Powderbird FAQ: When is the best time of year to heli-ski?

When a first-time Powderbird guest calls our heliport, we typically go over the basics:

  • What is the day’s itinerary
  • How many runs can we expect to ski
  • How many vertical feet in a day of heli-skiing
  • What areas do we ski in from each base of operation
  • Do we need to provide our own safety equipment
  • What is the cost for a day of heli-skiing
  • Can we rent powder skis, and what are the benefits

The list goes on—as I’m sure you can imagine, first-time heli-skiers understandably have a lot of questions about the experience. Despite the multitude of questions our staff fields on a daily basis, one of the most common questions is:

When is the best time of the season to come heli-skiing in Utah?

This can be a difficult question to answer, due to the fact that next season’s weather is completely out of our control in July, or even in the midst of Powderbird’s season. Utah weather is notoriously unpredictable and changes drastically on a daily and weekly basis. However, based on our previous experience and historical snowfall averages, we can give you a pretty good picture of the winter in Utah.

Sidenote: Even during a “bad” or “dry” winter season, you can expect 500″ of the “greatest snow on Earth”. Not too shabby. During an amazing season, you’re looking at over 700″ of that dry fluffy stuff! For your reference, 2006-2007 was a historically weak ski season. Many locals will recall it as the worst in recent memory. Alta reported 390″ that winter.

Here’s a run down of Alta’s average monthly snowfall (the most accurate representation of our backcountry snowfall):

As you can hopefully see from this chart, we are blessed with a ton of snow each winter month Utah, and it also tends to vary which month is the most snow heavy. According to Alta’s calculations, over the course of 31 seasons, Utah’s snowfall averages a water density of 8.55%, with the driest snow falling in February (7.55% on average). Likewise, the largest quantity of ‘snow on ground’ can be found in February and March, with 104″ and 122″ respectively. Early season we may not be able to access every ski route in our arsenal due to insufficient snow coverage and other potentially dangerous obstacles.

Alta’s chart also depicts Utah’s Wasatch front receiving high early and late season snow totals. Budget conscious travelers can often save some money by visiting Utah in early January or throughout March, by securing “low-season” rates.

A beautiful April powder day at Alta Ski Resort (4.14.2011)

As a heads up, Sundance Film Festival skyrockets the cost of lodging in Park City (and beyond) during the last two weeks in January. The 2012 Sundance Film Festival will take place January 19-29, 2012.

If you have any questions about booking, please don’t hesitate to call (801.742.2800) or e-mail (info@powderbird.com) us. We are also available to answer any questions on Facebook and Twitter.

Heli Skiing Tips: Getting Ready for Your First Trip

Are you new to heli skiing? It may be hard to determine whether or not you are ready to take the next step in your skiing career. Our website has some resources to help you determine if your skiing abilities are a good match for heli skiing.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. “My 16-year-old wants to go heli skiing. Is there an age limit?”

This is a very common concern. Many families travel to Utah for skiing vacations and want to experience heli skiing with the entire group. In short, there is no age limit for heli skiing at Powderbird. Skiing ability, fitness level, and previous powder experience are far more important than age. As long as your teenager (or your grandfather) meets the ability requirements, you’re good to go!

Heli skiing with the kids

2. “I’m from the East Coast and I’ve never been skiing in Utah. Can I still try heli skiing?”

Although we recommend skiing at a Utah resort, or a similar resort in the Western United States, it is not necessarily a dealbreaker. We encourage skiers and boarders to visit a resort out West because everyone who has been to Utah (or many Colorado resorts) can attest that not all ski resorts are created equal. A black diamond at your home resort may be very different than a black diamond at Snowbird or Alta. Our terrain is based off of the best the Wasatch Range has to offer, and we want to make sure that you’re not getting in over your head. If you’re on the fence, try a day or two at the resort before making the final call on heli skiing.

Early Season Skiing

3. “I don’t have a lot of powder experience, but I’ve been skiing for 20+ years. Do you think I’ll be OK?”

This is a tough question to answer. Everyone’s experience level is different, depending on the skiing conditions they are most frequently exposed to. The key is be honest when assessing your own experience. If you live in a place that receives little to no powder, you are in for a surprise the first time you find yourself in 15″ of blower Utah powder. Powder is extremely different than hard-packed snow. It can be very tiring, and more aggressive physical conditioning is required to sustain a full day of powder skiing. If you have skied powder a few times, didn’t struggle too much, and were able to ski nearly an entire run without stopping or falling, then you should remember those skills the next time you are in Utah.

Skiing in Utah's light and dry powder

4. “This trip is for my husband’s 60th birthday. We’re not as extreme or aggressive as we used to be. Do you think the terrain will be too challenging?”

Our terrain can range from steep chutes to wide open bowls and gullies. We group skiers together based on their previous experience, their overall skiing ability, and also their expectations for their heli skiing day. Some Powderbirds are only interested in the steepest and deepest conditions. Some prefer the more mellow open bowls. Some love trees. We have nearly 100,000 acres of skiable terrain, we are sure to have something that meets your needs. If you are looking for a very specific experience, a private group is a great option. This provides you and your group with your own private guides and gives you the ability to choose the exact type of terrain you wish to explore. Essentially, it’s a customized heli skiing experience.

Beautiful open bowl, typical Powderbird terrain

Some tips that will make the transition to heli skiing easier:

1. Get powder skis. Or at least rent them when you are on vacation in Utah during a snow storm and for your heli skiing day. They will help immensely; they are designed to make skiing in powder more effortless.

2. If you are at all worried about your powder skills, take a ski lesson before signing up with Powderbird. There are many talented instructors at our various resorts that will be happy to help fine tune your powder skills and prepare you for heli skiing.

3. Exercise regularly during the weeks and months leading up to your Utah heli skiing vacation. This will only enhance your experience. You’ll feel confident and strong, and won’t have to worry about your leg muscles burning out on you.

I realize that every case is unique. If you have any questions that weren’t covered here or on our website, give us a call and we’ll be happy to help steer you in the right direction.