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Heli-skiing and Cat-skiing in the Canadian Rockies

Photo by Se Mo

The ultimate winter splurge for ski or board nuts in the Canadian Rockies

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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.

Operators

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.

Near Jasper you’ll find Robson Helimagic, based in Valemount 135km to the west. This are one of the best value operators in the region, despite having 1,500 square kilometers of terrain on offer.

In Golden, Purcell Helicopter Skiing are one of the least expensive operators in the region and have access to 2000 square kilometers of terrain.

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.

An hour or so’s drive east of Fernie, lies the cheapest catskiing option of all, at Castle Mountain.


At A Glance

Price Range:
luxury
Most Suited to:
single
couples
groups
Season:
winter
spring
Length:
day
weekend

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