During the off season we’re afforded some much needed downtime – time that is usually spent thinking about, planning for and counting down to the following season! This summer is no exception and we’ve recently been researching the best boutique heli-skiing operations around the world to be able to share some great destinations and as a check that we’re providing a world class experience to our guests.
But it got us thinking…what does ‘boutique’ really mean and is it better? The word boutique was borrowed from the hotel trend that evolved out of the 1980s, to describe hotels which often contain luxury facilities, intimate settings with full service accommodations. Boutique hotels have typically been unique properties operated by individuals or companies with a small collection. These hotels really differentiated themselves by providing attention to the individual guest and focused on offering their services in a comfortable, intimate, and welcoming setting, so they are very unlikely to be found amongst the homogeneity of large hotels.
We saw what we did at Great Canadian Heli-Skiing to be much of the same. The word, boutique, as it is related to boutique hotels, is what we had been doing since the company’s inception in 1988, we just did not have a name for it, as we were the only ones doing it. It was not until 1996 when the first company came along and replicated the Great Canadian Heli-Skiing model. In 2000 two more competing companies joined the ranks, even referencing “Great Canadian Heli-Skiing model” in their business plans to describe how they were going to operate. So in 2001, Great Canadian Heli-Skiing coined the phrase “Boutique Heli-Skiing” to describe the most significant trend in the industry to occur in the past 20 years.
However, just like in the hotel business, the successes of “boutique heli-skiing” have prompted the large companies to take notice try to establish their own “boutique” products in order to capture a market share. So the question is begged, what makes a heli-skiing boutique, and is it better.
Probably the most important aspect to being a boutique heli-skiing operator is having small groups. This allows the group to be agile, move quickly, change plans on the fly, adapt to the groups abilities, and tackle terrain that larger groups aren’t able to. Plus, it’s more personal and easier to group skiers of the same abilities. If you and your buddies are veteran heli-skiers you wouldn’t want to be in the same helicopter as a group of newbies (and vice versa). There is just no comparison, in this case smaller is definitely better.
What is considered small groups? A small group has a maximum of 4 or 5 guests in a guided group. Companies using this format at either flying the ultimate heli-skiing machine, the Astar Eurocopter , or some will operate the less known Bell 407. These small groups, and their corresponding helicopters, have offered a distinct contrast to the regular heli-skiing program which uses the larger Bell 212, or the “Huey”, which accommodates 11 guests per guided group. It is like comparing a Porsche with a Passenger bus; even the flying experience is completely different.
So clearly, to be described as a boutique heli-skiing operation a company needs to have small groups, but that is not all.
The boutique experience goes further than the number in a ski group, it also is defined by the fact that there is specialty accommodation included by the provider and a capped number of guests staying at the property and guests skiing the terrain at all times.
In the heli-skiing industry there are day heli-skiing operations and destination heli-skiing operations. A day operator sells experiences by the day. Some companies may string several days together with hotel accommodations at the local “Best Western”, however they are still a day operator, and letting guests of different ability and budgets come in for a single day experienced lumped in with those having a multi-day experience. Accordingly, to be sure that a unique heli-skiing experience is delivered and to achieve the accreditation of a boutique heli-skiing company, there must be a designated exclusive lodge, owned and operated by the provider, included in the holiday packaging. This allows the guests to interact with the guides and other guests to make their trip more enjoyable – the experience extends beyond the slopes.
And again, even with regards to accommodation, it comes down to size…would you rather stay at a lodge with 23 others or 120 others? We crave personalized interaction with every guest and we exist because of the friendships that can be formed in a more intimate setting, which you just couldn’t get from a larger resort. A smaller resort also means more heli-skiing terrain for the guests staying. Again smaller is the recipe for a personalized one of a kind experience.
Is Boutique Better?
If anyone asks how do I chose a heli-skiing company that suits me the best, the simplest answer is, “at the very least choose a boutique heli-skiing company. The groups are small; the accommodation is exclusive to destination heli-skiers, and uniquely intimate.” There are only about 10 companies in the world that would fulfill the definition of “Boutique Heli-Skiing”. So there are excellent choices available, from the Arctic to Alaska, from the lower 48 to of course BC. This helps hugely with the decision making and assures potential heli-skiers a great experience, which we believe is better.
As the leaders in boutique heli-skiing, and over 25 years of experience, we have changed our focus to not the fact that we are small heli-skiing destination, but to what can we do for our guests because we are a small heli-skiing destination. Great Canadian Heli-skiing still stands out amongst the boutique operators with our ‘unlimited vertical’ and ‘flexible holidays’, both delivered as per our guests requests. We focus on providing the best heli-skiing experience of your life and have built our business with size in mind. Our goal has never been to be the biggest, just the best.
But we’d love to hear from you – does size matter? (comment below)