November 21, 2018

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Powder and Adventure Skiing Specialists

Powder Skiing Vacations

That magic word among skiers and snowboarders. The mention of it will get heads to turn and conversation to stop. It is sought out all over the world. Once you have the feeling of floating effortlessly in clouds of powder snow you will travel far and pay dearly in order to find that elusive condition. American Mountain Holidays can get you to these destinations and have the powder for you.

The surest method of finding powder is to get away from the mad rush at the ski area. This means going to the rapidly expanding group of operators that provide a powder skiing experience outside of the ski area boundaries.
Here are the options you have and towards the end of this article I’ll give you some pointers for finding powder at the ski resorts.

Alpine Touring: AT can come in a number of varieties from a short climb via assist with lifts, vehicles or snowmobiles, to the longer ‘tour’ which can last 3-4 hours but provide for a long decent.
With the use of wider powder skis with bindings that can unlock at the heel or snowboards that can ‘split’ in half that allow you to walk, both tools use climbing skins which are attached to the bottoms of the skis or board at the beginning of the walk and allow you to walk uphill without sliding back. The skins also allow for some glide as you are stepping forward.

The walk or climb can be as hard or as easy as you want to make it. While there is some work involved, the feeling of being out in the backcountry, away from the crowds, with the vast alpine landscape around you is one of exclusivity, tranquility and pure involvement in the sport.

As you move uphill you stay warm and when the skins are removed for the descent; the downhill ride comes with the feeling of floating through powder that you just walked up and is one of being connected with the mountain.
AMH always recommends going with one of our guiding services that can supply you with equipment and that always includes an avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe at a minimum.

Snowcat Skiing and Riding

Snowcat skiing is at the heart of American Mountain Holidays winter experiences. Why? Snowcat skiing offers the perfect first backcountry skiing or riding experience.
You are able to see what it’s like to travel through the pristine mountain backcountry free of lifts, trail signs, restaurants and hundreds of skiers on the same mountain at the same time. The first trip opens your eyes to a new world of skiing and your mind to the freedom of the hills.

Cat skiing happens at a relaxed pace allowing you to learn, experience and open your head to what the backcountry experience is about.

You will meet other snow riders from all over the planet and by day’s end you will have formed friendships through the shared experience. This is the essence of the experience that has been lost at ski areas.
Think we are talking about the fringe here? Almost every ski area we carry has a cat operation within one hours drive and some are even on terrain adjacent to the ski area: Keystone, Aspen and Alta.

Your ability needs to be a strong intermediate skier with experience in different snow conditions, not just groomed runs.

Backcountry powder skis that are provided by the cat skiing service offer easier balance and stability in the different backcountry snow conditions.
Of course, this is all about POWDER!!! That elusive, effervescent experience that your very capable guide will lead you to, have you enjoy, and begin to teach you about navigating the backcountry.

Each person carries an avalanche transceiver and you are instructed on how to use these devices in the morning orientation along with how to ski with a guide. (Never ski below the guide!) The advantage of cat skiing is that they operate in most all weather conditions, especially when it is snowing that fresh new powder!

Suddenly after a few runs in the open, boundless expanse of the backcountry powder; your mind has opened up to a whole new ski and riding experience.

Backcountry powder skiing and its variations: the rich and deeply personal experience of alpine touring; climbing with skins that are removed prior to your downhill run. (Please see the alpine touring page).
At the pinnacle of the backcountry powder skiing experience is helicopter skiing. This is a faster paced, higher adrenaline form of snow cat skiing and it is best enjoyed after a few trips in a snowcat so you are familiar with the conditions found in the backcountry, the safety procedures and skiing with a guide. (Please visit our Heli-Skiing page.)

We invite you through the experience of snowcat skiing into a new world that brings back the essence of the skiing: the camaraderie of a shared day, the quiet solitude of the winter alpine landscape as your skis glide quietly below you turn after turn. The romance of skiing has not been lost, it just moved to a little more remote address.

Helicopter Skiing

American Mountain Holidays offers a variety of heli-skiing experiences from Telluride and Silverton in Colorado, to Snowbird, Utah, Sun Valley, Idaho and up Blue River,  British Columbia.

Heli-skiing is the pinnacle of the ski and snowboard experience. The ecstasy of skiing untracked powder on remote peaks and snowfields along with flying among the high mountains between runs is an intoxicating experience. There is simply nothing like it.

You are dropped on a peak and with a roar and a blast of swirling snow and you are left in silence as the helicopter disappears below you. You take in the sea of mountains around you as you get your skis or snowboard on. The guide gathers the group for instructions. Over his shoulder you see thousands of feet pristine powder waiting for you. Your heart is hammering in your chest and you take deep breaths in anticipation. Welcome to the sport of heli-skiing!

AMH has heli-ski operators that offer single day excursions, the best for those first time heli-skiers; to the weeklong trips where your accommodation is in luxury lodges and you are served gourmet meals. Miles from the nearest road and cutoff from cell phones, internet, radio and television you find yourself enjoying life on a yet to be experienced level. See more thoughts on this in:  What You Should Know. (Below)

The daily trip is the best way to start. You will get the full experience; from the morning avalanche transceiver orientation and the training of operating around a helicopter.
Next the guide will load up your powder skis (we very strongly recommend using the skis provided by the heli ski company. This is a different arena with vastly different conditions and your ski area skis are not the tools for variable backcountry snow conditions.)

One more bathroom stop and you are off! Lunch is usually picnic style in a scenic spot and sandwiches, soups and plenty of liquids are served. Then you are in for more skiing and riding in the afternoon.

At the end of the day in some cases you will return to the departure point for après ski beverages and snacks and recounting the day with your guides and friends you have just made after spending a day skiing and riding in the high mountains.

Multi Day and Traditional Weeklong Heli-Ski Trips

The first commercial helicopter assisted skiing was started by an avid alpine touring guide in 1965. A ”Doff of The Lid” to legendary guide Hans Gmoser, who put together the first week of helicopter skiing in the Bugaboo Mountains of western Canada. Operating with a two-seat helicopter and plywood sawmill shacks for lodging the sport of heli-skiing was born.

The weeklong heli-ski trip sits at the pinnacle of ski experiences. WHY? Extending the daily experience and skiing untracked snow for multiple days is as close to heaven as you’ll get while you’re alive. The lodges you stay in are a “mountain luxury” style, some of them miles from the nearest road. You are provided with gourmet meals and beverages and the entertainment is created by the ski guides and performed by you!

The truly unique part of the experience is the camaraderie and friendships that are formed and shared by the group after a day of untracked powder skiing in remote mountains with no other humans for miles. Most lodges do not have television or radio. Few have Internet.

You are left to share your time and tales in a warm lodge by a dancing fire with other snow riders from all over the planet who have come to the same place, to enjoy the same incredible experience and the bond this creates is like no other we have ever experienced.

What You Should Know:
Heli-skiing is all about untracked powder skiing to most people. The headlong rush to rack up as many vertical feet as possible is the goal of today’s powder pig.

If you sign up for this activity there are a few things to remember. First, you are lifted to a remote peak with no work on your part. As the helicopter departs with a roar you are left standing on this peak surrounded by other mountains in absolute quiet and solitude. Take it in, for a long few moments.

Pay respect to where you are and how you got there. Respect will be the name of the game as you turn to put on your skis or snowboard. Your mind is racing and says ”Let Me At It!”

Respect the guide who will safely get you down and show you the best line while trying to keep you out of harm’s way. Be quiet and listen to everything he has to say. If you miss something ask him to repeat it. A mis-communication can have deadly consequences.

Respect the snow. It can turn against you quickly with a change in conditions, depth and stability. This isn’t the ski area amusement park. Be alert and on edge and with the respect you should always carry for the mountain. This will be the best measure towards providing you with a unforgettable mountain experience. Roger Atkins, a guide with Canadian Mountain Holidays, summed it up best: “The thing about heli-skiing is that things can go from really, really good to really, really bad really, really quickly.”

Take chances to hydrate while waiting for the helicopter or before skiing to replenish your energy reserves. Heli skiing is a fast paced, high adrenaline sport.

You should be of strong intermediate skier who can navigate blue/intermediate runs in a variety of conditions.

You should also be in good physical condition. You should have some backcountry experience with snowcat skiing or alpine touring. These above factors, no matter the age, will make the difference in having a great day.

Each heli-ski operator has their own rules and operating procedures. These will be provided to you at time of booking.

Expensive? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely. If you are limited on funds look for the early and late season time periods as these are priced less and still offer a great experience.

Heli-skiing is one of our passions, please call us with any questions you might have and we look forward to providing you with a day you will always remember!

Ski Area Powder Tips

More ski areas are opening terrain geared towards the powder and adventure snow rider. In some cases they provide some type of uphill transportation like a limited distance snow cat ride in the instance at Aspen Highlands.
There are a couple of other options. The first one is: hike.

Ski areas are opening avalanche controlled areas that require hiking to get to. If there is one sure way to begin to find powder and separate your self from the crowds, you’ll have to start hiking. The lower amount of traffic will mean soft snow and powder lines that last longer.

A couple of common sense things to remember: know where you are going and that it is not over your ability level.

Go with another or preferably 2 other people.

Practice good backcountry etiquette: if there are faster hikers behind you, step to the side and let them pass on the packed trail.
Move quietly. Try not to kick off cornices or slides as there may be people below you. Also, many people go to these areas to get away from the noise and clatter of the ski areas. Save your YeHaahhs for the bar.
Don’t litter and be courteous to others. Pretty simple stuff.

Sidecountry Skiing

A few ski areas offer guided programs and guide services to use the lifts as uphill transportation and accessing the backcountry powder through the Forest Service and provincial access gates.
The runs end up either back at the lifts or on a road where you are met by a van that transports you back to the lifts.

Check with us on which areas you can find sidecountry programs, a couple of them are the Aspen ski areas and Jackson Hole. Telluride Ski Resort has had a program in the past and they are currently looking to bring it back. The side country excursions can make for a peak experience in a traditional ski vacation.

American Mountain Holidays is seeing more and more of our customers request a powder skiing excursion for one day of their ski vacation. We have the right guides and operators to make that one day your best ski day of the season. Give us a call. Plan it. Do it. You’ll never forget it.