Southern Lakes Heliski

Overall Rating

Southern Lakes Heliski

Southern Lakes Heliski4.0/54
Southern Lakes Heliski4.0 out of 5 based on 4 reviews
Cheap Flights
Southern Lakes Heliski will put a smile on your dial :)
The Minaret's near Wanaka provides for some very nice and varied terrain
Southern Lakes Heliski use B2 & B3 squirrel helicopters for small groups
The untracked powder can be dry and boot deep

Southern Lakes Heliski

Overall Rating

Southern Lakes Heliski4.0/54
Southern Lakes Heliski4.0 out of 5 based on 4 reviews

Southern Lakes Heli Skiing

Do you fancy yourself as a bit of a powder skier or boarder? Or you've heard about the lure of riding virgin snow and want to give it a go? Go out with Southern Lakes Heliski in the backcountry where there's plenty of elbow room for any powder pig (or powder hound!). Wanaka or Queenstown heli skiing sure beats attempting to find fresh pow at the nearby ski resorts.

With many years experience and the largest tenure of the New Zealand heli skiing operators, Southern Lakes Heli Ski is one of NZ’s premier heli skiing operations. Southern Lakes Heliski provides great scenery and amazing skiing and snowboarding; this is an experience of a lifetime! 

They operate B2 and B3 Squirrel Helicopters with small groups of 4-5 guests (depending on weight) per guide.

The Southern Lakes Heli Ski season starts on July 1st and continues through to the end of September, or to October depending on demand. As with all NZ operators, heli skiing is very dependent on the weather, so you’ll need to have some flexibility in your itinerary. Thankfully you’ll have a huge range of other Wanaka or Queenstown activities to choose from, and at least you know that there’s a good chance you’ll be out heli skiing in gorgeous sunny conditions.

Where is Southern Lakes Heli Ski Located?

As the name suggests, Southern Lakes Heliski operate in the majestic mountains of the Southern Lakes region of New Zealand. They offer both heli skiing Queenstown or heli ski Wanaka options.

The staging area (the place you take off from in the helicopter) can vary from one day to the next depending on weather and snow conditions, and the transport to the staging area may be via a van or a boat ride across the gorgeous Lake Wakatipu or other waterways. There are days when the Wanaka heli skiing terrain provides the best options – it doesn’t matter if you’re staying in Queenstown, as SLHS will still provide transport from your Queenstown accommodation.


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Heli Skiing Terrain

Southern Lakes has over 8,500 square kilometres of terrain in which to play. With 11 mountain ranges to choose from and more than 600 runs, Southern Lakes Heliski has something for everyone. Their terrain offers cruising through untouched powder to challenging steeps and glaciers. As examples, Southern Lakes Heliski has access to the Central Harris Mountains on Branches Station, the Minarets (near Minaret Station), and the amazing Clarke Glacier in the Forbes Mountain Range which includes high elevation terrain.

As with all New Zealand heli skiing, the terrain is above the tree-line so there is no fear about learning to ski powder and navigate around trees at the same time! The SLHS stats state that average runs are 600-1,000 metres of vertical drop, but depending on the snow conditions, there are also many runs from 400 to 600 metres of vertical. The stats for elevations are between 2,585 and 1,200 m, although many of the drop-offs are around 1,900m and depending on the snow conditions, pick-ups may be at about 1,400-1,500m.

Southern Lakes Heli Ski Terrain Map

SLHS Terms & Conditions

Prices

Prices are per person and in New Zealand dollars. Inclusive of 15% GST (goods & services tax)

Payment

  • All transactions will be processed in NZD$
  • Cash, Visa, MasterCard and Amex accepted

Deposit and Cancellation Policy

  • A 20% deposit is required to confirm all reservations
  • No charge outside 31 Days prior to arrival if cancelled
  • 100% Charge within 31 Days prior to arrival if cancelled

Cancellation Due to Bad Weather

Unfortunately sometimes bad weather prevents the operation. Should this occur, all payments will be fully refunded. If some heliskiing has been possible, but due to the weather you had fewer runs than you booked for; the value of refund offered will be determined by the package purchased.

Refunds are not given due to injury, lack of ability, fitness or cancellations on the day.

Southern Lakes Heli Ski Review

A day out heli skiing is superb; the thrill of the helicopter ride, the opportunity to get out in the pristine backcountry, and the lure of untracked snow. The Powderhounds have been very fortunate to head out heli skiing with Southern Lakes Heliski on three occasions in the Wanaka heli skiing area, with 2 days in terrain near Treble Cone (Towers Ridge and near Black Peak), and a day out in the marvelous Minarets which are further to the north of Wanaka.

Southern Lakes Heli Ski is a very well honed and reputable outfit, but of course no heli skiing company is perfect for everyone. Our review covers different aspects of their operation so that you can determine if Southern Lakes is likely to match up with your priorities. It is worthwhile noting that many of the New Zealand heli skiing operations are very similar, and the Wanaka and Queenstown heli skiing operators in particular are very difficult to fully differentiate, as they are very alike. As a guide to ratings, a 5/5 equates to absolutely phenomenal, 4/5 is excellent, whilst 3/5 is still a very good score. You can check out our heli ski ratings to see how Southern Lakes Heliski compares to other heli skiing operations (where you’ll note that no operator gets perfect scores).

Pros

  • Southern Lakes Heli Ski is a very professional and proficient operation, and has some highly qualified and experienced guides.
  • Southern Lakes take out multiple groups each day. This provides them with more flexibility to cater for different ability levels and match guests with those of a similar ability and fitness level. And won’t have to wait to see if there are minimum numbers to fly.
  • Southern Lakes has huge terrain, which assists in finding the best snow possible and tracked out snow would be unlikely.
  • As with all NZ heli skiing, the price of heli skiing is a fraction of what you’d pay in other countries.
  • Southern Lakes offers some amazing week-long luxury packages where you can stay in unique alpine lodging only accessible by helicopter or stay on a luxury yacht.

Cons

  • As with all NZ heli skiing, the quality of the snow can be very inconsistent, and SLHS has on occasion “over-sold” the likely snow conditions. That being said, they under-sold the snow on one day and we scored amazing blower powder!
  • Some of the terrain that is good for “efficiency” (ie they don’t have to fly far) is not as high as with other Queenstown/Wanaka heliski operators, which may result in slightly shorter runs and the potential for inferior snow quality. However, some of the terrain a further flight away (e.g. Minarets) is amazing.
  • SLHS has a tendency to milk the one zone (with an emphasis on efficiency) rather than heading to 2-3 different areas to provide more terrain variety and sniff out the best powder.
Powder Snow
As with all New Zealand heli skiing, you shouldn’t have high expectations for the quantity of the snow. The same can be said for Southern Lakes, especially considering that their average annual snowfall statistic is only 2.5 to 3.5 metres. And with respect to quality, the snow conditions can vary significantly (as with all NZ heli skiing). You have to be rather lucky to score a blower powder day.

We’ve had very mixed experiences. Our first day we had very unfortunate snow conditions because it had rained on the lower elevations. Our second day out was also unlucky with thick wind crust at the top (even though Towers is renowned for being protected from the wind), a tiny bit of fluff for 15 turns, and then icy rain affected slopes. Unfortunately the office staff had oversold the conditions somewhat and told us the snow would be “good” when it was far from that (the guides during the day were also saying the snow was “nice” which was a bit of a worry). It’s days like these where you have to remember that the main delight with NZ heli skiing is the experience of the helicopter ride, the views, and just being out in the backcountry.

Of course Southern Lakes Heliski also has great powder days, and on our 3rd time we scored the most amazing dry powder; the type that flies coldsmoke off your rooster tail. It was absolutely phenomenal!

One potential limitation for Southern Lakes is that a lot of the “old” terrain is at maximum elevations that are a little lower than its competitors, so snow quality may not be as good (although lower terrain is less likely to be wind affected). Their “new” terrain (acquired from the former Backcountry Helicopters) has lots of higher elevations and it’s further into the ranges so the snow can be colder due to fridge effects, but it’s a case of whether they’re prepared to fly further to get to this terrain. SLHS generally has a rep for efficiency whereby they try and keep the helicopter fly time to a minimum and don’t fly further to find great snow. This has been our experience on 2 occasions, but it sounds as though the company is trying to improve this.
Overall Terrain
Southern Lakes scores additional points for having a huge tenure, but loses points for it not being well connected and not always using it all, and going to hills near the staging areas to save fuel, and then efficiently staying in the one area. It sounds as though the new ownership relationships with Aspiring Helicopters may change this long held reputation.

Their statistics state average vertical runs of 600-1,000 metres, and a proud motto on the SLHS vans claim to have the longest vertical of the NZ heli skiing operators (even though another operator has slightly longer vert stats). Our experience in the Towers area was an average of 386 metres of vertical, and in the delicious Minarets area our runs were about 580 metres (approx 1,830 – 1,250m).

On all 3 trips, all runs were in the same zone. They didn’t fly across to the next ridge to mix things up, so particularly in the Towers area and another zone near Black Peak (near Treble Cone), there was a lot of repetition.
Alpine Terrain
Like all other heli skiing in New Zealand, all the terrain is up in the alpine. In all 3 areas the runs had some short steep pitches but were largely of a moderate gradient. The terrain near TC had a combination of fall line stretches as well as rollers and banks to keep it a little interesting, but switching areas (as other NZ heli operators do) would make it more remarkable. The Minarets terrain had much more variety than that found at Towers and near Black Peak.

Tree Skiing
zero
The only “tree skiing” is dodging the shrubs that can be found at the base of some of the runs.
Strong Intermediate Terrain

Like the other Queenstown/ Wanaka heli skiing operators, Southern Lakes specifically has a package for intermediate riders so they score some points here. As a large operator, another major pro is that they’ve got a high likelihood of being able to group guests according to ability level.

However our experience suggests that they take intermediates on steep-ish terrain with challenging snow conditions even if they are struggling. On our first 2 trips, there were 4-5 groups sharing the one helicopter, and all groups skied exactly the same terrain regardless of whether they’d categorized themselves as a Heli 1, 2, 3 or 4. On the 3rd trip, an intermediate group sometimes had lower drop-off points to avoid the steepest pitch.
Advanced Terrain
The terrain was very well suited to advanced riders. More variety in the terrain would have scored them more points as a little déjà vu was occurring.
Expert & Extreme Terrain
We didn’t tackle any major steeps or chutes due to avalanche risk considerations. The terrain had a scattering of rocks and mini cliff bands but there probably wasn’t any shenanigans or hucking because our group/s hadn’t specifically asked for it. Some of the terrain has plenty of steeps and gnarly features and if experts can wait until the avalanche risk is low, the guides have plenty of experience in taking out super experts (e.g. pros and film crews).

With most heli ski outfits, you have to take a private package to fully make the most of the expert to extreme terrain, but SLHS has the advantage of providing semi private charters specifically for experts.
Guiding
Like other NZ heli skiing, the guide to guest ratio is nice and small (4-5). The guiding program is led by internationally certified IFMGA guides and many of the lead and senior guides are very well qualified, veterans of the profession, and know the terrain very well. However this is not necessarily the case for all the guides. Due to fluctuations in demand, Southern Lakes uses various casual and junior guides who are not well qualified.

Our experiences with the guides have been a little mixed, but a few of the senior guides we’ve encountered are absolutely fantastic at their jobs and provide clear instructions, have plenty of personality, and throw some hilarity in to add to a fun day.

Many heli ski companies only have 3 groups sharing the one helicopter, yet our experience was for 4-5 groups. On the day of 5 groups per heli, our guide was the lead guide, and it seemed that he had his job cut out for him herding around such a large group.
Heli
Southern Lakes Heli Ski primarily uses B2 Squirrels which are powerful and agile machines. All the operators seem to use the same choppers, but for some reason the SLHS choppers feel squeezier in the back than other helis (maybe I had a serious case of heli belly?!). This is despite them removing all the cushions (which is done for weight safety reasons). This makes it a fraction uncomfortable but you’re not usually in the chopper for long.

All heli skiing pilots are very skilled, but a couple of the pilots we’ve encountered were amazingly skilled.
Avalanche Mitigation Strategies
Southern Lakes use an information exchange program to assist in the monitoring of weather patterns and the resultant snowpack stability. The head guide’s emphasis on avalanche safety in the field was apparent through the digging of pits and the careful selection of aspects. One guest pack containing a shovel and probe was provided per group.
Safety Briefing
The safety briefings were not particularly comprehensive but they covered the basics, and are very typical for a NZ heli operator. All 3 briefings varied somewhat and beacon search practice was not always included. One covered what to do in the event of an avalanche (either as the victim or non-victim), and another included a cursory demonstration of the probe and shovel. One included the instruction that “you just shovel like crazy”! Hmmm...?

Safety around a helicopter was covered although this wasn’t always done in the presence of the helicopter, which makes it a little more difficult to get the message across.
Frills
The frills associated with the heli experience are very similar across the Wanaka / Queenstown heli ski operators. As with all operators they provide accommodation pick-ups and drop-offs, and lunch is supplied. The Southern Lakes lunch consisted of soup, hot egg pies or pizza, Subway rolls with a choice of fillings, Subway cookies, tea and coffee, and other beverages. Water was not available throughout the rest of the day, so BYO if you think you’ll need it.

Southern Lakes have a small range of rental skis, or if you hire them from one of the other Queenstown ski hire or Wanaka ski hire shops, they will pick up the equipment on your behalf.

Another nice frill is that the guides can take photos and video (although probably not the lead guide if it’s a busy day) that can be purchased at the end of the day. However as is typical to NZ heli skiing, there’s no après session at the end of the day for looking at photos or high fiving.
Value for Money
Along with the other NZ heli ski operators, Southern Lakes Heli Ski is very inexpensive, particularly if the NZ dollar is running at peso currency. The runs might not be as long as with heli skiing in Canada or the USA, and the powder might not be waist deep, but by golly it is super cheap in comparison.

The rates for the New Zealand heli skiing operators are very similar, although possibly Wilderness Heliski (at Mt Cook) and Methven Heliski provide slightly better value for money with longer runs than Southern Lakes. See the NZ heli skiing comparison for more information on rates and statistics. As with all NZ operators, powder ski or snowboard rental is not included in the package.

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 some limitations as it’s not possible to ski all the terrain and in all possible snow and weather conditions. Every guide is somewhat different and we acknowledge that everyone’s experience will be different. The ratings are from our perspective only and if you've been out with Southern Lakes, we encourage you to contribute to the overall review of the operation by adding a review.

Check out our heli ski ratings to see how Southern Lakes fares against other backcountry operations around the world.

The photos and video are not captured using professional riders. They aim to show an example of a “standard” experience.

Further Information and Bookings

If you have any questions, would like to book, or view the booking and refund policy, click here.

Below is a short video of a day out with Southern Lakes Heliski in the Minarets...

Minaret Magic

POWDERHOUNDS.COM15/09/2015
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • Rider Type
    Skier
  • Rider Level
    Expert
  • Rider Age
    36-50
  • Month Visited:
    August
  • Admin Rating
    5

Minaret Magic

POWDERHOUNDS.COM15/09/2015
Fantastic Playground
Lovely Powder
I Love the Minarets
In New Zealand you don’t necessarily have very high expectations for the snow quality (and you have to take the good with the bad), but SLHS took us to the Minarets and absolutely blew any expectations right out of the water of what NZ powder could possibly be like! This was one out of the bag!

We flew out to the Minarets from the Wanaka airport, and the scenic flight was absolutely spectacular across Lake Wanaka and then the amazing jagged peaks of the Minarets.

The heli skiing was even more amazing! The powder was ankle to boot deep and it was deliciously dry due to some nice cold temps. At times there was cold smoke flying out from the trenches we were leaving. It was probably the best snow quality we’ve ever seen out heli skiing in New Zealand! Phenomenal!

The terrain at the Minarets was very interesting (although we stayed in the one zone for all the runs) with some fall-line stretches as well as plenty of lumps, bumps, gullies and other terrain features on which to play.

Ian our great guide kept the guiding instructions simple yet effective, and considering his wealth of experience in the heli skiing industry, we felt incredibly comfortable knowing that he had our backs wrt safety.

It took us a while to come down from the high of that day out with Southern Lakes Heliski!

As good as it gets

Michael Cornwell07/09/2015
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • Rider Type
    Snowboarder
  • Rider Level
    Advanced
  • Rider Age
    36-50
  • Month Visited:
    August
  • Admin Rating
    3

As good as it gets

Michael Cornwell07/09/2015
Here my hands are up in seemingly disbelief with what I was experiencing & it kept getting better...
I have done heli boarding with Southern Lakes Heli 3 times now over the past 4 years, with the most recent being 21st August 2015. The weather was 10/10 - just perfect without a breath of wind. The snow was like nothing I have ridden before & I had one of the best days of my life. Ian our guide was great & our pilot, awesome. And we were treated with being joined in our group by Greg & Lyndell from powderhounds.com (thanks guys for the great pics & was great to spend the day with you both).

The whole experience & package that is Southern Lakes Heli is one that I know you will have no regrets & only amazing memories. I will be back &/or maybe fulfil a dream of the heli experience abroad. Thanks to all for the memories that will last a life time.

Oh Dear

Rebecca21/08/2014
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • Rider Type
    Skier
  • Rider Level
    Expert
  • Rider Age
    36-50
  • Month Visited:
    August
  • Admin Rating
    4

Oh Dear

Rebecca21/08/2014
Oh dear! We’d been told that the snow conditions were likely to be “good” but they were very very shabby. Of course they can only try to predict what the conditions are likely to be, but I’m surprised that they missed how windy it had been and that the freezing levels such that it had rained (I’d just arrived in town but I guess I should have picked this up better and quizzed them more about the snow conditions). The snow was wind crust (sometimes breakable) at the top, and then it was icy (from rain) down below.

The average vertical of the runs was only about 390 metres, which is far below their stated average, but it felt as though there was only about 50 metres of decent skiing. I’m surprised that they even went out and then continued. Meanwhile the guides were trying to gee us up and were saying that the snow was “pretty good” – I hope they weren’t for real.

We stayed all 7 runs on the same area and every run felt pretty much the same. They didn’t take us somewhere else to mix it up or to try a slightly different aspect to find snow that wasn’t so wind-affected.

We were in an advanced to expert group, and surprisingly they had an intermediate group on exactly the same terrain. Sure it wasn’t super steep, but the intermediates must have been struggling big time to ski on that sort of snow. I hope they didn’t think that was what all heli skiing is like, because they wouldn’t ever go heli skiing again.

It was far from the best heli ski day I’ve had, but I guess this is New Zealand where anything can happen to the snow.

Great Southern Fun

POWDERHOUNDS.COM21/08/2010
  • Recommend
  • Would Revisit
  • Rider Type
    Skier
  • Rider Level
    Expert
  • Rider Age
    36-50
  • Month Visited:
    August
  • Admin Rating
    4

Great Southern Fun

POWDERHOUNDS.COM21/08/2010
New Zealand heli skiing operations are very similar and the Queenstown operators in particular are somewhat difficult to differentiate from each other.

Factors that are typical to all NZ heli operations include: no tree skiing; high frequency of down days due to inability to ski and fly in protected areas; the snow quality can be very variable; and the rates are a fraction of what you’d pay for heli skiing elsewhere in the world.

A factor typical to the Queenstown and Wanaka heli operators is that the amount of snowfall is generally not as great as that further north around Mt Cook or Methven, although the temperatures are often cooler. Southern Lakes’ terrain only receives 2.5-3.5 metres of snowfall per season, and the upper reaches of their terrain is not as high as it is with Alpine Heliski and Harris Mountains, but it is higher than with Backcountry Helicopters. In a similar vein, the vertical drop is also typically shorter in the Queenstown/Wanaka area at about 600-700 metres compared with the Mt Cook/Methven areas.

So what’s distinctive about Southern Lakes? Southern Lakes are a professional outfit and are large with the capacity to take out lots of guests each day. This gives them plenty of flexibility to be able to match you well with others of a similar ability and fitness level. It also means that they’ll operate every fine day with low likelihood of them not reaching the minimum numbers required to operate.

Another pro for Southern Lakes is that they have huge terrain to choose from which helps them find the best snow possible.

For a more detailed review and ratings on this operation, see our Southern Lakes Heli Ski review.
Southern Lakes Heli Skiing Packages
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Southern Lakes Day Heli Skiing DETAILS
Price p/p From price based on 3-run package (per person).
Base/invoice currency is in NZD in taxes.
*Displayed price may vary due to currency fluctuations.
USD 614

DAY HELISKIING QUEENSTOWN & WANAKA
Packages: 3, 4, 6, 8 or 10 runs

To qualify for promotions, a full deposit must be paid by the end promotion date; no exceptions.
Location: New Zealand | Tour Focus: Guided | Terrain Focus: Backcountry
Ability: Intermediate to Expert
Price p/p From price based on 3-run package (per person).
Base/invoice currency is in NZD in taxes.
*Displayed price may vary due to currency fluctuations.
USD 614
Southern Lakes Heliskiing offers day heli skiing packages in the Queenstown & Wanaka areas. With 11 mountains, 600 runs spread across 8,500 square kms there is plenty of variety to keep you entertained. More
View inclusions & Add-ons
Click here for rates, dates & availability
Future rates & dates are currently not yet available for this operator. Click here to enquire.
Future rates & dates are currently not yet available for this operator. Click here to enquire.
DETAILS
Southern Lakes Luxury Heli Skiing DETAILS
Price p/p From price based on 3-night twin-share luxury lodging & 3-day UNLIMITED HELI SKIING package (per person) for a group of 4.
Base/invoice currency is in NZD inc taxes.
*Displayed price may vary due to currency fluctuations.
USD 9,135

LUXURY WILDERNESS LODGING
From 3 Nights | 3 Days Unlimited Heli Skiing

Location: New Zealand | Tour Focus: Guided | Terrain Focus: Backcountry
Ability: Strong Intermediate to Expert
Price p/p From price based on 3-night twin-share luxury lodging & 3-day UNLIMITED HELI SKIING package (per person) for a group of 4.
Base/invoice currency is in NZD inc taxes.
*Displayed price may vary due to currency fluctuations.
USD 9,135
Southern Lakes Heliskiing offer 3 night, 3-day luxury UNLIMITED heli skiing packages (for PRIVATE groups of 2 - 4 guests) staying at the heli accessed & exclusive Minaret Station Alpine Lodge. Indulge in the finest local cuisine & award winning wines then bask in the afterglow with a spa under the southern stars. More
View inclusions & Add-ons
Click here for rates, dates & availability
Future rates & dates are currently not yet available for this operator. Click here to enquire.
Future rates & dates are currently not yet available for this operator. Click here to enquire.
DETAILS
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