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Take the kids heli-skiing

Deborah Hopewell
January 30, 2013

When parents plan family vacations they often head to beaches or amusement parks. But, how about heli-skiing down from the top of remote mountains?

While there’s no doubt the kids would love it, that idea of heli-skiing may strike fear into the hearts of mothers and fathers, who envision accidents and avalanches. Yet, family helicopter ski trips are exactly what more companies are offering.

“They just scale it all back [for families],” said Topher Donahue, author of a book, Bugaboo Dreams, about Canadian Mountain Holidays. Canadian Mountain Holidays, the first commercial heli-ski operation, founded in 1965, has pioneered the idea of making helicopter-assisted skiing – or heli-skiing – accessible to more than just the adrenaline junkies. The company has 11 lodges in the Canadian mountains during the winter, which are off the grid and serve as a base for trips, and two lodges open during the summer for heli-hiking and heli-yoga.

“It’s very civilized and very remote at the same time,” said Donahue.

While some of the more aggressive skiing groups seek out challenging terrain, for families, kids and beginner skiers the guides plan relatively easy ski routes down simple terrain. The biggest issue for kids is often that they lack the self-awareness to know where the group is if they wander into the trees, so wide-open runs help ensure they never lose sight of the other skiiers.

Everyone also gets avalanche training before starting, but the routes picked for the families are, understandably, very low-risk for avalanches.

“The chances of something going wrong are extremely low,” said Donahue.
And, contrary to popular myth, no one’s going to be jumping out of helicopters with their skis strapped on – an idea that certainly conjures up images of broken bones. The helicopters land at landing pads and everyone gets out before strapping on their skis.

Of course, five-year-olds aren’t going to cut through fresh powder. Family trips, often designed around school holidays, are aimed at 12- to 17-year-olds and their parents or grandparents or aunts and uncles. Extra guides and childcare specialists come along, ready with games at the lodge and playing in the snow for kids too young to ski or who want to come back early. Canadian Mountain Holidays also offer private trips, all-girls beginner trips, and next generation trips, where skiers under 25 years old can accompany older relatives at half-price.

The company does recommends that skiers be a “strong intermediate,” which means able to reasonably ski a blue run at a resort.

Once up there, the skiing is on often-untouched powder and the trips, typically a week-long, include stays at the tucked-away mountain lodges. More than one sullen teenager has found themselves having actually having fun with their parents, said Donahue, who is touched by the stories of scared beginners who end up loving it.

On his dozens of trips, what he always pictures and remembers is the mountains stretched out above the clouds.
“It’s like skiing on another planet,” said Donahue. “It’s like floating.”