As an avid winter adventurer, is there anything more compelling than watching the physics-defying feats of winter action sports athletes? Perhaps you dream of participating in some of these sports yourself.  

But too risky and unsafe, right? Maybe. But don’t let your doubts or fears squash those dreams. Wherever you’re at – an active participant or one soon to be – Global Rescue has no activity restrictions, so you can pursue your adventures with less risk and greater protection even if your passion leads you to chase winter in South America, New Zealand and other areas where the cold season picks back up after the northern hemisphere has left it behind.  

Welcome to our two-part No Restrictions series, where we’ll take a deeper look at alternative winter sports and break down where to do them, how to train and how to stay safe. 



The untracked snow, just a whisper as your skis or snowboard plunge beneath the sparkling surface, sketching parabolic lines across a bottomless immensity unspoiled. The only other sounds you hear are your own breath and the hoots and hollers of your friends nearby.  

Heli-skiing. It’s the dream of experienced skiers and snowboarders the world over. And if you’re willing to plan, train and (unfortunately) pay, it’s something that you can do, too.  

According to CNN, Alaska and British Columbia are some of the most popular places to heli-ski, occupying the first six of its top-12 destinations. Other locations include Switzerland, Japan, and India. And even when summer starts to take firm hold in the northern hemisphere, snow chasers can head south, way south, to Chile, Argentina, and New Zealand for some of the finest skiing there is. 


Prepping for Powder 

A few things to work on the months and weeks before you head off on your dream trip: 

Fitness Reed Zuehlke has done his fair share of heli-skiing. “You don’t have to be a professional to heli-ski, but you should be in good shape, comfortable with big slopes and able to master the top levels of black and double black runs,” says the former Olympic ski jumper and member of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association—a Global Rescue member.   

Flory Kern adds, “Keep your body in good physical condition throughout the year. Don’t start vigorous training two weeks before your trip. You’ll only risk straining your body or worse, injury.” 

Last Frontier Heliskiing in British Columbia shared these training tips to help you prepare. In short, ski a lot, do cardio workouts that strengthen your lungs are your friend, focus on the knees, and get mentally prepared. 

Ski powder As much of it as you can. “When you’re on a traditional ski slope where the snow is packed, it’s easy to go fast,” Zuehlke said. “When you’re heli-skiing, you’re most likely in deep powder. That’s where the fun is. At times, it’s as if someone is holding you back and you’re floating through clouds. It’s fun, but it’s a lot of work. You have to be used to those conditions.” 

Get friendly with heights – Mentally prepare yourself for the heights of both the mountains and the helicopter rides.  “You need the confidence to be able to go over the edge and be on near vertical terrain,” Zuehlke said. 

Have a plan – Understand the mountain and familiarize yourself with the plan to get down so you don’t go off course. “Know where you can go and where you can’t so you can avoid drop-offs, avalanches, sink holes and other surprises. Stay on the path,” Zuehlke said.  

“When it comes time to ski, be realistic about your level of skiing,” Kern said. Your tour guide should be able to tailor the trip to your level.  


Safety First, Untouched Powder Second 

Preparation is everything when it comes to safe heli-skiing.  

“Experienced or not, it’s not crazy or risky if you’re prepared for it,” said Zuehlke. “If you’re not prepared, then, yeah, it’s crazy.” 

Here are his safety and preparation tips:  

  1. Learn all about avalanches. Check out our avalanche awareness tips here 
  2. Get the timing right. You can’t decide to go on a moment’s notice and then go. You have to pay attention to the weather, the snow and the local avalanche reports. When conditions are right, plan to be out all day. 
  3. Manage your energy in the days before your trip. Just like in a marathon, you’re going to burn a lot of energy. And you’ll be at altitude as well. Eat a meal packed with carbohydrates two evenings before you ski so you have energy. Take energy bars to avoid burnout and take in a lot of fluids so you are hydrated. 
  4. Stop and breathe. It’s easy to get altitude sickness because the air is thinner at altitude. And exertion only makes the situation worse. Stop often and purposefully take long, deep breaths – in through the nose and out through the mouth. This will oxygenate your body and help you avoid headaches and muscle fatigue. 
  5. Bring the right gear. Kerns suggests a complete avalanche kit, which includes a three-antenna avalanche beacon, a backpack with an airbag system, a shovel and a probe. “If you or a partner get buried by an avalanche, you’ll have only about 15 minutes of air so consider bringing an air system with you,” Zuehlke said. “If you get stuck on the mountain, you’ll also need to plan for food, warmth and medical needs.” 
  6. Never go alone.  If you’re lost or injured there won’t be anyone to help you for hours, maybe even days. Share the responsibility for each other’s safety with your ski partners, but don’t leave all of one important supply with a single person.

    Snow Kayaking 

    Yes, you read right. 

    Snow boating or snow kayaking is a winter sport that usually involves kayakers descending snow slopes, in contrast to river sports such as whitewater kayaking for which the boats were usually designed.

    For as popular as the sport is during the warmer months, there’s a whole other life you and your kayak could be living when the snow flies. Believe it or not, snow kayaking is a sport that’s accessible to all skill levels, all over the world wherever there’s snow and a slope. Large, open mountain faces with little to any trees are best, which makes the Andes and its vast opportunities for easily-accessible above tree line adventures perfect for the sport. 

    One thing to call out. If you’re planning on snow kayaking at the ski hill, think again. Most (all?) don’t allow it. Double check with the resort to see if it’s permitted. 


    Paddling for Powder 

    Training for snow kayaking is all about starting with your skill level and that of the people you’re with. If you’re just starting out, think small and easy.  

    But if you want a unique thrill ride, look no further than a high-altitude cruise on a snow kayak. According to Board and Kayak, “snow kayaking, aka ‘skyaking’ combines snowboarding, speed-riding, and kayaking, and is pretty extreme, even for those who enjoy participating in hardcore sports.”  


    Safety While Sliding 

    1. Kayak Manual outlines four main risks with snow kayaking:  
    2. Hypothermia – Bring extra clothes in case you get wet and cold. Global Rescue offers these tips to protect against hypothermia.  
    3. Dehydration – Carry plenty of water in an insulated bottle so that it doesn’t freeze. “Dehydration occurs when you use or lose more fluid than you take in, and your body doesn’t have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions,” said Jeff Weinstein, associate manager for medical operations at Global Rescue. 
    4. Inexperience: “One of the most important things to remember is that you shouldn’t be in a rush to try this sport,” Kayak Manual said. “If you’re new, it’s best to start small and perfect your technique before heading out onto larger slopes with more ice or steeper gradients.” 
    5. Sun and wind exposure – Protect against sunburn and windburn with sunscreen and ski goggles. Ibuprofen and aloe vera can go a long way.

          Having the right gear is also important for a safe trip. Kayak Manual suggests “a winter jacket, gloves, waterproof snowpants and footwear.”  

          For backcountry snow kayaking, where you might even move from snow to water in your kayak, the site shares these final tips:  

          • Always go out with someone else so they can help if things go badly. 
          • Never go near cliffs or overhanging rocks. 
          • Check for any submerged objects under the ice before proceeding. 
          • Wear a personal flotation device or lifejacket. 

          Winter’s alternative action sports do seem like the stuff of dreams. But decade after decade, the ingenuity, motivation and – let’s face it – brazenness of modern adventurers everywhere have led to all sorts of interesting tweaks on established activities – from the widely adopted to the niche. If you plan on chasing the snows down to South America or New Zealand this summer, you’ll have plenty of heli-ski options should you wish to pursue that dream. And who knows? Maybe you’ll even see a pod of snow kayakers fluming their way down the mountain.   

          Stay tuned for more action sport tips in our second installment of No Restrictions: A Global Rescue Guide to Winter Activities Off the Groomed Trail.