When is the best time to go heli-skiing?
It was a crisp -28 C this morning in Golden. Brrr! It’s the kind of cold where the sky looks bluer and everything takes on a chilly sparkle.
And although we may not all love the first extra-cold morning (especially if you need to plug in your car and didn’t), there’s no denying it’s typical for a cold snap to hit us in late November or early December.
We all know that the weather is an unruly, unpredictable beast, especially in the mountains, but there are trends, and those trends can help you make your decision about what would be the best time to heli-ski for you.
I say “for you” because there is no one. best. time.
Seriously. It depends what you’re hoping for.
Some folks dream of deep, cold smoke in the trees under heavy snowfall – some people think perfection is ankle-deep powder on a sunny day high in the alpine. Temperature, snow quality, depth, and terrain are all related, and it’s a game of weighing what matters most to you.
Here are three ways you can break it down:
Weather disclaimer: one of Rudi’s favourite sayings is “only fools and liars predict the weather”. We can share generalities based on the past. They don’t always predict the future. This is a framework, only to be used with an open mind.
If depth is most important to you, shoot for January.
The snowpack is still building, so from the ground up, the actual depth will increase, but how far you sink in, the skiing depth, is often at its peak in cold temps.
The snow is even lighter and drier than usual (which means it’s crazy dry), and what’s fallen has not settled as much as it will over time.
Does that mean that January is always waist-deep and March is only a skiff? Nope. See disclaimer above one more time. March can be deep too. But if you want to increase your likelihood of that cold, bottomless fluff, January is a good bet.
If you want to balance snow quality with perfect temperature, I’d recommend February.
The coldest days are often in December and January – by February we see lots of days at that perfect -10C.
The snowpack is well developed, there’s tons of powder to go around, there are few warm-ups, and hey, sometimes the crowds say it all – lots of people love winter in February.
If terrain type is what you think of first, I’d ask you ‘trees or alpine?’ and give you two different answers.
Earlier in the season often means more chances of tree skiing. The snowpack is not always stable in open terrain with lots of fresh snow coming down, and visibility in storms will send us to the forest for reference.
The later you go, your chances of skiing up high, and on steeper terrain, usually increases.
For big, open terrain (with snow that is still award-winning), do not doubt the magic of March! Our dry snow needs some warmth from the sun for the base to stick together, and to see that avalanche rating come down. More blue sky days takes us up high every chance we get.
These are the patterns to consider, while acknowledging the fickle games Mother Nature can play on us.
If your holiday plans don’t allow you to be so selective, or if you’ve already booked and are now doubting your choice, never fear. The phrase ‘it’s all good’ could not be more apt. It’s not a game of good or bad; rather, it’s like tweaking great (freaking great!!!) to greater.
Heli-skiing is like sex. When it’s great, it’s amazing. But even when it’s not perfect, it’s still pretty damn good.
For more good advice, check out the DOs and DON’Ts of Heli-Skiing.
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