Winter travel

Top 7 heliski destinations in Asia, Europe that won't break the bank, and one that might

OK, you can never call a skiing trip a budget holiday, but heliskiing - where a helicopter drops you at the top of a mountain and you ski down - doesn't always cost a fortune

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 October, 2015, 3:12pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 March, 2016, 12:40pm

Heliskiing may be the most dramatic and thrilling form of skiing but it’s also renowned for the eye-watering costs; however, there are ways of doing it that,  while not exactly cheap, are reasonably affordable.

Here are seven of the best value options (plus one that may indeed break the bank).

Livigno, Italy

In the far north of the Italian Alps, Livigno-based Heli Guides offers two helicopter drops, which essentially amounts to a full morning of heliskiing, for €275 (HK$2,400) per person; when I skied with them we landed on the  sun-kissed summit of 3,040-metre Pizzo Zembranka  on the border of the Stelvio National Park  before enjoying a 2,000-metre descent starting on steep, wide powder fields and finishing within a spit of Livigno.  

Then we went back and skied the mountain again, this time by a different route, after which everyone in the group, including a number of first-time heliskiers, was adamant they’d be going heliskiing again irrespective of the cost.  

Cervinia, Italy

Cervinia is much more accessible than Livigno (it’s a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Turin Airport as opposed to four-and-a-half hours for Livigno), but the heliskiing here isn’t quite such good value. Heliski Cervinia’s appropriately named “Helibaptism”  programme is a one-drop experience high up in the Alps between Italy and Switzerland which will see your guide escort you down between 1,300 and 1,500 metres of untracked powder.

A group of four will pay €250 each for one run, which will see you ski through some of the best powder and most spectacular mountain panoramas in Europe, including the Matterhorn, which you’ll be right beside.  

Val d’Aran, Spanish Pyrenees  

Pyrenees Heliski  operates from the resort of Vielha in the Val d’Aran,  an area best known for Spain’s premier ski resort, Baqueira,  but away from this there’s a fine range of off-piste skiing at altitudes of between 1,500 and 3,000 metres in a region that few overseas skiers ever get to.

The company’s half-day intro packages are great value at €190 since they include all the instruction, guiding and gear you need for your first heliski experience along with a single drop (you can get two drops for €290, three for €390).  

Val d’Isere, France  

Heliskiing is actually forbidden in France, but Val d’Isere-based Val Heliski  get round this by meeting you in the ski resort of La Rosiere,  which sits on the French side of the Franco-Italian border, from where you ski to Italy using the resort’s ski lifts, whereupon you’re picked up by helicopter for a guided heliski adventure on the Italian side of the Alps.

I did a single drop with them last winter which saw us land on top of 3,200-metre Mont Freduez,  from where our guide, Alessandro, led us down an 1,800-metre descent to the Italian resort of La Thuile,  which is linked with La Rosiere – so we then used the ski lift system to get back to our start point. All a bit convoluted, but lots of fun.

It costs €299 a drop, so not the cheapest on our list, but as the only heliski option available “in France” it’s definitely worth considering.  

Arlberg, Austria  

The Arlberg region of Austria is one of the few regions in the country where you can heliski, with a single drop on the 2,600-metre Mehlsack  above Lech-Zurs  costing from €390 including guide.

You’ll need to be a pretty competent skier or boarder, as you’ll encounter some steep slopes, particularly on the upper elevations, although challenging pitches appear throughout the 900-metre descent. Classic Austrian powder is the big draw here, of course, with the Arlberg region being noted for some of the driest and deepest snow in the Alps.  

Riksgransen, northern Sweden  

Located within the Arctic Circle is the largest wilderness area in Europe, within which  are 60,000 square kilometres of heliskiing terrain. This varies from easy intermediate- level runs through to terrain as challenging as most skiers would ever want, and it will set you back as little as €320 for three drops, which makes it the best value heliskiing in Europe.

And for something a little different, you can do a single drop and heliski under the midnight sun for  about €235.  

Mount Shiribetsu-dake, Japan  

This dormant volcano is Japan’s main venue for heliskiing, located beside the active volcano of Mount Yotei  on Hokkaido Island,  where sometimes the powder is so deep you may have trouble seeing where you’re skiing.

The operation is run by Hokkaido Backcountry Club,  located about 45 minutes from Niseko,  and you can enjoy a three-run “Intro” package with a mixed Japanese-Canadian crew of pilots and guides for 97,200 yen (HK$6,200).

And if you want to push the boat out ...

Kamchatka, Russia  

Kamchatka has some of the most spectacular heliskiing on the planet, but it costs.

After the excitement of a white-knuckle ride in a huge Mi-8 helicopter from the regional capital Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky,  skiers are dropped off in a blizzard of snow before the mighty craft clatters off to wait 2,000 metres below.

To the east are the glittering  waters of the Pacific,  while in every other direction lies range after range of primeval mountains, many of which have steam issuing from their summits and flanks – this is the most active volcanic region on earth.

There then follows a thigh-burning, apparently never-ending descent down ancient glaciers, immense powder fields and silent birch forests to eventually slide to a halt on a meandering flood plain, beside a hot spring or perhaps on a snow-covered beach before you go back and do it all again.

However, there are no “one drop” or half-day heliski options in Kamchatka, and a week heliskiing here will set you back €5,950 (HK$51,870) plus flights.