Do Intermediate Skiers Can Have Their Heli-Thrills, Too
After a quick ten-minute flight that skimmed over snow-dusted pine trees and steep crags, our helicopter touched down. We were just above a slope in the Sessions private ski zone in the Wasatch Mountain Range, with nothing but wide-open space and endless horizons stretching in every direction. The small group of skiers I had with me couldn’t wait to hit the pure, untouched powder. But they weren’t extreme skiers, or even expert ones. All four were just intermediate skiers—and they were heli-sking for the first time in their lives.
As Adventure Director of The Lodge at Blue Sky, I oversee some pretty phenomenal experiences—none more thrilling than heli-skiing. But there’s a big misconception that heli-skiing is an extreme sport reserved for only the most daredevil skiers. While that may be true in a number of places, at Blue Sky, our helicopter ski adventures with Powderbird Heli Ski are suitable for a wide range of skiing ability. There’s advanced, technical terrain in the Uintas Mountain Range that will challenge even the most expert of skiers. But there’s also rolling ski terrain in the Wasatch Mountain Range that’s perfect for those comfortable skiing a blue run at a ski resort.
While heli-skiing isn’t recommended for beginners, most accomplished skiers have the necessary skills to tackle our heli-adventures. Intermediate skiers can have an amazing time, provided they meet a few minimum ski ability requirements. Perfect style and technical expertise are not prerequisites, but the ability to control your speed in a variety of snow conditions is critical. That’s because trees and other natural features may make skiing more challenging than on the maintained slopes of a ski area. It’s also necessary to be proficient at kick-turning, traversing and side-slipping. These skills will help you handle anything you might encounter. To fully enjoy heli-skiing, it helps to have previous soft snow experience, and enough endurance to ski a full day at a moderate pace. What’s surprising for many, though, is that snow in the backcountry can often be more consistent and easier to ski than the snow found within ski resort areas.
It’s important, as well, to build a group of skiers with similar ability. That’s because the guides will choose terrain based on the lowest ability in the group—and you don’t want anyone to be disappointed with the terrain. Groups can be of any size, from just a solo skier to up to eight, with two guides per trip—one leading in the front, and one in back. Powderbird takes safety extremely seriously, so before launching, the guides will explain how to use all the avalanche safety gear, along with a brief rundown of what to do if an avalanche does occur. They’ll also do a safety briefing on how to load and unload the helicopter, and what to do in case of an emergency.
While conditions in the backcountry aren’t always perfect, it’s always special to cut fresh tracks. My group of intermediate skiers marveled at being able to float through the soft snow and in and out of trees on every single peak to base run. It was a surreal experience—especially since none of them had ever even tackled a black run at a ski resort.
After an extraordinary day of skiing, we hopped back on the helicopter, which whisked us a short flight over to Blue Sky’s mountaintop yurt. With the wood-burning stove running, we warmed up in no time over bubbling pots of fondue with crusty bread, steaming potatoes, cured meats and a colorful array of “house” pickles. Afterwards, we shared stories around a crackling bonfire on the back deck, surrounded by the wide-open night sky—and filled with epic memories of skiing untouched backcountry powder.