Heli-skiing Costs £300. Is It Worth It?

08/04/2015 14:30 | Updated 07 June 2015

2015-04-07-1428400883-1709399-IMG_5008.JPG

Antoine's instructions were very clear. "When the helicopter lands, remove your seatbelt and wait. I will go around and open the door. I will take your rucksack and put it on the snow. You get out and crouch over the rucksack. DON'T stand up, DON'T run, stay on the ground until the helicopter has taken off."

There were four of us, all first-time heli-skiers, waiting nervously on the valley floor below the Swiss resort of Verbier. We checked the transceivers strapped to our torsos and the contents of our rucksacks: metal shovel and telescopic probe, to rescue each other in the event of an avalanche. And waited for our helicopter.

Heli-skiing is the ultimate indulgence for the adventurous skier. It's potentially dangerous, it can be hard work and it's expensive: £300 per person for a single drop. It's also banned in most European countries. Switzerland is an exception.

Included in the price was Antoine, our mountain guide. Leather-skinned, blue-eyed, he radiated calm and confidence. When he told you to do something, you did it.

The flight from the valley floor to the Plateau de Trient at 3,300m took just a few minutes, below us views unfolding of jagged peaks and pristine glaciers.

2015-04-07-1428401104-226713-IMG_4995.JPG

Once the helicopter had left, silence descended. We were at the very top of a broad smooth glacier beneath a vertical cliff face. Through a crack in the cliff we looked over a sheer drop into a neighbouring valley. The only other sign of life was a distant mountain hut.

We started to ski down the glacier, instinctively huddling together, fearful of crevasses that may or may not lie at the edges. The spring snow was not powdery but soft with a thick crust. We stopped regularly to catch our breath and gaze at the strange blue-white formations of ice that reared above us.

After an hour we took off our skis, strapped them to our rucksacks and climbed from the side of the valley on fixed ropes up to the Col des Econdies. After 15 minutes of huffing and puffing, the morning chill now replaced by sweat, we arrived on a ledge and looked down into a steep-sided valley thick with virgin snow.

2015-04-07-1428400913-3397382-IMG_5035.JPG

The Val d'Arpette stretched ahead as far as we could see with not a soul in sight. We negotiated icy sections and powdery bowls, the conditions constantly changing. At one point we skied across the remnants of a recent avalanche, some of the icy blocks as big as filing cabinets.

Finally we reached the tree line and zig-zagged along forested tracks until we reached a path that would take us into a small lift station at Champex, where there was a bus stop.

The whole journey had taken us about four hours. At the bottom there were handshakes and hugs. I was shaking with fatigue and we motored back to Verbier for lunch. Another adventure ticked off the bucket list. It wasn't cheap, but this one most certainly did not disappoint.

* Heli-skiing in Verbier can be arranged with Adrenaline Guides. Verbier has some of the most expensive accommodation in the Alps, but the three-star Hotel Montpellier, which has its own ski rental shop and indoor pool, is good value, with double rooms from £132 including breakfast.

* Mark Hodson is Editor of 101 Holidays. All photos by the author.

2015-04-07-1428400960-2815901-IMG_5050.JPG