5 best places to go heli-skiing

Add these powdery destinations to your bucket list.

For winter sportsenthusiasts and adrenaline junkies, heli-skiing is, at least, intriguing. Contrary to popular belief, it's actually a relatively accessible sport with diverse terrain perfect for everyone from beginners to double-black diamond experts. It's similar to a backcountry skiing excursion, but without a snowcat terrestrially bringing you up a mountain or the chore of having to hike up yourself with climbing skins. Instead, choppers in different regions of the world provide the lift up the mountain to otherwise inaccessible areas, so you can make ski (or snowboard) tracks in the most pristine and picturesque palaces of powder on the planet. Here, five places to try it.

Photo courtesy of Bella Coola Heli Sports

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  • The Bugaboos and Cariboos, British Columbia, Canada

    The Bugaboos and Cariboos, British Columbia, Canada

    It was in a subrange of the Purcell Mountains known as the Bugaboos that commercial heli-skiing originated, when Austrian mountaineer Hans Gmoser led a group of skiers to find perfect runs in untouched powder via helicopter in 1965. Over 50 years later, skiers and snowboarders—many of them repeat guests—still come to where it all began. Decades might have gone by, but the thrill of heli-skiing in the region has never faltered, nor has the view of the Bugaboos’ iconic granite peaks that jut out of the snowscape. The outfitter Gmoser founded, Canadian Mountain Holidays, is the largest heli-ski operator in the region, which also serves the Cariboos, another mountain range with varied terrain that can appease everyone from the glades runner to the downhill racer yearning for steep terrain.

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  • Hokkaido, Japan

    Hokkaido, Japan

    The ski resorts on Hokkaido, the northern main island of Japan, are already known for deep powder amongst locals and foreigners alike. But take it up a notch via heli, and you’re in tengoku—the Japanese word for “heaven.” This celestial place takes on the form of a volcano: Shiribetsu-Dake, where snow runs down its dome as lava did hundreds of thousands of years ago. Boasting the steepest terrain in the region, the backcountry is one place to really work the muscles before soaking them in the Japanese onsens at base, après ski. To get you up there, there are daily helicopter trips during the ski season from the Hokkaido Backcountry Club

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  • The Alps, Europe

    The Alps, Europe

    The Alps are synonymous with colossal mountains so much so that “alpine,” the all-encompassing term for high mountains, is derived from them. Spanning eight countries, it's possible to visit three in one trip by way of a custom itinerary with SwissSkiSafari. Operating in the snowy alpine region where Switzerland meets France and Italy, this helicopter “safari” outfitter accounts for ever-shifting microclimates to find the best landing zones regardless of country, with some over 13,000 feet high. A sample itinerary: Land in Switzerland, ski down for lunch in France, and then end your day with an Italian dinner. 

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  • The Andes, Chile

    The Andes, Chile

    If you’re itching to ski or snowboard during the northern hemisphere’s summer, head down south where winter is in full effect in South America. The central mountain ranges of the Andes in Chile have some of the finest powder in the world, with terrain consisting of vast mountain faces. Helicopter excursions by Andes Heliboarding can take you from hotels and mountain lodges (or even from the capital city Santiago) to snowy drop-off points as high as 16,000 feet above sea level from July through September. 

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  • The Southern Alps, New Zealand

    The Southern Alps, New Zealand

    On the other side of the world from the European Alps are the Southern Alps in New Zealand, another spot to ski and snowboard during the northern hemisphere’s summer. Heliski operators, like Harris Mountains Heliski, have a launchpad in the Queenstown area, the epicenter of adventure sports. Skiers and snowboarders of varied skill levels can be brought to the nearby peaks and bowls where there is deep, virgin powder to be found, even if there’s no snow at the base. The views are spectacular regardless of where you are in relation to the snow line; landscapes in this region are so grand that they served as Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings films.

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