By Susan Schnier
Portillo Helicopter Skiing
It’s August 23 and I’m standing atop 4,100 feet of cold, dry powder. The highest peak in the
Five days into a week-long ski trip to Portillo, and 12-days into a snowless corn cycle, I met heli guide and North American Ski Training Center (NASTC) instructor Don Roth, pilot “Tinto” in the parking lot. We flew into neighboring
Next I’m sinking into 10 inches of soft pow and carving endless fall line turns. The snow is so unexpectedly plush that I can’t stop despite burning summer legs.
It’s a relatively cheap thrill – heli skiing at Portillo is one of the least expensive ways to fly, since you commit only to a minimum of one run. The first costs $241, and if you like what you get, additional lifts are $170.
One the second run, we made Portillo heli history with a first descent. Landing on the other side of the valley, we got a centerfold view of our last conquest. The slope below us began with a 45-degree spongy chute, widening at the bottom. I let out the GS turns, screaming to the bottom of the 3,050-foot face. We named the run, Honeymooners Sweet, after the newlyweds in our group who claimed it first.
Skiing Portillo is an all-inclusive resort experience. Tahoe, California-based (NASTC) runs a trip each August with ski lessons from experienced PSIA instructors and guides, combined with a heli excursion that’s empowering rather than intimidating. skinastc.com.
Max Elevation: 13,500
Max Vertical Drop: 5,000 feet
Average Vertical/Day: 7,000 feet
(based on a half day, full days are also available)
Price: First run: $241, additional runs: $170
Himachal Helicopter Skiing
It’s a long journey, but for the devout skier it’s a religious pilgrimage to
The terrain ranges from north-facing open powder fields to creamy corn slopes to steep couloirs, skiable later in the season when avalanche danger diminishes. Birch tree dodging at lower elevations keeps you nimble.
The only 5-star hotel in
1. Drive up to snowline at
2. Stop by the Solang Valley Resort where a local engineer is installing a gondola that will service 500 vertical feet of terrain and replace the rope row built in the 70’s. The only ski area in the region, it is 13 miles from Manali.
3. To lower the cost, earn your turns with a ski touring package. Alison Gannet guides a week-long, heli-accessed touring trip in the spring that brings the cost down.
Max Elevation: 17,000 feet
Max Vertical Drop: 3,000 feet
Average Vertical/Day: 10,000 feet
Price: $6,000 – $7,500
From aqua coastline to lush green forest to towering mountains, every acre of the country is bursting with natural beauty. The size of
You’ll ski a mix of glaciated and non-glaciated above-treeline terrain, overlooking Lake Tahoe-like large blue lakes and green valleys.
The region gets maritime snowfall, and the heli operation averages five flyable days out of seven. Mid-July through mid-September is the best time for powder.
Take a scenic fixed-wing flight from Queenstown to 12,316-foot
Max Elevation: 8,000 feet
Max Vertical Drop: 4,000 feet
Average Vertical/Day: 15,000 – 50,000 feet, depending on the package
Greenland Heli Skiing
More than just powder indulgence, this heli ski trip is also a cultural immersion. Based in one of the most remote locations in
Three trips are scheduled for May; before that the weather is too fickle and after that it’s too warm. May skiing is usually phenomenal – with a range of spring and powder conditions IN 20+ hours of daylight. 6600-foot runs take you from the top of peaks to the water’s edge at sea level, starting with steep couloirs and funneling into long flat glaciers. “We are still doing first descents every season,” says Barnard. Hundreds of glacial runs drop into three fjords behind the
Guests stay in houses on a hill above the wharf where the heli parks, and they eat together at a home in the village. The fabulous
Max Elevation: 7283 feet
Max Vertical Drop: 6560 feet
Price: $8900 Euros
Krasnaya Poliana Heli Skiing
Based out of Krasnaya Poliana, one of the biggest ski areas in
Some terrain is glaciated, but most runs combine steep, narrow alpine lines at the top with skiing along creeks, amidst standing and fallen deciduous and evergreen trees lower down. Typically, when it snows it dumps. Up to three feet of sticky, maritime snow overnight is typical. With warmer storms, it sometimes rains at lower elevations.
One of the finals candidates for the 2014 Olympics, new hotels and restaurants have sprouting up over the past five years. Lodging is in a small, private hotel-chalet in the center of the village, ten minutes from the lifts and the helipad. The restaurant serves bortch, uha (fish soup), local trout, and bliny – pancakes with red caviar. Vodka is the après-ski drink of choice, served frozen with cucumbers, tomatoes and cabbage. Warm up with a Russian Banya – a traditional “massage” with birch oak or eucalyptus branches followed by steam from a wooden stove or heated rocks.
Take a tour of
Max Elevation: 10,171 feet
Mex Vertical Drop: 4,900 feet
Average Vertical/Day: 18,000 feet
Price: $2450-$2500 Euros