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If hopping out of a helicopter on the top of a mountain with nothing but fresh white powder beneath you is your idea of heaven, then you've come to the right place, because it's on our bucket list too.
You can't just jump on a heli anywhere though. Tight regulations and an over-zealous addiction to 'elf and safety had made it impossible to heli-board in France, for example. The Frenchies banned it in 1985 to protect the mountain environment which is obviously fair enough, but we'll save that story for another day.
Tight regulations and an over-zealous addiction to 'elf and safety had made it impossible to heli-board in France
It's generally regarded that for the ultimate heli-boarding experience you need to head across the pond to Alaska and Canada. If you don't want to remortgage the house, however, there are a few places in Europe that will provide you with an equally exhilarating, and slightly less expensive alternative.
The Swiss have a fairly relaxed attitude towards flying helicopters around the mountains and there's a few companies floating about that will provide you with the opportunity to ride some untouched powder.
The main drawback about Switzerland, however, is the limit on drop off locations. Helicopters are restricted to 32 distinct landing platforms and these aren't always at the most ideal spot. You need to be prepared to hike a bit to find the steep stuff. As a result, the destination is largely dictated by where you're allowed to land as opposed to where the best snow is.
You need to be prepared to hike a bit to find the steep stuff.
That said, with long runs averaging close to 2000m in vertical and the greatest array of opportunities to heli-board, Switzerland is one of the better choices if you're sticking around Europe.
Where to Heli-Board:
SwissKIsafari are probably the biggest heli-board company around and they're based in the Valais region. They offer a fantastic variety of packages and you can even customise your own trip. What's more, considering the proximity to Italy, they regularly take you across the border to sample the delights of the Italian scenery. If you really want to push the boat out, they'll arrange backcountry glamping (glamorous camping for you not in the know) so you have exclusive access to fresh tracks.
Snowmotions provide single and multi-day trips ranging from a half-day, single drop off tour to a full two day/three night package including half board at a three star hotel and a full day heli-boarding around the Flims/Laax area with two descents.
Whilst not having the extent of heli-boarding terrain or a similar amount of companies, Italy is one of the few countries that are relaxed about where and what you do.
Many hell-board providers are based in France and simply fly you over the border so you don't get arrested and thrown into la Bastille by the French authorities. Take UK based company Val Heli. They'll pick you up in Tignes or Val d'Isere and swiftly scoot you into Italy to enjoy the relaxed regulations and sample some powdery awesomeness.
The Valle d'Aosta on the French/Italian border is a strong place to start and there are plenty of companies based in the area. With Switzerland not a million miles away either, if you're lucky chopper pilots will scout the era for the best conditions so you got the most bang for your buck.
Where to heli-board:
Heliski Courmayeur is another great shout if you're serious about accessing some awesome terrain. They have a bunch of drop off locations catered across a few resorts so you'll be sure to find untracked lines wherever you go.
Whilst Austria doesn't have the same strict laws of France, heli-boarding is still very limited to just a two peaks and a few different lines around the Arlberg region near Lech and St Anton.
If you're in the area and are just looking for a taster session then this will do just fine.
The trips are mainly single-drop and that's it so if you're after a fuller experience you're better off looking elsewhere. However, if you're in the area and are just looking for a taster session then this will do just fine. There's about 3000ft of vertical to cover which is nothing to turn your nose up at.
where to heli-board:
Freeriding in Austria are one of the only companies that provide heli-boarding here and they are based next to the exclusive resort of Oberlech. Don;t expect to be in the true back and beyond, however, as you can see the resort from the lines which, to some extent, ruins it a bit.
Wucher Helicopter provide trips around the Arlberg region but again, they only target two peaks. For the one hour trip it's fairly expensive as well.
It's been illegal to heli-board in France since 1985 but if you know the law, there's a few loopholes you can use. Where there's a will, there's a way and all that.
The main restriction is the fact it is illegal to be dropped in France, but that doesn't mean to say you can't be picked up there. Plenty of companies base themselves in the popular resorts such as Tignes, Val d'Isere and Chamonix and they'll happily whisk you away across the border to Italy, Switzerland or Austria for a days riding.
There's a few loopholes you can use. Where there's a will, there's a way and all that.
Alternatively, you can stick two fingers up to the French authorities, be dropped just across the border on a nearby peak and simply ride back into France. You get to heli-ski France, tick another country of the list and you won't end up in a shitty jail cell either.
where to heli-board:
Val Heli are a UK owned heli-board company so they are going to be a great bet. The legend that is Chamonix-based James Steniford has also hooked up with them, offering a day with the company as part of his own week-long split board tour so you can sample the delights of hiking and flying all in one grand adventure.
The Spanish government didn't give permission to fly riders onto mountains until 2012 so it's a fairly new thing. That said, if you're within a decent proximity to the Pyrenees then you're in with a strong chance of some decent powder.
Out of the seven areas now available for the experience, the Val d'Aran area is where you want to head to, located in the northeast. Pyrenees Heliski offer introductory, classic and custom packages so everyone is catered for. Although a full day is pricey, the five descents you get for €790 make it well worth the money.
where to heli-board:
Pyrenees Heliski offer a variety of packages and cover an area of 400km². They're probably the most the well known company in the area and provide a professional service.
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For a truly unique experience, Russia is quickly gaining momentum as a heli-board destination, particularly on the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Arkhyz in the Caucasus. UK owned Elemental Adventure specialise in taking riders to crazy destinations so it's well worth looking across their website to find some unusual spots you might not expect to see, such as Greenland, Iceland and the Himalayas.
For something different, you can head to Siberia and ride a new(ish) chopper into incredible powder fields, or try Sweden and Romania for something not quite as intense. Check out Luex.com for some pretty out-there powder trips.
Have you been heli-boarding somewhere in Europe? If so, let us know where in the comments below!