Imagine being taken up in a helicopter, miles above the snowy white wilderness. The pilot navigates to find the perfect remote area with miles of virgin snow. The aircraft lands and you are released to ski or snowboard until your heart’s content. 

This is no everyday adventure. Heliskiing and heliboarding are sports made for only the most hardcore of winter enthusiasts. Read on to find out more about these activities, their histories and whether you would like to add them to your bucket list.

Purcell Heli Skiing

The History of Heli-Skiing

Many say the sports can be traced back to the 1960’s and were the brainchild of Canadian ski guide Hans Gmoser.

Gmoser came to Canada from Austria after World War II. He started out as a mountain guide but honed his craft and went on to be the founder of Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) the largest heliskiing operation in the world.

The story goes that the idea of heliskiing originated when Gmoser met up with a Calgary geologist by the name of Art Patterson. Patterson used helicopters for summer field work. When Patterson pointed out that those same helicopters sat idle during the winter months, a light bulb went off in Gmoser’s head.

CMH Heli Skiing

The two decided to make heli-skiing into a money-making sport. They would charge winter adventurers to take the helicopters into unchartered territories for an unforgettable winter sport experience.

There were challenges at first. The helicopters they used took a long time to get to their destination and high winds made the progress even more difficult. Patterson became discouraged and gave up, but Gmoser stuck with it, worked out the kinks and was soon able to develop it into a successful operation.

Purcell Heli Skiing

Questioning Gmoser as the Father of Heliskiing

Although Gmoser did a lot to introduce heliskiing to the masses, it has been pointed out there is evidence of heliskiing that predated Gmoser’s adventures. Many state that people have been using helicopters to access remote areas for skiing as early as the late 40’s.

As it turns out, Canadian aviation writer Bob Petite uncovered evidence that there were people who used helicopters, much like a ski lift, to access ski areas in 1948. However, this wasn’t the same as true heliskiing because it wasn’t done in a back country setting.  It was only made as a sort of luxury transportation to enhance the experience of downhill skiers.

In any case, the service was discontinued over time.

CMH Heli Skiing

Heliskiing Takes Off

Though the true origins of heliskiing may be questioned, it is definitely Gmoser who brought it to the masses. CMH was enjoying a profitable business by the late 1960’s inspiring other businessmen to follow suit.

By the 70’s and 80’s, the sport was enjoying enormous growth. A 1982 issue of Powder Magazine stated there were 15 heliskiing operations in the lower 48 states of the U.S. alone.

Today the industry continues to thrive. It is popular in countries like Alaska, New Zealand, Italy, Switzerland, Chile, Argentina and the Himalayas. There are many companies that provide heliskiing vacation packages as well as daily heliskiing operations throughout the world.

However, heli-skiing in Canada remains the hub of the industry. The industry contributes more than 160 million Canadian dollars to the British Columbian economy each year. And as for CMH, it remains the world’s largest heli-skiing company operating 11 bases and lodges across the mountains of western Canada.

Want to dive deeper into the history of heli skiing? Check out