For many people, in this country and around the world, winter in New Zealand is synonymous with skiing and snowboarding. Although both the North and South Islands have been blessed with exciting and challenging ski resorts, the holy grail of snow sport adventures is heli-skiing.

Heli-skiing offers boarders and skiers the unparalleled experience of skiing pristine powder amongst breathtaking scenery. With far longer runs than most ski resorts, untouched snow, no waiting in lift lines, no crowded slopes and a variety of terrain heli-skiing is the peak snow sport experience.

Where & When

Heli-skiing is primarily confined to the South Island. Areas in the Southern Alps like Queenstown, Wanaka, Mt Aspiring National Park and the Mt Cook region are rich in heli-skiing destinations.

Heli-skiing operators generally operate from July through September. The peak months, when the snow is at its deepest and driest are usually August and September.

A Typical Heli-Skiing Day

A typical heli-skiing day will start with the heli-skiing operator checking the weather to determine that skiing conditions are safe. If they are, the operator will pick you up and take you to their staging area. Here, you’ll meet your helicopter pilot and guide and be given a safety briefing covering helicopter safety, mountain safety and the use of avalanche transceivers (all heli-skiing participants should be equipped with these).

The morning’s skiing then commences with the first of several flights to backcountry ski destinations. At lunchtime you’ll take a break to recharge and refuel – food is often provided by the operator and is either eaten on the mountain or back at the heliport. After lunch you’ll continue your heli-skiing runs.

Note: Weather in ski areas can be unpredictable, so make sure you allow for possible cancellation due to poor conditions when making your booking.

Options

Heli-skiing operators offer flexible pricing options. Private flights where just you and a guide ski are available, or you can share the experience (and the cost) with a small group of friends.

The length of your heli-skiing experience is also flexible. You can ski as little as half a day, or make a multi-day booking and ski several whole days in a row.

Terrain, too, will vary as heli-ski operators endeavour to provide a range of skiing experiences for their clients. Maybe you’d like to ski wide open bowls in the morning and move on to something more challenging in the afternoon?

Ability

Although heli-skiing is at the upper end of skiing and snowboarding holidays it is not restricted to those of Winter Olympic ability. In fact, anyone who can confidently ski blue runs can go heli-skiing. Heli-ski operators will suite the terrain to your ability.

Safety

Skiing the back country safely requires the services of an experienced guide. Check that the heli-ski operator you chose uses properly qualified and experienced guides. Guides should be NZMGA or IFMGA (International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations) qualified and should hold an avalanche safety certification.

Your helicopter pilot should be suitably experienced and qualified in alpine flying.

Equipment

If you’re a skier you’ll need wide or powder skis when you go heli-skiing. The snow in the backcountry is lighter and less densely packed than that on the groomed trails of ski resorts and you’ll need the greater floatation provided by wide skis to get the most out of that powder.

Boarders will often be fine with their usual board, though hiring one 10cm longer than you’d usually use on groomed slopes is even better. Set your bindings to a freeride stance.

As far as clothing goes, you’ll need all the usual ski gear – wind and waterproof jacket and pants, ski helmet, gloves, goggles etc. Bear in mind that you’re likely to ski at altitudes higher than most ski resorts and the temperature will be lower. Dress as you would for a cold ski day.

Helicopters

Heli-ski operators use fast, manoeuvrable helicopters that are well suited to alpine terrain. Part of the heli-skiing experience, though, is the view on the flights up into the mountains. So, if watching that spectacular scenery glide past is important to you, make sure the seating configuration of your helicopter will allow you to see out of the window.

A Spectacular Memory

Whether you make a half-day booking and spend your runs on gentle, powder-covered runs, or go hard out for several days on rocky chutes and extreme vertical drops, your heli-skiing experience will be a memory you’ll cherish for the rest of your life. To ensure your safety while you’re making this memory, though, check the credentials of your guide and pilot, ski terrain that suits your ability, carry an avalanche transponder and use appropriate ski or boarding equipment.

For some scenes of extreme heli-skiing check out this video.

How to Go Heli-Skiing, 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 rating

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