Heli-skiing lives in Telluride, but options are limited | SummitDaily.com

Heli-skiing lives in Telluride, but options are limited

Richard Chittick
Special to the Daily/Scott RowedA group of skiers with Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing in Revelstoke, British Columbia, works its way down a slope as the Bell-205 helicopter that dropped off the skiers floats over their heads.

Deep in the heart of the San Juan Mountains is Colorado’s only heli-skiing operation, Telluride Helitrax.

Serving nearly 250 square miles of one of the state’s most dramatic ranges, the Telluride based organization is firing up its 21st season this year.

“We’re a small operation, founded by our guides,” said Jon Humphries, office manager and guide for Helitrax.

Humphries, who has been with the organization for four years, isn’t all that surprised that he works for the only heli-skiing operation in the state.

“You have to have a lot of factors come together to even get a day off,” he said.

Among other difficulties, heli-ski operators face high insurance costs and a limited client pool. Guides need enough land to make the operation viable and, since every run is in the backcountry, they have to pay careful attention to snow conditions.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle a would-be competitor to Helitrax might face, however, is altitude.

“We have the highest helicopter-accessed terrain in the United States,” Humphries said.

Expeditions which run out of Telluride begin at 9,000 feet above sea level, and some of the terrain they access sits more than 13,000 feet above sea level.

At high altitudes, flying a helicopter means balancing the chopper’s weight with the number of people and amount of gear going into it.

It drives the price of heli-skiing over Telluride up but, at the same time, it forces Helitrax to put together more intimate groups.

“Our guest-to-guide ratio is 4-to-1 or 3-to-1,” Humphries said.

A decent heli-skiing operation also faces difficulties accessing land. In many parts of Colorado, opening up 250 square miles is impossible due to Colorado’s large wilderness areas, where helicopters are not allowed to land.

“There’s no way that another heli-skiing operation would be able to open up, because it would be too contentious as motorized recreation,” Humphries said.

Reid Christopher, a 13-year veteran of Canadian heli-skiing, echoed similar sentiments. “National Forest Service land-use policies are fairly restrictive,” Christopher said.

Christopher was speaking at a presentation for Tangiers Selkirk Helicopter Skiing in Dillon on Tuesday.

“Then there is the nature of (Colorado’s) snowpack,” he added. “The big slopes here tend to be more unstable most of the time.”

Telluride Helitrax offers two primary skiing packages – one which features a set number of five runs and another which features unlimited skiing.

These packages can then be combined with dining options or an apres-ski at a local hot springs.

And, for a price, guides pick up clients at the Eagle County Airport or the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport, fly them to Telluride, take them heli-skiing and then return them at the end of the day.

For more info, call (866) 435-4754 or visit http://www.helitrax.net.

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