My neighbor told me recently that he had a friend who was a helicopter pilot, and he was thinking of getting a group of skiers together for some recreational heli-skiing that would be a lot cheaper than this professional, guided stuff.
Here in North America, mountain guiding is sometimes seen by self-proclaimed experts, like my neighbor, as an excellent resource for beginners and peak baggers, but not a service for real climbers or skiers. In many cases, people learn backcountry skiing and climbing from friends with various experience levels rather than being taught by professional guides. Inevitably, learning from friends involves a lot of trial and error, and with more people realizing the benefits of wilderness recreation more people are asking the question: Do I really need a guide?
The simple answer is no. Thousands of people ski off-piste (outside prepared ski runs) and climb mountains without ever hiring a guide. The more complex answer is that it depends how much time you can afford to put into the experience you want to have.
Let’s take a downhill skier for example. If you want to experience skiing in the legendary deep snow on the wild peaks outside of a ski resort, then doing it alone, with reasonable safety, requires several years of learning and practice. Doing this without a guide can be a reasonable undertaking if you have the time to put into the learning. Going heli-skiing on your own, however, is a really bad idea.
For a professional opinion of what this might look like, I asked Marc Piché, a long-time CMH Bugaboos guide and the author of The Bugaboos, One of the World’s Great Alpine Rock Climbing Centres. Marc is a well-rounded mountain guide trained by the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides and one of the few guides who splits professional time relatively equally between ski touring, heli-skiing, rock climbing, ice climbing and mountaineering.
TD: If a group of skiers, first time or experieced heli-skiers, hired a helicopter and went skiing without a guide,
what would happen?
MP: I think they would quickly realize why people hire a guide. No other means can deliver you to so much complex terrain so fast. It is one of the most demanding and rewarding forms of guiding but trying to go it alone in a new area with no experience would be a recipe for disaster. To an experienced recreational backcountry skier, heli-skiing may seem pretty simple but what they probably don’t recognize is how much experience it takes to safely manage the fast paced logistics and multiple hazards of heli-skiing in big mountains.
I told my neighbor that I would want nothing to do with an unprofessional heli-ski adventure, but that if it ever happens to let me know so I can write a story about it.
Would you go heli-skiing without a guide?