The Heli-Ski Blog

Heli-Skiing vs Resort Skiing

Posted by Topher Donahue on Oct 20, 2009 8:54:00 AM
Last week I sat down with Mark Piquette, Director of Business Development for CMH Heli-Skiing, and asked him for some advise on Heli-Skiing vs Resort Skiing. Here's where our discussion lead.

Topher Donahue: What are the differences between big vertical at a ski resort vs. heli - in terms on numbers as well as how it feels on your body?
Mark Piquette: There are two big differences between skiing in a resort and heli-skiing. The first is the typical length of the runs. In a good day of heli-skiing, we ski 10,000 meters or 32,800 feet. We do about 10 runs so that is 3,280 feet per run. If you think about Aspen Highlands at 3,600 feet of vertical, it is like skiing top to bottom 10 times. Most of the time, in a resort, you ski a few hundred vertical feet and then get back on the lift; lather, rinse, repeat. Heli-Skiing vs Resort Skiing Topher Donahue
Heli-Skiing vs Resort Skiing Topher Donahue
TD: I’ve done these 10,000-meter days heli-skiing and usually feel better than after a big day pounding runs at the resort. If heli-skiing is so rad, why does it feel so good?
MP: The difference is about skiing efficiently. Big vertical does not mean that heli-skiing is harder on your body. How often do you think about the number of turns you make a resort in a day? In a typical run you might have to dodge some other skiers (nothing like skiing with 20,000 of your closest friends), maybe ski a few moguls and use a whole bunch of edge pressure and quick turns on hard pack. All of those extra turns expend energy. The mistake I see most often from first time heli-skiers, and lots of long time heli-skiers as well, is making too many turns. If you watch our guides, they are very efficient skiers. I see guides making two or three turns for every four or five a guest is making.
That said, a day skiing steep trees in the Monashees or Galena takes a certain amount of fitness and ability and you will know you had a big day when you drag yourself into the lodge from the helicopter.

TD: Ok, maybe I was just high on powder. What are your strategies for finding the best skiing at a resort?
MP: Strategy number one is ski with a local. If you can’t do that, try and grab a chairlift with a ski patroller and quiz them on what has been good. If you are nice to them (give them chocolate or something) maybe they will clue you in a secret stash or two.

TD: I’m not comfortable with authority – especially bribing authority. I’d rather eat the chocolate and rip groomers - any other suggestions?
MP: The other strategy, and this will help you with heli-skiing, is pay attention to the weather and altitude. Wind, sun and elevation have big impacts on snow. Have an idea of what runs have been impacted by the wind or what runs get sun in the morning or afternoon. Looking for some untracked snow toward the end of the day? Look for something out of the wind and that has not been baking in the afternoon sun. Know what elevation you are at because the snow is likely to be heavier and denser the lower you go. All of these will help you in the backcountry as well as heli-skiing.

TD: I guess that’s what the guides are doing for you, eh? What are your strategies for finding the best skiing while heli-skiing?
MP: This is the easiest strategy in the world…pay attention to the guide! Listen to the guide and follow them. I don’t mean right in their tracks - you can ski five feet to the left or right and have untracked, epic conditions and it is more than likely the best line of that run. Remember, they have skied the run a lot more than you.

Topics: CMH Heli-Skiing, heli-skiing, resort skiing