The Heli-Ski Blog

Heliskiing’s Best Kept Secrets: Why Riding in the Back is Better

Posted by Topher Donahue on May 4, 2011 11:28:00 AM

When a group of young or inexperienced skiers or snowboarders goes heliskiing together, everyone usually prefers to ride as close to the front as possible.  Indeed, riding just behind the guide is pretty awesome.  The guide sets a nice consistent pace, the tight sections have the most fresh snow, and the expanse of untracked snow around you is beautiful.

However, when a group of experienced skiers, snowboarders or CMH staff (that should tell you something) goes heliskiing together, everyone often jockeys to stay in the back of the group.

Why, you may ask?  That means you don’t get as many fresh tracks, right?  Hardly.  In the front you may get 110 fresh turns on a run, and in the back you might get 104 - making your last six turns before the pickup in other ski tracks.  That's hardly enough difference to fret about; besides, there are a number of reasons why many veterans prefer to ride in the back:

  1. Elbow room.  In the back of the group, the others have left a wide swath of tracks, so the remaining skiers can ski farther apart while still skiing safely, in great snow, near the other tracks.  Here’s a photo of two skiers jockeying for the number two position behind the guide at CMH Revelstoke:heliski technique distance speed powder
  2. Gettin' Jiggy.  If you’re in the back, there are more chances to have someone stop below to scope a landing for a jump or technical line.  Here’s a photo of skier spotting a snowboarder ripping a wind roll in CMH Bugaboos:skiing heliski technique snowboarding
  3. Picking a Line.  You always need to stay near the guide’s track, but after several people ski ahead, you have more freedom to play on terrain features that the first skiers missed with only a single track ahead of them for guidance.   
  4. Speed.  If you’re into riding fast, the back is way better.  (That's why the CMH staff mostly prefer to ride in the back.) You can let slower skiers go ahead for a bit, you can look ahead to see where the guide is heading far below, and then you can open the throttle without worrying about missing a traverse or getting too far from the guide’s line.
  5. Visibility.  In flat light, the other tracks give definition to the snow and allow for far easier and more agressive skiing.
  6. The Vibe.  It’s just more relaxing at the back.  That’s where the CMH staff always rides, and they laugh and smile and get as sweet of lines as anyone out there.

CMH Heliskiing uses Bell 212 helicopters for our Signature Heliskiing, accomodating groups of 11 skiers or riders, and with Bell 407 helicopters for Small Group Heliskiing, accomodating groups of five skiers or riders.  These back of the group benefits are applicable to any group size; however, if you are a weaker skier, you'll find skiing right behind the guide is the easiest position.

Topics: Ski/Snowboard Tips, Bugaboos, Tricks of the Trade, CMH Revelstoke