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Bucket List Heli Trips That Don't Involve Skiing

The worst thing about helicopters: the cost. The best thing: getting to surf, ride, or raft places you could never dream of reaching without one.

There’s a lot you can do besides skiing if you have a helicopter as transportation. (Courtesy Glacier Raft Company/Dave Best)
Glacier Raft Company

The worst thing about helicopters: the cost. The best thing: getting to surf, ride, or raft places you could never dream of reaching without one.

We know you’re not booking heli trips every year. Your budget and the environment simply wouldn’t allow it. But maybe once or twice in a lifetime, there’s a spot you want to get to—a remote river canyon, a faraway glaciated peak, or that perfect surf break off the shore of an isolated island—and the only way to get there is with help from a helicopter. We’re talking about bucket-list adventures in some of the most stunning, hard-to-reach places on earth. Turns out, there’s a lot you can do besides ski if you have a helicopter as transportation.

Paddle Remote River Canyons

Golden, British Columbia–based Glacier Raft Company has exclusive access to raft the Kicking Horse River’s legendary lower canyon, a 2.5-mile stretch of Class IV rapids with massively steep rock walls on either side. The only way to access this part of the river is by helicopter. The chopper will drop you, your guide, and the raft at the put-in (from $231).

Hike Remote Peaks

In Alaska, you can hop a ride with Talkeetna Air Taxi, taking off from the flatlands of Talkeetna’s boreal forest for a ride deep into the Talkeetna Mountains. You’ll be dropped into rugged, trailless wilderness, an alpine tundra with views of Denali and not another soul in sight. A guide from Alaska Nature Guides will lead the way (from $433). Or, in Wanaka, New Zealand, take a heli over a World Heritage conservation area bordering Mount Aspiring National Park into the country’s Southern Alps for a two-hour guided hike past unspoiled alpine lakes with Eco Wanaka Adventures (from $572).

Surf Legendary Waves

You can access the epic left-hand tubes of Grajagan, also known as G-Land, off the island of Java via a half-day ferryboat ride. But it’s a lot easier to get there by helicopter. In 2016, the Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay started offering Asia’s first heli-accessed surfing. Yes, it’s over-the-top indulgent and pricey, but we’re talking bucket-list adventures here, right? You’ll hop aboard a 45-minute heli ride with Air Bali across the strait from Bali to a beach landing zone on the border of Alas Purwo National Park in East Java. Costs are on the high side, though: They start at $10,000 per day for up to four people, and that includes a surf guide from Tropicsurf.

Bomb Down Empty Bike Trails

Charter a helicopter with British Columbia’s Blackcomb Helicopters (rates vary) and you can be whisked to a ten-mile, 6,000-vertical-foot descent on a new downhill trail off the summit of Mount Barbour, outside Pemberton in the Coast Mountains, which was finished in 2016. The company was the first to install bike racks on its helicopters, in 2016, and it’s still one of just a handful of operators in North America offering heli-biking. Heli-Alps, out of Valais, Switzerland, plans to offer Switzerland’s first heli-biking trips starting this summer.

Fish Empty Rivers

You’ll take off via helicopter from the airport in Eagle, Colorado, and fly to a remote private ranch, where you’ll fish streams for rainbow and brown trout in spots hand-selected by your guide from Minturn Anglers (from $3,995 for up to three people). Welcome to some of the finest fishing in Colorado.

Soak in Private Hot Springs

Picture the world’s most spectacular hot springs—a piping-hot pool of geothermal-heated water, set against a snowy mountain background. Now imagine you have the place entirely to yourself. That’s the idea behind Head-Line Mountain Holidays’ so-called wilderness spa. You’ll depart from Whistler or Vancouver, British Columbia, in an A-star helicopter, soar over Canada’s largest ice cap, set down for a guided hike through a glaciated ice cave, then enjoy a soak in a natural hot springs, followed by a chef-prepared barbecue (from $8,523 for groups of four).

Nicolas Henderson/Creative Commons )

San Marcos, Texas

Billed as the world’s toughest canoe race, the Texas Water Safari, held each June, is a four-day, 260-mile jaunt from the headwaters of the San Marcos River northeast of San Antonio to the small shrimping town of Seadrift on the Gulf Coast. There’s no prize money—just bragging rights for the winner. Any boat without a motor is allowed, and you’ll have to carry your own equipment and overnight gear. Food and water are provided at aid stations along the way. Entry fees start at $175 and increase as race day approaches.

The Ring

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(Courtesy Quatro Hubbard)

Strasburg, Virginia

The Ring is a 71-mile trail running race in early September along the entire length of Virginia’s rough and rocky Massanutten Trail loop. To qualify, you need to have run a 50- or 100-mile race before the event and win a spot through the lottery system. Entry is free. Complete the run and you’ll become part of the tight-knit Fellowship of the Ring and be eligible for the Reverse Ring, which entails running the trail backwards in the middle of winter.

Plaza2Peak

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(David Silver)

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Each spring, competitors gather in Santa Fe’s historic plaza with a simple goal: be the first to reach 12,308-foot Deception Peak, 17 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain away. Competitors run or bike the first 15 miles to the local ski area before transitioning to their waiting ski-touring setups for the final push to the top. Time stops only when they’ve skied back down to the tailgate in the resort’s parking lot, which is funded by the modest entry fee of around $25. To add to the sufferfest, some participants sign up for the Expedition category, in which they strap their skis, skins, boots, and poles to their bikes for the long ride up. Start dates vary depending on snow conditions, but look for the event page to be posted on Facebook in late March or early April.

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