by the numbers.
Heliskiing is an expensive sport. But, it is also a sport where a heli-skier can ski more than a skier at a normal lift served ski area or by touring in the backcountry on a given day. A lot of skiers seem to feel that “more” is better (can you say “Powder-pigs?). The amount of skiing that one does during a day of heliskiing, is measured by the number of vertical feet skied in a given day/week.
Measuring by the number of ski runs in a day might not reflect the amount of skiing actually done. At some heliskiing operations they have some very long runs, while at another operation the average runs might be shorter. In other words, you might ski 5 runs at one operation on a given day, which would be about 25,000 vertical feet of skiing (approximately 4,000 feet less than the total vertical of Mount Everest from summit to sea level). While at another operation you might ski 10 runs and equal 25,000 vertical. The main difference is in the number of runs skied but the overall vertical is the same.
Just like with other sports some folks feel a need to keep score. Bragging rights of how much vertical one skied in a day or weeks’ time, is often how folks relate how good of a heliski trip they had. The idea of quality vs. quantity seems to have gotten lost.
I was once heliskiing at Mike Wiegele’s during a week in which a small group of skiers established a new daily vertical record of 353,600 (this would be the equivalent of skiing from the summit of Vail ski area down to town, 102.5 numbers of times). One of the skiers in the record setting group was Dominique Perrett (famous Swiss extreme skier – Mount Everest, etc.), and a couple of days afterwards he was in my group for the day. There was also another gentleman in the group who was a regular client and very “vertically obsessed.” To him more vertical was better.
Eventually during the lunch break, Dominique asked “Mr. Vertically Obsessed” this question. “Which would you rather ski, 50,000 vertical feet in “shity conditions” or 25,000 vertical feet in chest deep cold smoke powder?” Mr. Vertically Obsessed replied, “How shity of conditions?” And he was serious.
I have personally reached a point in my heliskiing, where I’m of course interested in skiing a lot; but while enjoying my surroundings. I want to enjoy the quality of the snow, the scenery and the discourse with my fellow skiers. Quality is more important to me than quality.
But, since I’m talking about heliski numbers here, I can’t leave this section without mentioning some vertical records. From my research I have found that the published vertical records have been set at Mike Wiegele helicopter skiing, in Blue River British Columbia of Canada. There are a lot of daily vertical records listed on the internet. But, most of them are for skiing at ski areas.
The daily vertical heliskiing record in a private A-Star helicopter is 353,600 vertical feet. It was set in 1998 by Dominique Perret, Robert Reindl, Luke Sauder, Edi Podivinsky and Chris Kent. Robert Reindl was the guide for these skiers, most of who were Canadian Ski team members or former members.
The daily vertical heliskiing record for a regular Bell 212 helicopter group is 72,200 vertical feet. This was set in 1994. The group did not have exclusive use of the helicopter. They had to lap the other 2 groups that were using the same helicopter. The skiers in this group where, Elias “Iron legs” Moldowan, Paul Sylvester, Gerhard Guggenberger, Josef Mallaun, Bernhard Allgaier, Wolfgang Mayr, Gordon Dixon, Reinhard Schulz, Francis de Proft, Francois Burgaud, George Napetschig and Mike Wiegele as the guide.
The daily vertical record for heli-snowboarding was set while using an A-Star helicopter. The record was set in 1995 by, Ken Achenbach, Don Schwartz, Doug Lundgren and Andy Hicks. Bob Rankin was the guide and he was on skis. Their record is 153,000 vertical feet. Don and Doug both went on to become heliski guides.
Weekly vertical records are like daily vertical records in that they require perfect weather, avalanche conditions and helicopter conditions. These records are done over a six and a half days of skiing.
The weekly record in a private A-Star is 375,000 vertical feet. This record was set in 1995 by Paul Sylvester, Sandro Gabrielli, Marc Arnold and Mike Wiegele as the guide. The weekly record for a regular group was set in 1996, with the group skiing 315,800
These records are what I can find published. I’m sure that since the 90’s, there may have been others that have equaled or exceeded these records. If anyone knows of higher daily and weekly vertical records, I’d be interested in hearing about them.
Both CMH and Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing early on decided to recognize their guests that had skied over a million vertical feet with them. For years CMH gave guests that had achieved more an a million vertical feet with them a special ski suit.
Meanwhile at Mike Wiegele’s they give the guest a small silver buckle. It usually takes a guest anywhere from 10 to 12 weeks of skiing to achieve a million vertical feet of skiing. These awards recognize the time, finical and physical commitment of these folks to ski over a million. The truth is that these folks are seriously addicted to heliskiing.
Heliskiing can be seriously addictive. On the CMH website they used to list those folks that have skied more than one million vertical feet with them. As I remember it took up two full pages. When I emailed CMH about the million plus list they didn’t reply. Maybe they did this for guest privacy.
But then in In March of 2016, I was introduced to Andy Epstein. Mr. Epstein is a long-time heliskier at CMH. He has more than 100 weeks of CMH and over 14 million vertical feet of skiing. I’m not sure if Mr. Epstein has the most vertical of any CMH guest or not. If anyone knows, please contact us through the Feedback page.
And by the way, the average heliskiing operation tenure in British Columbia is 2,200 square Kilometers. By comparison the Vail ski area is 22 square Kilometers.
Heliskiing is currently done in 28 countries:
Argentina – Patagonia
Georgia – Russia
Transylvania – Romania
In the United States heliskiing is done in nine states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Nevada, Utah, Washington and Wyoming
*Heliskiing is done in France, but the helicopter must actually land in Italy
List of heliskiing operations from 1982 & 1983 November POWDER magazine:
1) Canadian Mountain Holidays (only 7 locations are mentioned)
2) Mike Wiegele Helicopter skiing, Blue River, BC
3) BC Powder Guides, Whistler BC.
4) Purcell Helicopter Skiing, Golden, BC
5) Kootenay Heli-Skiing, Nelson, BC
6) Valkyrie Heli-Skiing, Rossland, BC
7) Selkirk Tangiers Heli-Skiing, Golden, BC
8) Mammoth Heli-Skiing, Mammoth Lakes, California
9) Ski Tahoe Heli-Guides, Stateline, California
10) Nordic Mountain Heli-Ski, Lake City, Colorado
later in 1985’s this was known as Golconda’s Heliskiing Resort
“cooperating” with Crested Butte, Colorado
11) Colorado Ski Guides, Vail, Colorado
12) Telluride Helitrax, Telluride, Colorado
13) Aspen Highlands Helicopter Skiing Program, Aspen Highlands, CO
14) Durango Helicopter w/Durango Powder Guides, Durango, Colorado
15) Sun Valley Helicopter Ski Guides, Inc., Sun Valley, Idaho
16) Omni Flight Heliski, Big Sky, MT
17) Ruby Mountain Heli-Ski Guides, Lamoille, Nevada
18) Sidewinder Ski Tours, Moab, Utah
19) Wasatch Powderbird Guides, Park City, Utah
20) Utah Powderbird Guides, Snowbird, UT
21) Liberty Bell Alpine Tours, Mazama, Washington
22) High Mountain Heli-Skiing, Jackson, Wyoming
23) Whistler Heliski, Whistler, BC
24) Rocky Mountain Heliski, Frisco, Colorado
25) Toiyabe Corporation, Bridgeport, CA
26) Colorado First Tracks, Marble, Colorado