The Canadian Rockies offer some of the finest backcountry skiing and boarding anywhere. Here, a pristine mountain landscape of open bowls and challenging tree runs is smothered in untracked and often very light-weight powder snow.
Several heli-ski operators offer single and multi-day trips for around CDN$1000 a day. It’s certainly not cheap, yet few regret spending the money. A more affordable option is cat-skiing – using snow cats not helicopters to transport you uphill. Though less glamorous this provides a similar experience at around half the price.
When shopping around, look out for the number of vertical feet in a package and try to get into as small a group as possible. Also look for a charge structure that allows you to stop skiing when you want.
With commercial helicopters forbidden in national parks, operators are concentrated just outside, near Golden and Panorama. The heli- and cat- skiing season runs from December to April; and booking well in advance is almost essential.
The largest operator is CMH Heli-Skiing, headquartered in Banff and operating from lodges scattered throughout the region. The variety of locations offered is second to none and the operator will pick up its guests from Calgary or accommodations in Lake Louise and Banff.
Operating out of Panorama, RKHeli-Ski heads mostly to intermediate terrain which might not challenge experienced skiers enough. The operator’s large groups – often five groups of eleven – can be unwieldy and cause long waits.
Of the region’s catskiing operations, most are near Fernie: Island Lake Lodge features astounding freeride terrain anywhere with an abundance of steep chutes and natural half pipes, a favorite with boarders; while the slightly cheaper and more rough-and-ready Fernie
Wilderness Experience has less dramatic terrain but more reliable conditions.