Heli-Skiing is different from other kinds of skiing in a number of ways. The obvious ones, like the volume of untracked powder you get to shred each day and the vast selection of ski terrain at your ski tips, speak for themselves.
Once you get out in these mountains, with a helicopter as your ski lift, a few other differences become obvious – like the clothes you wear in a ski resort aren’t necessarily optimal for Heli-Skiing.
- Close the gap. I’m not talking about gap jumping. I’m talking about the gap between your jacket and pants. While the low-riding pants and high-riding jackets look great in the lift line, there are no lift lines in Heli-Skiing. This fashion statement acts more as a snow-melting system in deep backcountry powder. Even if you don’t fall, the deep powder will quickly fill your pants, melt down your leg, and eventually make it’s way into your boots. You don't want that water in your boots - you never know where it's been. Ski guides prefer high top pants with suspenders or snug belts and long shirts that will stay tucked in all day.
- Don’t wear white. Even if you’re extra attentive to staying close to your group, when skiing in the trees wearing white makes life more difficult for your tree skiing buddy. We ski in pairs in the trees, and a flash of colour is easier to keep track of than a flash of white in a white world. In a worst-case scenario, if you do get separated from your group, the helicopter pilot will be called upon to find you from the air. I’m sure you can visualize what a white skier in the middle of some of the world’s snowiest mountains looks like from the air…
- Under-dress, then add a vest. The helicopter is heated, and there is usually not much waiting around, so you don’t need to dress like you would for a long, cold chairlift ride. However, Canadian winters can be quite cold and there are occasionally delays, so you want to dress warm enough. What to wear is a debate every Heli-Skier has every day. My favourite piece of Heli-Skiing kit is a light vest with synthetic insulation. I can wear it at the beginning of the day to stay warm, and then stick it in my pocket or in the tiny pack provided for each CMH guest. Wearing too much is a common mistake made by Heli-Skiers. This results in excess perspiration which fogs up your goggles, dehydrates you, and detracts from your enjoyment of the world’s greatest skiing.
- Monitor and adjust your temperature. If you feel that you are about to get cold, make sure you put on your hood, zip up your zippers, tuck in your sweater and loosen your boots at the pickup to increase circulation BEFORE YOU GET COLD. If you’re getting hot, take off your hat and vent your jacket BEFORE YOU OVERHEAT.
- Wear a hard shell rather than a soft shell or an insulated jacket. While insulated jackets and soft shells are great at the ski area, they don’t allow enough versatility for a week of Heli-Skiing. In a typical week of Heli-Skiing in Interior British Columbia, you’ll see both brilliant sunshine and heavy snowfall - sometimes in the same day. Even the best soft shells tend to get wet easier and stay wet longer than hard shells.
Photo of a well-executed wet-sock-grab at CMH Bugaboos by Topher Donahue.