The Heli-Ski Blog

How to keep your heli-ski guide from getting nervous

Posted by Topher Donahue on Feb 3, 2010 7:27:00 AM

Sometimes we are out playing in the snow with ski guides, and they seem to be having at least as much fun as the rest of the skiers.  Other times, it seems like they are about as stressed out as long-tailed cats in a room full of rocking chairs.

I thought it would help if we skiers knew better the things we do that make guides nervous, so I caught up with Gery Unterasinger, Assistant Area Manager of CMH Bobbie Burns, (and a gifted athlete on all things rocky, snowy and icy) to find out the kind of things we do that make him nervous, and how we could make heli-skiing more fun for the guides as well as for us skiers.    

TD: What do we do near the helicopter that makes you nervous?


  • Heli Huddle: Go down on one knee or at least bend over – I have a hard time understanding why this simple safety measure is so hard to achieve for active people who can heli-ski hard all day.
  • Pick up: Always watch the helicopter as it is coming in to land for the pick up – this one is not hard to achieve either, and you get a free face shot as a bonus.  
  • Seat belts: From the front seat we can hear the “clicking” noise of seatbelts unbuckling just before the helicopter lands.  This is totally unnecessary, and dangerous for you and the rest of the passengers, since this is probably the time with the most risk involved during flight operation.  Wait until the door opens.  Nobody has ever skied an extra turn because they took off their seatbelt quickly.

TD: What do we do in the alpine terrain that makes you nervous?


  • Passing guests from behind at high speed: With all the space we have available in the alpine areas of our heli-skiing tenures, there is no reason to have collisions between two skiers.
  • Taking shortcuts: There is usually a reason why a guide tells you to follow his traverse. There can be plenty of hidden hazards like avalanches, crevasses, glide cracks, creek beds with open water, cliffs or wind scoops - to name a few.
  • Stopping too close, and out of control, above the guide or group: Numerous times I have witnessed skiers crashing into the waiting group or guide.  Please slow down with your last few turns - your legs are tired and don’t always perform at their best anymore.
  • Stopping below the guide: In open terrain where you can see the guide from miles away, this should be a no brainer. Your guide stopped for a reason.  (See also hidden hazards above)

TD: What do we do in the tress that make you nervous?

GU: Since I can't see through the trees, I can only judge from my experiences at a regroup spot, which offers a limited view.  My number one complaint is probably that too often skiers show up without their partner, which makes me, and everyone else in the group, quite nervous.  Please make an effort to stay within visual or shouting distance of your partner.  The second skier is the safety monitor - he or she keeps an eye on the first skier and hoots or yodels frequently so the first skier knows you are there.   This method has already proven to be a life saver in many tree well incidents.  With an attentive partner, these stories end with a good laugh over beers at the lodge instead of with a serious accident.  As a bonus you get to share your great turns with a like-minded powder friend. 

TD: Anything else?

GU: I would like to add that most of our heli-skiing guests ski very responsibly and are a great pleasure to guide, and a great pleasure for first-timers to ski with in any terrain. With my points above I am just trying to reinforce a few simple rules which most of you follow really well, but which consistently get violated by a few skiers for no apparent reason.
  It’s snowing right now here in the Columbias.  Fluffy powder unpatiently awaiting fresh tracks.  So let’s get out, have fun and play as a team together. I'm soooo psyched!

Heli-skiing is not the only place where Gery's suggestions and critique are valid.  Check out this website, Tree Well and Deep Snow Safety, that reveals some shocking facts about these hazards. (For example, in one test using volunteers placed in tree wells, under careful supervision, 90% could not extricate themselves without help!)

Topics: Bobbie Burns Lodge, First Timers, Guides