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11 Reasons to Go Heli-Skiing or Boarding in Bella Coola, British Columbia

Heli-skiing in British Columbia isn’t exactly a hard sell. Anyone who’s watched a shred movie knows the roar of rotor blades usually heralds face shots, and the skiing in British Columbia tends to have more pillows than a Tempur-Pedic warehouse.

Skier in Bella Coola, British ColumbiaMorgan transitioning from an open glaciated pitch into the trees on a classic 3,000-foot Bella Coola descent; (photo/Drew Zieff)
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When the opportunity came to visit Bella Coola Heli SportsTweedsmuir Park Lodge last month, I jumped sky freakin’ high.

A five-time winner of the World Ski Award’s “Best Heli-Ski Operation,” Bella Coola Heli Sports operates six properties in the stunning Coast Mountains of western British Columbia. It’s also the world’s first climate-positive heli-op, with a tenure that spans a whopping 3.55 million acres and includes everything from beginner- and intermediate-friendly pitches to ski-movie-worthy steeps.

A sliver of the latter was showcased in a puckering segment from a Sherpas Cinema’s classic ski movie, INTO THE MIND, that’s been burned into our brains for the past decade. On paper — and on the silver screen — Bella Coola Heli Sports is the ultimate shred destination.

But, of course, we had to ski it to believe it.

We spent a full week with Bella Coola Heli Sports (BCHS) — which was nothing short of phenomenal — buzzing between mind-boggling peaks, relaxing at the lodge, indulging in five-star cuisine, and most importantly, shredding countless powder turns. Below, you’ll find 11 reasons why we’ll be back — and why we highly recommend you book a trip of a lifetime to Bella Coola.

11 Reasons to Go Heli-Skiing in Bella Coola

1. There’s No More Efficient Way to Shred Powder

Skier in Bella Coola, British Columbia
A BCHS ski tech double-checks his handiwork in the field; (photo/Drew Zieff)

It’s no coincidence that so many ski film crews rely on heli-operations. Unless you happen to have the keys to a Piston Bully or your own private ski resort, there’s no more efficient way to shred powder.

Let’s say you’re a fit skin track regular whose average tour is around 3K vertical feet. On a clear day at Bella Coola Heli Sports with a strong group of expert skiers, you can log upwards of 21K feet of vert, easily. That day in the heli is obviously much more expensive than your 7 days of touring, but think of it like this: You’re paying a premium to pack a week’s worth of powder turns in a single day.

By that math, you can jam a year’s worth of powder turns into a weeklong trip. Especially if you’re busy, or live far from high-quality backcountry zones, there’s no better way to itch your powder fix.

2. The Strength of USD vs. CAD

Speaking of cost, while a trip to Bella Coola is undeniably pricey, everything from your deposit to extras like beer and massages is paid for in Canadian dollars. If you’ve been heli-skiing in Alaska, the conversion can feel downright economical.

At the time of this writing, a single Canadian dollar is equal to 0.75 US dollars, so every time you add an après beer to your bar tab, you can factor in a 25% discount. That’s how math works, right? Kidding.

3. Elevation Range, Terrain Variety, and Minimal No-Fly Days

Making the most of a cloudy day by ripping lap after lap in the trees.

Many heli-ops fly almost entirely above the treeline. At those ops, even gray days can be no-fly days, as pilots don’t have enough depth perception to safely scope landings. Luckily, Bella Coola Heli Sports isn’t one of those operations.

Tweedsmuir Park Lodge sits at 535 feet above sea level in a lush river valley, with thousands of feet of sweet, perfectly treed glades above. Way above the treeline, craggy alpine peaks top out at 7,000 feet, 8,000 feet, and higher. That spread of elevation not only allows guides to sniff out the best snow conditions possible, but it also gives BCHS’ ultra-skilled pilots the ability to use trees and rock formations to land safely in gray conditions.

While our trip was blessed with fantastic snow quality, the weather didn’t always cooperate. However, we still got to fly more often than not, riding 4 out of 5 days. Had the operation been entirely dependent on high-alpine terrain, we’d have been lucky to get out for a day or two during the 5-day stretch.

Not only that, but when we did fly, we got to enjoy a range of terrain: wide couloirs, pillow stacks, tubular gullies, treed glades, undulating glaciers, you name it.

4. The World’s First Climate-Positive Heli-Op

Heli-op with Bella Cool Heli Sports
A grateful shred. Thumbs up, shakas, and ear-to-ear grins were a common sight all week long; (photo/Drew Zieff)

Heli-operations aren’t synonymous with sustainability; quite the opposite, usually. “Carbon-based fuels are contributing to a global crisis of climate change, resulting in a loss of biodiversity and destruction of land,” acknowledged BCHS co-owner and CEO Beat Steiner in a 2020 press release. “While there is currently no alternative to carbon-based aircraft fuel available, we are determined to do our part and make a tangible difference, particularly in our home province.”

Rather than waiting for Elon Musk to cobble together a mountain-worthy Tesla chopper, BCHS took action. After measuring the op’s overall emissions in 2019 and reducing environmental impact wherever possible, BCHS made an unprecedented move and became the world’s first climate-positive heli-op in 2020.

While carbon-neutral companies offset 100% of their carbon emissions, climate-positive companies go a step further, offsetting more emissions than they produce. Working with Ostrom Climate (formerly known as Offsetters), the op purchases carbon offset credits via the Great Bear Forest Carbon Project, a fund that helps protect the province’s old-growth forests and supports local First Nation communities.

Furthermore, BCHS gives guests the opportunity to calculate and offset the carbon footprint of their travel to and from Vancouver, which serves as the launch point for BCHS trips.

Additionally, a 2% charge is added to all trips, which funnels into the Bella Coola Heli Sports Legacy Fund. Like the Great Bear Forest Carbon Project, the fund supports local First Nation communities as well as local environmental and ecological initiatives.

heli ski trip with the group; (photo/RK Heliski)

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5. Powder Quantity and Quality

Skier launching into a pitch of mini pillows and poppers
When gray skies made upper pitches difficult to ski, we took to the trees. Morgan launching into a fun pitch of mini pillows and poppers; (photo/Drew Zieff)

Bella Coola doesn’t just have drool-inducing powder, it has lots of it. Snow quantity and quality are through the roof thanks to storms that swing in from the powerful Pacific and slam into the precipitous Coast Mountains. Close proximity to the ocean provides the zone with the benefits of a maritime snowpack: a general trend of more stability compared to intermountain and continental snowpacks, with enough moisture that snow adheres to steep faces.

Bella Coola’s also blessed with a northern latitude, keeping snow cold, light, and blower. Of course, snow varies from season to season, storm to storm, week to week, day to day, and aspect to aspect, but if you’re a betting skier or snowboarder, putting your chips on BCHS isn’t a bad move.

6. Experienced Heli-Guides

Heli-guides in Bella Coola
iPad, shmypad. We joked during the week that we weren’t navigating by GPS, but rather WPS: Woody Positioning System; (photo/Drew Zieff)

Our guide for the week, “Woody” Tribe, is the head guide at Tweedsmuir. A grizzled powderhound who pilots a pair of discontinued, well-loved, 148-underfoot DPS Spoons, Woody has worked for BCHS since the op’s first heli launched in 2003. Woody, and other guides at Bella Coola, are the kind of guides who have spent more days in helis than you have on chairlifts.

He knows the zone like the back of his hand, having pioneered and named many of 300+ runs the Tweedsmuir guides rotate through. In fact, while many newer and veteran guides alike utilize iPads to visualize the complex terrain, Woody prefers the analog approach, having memorized every powder-holding crack and cranny.

We were stoked to have Woody as our guide. He sniffed out the best snow, chased down pockets of clear skies, had us circumnavigate a convex windslab that could’ve been a serious problem, and let us open it up whenever possible.

7. Premium Demo Fleet

Demoing the Burton Flight Attendant, an ideal tool for bringing freestyle flavor into big mountain terrain.

From Vancouver, BCHS flies you out to the lodge in a charter plane, which has its pros and cons.

The pros: It’s a radical experience, the flight is picturesque (you zoom right over Mt. Waddington, the Coast Mountains’ most prominent peak), and the zone is incredibly remote.

The cons: You have strict limits on luggage weight — 50 pounds per person for all bags — which makes bringing skis or a board challenging.

Thankfully, there’s no need to bring skis or a board, as BCHS has top-of-the-line gear on-site and demos are included in your package. Skiers in our group either brought their own skis or opted to demo the Salomon QST Blanks and Armada JJs, each equipped with Salomon Warden 13 bindings, while snowboarders gave the Burton Flight Attendant, stocked with Burton Cartel X, a go.

Additionally, if you need a wax or tune at any point, BCHS ski techs are standing by, stoked to make sure your equipment is ready to rock. Last but certainly not least, there’s no need to bring avalanche gear, either. BCHS outfits each guest with BCA airbags and Mammut beacons, shovels, and probes.

8. Non-Ski Perks: Cuisine, Coffee, and Cocktails

Fresh-baked pastries at Bella Coola Heli Sports
Sinfully sweet treats made self-control at breakfast extremely important; (photo/Drew Zieff)

After snow quality, nothing makes or breaks a ski trip like cuisine, and the culinary team absolutely crushes it at BCHS. Coffees, espressos, and lattes charged up the crew every morning. Breakfast spreads always included a hearty main like shakshuka, healthy staples like fresh fruit, yogurt, granola, and overnight oats, as well as a mouth-watering assortment of fresh-baked pastries.

The almond croissants were so tasty that we’d have happily left all of our ski gear at BCHS and flown home with 50 pounds of flaky, crescent goodness stuffed in our duffels.

Lunch was a treat, especially on fly days. After working off breakfast shredding powder all morning, we’d chill out at a scenic riverbend or sheltered glade then tuck into warm lunches, always accompanied by more baked goods, fruit, tea, and coffee.

Bar at Bella Coola Heli Sports
(Photo/Drew Zieff)

Next up? Not dinner. Après. Nothing beats coming back after a day of ripping heli-laps to buffalo chicken wings or an al pastor taco bar, then ordering a local Canadian beer or craft cocktail from the well-stocked bar.

Finally, dinner each night was a three-course affair. Scallop crudo with pickled jalapenos was our favorite first course, and wild boar steaks took the cake for the entree of the week. Speaking of cake, dessert was always out of this world too.

Yes, we know, we’re here for the snow first and foremost, but the food was damn hard to beat, and it deserves a mention on this list.

9. Bella Coola Lodging

View from Tweedsmuir Park Lodge lawn
There are worse places to be grounded. Taking in the view from the Tweedsmuir Park Lodge lawn; (photo/Drew Zieff)

The log-hewn chalets at Tweedsmuir Park Lodge were the perfect combination of rustic and luxurious. With potbelly fireplaces warming the hearth and cloud-like beds topped with downy duvets, sleep was near instantaneous every night.

10. Staff

Guides and pilots weren’t the only folks who made our time at BCHS special: The entire lodge team made our stay a dream. Lodge staff memorized our coffee orders from day one, and on day two, they brought it out as soon as we arrived for breakfast. The masseuses genuinely cared about our riding experience and helped us work on cramping legs and tweaked knees to get us ready for another day of shredding. Any questions or concerns, the staff was on it.

11. The Perfect Balance of High-Octane Shredding and Low-Key Relaxation

A skier in Bella Coola, British Columbia

We made the most of our flight time by logging as much flight time as possible. Morgan popping off a pillow en route to the pickup zone; (photo/Drew Zieff)

The riding at BCHS was phenomenal. We slashed waist-deep powder turns in glacial chutes, pinned it through wave-like gullies, launched off pillows and wind lips, and generally flooded our nervous systems with dopamine.

But when we were off the hill, it was remarkably easy to just chill. We hit stretching classes in the mornings, waking up the muscles before riding. We marinated in the hot tub, turning into prunes between après and dinner. We drank old fashioneds and read books by the fire.

It was the perfect balance of high octane and low key — a trip of a lifetime we hope to repeat sooner rather than later.

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