The Heli-Ski Blog

Heliskiing's Big Questions: What's the Terrain Like?

Posted by Topher Donahue on May 11, 2011 2:56:00 PM

According to the foresters of Parks Canada there are three life zones in the Columbia Mountains: “Rainforest, Snowforest, and No Forest."

These life zones are where CMH Heliskiing happens.  Mountain guides and heliskiers divide the mountains a little differently, but the differences are largely semantics.  However you break it down, the wildly different life zones of the Columbia Mountains are fundamentally connected to the kind of terrain you’ll encounter on a heliskiing or helicopter snowboarding vacation.

Mountain guides break it down into Below Treeline, Treeline, and Alpine.  Each zone has features that appeal to both beginner and expert powder skiers.  Here is a photographic and descriptive tour of what skiers of differing ability levels can expect from each zone:

alpine heliskiing terrain heliskiingAlpine:  The original inspiration for heliskiing.  It’s all about stunning views, big vertical, leaving tracks on gorgeous peaks and oceans of snow, and skiing past glaciers and massive mountain walls of snow and rock. On a summit to valley run at CMH, the alpine is usually a 500- to 1500-metre elevation band.

  • Beginner Powder Skiers will enjoy the freedom to turn wherever they want, without the pressure of trees or terrain features.
  • Expert Powder Skiers will enjoy the high speed carving on steeper unbroken faces.


treeline skiing-CMH-powder skiingTreeline: Quentessential Canadian heliskiing terrain.   You get both views into the alpine, and technical tree skiing features like wind rolls and snow mushrooms - and the most massive snowpack in an already snowy region.  On a summit to valley run at CMH, treeline is usually a 200- to 400-metre elevation band. 

  • Powder skiers and snowboarders of all abilities will enjoy the diversity and beauty of the treeline zone.  Even within the safety limits of staying near the guide’s tracks, experts can ride over the jumps, drops and steeps formed by the tree islands and moraines, and beginner powder skiers and snowboarders can ride the lines of least resistance.


powder-treeskiing-CMHBelow Treeline: This is where the new school of heliskiing goes off.  When the CMH guides began exploring the steep tree runs of the Monashees, they stumbled onto one of mankind’s most amazing contrivances: floating effortlessly downward through a steep forest with snow pouring around every millimetre of your body - with a helicopter to take you up for another round.  On a summit to valley run at CMH, the Below Treeline zone is usually a 500- to 1500-metre elevation band.

  • Beginner Powder Skiers would be wise to choose an area with tree skiing that is suitable for weaker skiers.  The Cariboos, Bugaboos, Kootenay, Adamants, and Revelstoke have a plethora of tree skiing terrain that is great for weaker tree skiers.
  • Expert powder skiers and snowboarders will need no introduction to know that charging the deep powder through an old growth rainforest with CMH is pretty much as good as life gets.  Rippers will be happy at any CMH area, but the Monashees, Gothics, Cariboos, Revelstoke, Bobbie Burns, Galena and Kootenay are legendary for aggressive tree skiing.

Check out the rest of the most frequently asked questions about heliskiing.

Topics: Tree skiing, Heli-Boarding, CMH Heli-Skiing, CMH, Skiing Pictures