Heliskiing Verbier is the perfect way of combining the thrilling ride of flying metres from mountain sides with the serenity of remote peaks, miles from the resort hubbub – not to mention some of the world’s classic off-piste routes, heliskiing is one of the must-dos for any winter sports lover. And Verbier is arguably the best place in the Alps to do it, says Adrenaline Heliski’s Gilbert Crettaz
What does heliskiing Verbier give you that resort-accessed off-piste skiing can’t?
Of course, there is the quality of the snow. Verbier is such a popular freeride destination that the most accessible off-piste can be quickly tracked after a new snowfall. You find virgin snow a lot longer in the places we heliski. But more than that, our clients always enjoy the adventure – the combination of the helicopter flight and skiing in the wilderness.
Tell us a little more about that experience.
First, there is the helicopter ride. You feel like a bird because you fly close to the mountains, and then you come up over a pass and can see them stretch for kilometers – Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn and many more. Then, when the helicopter flies away, there is a moment of complete peace. Clients tell me, when you’ve been working hard in busy offices and then you are suddenly surrounded by white snow and mountain peaks, it feels incredible. We often just take a minute to close our eyes and enjoy the rare silence. Then we open our eyes and see what we are about to ski and then comes the excitement again.
So what makes Switzerland – and Verbier in particular – an exciting destination for heliskiing?
Well, first, compared to France, it has the advantage of being legal! You cannot land a helicopter in the high mountains for leisure purposes in France. In Switzerland, there are 42 places where it is permitted. But many of those are within the resort areas – so they’re only good for sightseeing flights. Four of the highest and remotest are close to Verbier and the others are close to Zermatt, which is also reachable from here, or in central Switzerland. We are very flexible and can organise trips to those areas with the heli fully dedicated to the group all day, and drops on Petersgrat or the Ebnefluh, both near Mürren.
Where does the helicopter pick up from?
We take off from Le Châble, so it is very convenient. Each of our local drops offers plenty of options to suit the skiers and the conditions. But if you take skins and walk for half an hour or an hour, there are 10 times more options.
What level of skiing do you need to be at to go heliskiing?
We describe three levels of off-piste skier – an expert can control their skis in even the most difficult snow or terrain; an advanced skier is in control in light powder, but struggles in heavy or crusty snow; and an intermediate has little experience off-piste. It’s important to be honest because, unlike off-piste guiding in a resort, we don’t have the chance to assess you. In a private group, we can take an intermediate on certain routes as long as their companions can be patient while the guide is helping them.
What equipment do clients need to have for heliskiing?
Just normal skiing equipment and clothes – with good freeride skis which are wide underfoot. We provide everything else they need – transceiver, airbag, shovel, probe, harness, skins if we will be climbing… and a drink and a chocolate!
What do clients need to know about safety?
When we meet, we go step-by-step through everything they need to know regarding security while skiing and relating to the helicopter. When it comes to the heli, we don’t want to give too many confusing instructions – if you follow a couple of simple rules, you will be safe. And the most important rule is that you don’t move away from the helicopter, you let it move away from you. Before you travel please read our blog on Mountain Safety.