What equipment and kit do you need for heliskiing?

Posted September 20, 2018 under Blog, Canada, Heliskiing, Italy

You need more equipment for heliskiing than you’d normally take with you when you hit the pistes.

Skiing is a simple sport: you just put some boots on, strap on some skis and point downhill. Heliskiing, on the other hand, takes you into the backcountry, often to virgin, untracked terrain.

There is no ski patrol to monitor the slopes and while our guides are all well-trained experts, it’s important to understand that there are innate risks when you go heliskiing. Having the right kit means that you will be as well equipped as possible should anything happen.

You should ensure you have all of the following equipment and kit for heliskiing:

  • Avalanche Transceiver
  • Probe
  • Shovel
  • Avalanche Airbag Backpack
  • Backpack
  • Mobile Phone
  • Positive and Flexible Attitude
  • Helmet
  • Fat Skis
  • Ski Boots
  • Goggles and Sunnies
  • Layers
  • Spare Gloves
  • Adjustable Ski Poles
  • Harness
  • GoPro
  • Water
  • Ibuprofen
  • Sun Protection
  • Swimwear for the hot tub

heliskiing alagna

Compulsory Equipment for Heliskiing

Avalanche Transceiver
Also known as ‘avalanche beacons’ or ‘beeps’, transceivers are the key component of the ‘holy trinity’ of backcountry equipment (together with the shovel and probe) that is essential for any heliskiing trip.

Transceivers emit a signal allowing you to be found if you are trapped in an avalanche and have a receive mode that allow you to find others wearing a transceiver who might be trapped under the snow.

If you don’t have your own transceiver, your guide will supply one for you to use during your trip. We recommend you invest in your own transceiver as it’s useful for any backcountry skiing, not just heliskiing.

Modern models are digital and easier to read, but if you do own an older analog version that’s not a problem as long as the batteries are fully-charged and it still works.

Ortovox 3+ Avalanche Transceiver

Even more important than having a transceiver with you is that you know how to use it. While wearing your transceiver means you can be found beneath any snowfall, it is essential that you know how to use your device to track a signal and find someone beneath the snow.

Our guides will always check that you understand how to work your transceiver in ‘receive’ mode (it will be set in ‘transmit’ while you are skiing). Often, they will arrange a practice session on the first day of your trip.

In Alagna, for example, our guides may take you to the free ARVA training centre in Gressoney. This gives you the chance to test your equipment and your search skills while trying to find the five transmitters buried at different depths and gradients in the ARVA zone.

Probe
A probe is vital as part of avalanche rescue. Once you’ve used your transceiver to locate your target, your probe will enable you to pinpoint them. Typically, we’d recommend a length of 240-300cm. Probes tend to cost around £35-£50.

Shovel
Your shovel is likely to be the bulkiest and largest item in your kit for a heliski trip. We recommend you invest in a sturdy, but lightweight model.

Using a shovel significantly reduces the amount of time it takes to dig someone out of an avalanche, but if you do need to dig someone out there are accepted strategies for the most efficient approach, which you should ensure you know before you start your trip.

Avalanche Airbag Backpack
ABS was the original avalanche airbag and stands for ‘Avalanche Balloon SecureSystem’, meaning an airbag that can be manually inflated using a pull-handle if you find yourself falling in an avalanche.

This increases your chances of survival by 50% compared to someone not using one. Invented 30 years ago, avalanche airbag backpacks are now widely available in a large range from around £500.

An airbag backpack is compulsory for all our heli-drop days in Alagna and are highly recommended for other destinations. They can be hired if you don’t have one of your own.

 

Backpack
You will need to have a backpack – even if your guides have decided that an avalanche airbag is not compulsory – so that you can carry your ‘holy trinity’ of avalanche equipment detailed above.

Ideally we recommend a backcountry specific backpack that will allow you to attach your skis should we need to boot-pack at any point.

Mobile Phone
Apart from wanting to use it take pictures of your amazing time in the backcountry, make sure your phone is fully charged at the start of the day and has ICE details included in your contacts.

In Canada, mobile phones must be put in flight-safe mode, so that there is absolutely no risk of any interference with the avalanche transceivers.

Positive and Flexible Attitude
Some things you can control, some things you can’t!

Enjoy the perfect powder when you find it, but remember that if the helicopter can’t fly due to bad weather, or if the snow isn’t perfect, that there’ll always be another day.

A perfect day’s heliskiing!

Recommended Equipment for Heliskiing

Helmet
Helmets are not compulsory on our heliski trips, ut they are strongly recommended. There’s no need to take any risks, so make sure you have one.

This isn’t a product we recommend you buy online. Go into a store and find one that’s comfortable and covers your ears. You can of course hire a helmet locally if required.

Fat Skis
You can enjoy heliskiing on any skis (or snowboard), but this is one of those occasions when the fat skis that you may already own, or have seen in the ski magazines, come into their own.

You won’t be spending much time on piste on any of our heliski trips, and wide backcountry skis will make gliding down those endless powder fields even more fun.

You can find out more from your local ski shop, or The Telegraph Ski and Snowboard Magazine reviews all the new skis each autumn.

Ski Boots
You don’t need any specific ski boots for heliskiing. In general, for any fans of the backcountry we recommend ‘Hike n Ride’ ski boots. This label covers the range of boots between Alpine and pure Touring. They typically have a ‘walk’ mode giving you more flex for ski touring.

Regardless of the type of boot you choose, we also recommend having custom insoles fitted. This can improve both comfort and performance. Our friends at Profeet – based in Fulham, London – are experts in ski orthotics and their service is excellent.

Goggles and Sunnies
We strongly recommend you take both goggles on any heliskiing trip, remembering to take spare lenses with you should conditions change. Having good visibility and eye protection can make all the difference to your day.

Sunglasses are useful to have for any periods of skinning and/or at lunch, soaking up the sun and swapping stories after a magnificent morning on the mountain.

Layers
We always suggest bringing a spare breathable layer or two with you in your backpack. The weather can change quickly in the mountains and while it may be warm in resort, your helidrop location will always be significantly colder.

Make sure your jacket is windproof and breathable, ideally Gore-tex, bring a spare mid-layer/insulating layer made of PrimaLoft or similar wicking base layer.

Spare Gloves
You’ll obviously want to bring your ‘main’ gloves with you (we like Hestra’s heliski range), but for skinning a lightweight breathable pair can be useful.

hestra army leather heli ski

Adjustable ski poles
Again, not essential, but for any sustained skinning on skis, having the ability to adjust the length of your ski poles is useful, particularly on steeper sections.

Harness
We don’t expect you to bring your own harness on any of our heliskiing trips, but they will be distributed if your guides are taking you over a glacier. They can then be used if at any point, your group needs to rope together, or to pull someone out of a crevasse.

GoPro
While other action cameras are available, there’s a reason GoPro dominates the market. Depending on your model, the quality of picture and noise reduction is typically best on a GoPro.

They offer multiple fixings and the camera can be controlled via an app on your phone – this is particularly useful when the camera is attached to your helmet and saves you having to risk pressing the wrong button and missing your epic descent through the powder.

Of course, capture the footage is only the start. You’ll then want to edit it before you share and GoPro can help novices do this easily with their free Quik software.

Water
Use a metallic water bottle to keep your water cold and prevent the container getting crushed should you fall. Some snacks such as Clif bars are useful for keeping your blood sugar levels up until lunchtime.

Ibuprofen
This is different for every individual, but some people find that a small dose of ibuprofen can help their body cope better with the effects of altitude and aid in recovery after a tough day of skiing.

Sun protection
It might seem obvious, but at high altitude the effects of the sun are even stronger. Make sure you have put on suncream and take some with you for top ups for those bluebird not-a-cloud-in-the-sky days.

Swimwear for the hot tub
Another great way to recover after a long day of heliskiing is to relax in the hot tub…

bighorn lodge hot tub

What you don’t need…

Huge amounts of money – Most of our heliski trips have breakfast and your evening meal included and lunch on the mountain is rarely expensive – indeed, in Alagna you will probably consider it cheap if you’re used to skiing in France or Austria.

Level of ability – You do not need to be an expert skier or snowboarder to go heliskiing. You do need to be a good skier – able to ski black runs comfortably – with a good level of fitness

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For more advice on finding the right heliski trip for you, please contact James Orr on 0333 006 5816