Heli-skiing is off-trail, downhill skiing or snowboarding where a skier or snowboarder reaches his or her starting point at the top of the mountain by helicopter, rather than riding a ski lift. Heli-skiing provides skiers and snowboarders with remote, uncrowded (and rarely visited) backcountry slopes full of virgin, untracked powder, untouched by man.
But despite the majestic vistas and relative solitude, heli-skiing is dangerous. Safety must always be the utmost priority. For this reason, before boarding the helicopter, skiers and snowboarders should be instructed about equipment use, helicopter safety, rescue techniques, and other safety protocols. You also should be trained on seat belt usage, how to exit a helicopter in an emergency, and how to disembark without getting injured or killed by the rotors. This includes keeping your gear below your waist because the helicopter rotor blades will be gyrating just above your head.
In addition to your ski gear, you should also be provided with special heli-skiing safety equipment, such as an avalanche transceiver, probe, shovel, and avalanche airbag backpack. If trapped underneath the snow in an avalanche, the transceiver will alert others to your location. Meanwhile, those looking for you will use the probe to pinpoint your location and then dig you out using the shovel. By inflating the avalanche airbag backpack, you will be lifted above the avalanche, dramatically increasing your chances of survival.
And make sure your ski gear and safety equipment are secure when you land. If the helicopter lands on the edge of a steep mountain, rather than a flat spot, your skis, snowboard, or safety equipment could easily slide down the mountain—never to be seen again.
The helicopter pilot must be highly skilled at flying at high altitudes where the air is thin. That’s a given. The heli-skiing guides must be experts on the weather conditions and the terrain. Flying into a backcountry storm when there is a high probability of an avalanche must be avoided at all costs. Before boarding the helicopter, make sure to ask hard questions about the training, experience, and skill of the helicopter pilot and heli-skiing guides, as well as the weather conditions on the mountain.
Finally, in addition to man-made risks and dangers, be aware of natural risks you may encounter, such as avalanches, altitude sickness, backcountry hazards that don’t necessarily exist on a groomed ski run (such as holes, tree wells, tree stumps, and cliffs), and sometimes even wild animals.
Make no mistake about it, skiers and snowboarders die and/or are injured while heli-skiing every year for any number of reasons, including a helicopter pilot’s negligence, a guide’s negligence, the failure to be properly trained on emergency safety protocols, and the failure to provide skiers and snowboarders with critical heli-skiing safety equipment. If you have been injured or lost a loved one heli-skiing, we stand ready to help you and your family. Please contact us for a free case evaluation. If we take your case, we will represent you on a full contingency basis, advancing all litigation expenses and court costs on your behalf. There will not be any out-of-pocket cost to you. We don’t get paid unless you get paid.