You Should Try Heli- and Cat-Skiing
Heli- and cat-skiing was invented in Western Canada, so why haven’t you done it yet?
Photograph by Eric Berger and Bella Coola Heli Sports
Did you know Canucks are responsible for the first cat-skiing operation (Selkirk Wilderness Skiing, 1975) and the first successful heli-skiing business (legendary skier/climber Hans Gmoser’s Rocky Mountain Guides Ltd., 1965)? Decades later, British Columbia has become synonymous with heli- and cat-skiing, yet most Canadian skiers and snowboarders still haven’t experienced it. Viewed as too dangerous (not true) or too expensive (maybe), any passionate skier should do the research, save the cash and book a trip. As Warren Miller would say, “If you don’t do it this year, you’ll be one year older when you do.”
There are dozens of options ranging from terrible to incredible, and the most important thing is that you pick the right one for you. Cat-skiing is slower, but cheaper. Heli-skiing accesses the alpine better. Some operations have too many people or a lower level of skier, which slows down the group. Some have a snobby European attitude. Others are too casual to be safe. The options are endless. Choose wisely. Here are a few.
Located in the beautiful but remote Bella Coola Valley on B.C.’s coast, this operation is surprisingly accessible – the company charters flights into Bella Coola from Vancouver and takes you heli-skiing the moment you arrive (weather permitting). The trip from Calgary to Vancouver to Bella Coola is an easy one, and the result is one of the most dramatic and rugged terrains in the world. Small-group packages are the key here. Fewer people in the helicopter means more time skiing powder, and there is no end to it in the Coast Mountain Range. High-end food; a unique, snowless, valley-bottom lodge; and features like a sweat lodge at Tweedsmuir Park Lodge make this destination one of the better heli-operations in the world.
The original heli-skiing company (Gmoser’s Rocky Mountain Guides later morphed into CMH) has become a veritable institution. With 11 different areas to ski throughout Alberta and B.C., CMH is probably the most famous of all heli-ski operations, which comes with pros and cons. They know what they’re doing and can deliver great snow, but they also pump through the customers in high volume, meaning the intimate guest experience that smaller operations offer can sometimes be lost in the madness. Nevertheless, CMH’s legendary status speaks for itself. Find out which CMH lodge works best for you and book the vacation of a lifetime.
Fernie’s iconic Island Lake Lodge has been operating for more than a quarter of a century. More expensive than most, but with a much, much higher level of service and quality, this cat-skiing company gets it. Equal parts luxury and action, the lodge guarantees both unbelievable skiing and a decadent lifestyle. Days are filled with deep Lizard Range powder in great terrain, and nights consist of hot tubs, haute cuisine, fine wine and log cabin-chic accommodation. While the big, bloated heli-operations get most of the attention, these guys are quietly making them look bad with impeccable style and casual grace.
5 Great Cat-Ski Operations
The Kootenays is a region famous for bearded backwoods characters growing marijuana, but it has also become rich with the growth of another bumper crop -killer cat-skiing operations. It’s hard to pick one, so we’ll just list some of the best.