This is one of the classic debates among serious and affluent backcountry skiers who are looking for the ultimate thrills and weeklong ski vacation that the industry has to offer. While modern-day ski lifts and air-tram technology is impressive on its own, new forms of mountain transportation are delivering higher powder turn and access to more remote mountain slopes and backcountry trails. But which offers the superior experience: snowcats or helicopters?
The snowcat provides a more natural and convenient shelter. You’ll have a built-in place to eat lunch. There’s more of a connection to the mountain and landscape. Snowcat skiing is also considerably more affordable—with sources quoting average prices of $4,000-$7,000 for cat skiing per week and $7,000-$12,000 for heli-skiing. These are for group experiences. Small private parties will pay more.
As such, in terms of overall trip experience and dollar-for-dollar value, most people vote cat skiing. On the other hand, in terms of daily vertical, heli-skiing offers a far superior powder turn for skiers are looking to get in as much top-notch skiing as possible. Even accounting for the extra cost, if the trip is all about the skiing for you, this might make more sense.
In the United States, there’s also a question of availability. Cat skiing is more popular in Canada where there are close to a dozen operators. The number has been growing in recent years but there are only about a handful of commercial cat skiing companies in the U.S. By contrast, there are a dozen U.S. heli-skiing operators in Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. This difference also speaks to a larger cultural difference. Heli-skiing is for the affluent who are willing to put down a pretty penny in return for the exclusivity, powder turns, and sheer thrill that comes with heli-skiing.