Powderhounds Review

Powderhounds Review

Powder Odyssey - chase the powder in Northern Honshu
Wagner Custome Skis
Powderhounds.com headed to Whistler to review Coast Range Heliskiing. Considering that we’re powder hounds we had to check out the 6 run “Powder Hound Package”. Ahhh it’s a dog’s life!

Like most heli skiing experiences, the day out with Coast Range was absolutely sick. Phenomenal views, hanging out with like-minded powder fiends, the rush of skiing from a helicopter drop off, and an abundance of fresh powder turns was hard to beat!

Heli skiing is an amazing experience, but no single heli ski operation is completely perfect for everyone. Our review covers different aspects of the heli skiing experience so you can determine if Coast Range Heli Skiing is likely to align with your priorities. Our review also aims to outline a few subtle differences between the three Whistler based heliski outfits. As a guide to the ratings, a 5/5 equates to absolutely phenomenal, 4/5 is excellent, whilst 3/5 is still a very good score.

Pros
  • Having headquarters at Whistler is a huge bonus. You don’t have to travel to some remote heli skiing lodge in BC, and you don’t have to commit to an expensive week long package. If your partner, family or group don’t want to heli ski you can still stay in the same accommodation together. You can go out heli skiing every day if you wish, or combine the heli skiing with resort skiing at Whistler Blackcomb, which is arguably the best ski resort in the world.
  • Unlike some other Canada heli skiing operators that have large groups, Coast Range has small group sizes. Other than safety considerations, a major pro of the small cohort is that it allows better grouping according to ability level. Whilst the 5 to 6 run packages are similar across all the Whistler based heliski companies, the introduction packages (e.g. 3 or 4 runs) are very different because Whistler Heli Skiing has large groups. Whistler Heli Skiing is great for intermediates, but advanced and expert riders are likely to get stuck on very mellow slopes because the guide has to cater to the weakest skier or boarder. For advanced riders, Coast Range provides a far superior 4 run package.
  • The small size of the operation is also an advantage because it doesn’t feel like a production line, and the boutique experience is more personalised.
  • Unlike the other Whistler operators, Coast Range provides the convenience of transport from your accommodation.
Cons
  • The Coast Range tenure receives less snowfall than most other BC heli skiing operators. This could mean the difference between riding knee deep powder and nipple deep pow! Of course 10 metres of snow per season is nothing to be sneezed at.
  • Like everything else in Whistler, a “Whistler currency” is applied to the cost of the heli skiing.
Powder Snow
The CRH terrain receives about 10 metres of snowfall on average per season, which is about the same as the Whistler Blackcomb ski resort. Whistler Heli Skiing receives a little more snow (11.2m at 5,000 feet) whilst Powder Mountain Heli Skiing claim that their tenure gets double to triple the amount of snowfall. It’s somewhat difficult to make direct comparisons about snow volume stats because there are no industry rules regarding how it’s measured. Nevertheless it appears that compared to most other Canada heliski operations, CRH is at the low end of the scale (see Canada heli skiing stats comparison).

The snow quality at Coast Range might generally be a fraction better than that at Powder Mountain due to slightly higher elevations. However as is common with alpine terrain, we found that the sun, wind and a temp inversion had messed with the snow. Thankfully the snow quality further down was sheer heaven, especially in the glades.

As with other Whistler based heli skiing, the snow is generally a little heavier than Interior BC powder, but on the plus side the maritime snowpack is more stable which increases the likelihood of being able to ride the gnar steeps.
Overall Terrain
The terrain is about half the size of its Whistler competitors and is also small relative to other Canadian heli ski operators. However considering that CRH doesn’t have lots of groups out each day, it is unlikely they’d run out of fresh tracks or be limited by terrain choice, so the size is probably more than adequate.

The runs had minimal traverses and were delightfully long at about 4,000 vertical feet (the average run length is a bit longer than the other Whistler heli ski operators). If only they’d continued further down in the trees where the powder was divine!

Generally the terrain was pretty fabulous. A little more variety with tree skiing in particular would score them more marks.
Alpine Terrain
The alpine terrain was varied and generally provided adequate challenge for advanced riders. We were able to head down steep open bowls and it was awesome to let the boards rip! Mother Nature provided some great features in the form of cornices, rollers and lips to launch off. Some rock features would have added to the excitement.
Tree Skiing
The lower third of all the runs finished with some tree skiing, although the trees were generally very widely spaced or sporadic, so the terrain could be more aptly described as sub-alpine. Each run was very varied and plenty of fun, but it wasn’t particularly challenging because of the gentle pitch and the very wide spacing of the trees.
Strong Intermediate Terrain
Coast Range Heli Skiing claim that they can cater to intermediates, and certainly the small group format would allow for appropriate grouping of intermediates or slower skiers. We weren’t specifically reviewing this part of their terrain, and whilst some parts of the runs were adequately mellow, other elements of the terrain we rode wouldn’t be conducive to intermediates, such as difficult entries and some steep pitches. And the hard snow up top that we experienced wouldn’t have put a smile on an intermediate’s dial. At least the sub-alpine terrain was low angle and the trees very widely spaced in parts.
Advanced Terrain

Most advanced skiers and boarders will find the Coast Range terrain incredibly rad. The cracking runs on the nicely pitched alpine slopes would definitely get a powderhound drooling! And the lips are fabulous for the odd helicopter – it seems apt to do a 360 helicopter when out heli skiing! CRH would score full marks if the tree skiing was a little more challenging.
Expert & Extreme Terrain

As is common with heli skiing, it’s not possible to tackle steep chutes or extreme terrain unless the snowpack is super stable. However beyond any chutes, the majority of the terrain didn’t appear like it would humble experts, with no mega steeps, drop-offs, mini cliffs or gnarly tree skiing.
Guiding
We had two different guides during the day. One guide in particular was very personable, humorous and fun. Both guides were very easy going, although one of them was probably too relaxed. He often had the approach of “follow me” and sometimes didn’t say anything before he skied off (which was interesting in low light when he dropped into a run out of sight without us noticing). His instructions were not too clear or specific and he didn’t always keep a tight rein on the group. He allowed those with the guest backpacks to ski first and tree buddying to be very laissez-faire. Safety aside, some guests prefer this low key approach to guiding and it had some pros as we didn’t have our long runs interrupted very often.

The guides are highly experienced and qualified, and the low guest to guide ratio is a bonus.
Helicopter
The Bell 407 and A-Star helicopters are agile and powerful machines that are great for getting into tight spots, and are far superior to Hueys from the dark ages.
Avalanche Mitigation Strategies

It is highly likely that Coast Range Heli Skiing puts a lot of effort into minimising avalanche risk, but this wasn’t particularly apparent to guests on the day. There was no mention of the avalanche risk during the briefing, no background provided regarding terrain choice, and nothing evident in the field regarding avalanche mitigation. From the very relaxed approach of the guides, one could only assume that the avalanche risk was very low that day.

Their website provides a little bit of information on the safety aspects of the operation, and in addition to the guide carrying safety gear, two guest backpacks with a shovel and probe were provided.
Safety Briefing

The safety briefing was very comprehensive, particularly in relation to the helicopter risks and the avalanche beacons. A quick overview of the probe and shovel was provided, as was a short outline of a few backcountry risks. A briefing on what to do in the event of an avalanche would have enhanced the safety talk.
Frills

We certainly didn’t go hungry! The day started with a light breakfast at the lodge whilst they outlined the proceedings of the day and supplied us with fat skis. Lunch was fabulous and they made sure we were super comfortable. Not only did they dig out a table and use a table cloth, they also had rubber mats to sit on – very comfy for the glutes! For après we were offered beer, wine, hot drinks and nibbles whilst we relived our powder day (and possibly exaggerated some of our feats!).

There was also a slide show of a few photos taken by the guides. They don’t send out a professional photographer or videographer like some cat or heli skiing companies (e.g. Whistler Heli Skiing), but on the plus side, they don’t charge an arm and a leg for a disc of the footage.

Considering the size of the Whistler Blackcomb villages, another nice frill was the accommodation pick up and drop off. The other nearby heli ski operators don’t provide this service.
Value for Money
The rates for the 6 run package are the same as for Whistler Heli Skiing whilst the 4 run package is a little more, but you probably get better value for money with CRH considering the small group format and slightly longer runs. As with all the Whistler heli skiing companies, the rates are higher than for other Canadian day operators. Let’s face it; everything in Whistler costs a little more.

Like all the Whistler heli skiing companies, powder skis are not included in the package. Coast Range Heli Skiing only offer a small range of rental powder skis, but they do the trick and they’re much cheaper than what you’d pay at one of the Whistler ski rental shops.

Other bells and whistles included the yummy breakfast, the relaxed après (and you don’t have to pay for your drinks like you do at Whistler Heli Skiing), the comfortable transportation from the accommodation, and of course the fantastic heli skiing.

Notes Regarding Review The review is largely based on our experience, but also on discussions with staff, former guests, and information available on their website. Our review has limitations because we only see one part of the terrain and it’s not possible to ride in all snow and weather conditions. Every guide is somewhat different and we acknowledge that everyone’s experience will be slightly different.

Check out our heli ski ratings to see how Coast Range Heli Skiing fares against other backcountry operations.

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