The big secret about heli-skiing

CHOP CHOP CHOPPER: Heli-skiing in New Zealand is not as unaffordable as you might think.
CHOP CHOP CHOPPER: Heli-skiing in New Zealand is not as unaffordable as you might think.

There's a little-known truth about heli-skiing, kept secret by those that have a vested interest in keeping an age-old myth alive.

Anyone can do it. You don't have to be the extreme, off-the-grid style skier or boarder that heli-skiers and boarders want you to think they are. Nor do you have to jump 10 feet out of a hovering chopper with your skis and snowboard strapped on and take off down the mountain a la James Bond (though you'd get kudos if you did).

If you can get down an intermediate ski run in one piece and are not afraid of powder, then there's a heli-ski experience and terrain right for you. I blame the rise of extreme action snow sports films for perpetuating the myth that only the chosen gnarly few or the certifiably insane can take on the great wild wilderness of helicopter-accessed backcountry terrain.

In reality, it's those who have more dollars than gnar in their pocket that are the ones who can get first tracks. But that's another myth: that you have to hand over bucket loads of cash, when one bucket will do.

New Zealand is a fantastic place to get your heli-ski legs before taking on the big heli-ski guns of North America. Most heli-ski companies in Methven, Wanaka and Queenstown offer classic four-run days for around $850.

If it is your first time then Southern Lakes Heli Ski in Queenstown and Wanaka offer a two-run intro on suitable terrain for $729  with extra runs at $99 and various other packages including the eight-run Ultimate Package for $1099.

Harris Mountains Heli, also in Queenstown and Wanaka have a three-run intro for $795 or you can go the total 'Max Vertical' package of seven runs for $1045.

Methven Heli Ski, known for the best advanced terrain access in the Arrowsmiths in Canterbury, have a standard five-run day for $975 or you can head to Mt Cook National Park, wait for a break in the weather, and score some serious vertical with awe-inspiring views on a five-run day, also $975, with Wilderness Heli Skiing.

A typical Heli-ski day goes something like this. Pick up from accommodation, transferred to helipad, safety briefing and avalanche-beacon training session, head up in the chopper. Heli-ski guide takes each group of up to five similar-ability skiers and boarders down each slope. Load into the chopper, repeat.

Lunch is served on the mountain in the remote wilderness of the Southern Alps range without a lift queue in sight. Load up for a few more runs after lunch then head home in the chopper. Shout the guide a beer and get a lift back to your accommodation. Upload photos and video to social media.

Southern Lakes Heli Ski have upped the ante this season after the owners spent a week heli-skiing in the home of commercial heli-skiing, Canada.

Hans Gmoser of Canadian Mountain Holidays, otherwise known as CMH, founded the first heli-ski operation in 1965 and opened the first heli-ski lodge, the Bugaboos, in 1968. He created the heli-ski movement and Canada now boasts a plethora of heli-ski operators from day trips to boutique, unlimited vertical packages for small private charter groups.

But back to New Zealand. Inspired by the week-long, all-inclusive heli-ski holidays offered by the likes of CMH, and Hans Gmoser's mountain guide mate, Mike Weigle at Wiegele Heli Skiing, Southern Lakes Heli now offer week-long, all-inclusive packages of their own together with the five-star Sofitel Queenstown and Exclusively New Zealand.

For $11,510 you get seven nights luxury accommodation, meet and greet, transfers, heli concierge, $100 credit for restaurants and bars, daily breakfast, complimentary drinks for two each night, two massages and daily unlimited heli-skiing or upgrade to a private charter for an extra $3724 per person for four people travelling together.

Environment conscious heli-skiers can purchase carbon points for heli-skiing in New Zealand at popular carbon offset sites like Carbon Neutral. Hopefully heli-ski companies in New Zealand will take a leaf from Eagle Pass Heli Skiing in Revelstoke, Canada who offered the option to offset at time of package purchase back in 2009.

When they do it will be double the boasting rights.

Sydney Morning Herald