Heliskiing

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Skier with helicopter in background

Heli-skiing is off-trail, downhill skiing or snowboarding that is accessed by a helicopter, as opposed to a ski lift. Evidence suggests that heliskiing may begun in the late 50s or early 60s in Alaska, Wyoming or Utah based on old photos in ski books.[1] Heliskiing was promoted in ski films and has its own star athletes such as Seth Morrison, Mark Abma, and Glen Plake.

Locations[edit]

The Canadian province of British Columbia is the most popular area for heli-skiing with over 90% global market share.[citation needed]. British Columbia heliskiing is divided into four subdivisions of the Canadian Rockies. [2] It is also practised the continental USA and Alaska, Nepal, Iceland, Greenland, New Zealand, the Indian Himalayas, Russia, Turkey, Norway(Voss), Sweden, Finland, Argentina, Georgia, and Chile.[3]

In Switzerland there are an estimated 15,000 heliskiing flights each year, to 42 landing sites at places not reached by ski lifts. In 2010 Switzerland's major environmental groups, including the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), handed a petition with over 15,000 signatures to the Swiss government, demanding a ban on heliskiing.[4]

Heliskiing is banned in Germany and was banned in France in 1984, while neighbouring Austria allows just two landing sites.

Operations[edit]

The skiers board the helicopter and are lifted off and carried to a landing zone on the mountain. The guide or a helicopter crew member load the skis and poles into an exterior basket. Helicopters land at the top of runs; skiiers do not jump from the helicopter.[5]

Conditions[edit]

Snow conditions on the mountains vary considerably over the course of the winter as the snow is subjected to sun, wind, temperature variation, and new snowfalls. Snow conditions change almost every day.[5]

Safety[edit]

The industry's first avalanche related fatality occurs with CMH in 1974.[6]

A safety concern of heliskiing operators is the danger of avalanches. Heli-skiing operations employ guides and pilots who are trained and experienced in evaluating snow conditions, snow stability, and risk management. Many guides are trained and skills assessed according to standards set and maintained by the Canadian Ski Guide Association or the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) and/or International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations (IFMGA). Many guides also enter the profession after years of personal experience, ski patrol experience, other guide experience, and a high mountain I.Q.

Operators do not generally conduct any form of explosive avalanche control. More typically risker slopes are avoided depending on the assessed risk of the snow pack, resulting in guests riding mellower slopes in safer places when the risk is high.

Poor weather, especially limited visibility, freezing rain or high winds limit the ability of helicopters to fly in the mountains. In these conditions most operators will be unable to fly. Some operators offer a snow cat as backup for these conditions, although this is relatively rare.

Most tours will include in the price the use of avalanche transceivers, shovels and probes and provide training on the use of them and other avalanche rescue equipment. Guides, and increasingly guests, carry radios to communicate within the group, between groups, with the helicopter and the lodge.

Some operators are beginning to offer additional avalanche protection that reduces avalanche burial potential or increases burial survival time, i.e. avalanche air-bags.

Other hazards of heliskiing include falling into very deep tree wells, "snow mushrooms" dropping from trees, suffocation after falls in very deep powder (rare), crevasses on glaciers, common mountain terrain features such as cliffs and creek beds, and – obviously – typical ski-related injuries. Helicopter crashes are also far from unheard of.

Financial hazards include pre-paid ski days lost to un-flyable weather. However, this may be mitigated through the use of snowcat back-up thus guaranteeing skiing everyday. Heliskiing agents qualify and book tours based on client requirements.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Atwater, Montgomery M. (1968) The Avalanche Hunters Philadelphia: M. Smith Co. OCLC 449852
  2. ^ "Heli-Skiing Canada, Importance of Location". 
  3. ^ Wanrooy, Bill; Anthony, Chris (2006) Dream Season: Worldwide Guide to Heli & Cat Skiing/Boarding Lulu.com ISBN 9781847287915
  4. ^ Foulkes, Imogen. "Pressure grows on Swiss heliskiing". BBC. Retrieved 10 July 2014. 
  5. ^ a b "FAQ". Whistler Heli-skiing. Retrieved 23 November 2014. 
  6. ^ Gmoser, Hans (1996) The CMH Gallery: a visual celebration of CMH Heli-Skiing and Heli-HikingAltitude Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 9781551531168