Heli-skiing is, without question, the snow-seeking pilgrim’s holy grail. Thousands of feet of vertical, bottomless powder, nonexistent crowds, endless terrain choices—it’s no wonder alpine addicts return to the shred meccas of Alaska and Canada for their fix year after year.
But there’s one glaring issue with heli-skiing: it’s super expensive. If you’ve got cash in the bank—or are cool with siphoning money directly from your kid’s college fund into a helicopter fuel tank—then go ahead, drop $10K on the best week of your life.
However, for the adventurous powder skier or splitboarder who’s operating on a (relative) budget and doesn’t mind earning their turns, there’s another option entirely: heli-accessed ski touring.
Most heli-ski packages will shuttle you out to a lodge, and then fly you up into the surrounding peaks each day. With burning fuel being the biggest financial factor on a heli trip, it’s no surprise that the price is as steep as the peaks you’ll ski. On a heli-accessed ski touring trip, however, you need only rely on the chopper to bring you to and from the lodge, while the skiing you do is entirely human-powered, hence the minimized cost.
On a recent weeklong trip with Pacific Alpine Guides to Sentry Lodge outside of Golden, BC, I learned firsthand how awesome a heli-accessed ski touring trip can be.
1. Lower Cost: These types of trips are drastically less expensive than a full-on heli-skiing package, meaning you can stay longer and pay less. A heli trip, for example, will often cost more than $1000 a day, while a trip to Sentry Lodge as supplied by Pacific Alpine Guides costs $2250 (early bird pricing) for a full week. Included in that price is gourmet yet hearty fare whipped up by a professional backcountry chef, a hut custodian to keep the place clean and the sauna stoked (yup, there’s a sauna), plus the services of two expert ski guides to help you make the most of your trip.
2. Get to Know the Terrain: You get a more intimate feel for the surrounding terrain and snowpack stability by skiing uphill. Sentry Lodge is located near treeline—above which you’ll find soaring peaks and below you’ll score the best pillow lines of your life. Touring this terrain with Tyler Reid, an avalanche educator and the lead guide/owner of Pacific Alpine Guides, will help you learn more about safe travel in avalanche terrain and all manner of backcountry decision-making.
3. Less Environmental Impact, More Connection to Nature: There’s less mechanized transport, which means less fuel required and less harm to the environment, at least relative to an 8-flight per day heli trip. You’ll also find more opportunity to connect with nature when you’re relying on human-powered ascents and helicopters aren’t constantly roaring overhead.
4. Take Advantage of the Storm Skiing: Every pro skier has horror stories of pulling their hair out and playing endless games of cards during the “down days,” stormy periods where the helicopter can’t fly. While you can certainly get snowed in at a hut, if you’re prepared to ski tour, you can make the most of your trip by shredding the trees when visibility is low and the chopper can’t fly.
5. No Lugging Supplies: Unlike pure human-powered hut trips, you don’t have to lug in all of your gear, food, and booze in your backpack. At Sentry Lodge, we brought in a full bar, boxes upon boxes of delectable grub to be prepared by our remarkably talented chef, and other hut trip “necessities” like board games and portable speakers.
6. (Ski) Boot Camp: Of course, on any ski trip, you expect to get a fair amount of exercise. However, when you’re strictly relying on ski touring, a 7-day trip is a great way to whip your body into shape. We averaged between four and five thousand feet of vertical per day at Sentry Lodge: on some days, we did longer tours into the alpine, on others we knocked out 6 or 7 leg-burning laps through classic BC pillows.
All four of these lodges are run by Golden Alpine Holidays outside of Golden, BC. You can contact them directly regarding availability, though my recommendation is working with a guiding outfit like Pacific Alpine Guides, as that way you’ll be covered on the guiding, cooking, and cleaning fronts and can focus solely on the skiing.
1. Sentry Lodge:
To call Sentry Lodge a hut is like calling the Palace of Versailles a hovel. Ski huts tend to be remote, tough-to-access cabins far off the beaten path, lauded for their life-giving warmth more than their luxurious amenities. Sentry Lodge, however, sports a ping-pong table, a flat screen TV, leather couches, and a wood-stoked sauna. The only thing better than hanging out in Sentry? Exploring the legendary terrain around it.
2. Meadow Lodge:
Perched high in the Esplanades, the Meadow Lodge is ideal for those skiers looking for steep (and hopefully deep) terrain. North-facing shots hold snow long after storm clouds dissipate, so chances are you’ll be able to find some powder even if there’s an uncharacteristic drought in the forecast.
3. Sunrise Lodge:
Sunrise is the first of the Golden Alpine Holiday’s lodges to snag the morning light—making it perfect for early risers. The early bird, as they say, gets the turn. The two-story lodge also sports a sauna and offers insane access into the Esplanade Range.
4. Vista Lodge:
Big views and big terrain characterize the Vista Hut. With five linked drainages to shred, touring skiers can chart their route through some of British Columbia’s most breathtaking terrain. A must for spring skiers looking to tackle bigger lines and couloirs.
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