A heliski trip is never going to be cheap, even if you plump for the decommissioned choppers and kerosene-drinking pilots of Mother Russia rather than a swanky North American lodge with shiny new Bell 212s.
Regular heliskiers are a different breed to “normal” skiers: either professional freeriders who lap Alaskan spines like they’re bunny hills or like a wonderful silver-haired gentleman I met in Revelstoke a few years back. He spoke like Prince Phillip, invited me to join him for “sundowners” (remember, this is in the mining town of Revelstoke, where the social highlight is beers and nachos at The Village Idiot) and valiantly attempted to explain what “frightfully good value” heliskiing is.
“I’ve been coming here each winter for over 20 years,” he said earnestly. “And, for every million vertical miles one skis, one is given a free ski suit. So, you see, it’s really rather good.” Working on a healthy British Columbia daily average of 20,000 vertical feet (at an average £1,200 per day), I hope his suits look every inch their $60,000 price tag.
So, once you’ve committed to the inevitable cost of heliskiing (and with it the promise of bounding through bottomless, virgin powder hour after hour, day after day), you have to pick the right heliski destination. Sure, you could head to Alaska and face the possibility of its unpredictable weather seeing you spend more time darning your ski socks in a corrugated metal shack than skiing. Or you could go “mainstream” and stick to the BC heli stalwarts; the Bugaboos, Selkirks and Monashees. There’s also the option of more exotic destinations like Russia, Chile, Turkey and Georgia.
And then there’s Iceland. One of the most elemental places on our planet, Iceland is a place of wind-scoured valleys, blackened cliffs battered by the frigid Arctic Ocean, bubbling geothermal fields and unpronounceable volcanoes. Like the branches of a sea coral, the Troll Peninsula stabs the ocean to the north of Iceland and it is here that heliskiing happens. While the terrain lacks the steeps and deeps of North America, it makes up for these with dramatic peak to fjord descents, skiing under the golden light of the midnight sun and virtually avalanche-free slopes. Furthermore, descents are long (2,500-3,500 vert) and hobbs time (time spent in the air – get with the heli lingo) is a fulsome three hours per day (more if you’ve got the Icelandic Króna).
Set in the rugged Skagafjörður valley, sandwiched between great meringue dollop mountains and a bottomless fjord, lies the ultimate heliski pad: Deplar Farm. An old sheep farm, it has been restored and pimped by the high-end American adventure travel company Eleven Experience. It might still feature a traditional grass roof and black timber painted exteriors but the millionaire’s playpen sprawls over 23,000 square feet, encompassing twelve bedrooms; a spa with two floatation tanks, geothermally heated indoor and outdoor swimming pools, hot tubs and a sauna; a private cinema, games room and wine cellar. Oh, and a fleet of snowmobiles, a customised snowcat, Mercedes van with Arctic track tyres and room full of custom Wagner skis and avi gear. This is heliskiing with benefits.
Book into Deplar for heliskiing and you’ll be spending time with Steve, Alan and Barney; three of Eleven Experience’s dedicated mountain guides who migrate to Iceland each spring from the company’s properties in Colorado and France. As you explore Eleven’s 1,500 square mile heliski area with the fun-loving, knowledgeable and deeply professional gang, they’ll have you navigating peak-to-fjord descents, sheer colouirs and vast powder bowls. They’ll even let you put your name to first descents, marking up the lodge map accordingly. Fortunately, they rather diplomatically abbreviated Gaby’s Gully to GG’s…
Top price: $30,000 / £23,775 per night for 12 guests, including a day’s heliskiing for all (using two helicopters) and accommodation.
Bargain price: $10,000 / £7,925 per person for four days’ semi-private heliskiing and accommodation.