Hybrid Travel: The upward trend in heli-assisted touring


A snowcat from Ruby Mountain Helicopter Skiing, where visitors can get heli-bumps for touring. [Photo] Travel Nevada

The benefits of human-powered backcountry travel are undeniable—you skin, you sweat, you burn off that Philly Cheesesteak from last night and delight in earning every inch of covered ground. But sometimes, you just want to catch a ride to the top, and for that, heli-bump touring balances exploration on foot with the efficiency of speedy access to secluded landscapes.

British Columbia’s Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) began offering heli-skiing in 1959, and the demand for mechanized-assisted touring has fluctuated throughout its 50 years of operation. They now offer packages ranging from four to seven days with a morning heli-drop, professional guiding and an evening return flight to the lodge. And while these are hardly shoe-string adventures—starting at $2,630—the price tag appealingly rings in at a quarter of that of a traditional CMH heli-skiing package.

“The masses go touring and whatever is easy and accessible is overrun,” says Erich Unterberger, CMH’s Manager of Guiding Operations. “People always like to go and get freshies and we can offer that.”

Solitude and fresh snow are themes reiterated by Kevin Quinn, owner and guide at Points North Heli-Adventures, located in Alaska’s Chugach Mountains. Starting in 2011, Quinn’s operation became the only to offer mechanize-assisted touring in the Chugach. He now offers this service for four weeks out of the season starting at $2,525, a fraction of the cost of a full week of heli-skiing.

“Without having to spend six to eight thousand bucks to go helicopter skiing, for a third of that they [backcountry skiers] can go get a helicopter ride into the mountains,” Quinn says. “They get to earn their turns for themselves.”

In northeastern Nevada, Ruby Mountain Helicopter Skiing has been offering heli-assisted touring for 15 years, but only began advertising this service recently. For owner and guide Joe Royer, his newfound enthusiasm for assisted touring comes from advancements in AT gear that he says makes the skiing experience more enjoyable for visitors.

“Everyone has light gear and people have discovered that they don’t have to spend the high dollar to go helicopter skiing, and they can use the helicopter-assist to access the backcountry,” Royer says. “It’s good, healthy exercise.”

In Canada, there are a growing number of heli-bump operations, but in the U.S., Royer’s Ruby Mountain is just one of two such operations, the other being Washington’s North Cascade Heli. CMH’s Unterberger thinks, however, that as more touring destinations become crowded, skiers will seek the untrammeled tenures and easy access that heli-assisted touring outfits can provide.

“Life in general is getting busier,” Unterberger says. “It’s fast paced, and you have a longing for a sanctuary.” And while the whirr of a morning heli-ride might not seem as peaceful as a human-powered dawn patrol, secluded, untracked powder can be just a short flight away.


  1. […] The Upward Trend In Heli-Assisted Touring (Travel Story) […]

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