to these areas. Most heli skiers are looking for powder snow, natural terrain features, long descents, smooth corn snow, old-growth tree glades and steep lines.

Heli ski guides and operations offer skiers the opportunity to ski with minimal risk in the backcountry. You don’t need to be an extreme mountaineer to find yourself on top of a huge mountain in the middle of the wilderness anymore. Contrary to popular belief, heli skiing doesn’t mean you have to jump out of a helicopter! The helicopter acts as your lift to the top of the mountain. From here, the helicopter lands, skiers exit, put on their skis, and start their thrilling descent down the powdery mountain.

A blonde woman wearing a red snowsuit quickly skis on fresh snow in Alaska.

The History of Heli Skiing

Heli skiing history began with Hans Gmoser, a mountain guide from Austria. Gmoser is generally credited to have started heli skiing back in 1965 in British Columbia. Evidence also suggests that heli skiing may have even taken place in the late 1950s or early 60s in Alaska, Wyoming, or Utah based on old photos in ski books.

Years back, taking a helicopter to remote places for the chance to ski untracked powder runs was seen as something for only the most daring. Today, heli skiing has become a socially acceptable form of family fun. Ski movies often show heli skiers navigating only the most extreme terrain. Although those lines are accessible via chopper, the majority of heli skiers are intermediate skiers looking to experience the backcountry in a safe environment.

Whether it’s the idea of riding in a helicopter through some of the most beautiful heli skiing terrain in the world, or skiing incredibly long runs of totally untracked powder, heli skiing with Tordrillo Mountain Lodge is the perfect way to do it. In addition, skiers don’t need to worry about feeling pressured to keep up with or race down the mountainside against others. This makes Alaska heli skiing the perfect option for your next family vacation.

Alaska Heli Skiing Myths and FAQs

There’s a lot to know about heli skiing in Alaska. In fact, there’s so much information and myths out there that we decided to break down the post popular FAQs and myths about the sport to help you get up to speed on this popular Alaska adventure.

Myth #1: You Have to Jump Out of Helicopters to Heli Ski

Contrary to popular belief, the helicopter will make a secure landing. This allows you to get out of the helicopter calmly, where you wait for the heli to lift off and fly away. Most of the time the helicopter will be using an LZ (Landing Zone) that they have used many times before. Hollywood and James Bond have their own versions of what heli skiing is really about, but we can assure you that you will not be jumping out of the helicopter at Tordrillo Mountain Lodge and your landings will be safe and effortless.

Myth #2: Heli Skiing is Only for Experienced Skiers

Not true! You’d be surprised to know that heli skiing in Alaska is not just for the seasoned skier. If you’re an intermediate skier and are considering taking yourself to the next level (and what better way to do it than in the backcountry of Alaska!), here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I feel confident and comfortable when I ski?
  • Am I able to control my skis in a variety of terrain?
  • Have I powder-skied before? If not, am I open to trying this?
  • Am I afraid of heights? After all, you will need to ride in a helicopter!

If you’re able to answer these questions and feel your excitement level spike up a few notches, heli skiing may be for you! Contact Tordrillo Mountain Lodge for more information about heli skiing packages, available dates, travel accommodations, and more.

Myth #3: Wild Animals Will Chase You Down the Mountain

While you’re very likely to see moose and bears in Alaska, you won’t find these natives trying to steal your first tracks or pre-dinner snack. Guides are always looking out for wildlife from the heli and will often point them out to you as you fly over them. They are mostly found in the lower elevations, and viewing them from the heli is really the best vantage point. When you get to the lodge, make sure to ask Lodge Manager, Bret Gilleland, about her “close encounters of the bear kind.”

Myth #4: Heli Skiing is for Thrill-Seeking “Huckers”

Alaska is where the first World Extreme Ski Competition took place, but at Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, we have terrain that suits all skiers, from an intermediate skill level to someone looking to push the envelope. The guide team at Tordrillo Mountain Lodge has spent years skiing, guiding, and pioneering new runs in their heli terrain and they tailor every trip to the desires and skill levels of their guests.

Myth #5: It’s Hard to Find Nice Accommodations that Offer Heli Skiing in Rural Alaska

False! You won’t have to sacrifice resort and hotel amenities when you book a heli ski excursion with Tordrillo Mountain Lodge. While a remote Alaskan lodge may feel a world apart, it’s in the best way possible. Tordrillo offers luxury amenities for guests, including private accommodations, summer and winter activities, world-class culinary options, high-speed Wi-Fi, and breathtaking views of the Tordrillo Mountains.

The Difference Between Heli Skiing in Alaska and Resort Skiing

Heli skiing is of course a preference based on experience level, travel preferences, and more, but we just so happen to think heli skiing in Alaska has a few points over traditional resort slopes:

  1. Create lifelong memories with friends and family. There is no place like Alaska for rediscovering what is meaningful in life.
  2. Alaska has more snow than any U.S. ski resort, offering endless perfect powder descents.
  3. Ski untracked powder without crossing any tracks.
  4. Heli skiing means never waiting in a lift line or sharing a lift with a stranger.
  5. Don’t spend your time making dinner reservations, when heli skiing in Alaska at Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, a private chef prepares gourmet cuisine for you at any time you desire.
  6. Stay warm and cozy. When heli skiing, you finish your run and the helicopter picks you up and whisks you away to your next perfect run…you stay warm and dry.
  7. Heli lunches rival any ski resort cafeteria. Dine on top of the world and enjoy a fabulous meal with spectacular views.
  8. Ski with world-class guides who plan and watch your every move.
  9. The powder is so much easier on your body and knees than hard pack.
  10. Life is short, live large, go heli skiing in Alaska NOW!

Skier dressed in a white snowsuit and bright goggles navigates a freshly powdered mountain in Alaska.

Is Heli Skiing Only for Experienced Skiers?

Have you ever wondered how good you have to be to go heli skiing in Alaska? You will be surprised by the answer. If you can ski blue terrain comfortably, you are good enough to go heli skiing.

Now in the old days, this was not true, but due to the invention of fat skis, most all solid intermediates can go heli skiing. In ski movies, Alaskan heli skiing is often portrayed as “sick descents” with snow sluffs all around. However, in reality, there is a huge variety of amazing blue heli skiing terrain available.

The Best Type of Skis for Heli Skiing

If you’re new to the idea of heli skiing or are simply curious about the ideal type of equipment for this thrilling sport, you’ve come to the right place. I short, fat skis are the best type of skis when heli skiing in Alaska.

First of all, the fatter the ski, the more likely you are to stay on top of the snow. If you’re skiing on a ski with a narrow sidecut or waist, the ski will sink into the snow and make it harder to start and finish a turn. You can even skid in powder on fat skis! Fat skis also allow skiers to go much faster and still feel confident and in control. Often you ski on a longer ski in the powder as well, so you have both length and width working for you.

If you ski somewhere that has a cat skiing operation as a part of the ski area, take advantage and spend a day out on the cat skiing powder on fat skis. It will be a great way to increase your confidence and skill on the fat skis in the powder.

Why Alaska Has the Best Heli Skiing

Many resorts in the United States try to make the claim of having the best snow on earth, but you’d be hard pressed to find better snow quality anywhere on the planet than Alaska.

Many people think powder skiing is challenging because their only experience in powder is at their local ski resort when it is cut up with lots of tracks. This gives a very irregular surface and makes it more challenging to ski. No one can guarantee snow conditions, and Mother Nature is always mixing things up. Perfect snow can get wind affected and go from lightweight fluff into wind scoured Sastrugi. For those of you who are not familiar with that term, Sastrugi is a condition that puts grooves and ridges into the snow and makes skiing a bit more challenging.

What many people don’t realize about powder is that it’s much easier to ski when it’s fresh and un-tracked. This is really the whole point of heli skiing: to ski virgin un-tracked snow and make your own fresh tracks. There is another key snow term that is illustrated in the attached photos, and that term is “Blower.” This is when the snow is so light and fluffy it billows up and blows up around you.

Sounds pretty cool, right? We happen to think so, too, and that’s why the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge team is so excited to share the beautiful Alaskan backcountry with fellow outdoor enthusiasts. Contact us today to learn more about heli skiing excursions and reservations today.

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