What Gear Do I Need to Go Heli-Skiing?
Heli-skiing can be insanely expensive. It can also be one of the most unique adventures you’ll ever experience. So go ahead. Be a glutton for a day, and devour those champagne powder turns.
But before splurging on a heli-skiing trip, you need to dial in your gear. I asked Purcell Heli-Skiing Owner and Operator Jeff Gertsch and his guide Mike Hollick for tips on how to maximize what could be your best day of skiing. Ever.
Gertsch, 34, is a third-generation ski guide whose father, Rudi, helped pioneer North American heli-skiing. Gertsch went heli-skiing for the first time at the age of three, and has been a certified guide for 14 years.
For him, the most important thing to bring on a heli-skiing trip is excitement. “We just expect them to show up and carry as much stoke as us,” says Gertsch. Once you have the excitement locked down, follow these four additional tips from the pros.
1) If you’re bringing your own skis, go big.
Going big mountain skiing with a pair of short, narrow carving skis is a bit like taking a knife to a gun fight, says Gertsch. “When you go out to ski in the mountains in the untracked stuff, having a big pair of skis is crucial,” he says.
Rocker is important, too. “Without a doubt these new skis going to the full rocker set-ups are making life a lot easier for people out there—that’s a big reason why our rental fleet is all early rise tips. Minimum,” Gertsch says. So do yourself a favor—get a pair of wide, rockered skis. They might double the number of runs you’ll be able to make.
Both Gertsch and Hollick ski the Faction Thirteen—a stiff, fast, rockered ski—because of its speed. “It doesn’t turn, it goes fast.” For a more playful ski for intermediate skiers, they suggest the Salomon Q-115. “It’s a softer ski and easier to turn in the powder,” Gertsch says. “If you’re looking for a nice light ski…those Salomons seem to be working pretty well.”
2) Stick with comfortable boots.
You won’t be racing, so why bother with race boots? Both Hollick and Gertsch suggest looking at four-buckle boots with a walk mode. Having a boot that fits well and isn’t too tight will keep your foot both warmer and more comfortable. “I know a lot of guys that buy their boots a half size big for their comfort zone,” Hollick says.
3) Don’t wear too many layers.
Wearing too many baselayers under your outerwear can make you incredibly uncomfortable. For example, super thick socks crammed into your boots will restrict circulation and cause your feet to freeze.
In temperatures below freezing, Hollick uses a simple three-layer system—a single base layer under a down insulator and a shell. “Even if you sweat a bit, it’s gone so fast you’re not actually getting wet,” he says. “It may feel poofy, but it’s really light and you are not getting bound up.”
4) Don’t block your beacon.
You should always wear a beacon while heli-skiing—remember, you’re still in the backcountry. Magnetic closures on jackets, heated gloves or vests, phones, GoPros, and even aluminum energy bar wrappers can block a transceiver signal—and prevent your friends from finding you in the event of an avalanche.
Gertsch says you should never wear a chest-mounted GoPro because of the potential interference. Also, make sure your cell phone is turned off and stored in your pack, not a pocket. Ditch the heated gloves and vest all together. “They are awesome for hill skiing, but not good if you are going to be working with a transceiver,” Gertsch says.