When you think of heli-skiing locales, the Alaskan Chugach or the Canadian Rockies probably come to mind. And rightly so. These mountain ranges provide some of the best, most challenging, and most reliable skiing terrain and conditions in the world. They’ve also featured heavily in pretty much every major ski and snowboard movie of the last 40 years. For many skiers and snowboarders, these are bucket list destinations. 

But there’s another heli-skiing experience that rivals that of Alaska’s or British Columbia’s, one that’s easier to get to, and potentially more affordable, and less remote than people might think: South American heli-skiing. 

First, some credibility.  

Did you know that the Andes Mountains are the highest outside of Asia and comprise the longest continental mountain range in the world? With an average height of 13,000 feet (4,000 meters), there’s a whole lot of skiable terrain way above treeline. Skiers will find vast expanses of bright, open bowls, tight shadowy couloirs, and untracked, perfect powder refreshed periodically by big Andean snowstorms. The landscape is almost completely uncontaminated by people. It’s a magnet for heli-skiers.   

But aside from sheer size, what makes heli-skiing in South America a must-have experience for skiers and riders all over the world? Let’s take a closer look. 

What Is Heli-Skiing? 

It’s exactly as it sounds. Small groups of skiers and snowboarders use a helicopter to access untouched and often remote areas of skiable mountains that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to reach by other means, like chairlifts or hiking. 

heli-ski drop off disembark

“Helicopter skiing offers the experienced skier or rider exclusive access to the terrain beyond the ski lifts with steeper, longer runs in often pristine powder snow conditions,” said Harding Bush, operations manager for Global Rescue and a former Navy SEAL with extensive expertise in mountain and cold weather operations. “While helicopter skiing, you need to think more like a mountaineer than a skier,” he said. 

[Related Reading: How Safe is Heli-Skiing?] 

Where To Heli-Ski in South America 

South American skiing is focused mainly in Argentina and Chile. There are small ski areas in some of the other countries, but the unreliability of the snow makes it difficult to justify the trip, especially compared to Argentina and Chile.  

Chile has around 20 ski areas, the most in South America, including famous resorts like Valle Nevado, Portillo, and El Colorado. Argentina has slightly fewer and includes well-known ski resorts like Cerro Catedral and Las Leñas. Most of these areas have heli-skiing operations based right there at the resort itself, which means you can split your time between helicopter-accessed backcountry or lift-served terrain within ski area boundaries. 

But there are several world-class heli-ski operators that work independently of the big resorts. Operators like Powder South, a Global Rescue Safe Travel Partner, who run heli-skiing operations in both Chile and Argentina. Their small team of internationally-certified heli-ski guides combined with former air force helicopter pilots not only know many of the best ski zones, but they’ll make sure you’ll get there and back safely.  

This independence from the resorts also means that guests heli-skiing in Chile can choose to stay at mountain lodges that are anything but rustic or at five-star hotels in downtown Santiago, the country’s capital, which is about the same distance as Denver, Colorado, or Salt Lake City, Utah, are from the ski areas in the Rockies. But unlike any other major metropolitan city, your ski day begins by taking the hotel elevator up to the helipad to catch your day’s ride to the mountains, a less-than 20-minute helicopter trip from rooftop to mountain summit. Beats waiting in a lift line! 

While there aren’t any downtown helicopter rides to the Andes if you’re in Argentina, Powder South’s luxurious lodge in the Uco Valley, renowned for its Malbec wines, is only a 90-minute drive from Mendoza International Airport. 

The Best Time To Go 

Scale, terrain, snow quality – all important factors of an unforgettable heli-ski experience. But let’s face it. If you live in the northern hemisphere, skiing in untouched powder in the middle of your summer is the main attraction.  

The South American ski season is typically from mid-July to early October, but it can span May through November. On average, the best time to go is between late July and early September. And even though the resorts might experience a bit more skier traffic during the South American school holiday occurring during the two middle weeks of July, heli-ski operations won’t be affected. 

The winter storms that hit the Andes can be big, but they cycle through more periodically than they do continually like in western North America. But with so few people on the mountain, even at the resorts comparable to the U.S., Canada, and Europe, the fresh snow remains untouched longer.  

Rodrigo Mujica, Powder South’s owner, says it’s hard to predict what the Andean snowfall will be like this winter. “We’re expecting an El Niño year, so it could dump well,” he says. “Even just two or three meters can be a good season, but no one can really predict what it’ll be like.”  

Regardless of weather forecasts, Mujica can predict the popularity of heli-skiing in the two southernmost South American countries. “At this point, we think it’ll be an almost fully booked season,” he says. And with a couple more months before the season gets underway, there’s still time to fill vacancies. 


Heli-skiing requires an enhanced level of safety awareness compared to resort skiing. “You need to know your skiing abilities and then adhere to the direction of the guides and helicopter crew,” Global Rescue’s Harding Bush said. “There are hazards in the backcountry that aren’t typical at a groomed resort with ski patrols and lift-service.”   

skis and poles in chile aconcagua

Heli-skiing in the Andes can mean a 5,000 vertical foot descent in one run. Three runs per day is average but, depending on the group, that amount can be higher. than that. It’s an experience that requires a good level of physical fitness. Deep snow, unmarked terrain, natural features not found inbounds at resorts. The challenge is part of the fun.  

Bush says skiing ungroomed terrain can be challenging because all deep snow is not light and fluffy powder. He recommends taking extra time to discuss risk mitigation and, given the high altitude of the Andes, advises good hydration and rest before and during the trip. 

Safety and Gear 

Operators like Powder South have certified guides and experienced pilots who will do their best to reduce the risk of skiing in the backcountry. Still, accidents can happen. Which is why almost every operator requires you to wear an avalanche beacon, carry a probe and a shovel in your pack, and know how to use it from the moment you set boot aboard the helicopter. While accidents are rare, heli-skiing is inherently dangerous and could require field rescue and medical evacuation. Which is why Powder South “strongly recommends that you become a Global Rescue member prior to your trip,” says owner Mujica. 

[Related Reading: A Heli-Skiing Accident in Canada] 

If you’ve ever traveled great distances to ski or snowboard, you know how much of a nuisance it can be to schlep your gear from car to train to airplane, etc. But because of the almost guaranteed deep snow available during a heli-ski trip, specialized powder skis and poles are provided by most operators as part of the package. You can bring your own, but you don’t have to. Which means the only hard goods you really need to pack are your ski or snowboard boots. And that makes travel a whole lot easier. 

solo backcountry skier trekking

Sure, heli-skiing in South America, or anywhere else, is expensive. But for many skiers and snowboarders, it’s hard to put a price on the trip of a lifetime, floating through bottomless turns down untracked Andean mountains in the middle of August. If you can’t wait for next winter, a Chilean or Argentinian heli-ski trip might be the perfect remedy to beat back those summer blues.  

No Restrictions on Activities  

Heli-skiing is considered by some as an “extreme” sport. Is it? Stu Richards, a senior vice president at Global Rescue, is an avid skier who has heli-skied since the 1980s. He doesn’t consider the sport extreme:   

“You have to be an experienced powder skier for heli-skiing, but you don’t have to be an expert skier. There are risks with heli-skiing that you don’t encounter with resort skiing. The helicopter must be dependable, your guide must have sound judgment, you have to make certain you’re skiing terrain that matches your skill level, and you must be prepared for the potential of natural disasters like an avalanche and sudden, dangerous weather changes.” 

Unlike other providers, Global Rescue memberships do not exclude or restrict adventure activities — like heli-skiing, backcountry skiing, cat-skiing or cross-country skiing — from membership. It’s part of our No Restrictions approach to travel.  Whether you’re heli-skiing, paragliding, BASE jumping, cave diving, or kiteboarding, remember to plan, prepare and get a Global Rescue membership for peace of mind.