what-is-heli-skiing: Heli Skiing Definition

All You Wanted to Know About Alaska Heli Skiing

October 4, 2018

What is Heli-Skiing?

Heli-Skiing Definition: 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. Heli-Skiing is NOT jumping out of a helicopter! The helicopter acts as your lift to the top of the mountain where the helicopter lands and skiers exit and put on their skis to start their descent.

Heli-Skiing History:

Heli-Skiing history began with Hans Gmoser, a mountain guide from Austria 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 is the perfect way to do it. Beside the fact that you can do all of this at your leisure without having to race people to get one line of fresh tracks for the day. This makes Alaska heli skiing the perfect option for your next family vacation.

Top 5 Alaskan Heli-Skiing Myths:

We took a good look at some common myths about Alaskan heli-skiing, that are just not true.

Myth Number 1: In Alaska you have to jump out of the helicopter to start skiing.

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 safe and effortless.

Myth Number 2: You may be chased down the run by Moose or Bears while skiing.

Though you are very likely to see Moose and Bears while in Alaska, the Moose and Bears will not be found trying to steal your first tracks or eat you for a pre-dinner snack. Your 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 Number 3: Heli-Skiing in Alaska is super rustic and it’s hard to find nice accommodations.

Yes, there are a number of heli operations that look like they stage out of a Motel 6-like hotel, but Tordrillo Mountain Lodge is not one of them. The lodge is your perfect home away from home. It is clean and cozy and you are just as welcome to hang out in the kitchen as you are the living room or bar.

Myth Number 4: Isn’t Heli Skiing in Alaska just for crazy “huckers” trying to ski spines and outrun avalanches?

Yes, Alaska is where the first World Extreme Ski Competition took place, but at Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, they have terrain to suit 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 Number 5: You have to catch or shoot your dinner and eat wild game or burgers for every meal

Yes, Alaska is the last frontier, and you do have opportunities to eat local, but you will not have to shoot your own Dall Sheep for dinner, cause your guides have done that for you over the summer months. Since you work up quite an appetite heli-skiing in Alaska, Tordrillo Mountain Lodge’s Executive Chef Brendan Nolan has a week of dining ecstasy planned for you. Make sure to tell him your favorite dishes and don’t be surprised when you walk down to breakfast and are handed your favorite omelet cooked exactly how you like it.

Why Alaska? Because it’s the best snow on earth!

Many States and 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 not familiar with that term, it 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 is much easier to ski when it is 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 it’s “Blower”. This is when the snow is so light and fluffy it billows up and blows up around you.

On days where the conditions are not epic, the guides always have ways of finding the best snow on any given day.

Heli-Skiing in Alaska vs Resort Skiing:

  1. Create lifelong memories with friends and family. There is no place like Alaska for rediscovering what is meaningful in life. A luxury private wilderness lodge means no distracting hustle and bustle from a crowded resort full of strangers.
  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!


How Good do You Have to Be to go Heli-Skiing in Alaska?

Have you ever wondered how good do 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 the ski movies, Alaskan Heli Skiing is often portrayed via “sick descents” with snow sluffs all around, but in reality, there is a huge variety of amazing blue heli-skiing terrain available.

I’m sure you are wondering why fat skis make such a big difference? First of all, the fatter the ski, the more likely you are to stay on top of the snow, if you are 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.

Something to remember, heli-skiing is ALWAYS better than resort powder experiences where you are skiing across multiple tracks. AND, you don’t have to fight for a line heli-skiing. Heli-Skiing is very orderly and calm. The guide usually skis first and you are instructed where to lay your tracks in relation to the guide’s tracks.

If you are ready to experience the crème de la crème of powder skiing, its time to book your first heli-ski trip!

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