When to go heli-skiing?
Conditions and terrain vary over the average 4 month winter season.
We are in the mountains; our lodge is half-way between Golden and Revelstoke somewhere close to nowhere. Things happen out here — too much snow, too little snow, wind, clouds, -30, +10, stuck cars, road closures, airplane lost bags, intimidated guests, experienced guests, business deals, wedding proposals, family reunions, languages… All this and much more is commonplace in mountain areas and we like it, we love to solve difficult alpine solutions, and we are great at it. We are great at it because there is no team out there with as much experience and knowledge in boutique heli-skiing as us, and because our small groups allow us to pay the attention to each of our guests and their needs.
With that in mind we get asked all the time when the best time to go heli-skiing is, and the answer will likely change depend on who you ask. Our winter season runs from mid-December to early April and the conditions can vary greatly during that time. However to help you choose something that sounds to your liking we have done some generalizing. Just keep in mind anything can happen and be reassured when you choose Great Canadian Heli-Skiing we will make sure that you enjoy the best experience available no matter what Mother Nature delivers. We like it this way.
DECEMBER/JANUARY — The Snowy Season
The holiday season has fast become the best know secret in heli-skiing. Snow has been falling since October, and when the maddening crowds rush to join the other maddening crowds at the resorts, our terrain sits quietly, in its cold blanket of deep light snow for those who have chosen to escape the lifts. Cold Smoke would be a good way to describe the conditions, one because temperatures tend to be colder (a daily average of -9°C) and two because the snow is so light it leaves effervescent wisps in your trails. It also tends to snow a lot at this time of year, a monthly average of 262 cm and 273 cm for both December (22 of 31 days) and January (21 of 31 days), that is addition to the 392 cm the total average snowfall for September, October, November combined. In sum, winter may have just begun at your local resort, however we are in the middle of it here at Great Canadian Heli-Skiing. Many guests come at this time of year because they like skiing gladed trees. There are higher odds of tree skiing at this time of year due to the number of snowy days we have.
MID-JANUARY/FEBRUARY/MID-MARCH — The Peak Season
This is our most popular time to come heli-skiing and often gets booked out. This peak season is mostly due to the variety of runs that our guests experience at this time. The average temperatures in February (-7.2°C) are slightly warmer than the early season, but remain cool enough to preserve high quality dry snow. The quantity of snow during the month of February is also still high hitting on average over 200 cm for the month, and although it still snows a lot (18 out of 28 days) there are more sunny days during this month creating more opportunities to ski up high in the alpine bowls and glaciers. In summary, the peak season is most popular because it provides a bit of everything, from peak to valley bottom, and is consistently pleasing everyone, tree skiing and glacier skiing fans alike.
MID-MARCH TO MID-APRIL — The Glacier Season
If you do not want to see a tree on your run and don’t want to see the temperatures drop below -10°C, this is the season for you. April averages a temperature below freezing but has only seen an average of 1.3 days below -10°C in the past 30 years. The average temperature for March still stays cold enough to keep great quality snow (-4.7°C), and it still snows a lot with an average of 175.5 cm and over a meter of snow in March and April. In fact there can be big snowfalls still at this time of year (the largest snowfall in 24 hours in April is 48 cm). More than half the days of the month still snow, however snowfalls tend to be intense, but move through quicker than the systems that lock in during December. With more sunny days and base layer of snow almost 300 cm at the end of April, the Glaciers and Alpine Bowls are in perfect conditions for the long glorious days. In April if the southern exposures affect the lower angle slopes with sun crust, the Northern Exposures remain cold and powdery. This is the time to come ski big long glacier runs. The runs lower in the valley can get heavy at this time of year, so very little time is spent low down in the trees at this time of year.
GLACIER NATIONAL PARK AVERAGES
*Data used from our neighboring Glacier National Park collected and average since 1971. See Source. Rogers Pass and Mt Fidelity in Glacier National Park is the 3rd snowiest and 1st snowiest place in Canada averaging 933 cm and 1471 cm respectively.
Glades — December, January, February
So with that much snow and that many snow days we do a lot of skiing in our gladed trees. Ahhh glades… one of our best terrain attributes! Glades are areas of trees that are openly spaced so skiing through them is much easier than regular tree skiing. The snow conditions are often the best in the trees as the snow has more protection from the wind and sun than an exposed slope. We ski our wonderful gladed terrain a lot in the beginning of the season both due to the fact it snows a lot, and because all of the glaciers may not be ready to ski yet. Later in March when it begins warming up, we tend to stick to the higher elevations above the treeline. Trees provide good reference on snowy days when anything in the alpine without trees would be impossible to ski because of poor visibility. Because we have incredible tree skiing in close proximity to the lodge and a small number of guests, we still only average 2 full down days where we cannot fly in the whole year. Many places like Alaska and New Zealand that have no trees can average more than 2 days a week of down days.
For skiers that are just learning to perfect their powder turns, our beautiful burnt forest provides trees for reference, but without the branches.
For those aggressive, expert heli-skiers out there, some of our steeper treed runs can offer an amazing challenge. The best time to experience our steeper terrain is in December to early February when it is snowing heavily and we are skiing in our glades and beautiful burnt forests. This terrain is also perfect for those skiers and riders that like to jump off of stuff. There are plenty of covered logs, rocks and small cliffs to play off of in this type of terrain.
Open alpine bowls — January, February, March, April
“Alpine Bowls” are bowl shaped terrain features caused by glaciation. Most of the bowls we ski are in “the alpine”, meaning the area above tree-line. The helicopters will usually land on a ridge line which is at the top of the bowl. Then it’s a nice, steeper pitch that leads to a wide open run, often on a glacier (see below). We usually ski the bowls when it is a sunny day, especially from February onwards.
Glaciers — February, March, April
According to Wikipedia, a glacier is a “large persistent body of ice”. Don’t worry, you won’t be skiing on ice, rather, you will be skiing the nice, soft snow on top. Glaciers often offer wide open runs… so if you are timid in the trees, this is your kind of terrain! The slope angle is gentler and the skiing more “cruisy”. When we ski this type of terrain guests can rack up huge vertical. If you are interested in predominately skiing glaciers, join us in late February to early April.
Mushrooms and pillows
Expert skiers will LOVE our mushrooms and pillow lines! We have a multitude of mushrooms and a plethora of pillows for your enjoyment. Pillows and mushrooms are tall stacks of snow that have accumulated on an object such as a rock or tree stump. These objects are a lot of fun to ski, however, if you don’t think your knees can take it, there’s always a mellower, less challenging line to take!
Snowboarders and aggressive skiers will enjoy our natural halfpipes. This type of terrain enables riders to ride up one wall and get some good air. Or you can ride up a wall and then slash it…makes an awesome photo!
So in addition to booking around your own schedule (and that of the family and friends who are joining you), you’ll want to consider the type of terrain that you’re after as well. If you have any questions, give us a call at 1-866-424-4354 or send us an email and we can help you plan your perfect heli-skiing vacation.