Heli Ski History: Where It All Began

We have spoken at length about many aspects of heli ski adventures, but to truly understand this beloved sport, it helps to examine its roots. Today, we will have a look into the past and explore the fascinating history of heli ski trips, as well as the impact it has had on skiing as a whole. Additionally, we will unpack a few tips and tricks which should assist you in making your heli skiing experience truly unforgettable.

If you have been thinking of embarking on an excursion of your own, Pure Powder is here for you. Over the years, we have become the premium heli ski specialists, and we organise more adventures than anyone else in the UK combined. With an impressive selection of destinations and tailored trips, on top of our extensive concierge experience, you would be hard-pressed to find more capable hands than ours.




Heli Ski: Humble Beginnings

The allure of the mountains and the backcountry has always been present and, over the years, pioneers have sought out new ways of traversing through challenging winter landscapes. However, one issue that ski enthusiasts in particular were faced with was that many of the best slopes were situated in locations that were extremely tough to access, and it often took a significant amount of time to reach them on foot or ski.

There were no clear solutions to this problem for a long time – until the 1960s when a ski guide by the name of Hans Gmoser thought of something quite revolutionary. Gmoser has become something of a legend in the skiing and helicopter skiing world, but his story had humble beginnings. He decided to move to Canada from Austria after the devastation of World War II – as was the case for many others, he was seeking a better life outside of Europe.




The Father Of Heli Skiing Adventures: Hans Gmoser

Hans Gmoser had been skiing from an early age and was completely at ease in a wilderness environment before ever setting foot in North America. However, he took to the backcountry of Canada like a fish to water and honed his crafts as a mountain guide, ski instructor, and climber.

In the 50s, he travelled around Canada and the USA presenting his films and drumming up interest in the Canadian mountain experience. One of his largest contributions came about in the 60s when he bumped into a geologist named Art Patterson. Art utilised helicopters to carry out expeditions and summer fieldwork in remote areas that were nigh impossible to access without the use of a helicopter.

Those very same helicopters sat in storage throughout the winter months, as there was seemingly no use for them – and this gave Gmoser a grand idea. Hans Gmoser, with the help of Art Patterson, decided to present the concept of helicopter skiing to the world and became the first commercial heli skiing operator. At first, there were many difficulties, as the helicopters of those days were still rather basic; they would struggle in high winds and had a comparatively slow flight speed. It was at this point that Patterson decided to bow out. Gmoser, however, was not discouraged.

He was notoriously driven and was determined to see his idea become a successful operation. Eventually, his patience paid off, and he began to see major progress in his mission. At the time, his operation was called Rocky Mountain Guides, but this grew to become what is now called CMH or Canadian Mountain Holidays – the largest heli ski operator in the world and a long-time partner of Pure Powder.

It is worth noting that there is some debate about whether Gmoser was the first to think of helicopter skiing, however, it is certain that he was the first to bring it into the mainstream and popularise it.




How Heli Skiing Practices Have Progressed

We have come a long way from the precarious three-seaters of the 60s and 70s, and now helicopter skiing is a well-organised and regulated sport enjoyed by individuals all over the world. One obvious change can be seen in the helicopters themselves. As you might expect, the progression of technology in these machines has been substantial.

Nowadays, they are capable of carrying much larger groups of skiers, and they are significantly safer and more powerful than anything you would have found in the early stages of heli-ski excursions. This means that the wind is less of a factor, flight times are shorter, more places are reachable, and the entire experience is improved.

Another aspect that has progressed rapidly is safety. When Gmoser first started with his paid adventures, much of what he learned was trial and error, and there were plenty of accidents and mistakes along the way. Drawing from these events, safety procedures and protocols have come a long way, with comprehensive avalanche safety, improved weather and snow tracking technology, and the implementation of various safety practices and regulations.

Nowadays, heli ski safety has been expanded to the point where it is down to a science, and all members of ski operations are constantly working to ensure the safety of their guests.




Another element of heli ski adventures that has developed quickly is the competence of the guides and pilots. The training that heli ski guides need to go through is advanced and exceedingly difficult – not just anyone can become a guide. It involves hundreds, if not thousands, of hours’ worth of backcountry experience, as well as fleshed-out avalanche safety courses and a multitude of other essential skills.

Your guides are the best of the best, and they will be with you through every part of the skiing experience to assist and instruct wherever they can. To add to this, heli ski pilots are remarkably capable and have an unparalleled understanding of the weather conditions and terrain of the backcountry – not to mention their helicopter pilot qualifications, which are by no means easy to attain.


Heli Ski: Why Choose Pure Powder?

We have been in the helicopter skiing industry for over four decades and in this time we have discovered some of the most incredible skiing experiences on the planet. Not only is our range of trips and locations one of the most varied, but we act as your personal concierge service from the moment you decide on the excursion you prefer. By this, we mean that we will take care of everything, including flights, accommodation and transport, right down to offering advice about activities and local restaurants. We aim to make the entire experience as easy as possible for our clients.

Another major upside of going through us is that we will never be more expensive than going directly through an operator – in fact, a lot of the time our adventure packages end up being cheaper! With off-piste and heli ski excursions in Chile, Iceland, Alaska, Canada, Japan, and more, we can help you have a ski adventure you will never forget. So, why not contact us today and begin planning your once-in-a-lifetime experience?


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