When I told some touring buddies I was about to have my first heli-ski experience, their response was, “You haven’t tried heli-skiing?” (Um, hello, ski bum in disguise here). Followed by, “Oh you’re going to love it – but it’s INTENSE.”

This sentiment of “intensity” was echoed by other friends so as the day of my heli trip approached I started to feel nervous.

Would I feel out of my depth? Would it be Very Serious™? Would I be the only woman and/or snowboarder? (Story of my life). What if I couldn’t keep up? Or worse..what if I was hungry all day?

Lucky for me SnowsBest had sent me to report on CMH Purcell, the new “day” heli skiing offered by CMH who are traditionally known for 12 remote lodges for week long heli ski trips booked out season after season. CMH Purcell operates out of the town of Golden near Kicking Horse in British Columbia and gives skiers and boarders a taster of what a longer heli trip would be.

Each group has both a lead guide and a tail guide and only maximum eight guests per chopper and unlimited runs for the day.

But I digress, we’re here to bust myths.

Heli-skiing is only for Very Serious™ skiers

CMH Purcell. Photo: Dave Best

The day had come. I walked into the beautiful lodge, boots in hand, feeling very out of place as a lone female snowboarder on her first day heli-riding. However the second the front desk person spotted me they lit up and we were happily chatting about snowboards before I knew it. They told me they’d set up a board for me and to go relax by the fire.

On the way to the fire I discovered a buffet of smoothies, bakery treats and coffee waiting for me. I was deeply immersed in a breakfast muffin when the most friendly 26 year old snowboarder came to say hi. Another solo woman? And a snowboarder? My lucky day.

There was also a Swedish skier and his 16 year old son, an American couple, and two German friends. A truly diverse crowd and none gave off the Very Serious Skier vibe. On my second heli day the crowd was equally mixed, including a Chinese pro snowboarder and his two media buddies, who quickly became my squad for the day. 

Of course there is an element of seriousness while heli-skiing because no one wants to be chopped in half by a helicopter blade and you need to follow your guide’s instructions so everyone is safe and happy. But otherwise it was all good banter, excitement and high fives. Very Serious™ skiers need not apply.

You need experience in avalanche rescue and helicopters

Most people hadn’t used a transceiver before but we watched a safety video, went out into the field to learn and practice how everything worked.

Tree wells were actually the main hazard for us and both days the guides covered how to avoid them, what to do if you’re caught in one (bravely demonstrated by guides getting IN small tree wells), how to save someone, and how we could ride with our buddies to mitigate the risk.

This 3 minute video on tree wells could save your life

Safety training on the day also covered helicopter orientation. Everything at CMH Purcell felt organised and smart, but never stressful. The guides were good at gentle reminders for those who forgot the rules (probably as a result of being overcome by ski stoke). 

You jump from a hovering chopper onto an extreme slope below

No, just no, no, no. One alights from the chopper once it’s landed, we then “heli huddle” together while the guide removes the skis and boards from the basket and the helicopter departs. Then we stand, click in and get ready to go. But, as Miss Snow It All says, heli skiers don’t want non heli-skiers to know that.

Heli-skiing is a sausage fest

I was extremely pleased to not be the only woman each day. I had instant bonding with my solo snowboard friend on day one and then vibed with an American lady skier on Day two.

But perhaps the biggest surprise was that on the first day both lead and tail guide were women. Myth officially busted – women exist in the heli-ski world and they are rad. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised as CMH recently made history with the first all female guide team for CMH Heli Skiing at the Bugaboos lodge.

It’s called heli-SKIING, not heli-snowboarding

CMH Purcell. Photo: Dave Best

I’ve spent my snow career copping flack for being a snowboarder. We’ve been blamed for scraping snow off steep runs, sitting in the middle of the trail, taking ages to transition while touring, and generally being reckless hooligans.

Surely a helicopter is no place for a snowboarder? Well I can officially say it is. (And it’s ok to be jealous of how good my feet feel after a big day.) While none of our guides were snowboarders, there were two of us on day one and a solid 50% of the team were on snowboards on day two.

However, a word of warning: I’ve always believed that if you want to ride with skiers and tackle advanced terrain, you do need to be a strong rider. Heli-skiing is no different. 

You’re going to be hungry all day

This was perhaps one of my biggest worries. Not just for my own sake, but for everybody else’s because I get hangry. Yet I was excited to find a plethora of food and drink throughout the day.

Pre-departure snacks? Yes. Coffee, tea, smoothies, juice, home made muffins and vegan breakfast bars. Pocket snacks? Oh yes. A lovely lodge organiser came about with a basket of chocolate and muesli bars to fill our pockets for the day. Lunch? Absolutely. Think soup, a variety of sandwiches, tea, cookies and more pocket snacks. Heli snacks? Yes! There was home made slice, cordial and water in the helicopter for a quick bite between runs. Apres? The best kind of apres in the form of ribs, baked potatoes, pizza and salad. 


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Heli-skiing is for experts only

When the helicopter took off on day one and we flew through spectacular Canadian mountain ranges, I couldn’t help but wonder, am I a good enough rider for this? The day unfolded and we wound between pine trees, cruised among stunning burnt forests and popped our way through pillow fields.

I realised I was well within my skill limit and heli-skiing was nothing to be afraid of. Perhaps every heli experience is different, but overall you can rest assured that the guides will pick terrain that is best suited to the clients and the conditions of the day. I’d call the style of riding playful and fun above all else, but if you’re still concerned, check out the ability chart on the Purcell website

CMH Purcell creamy turns. Photo credit: Dave Best

Our team was stoked that the final run on our final day was up in the alpine. Massive mountains surrounded us, shining white against the blue sky. Jesse Seguin, our lead guide (and Purcell Area Manager), cut a beautiful line down and then I was the first one to go after him. I had some of the floatiest, most effortless pow turns as I arced down to him and gently came to a stop in a powder cloud. Jesse was beaming and so was I.

“Those were some nice turns,” he said. We fist bumped and then turned to watch the other seven riders whoop and holler their way down the slope, powder slashing and jumping with glee. I thought: these might just be the best turns of our lives.

To have your own heli-skiing experience with CMH Purcell, book via TravelPlan here. For more information, check out the CMH Purcell site here.

*Alex Parsons was hosted by CMH Purcell and Destination British Columbia for SnowsBest.

The Den Daddy, Jesus and the Cowboy - a tale of heli ski madness