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Heli-Skiing

INDUSTRY ANALYSIS REPORT

Kait Clow, Laura Hilton and Maegan Wark | Outdoor Adventure Industry | December 1, 2014

Table of Contents
Overview ........................................................................................................................................................ 3
Industry Barriers ........................................................................................................................................... 4
History and development ........................................................................................................................ 4
Hans Gmoser............................................................................................................................................. 4
The Bell 47 B-1 ........................................................................................................................................... 4
Trade organizations / associations ..........................................................................................................5
Certifying bodies........................................................................................................................................5
Laws and regulations ................................................................................................................................5
Barriers upon start up .............................................................................................................................. 6
Geographic Scope ..........................................................................................................................................7
Heli-Ski Operators in Canada ..................................................................................................................7
Conclusion ................................................................................................................................................ 9
Competition Profile ..................................................................................................................................... 10
Market Structure ..................................................................................................................................... 10
Industry Leaders ...................................................................................................................................... 10
Factors for Success .................................................................................................................................. 10
Profitability ............................................................................................................................................... 11
Seasonal Issues .......................................................................................................................................... 11
Capital Investment ................................................................................................................................... 11
Strategy Canvas........................................................................................................................................ 12
Growth Stage............................................................................................................................................ 13
Marketing and Promotion .......................................................................................................................... 14
Product Offering and Market Leader Comparison .............................................................................. 14
Distribution .............................................................................................................................................. 16
Promotional Strategies............................................................................................................................ 16
Demographic Profile ................................................................................................................................... 18
Target Market .......................................................................................................................................... 18
Demographic Characteristics ................................................................................................................. 19
Participation Rates ................................................................................................................................. 20
Psychographics ....................................................................................................................................... 20
Staffing Profile ............................................................................................................................................. 21

Demographic and Personality Profile ................................................................................................... 21


Training level and Sources .....................................................................................................................22
Environmental Considerations ................................................................................................................. 24
Heli-skiing around the world ................................................................................................................ 24
Environmental Issues ............................................................................................................................. 24
Both Sides of the Argument .................................................................................................................. 24
Mitigation Strategies .............................................................................................................................. 24
Land Management Issues ....................................................................................................................... 25
Giving Back to the Land .......................................................................................................................... 25
Conclusion .............................................................................................................................................. 26
SWOT Analysis ............................................................................................................................................27
Strengths ..................................................................................................................................................27
Weaknesses ..............................................................................................................................................27
Opportunities ..........................................................................................................................................27
Threats ..................................................................................................................................................... 28
Conclusion ................................................................................................................................................... 29
References and Sources ..............................................................................................................................30

Overview
This report is an in-depth look into the Heli-Skiing industry in Canada. It is a compilation
of personal research, opinions, as well as industry professionals, surveys and operators. This
analysis bias is written by outdoor professionals in training. The report uses statistics, guidelines,
legislation, marketing pieces and interviews from identified industry leaders. The purpose of this
report is to educate and inform professionals and the general public on how Heli-Skiing operations
are developed, the history, future of the sport, the average heli-skier and guide and much more.

Industry Barriers
HISTORY AND DEVELOPMENT
Fifty years ago, the first commercial heli skiing operation took on its first clients, too make
their runs in the Canadian Bugaboos. Hans Gmoser, is the founder of heli skiing, and Canadian
Mountain Holidays. It all started when skiers started approaching him about the possibility of
using a helicopter as a ski lift. There were several attempts to get it started, but many of the trips
didnt work out. In 1965, Heli skiing became a sport when the first successful trip occurred. It was
in the BC mountains, here they were provided with lodging from an old sawmill camp. Since then,
thousands have experienced and enjoyed the sport of heli skiing and snowboarding. Hans Gmoser
was also responsible for introducing the sport of Heli hiking. The heli hiking broadened his
clientele, consisting of families and even the disabled. Since CMH made Heli skiing a success,
countless companies and lodges have opened up throughout the years. Today, the company that
started it all, Canadian Mountain Holidays, runs 12 Heli ski areas and lodges, employees 500 staff,
and attracts thousands of clients each year. CMH, as well as numerous other expanding companies
in Western BC, have evolved Heli skiing to be one of the ultimate bucket list sports.

HANS GMOSER
Hans Gmoser was born in Brunau, Austria, July 7th, 1932. Hans
discovered his passion for the mountains as a young teenager, when
he and his friends would climb and ski, where they developed many
skills in mountaineering. Hans immigrated to Canada in 1951, and
began his first job as a logger in Alberta. Hans joined the Alpine Club
of Canada with friends and made his way into Canadian
mountaineering. Over the years, Hans grew well known for tackling
many mountain climbs, including the highest peak in Canada. During
his career in the mountaineering business, Hans also dedicated his
time to creating 10 films on mountain climbing and skiing in western
Canada.
In 2006, Hans was honoured at the Canadian embassy for his
contribution to Canadian Mountain Heritage, he also made it on to
the Canadian tourism hall of fame, with just 4 others. In the same
year, Hans passed away in a cycling accident. Just shortly after, he was
awarded with a life time achievement award for his contribution to adventure tourism, as well as
for creating the world largest heli skiing operation.

THE BELL 47 B-1


The first heli ski helicopter was
called the Bell 47 B-1. This helicopter
was chosen due to its technological
advancements at the time. The Bell 47 B1 was the first helicopter to fly over the
Alps, and the first helicopter to be used
for TV news cameras.

Image 2

TRADE ORGANIZATIONS / ASSOCIATIONS


CWSAA Canada West Ski Areas Association
A regional Association which is a representative organization for ski guides from Alberta and
British Columbia.
ACMG Association of Canadian Mountain Guides
A regional association of trained mountain, hiking, and climbing guides.
IFMGA International Federation of Mountain Guides Association
An international association, which consists of qualified mountain guides, representing their
country.
CSGA - Canadian Ski Guide Association
A regional training institute and non-profit organization representing Canadian ski guides.
Helicat Canada
A national association for operators, establishing best practices and guidelines.

CERTIFYING BODIES
The above 3 organizations, ACMG, IMFGA, and CSGA are all organizations that train and
certify ski guides into becoming heli ski guides. Each guide is usually required to have a minimum
of 10 years experience in the field. Before becoming a heli guide one must become some level of
CSIA (Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance) Instructor this is the resort industry standard and is the
beginning building block to any mountain guides or ski instructors career.
The IFMG is an international organization. CASI is a national standard for instructor
training. The CSGA and ACMG are both national but I have labeled them as regional, due to the
fact that Canada runs the majority out of the British Columbia and Alberta mountains.

LAWS AND REGULATIONS


Guides
Required to be certified under one of the Canadian mountain guiding organizations, with a
minimum of usually 10 years of experience guiding in the field. They all have to be trained in safety,
weather analysis, emergencies, and mechanized ski guiding. All guides are also required to be
heavily trained in avalanche prevention, dangers etc.
Standard human resource laws apply; health and safety, etc.

Helicopter pilots
Required to have lots of experience, as well as engineering knowledge and abilities.
Pilot license, follow heli skiing guidelines. Follow the Canadian transportation act, as well as
Canadian aviation regulations.
Engineers
Lots of training and experience. All heli ski lodges are required to have an on-site engineer.
Safety Equipment
Safety equipment is always necessary when guiding a heli ski trip. Each guide should be equipped
with a first aid pack including a UHF radio.
*Other laws and regulations are required within the lodging and dining; food and safety etc.

BARRIERS UPON START UP


Land
This barrier links into the other companies barriers as well. There are not many safe, ski
able mountains left untouched in Canada that would be close to a town or resort.
Other companies
The heli skiing world has blown up in the past couple of decades. Therefore, there are
numerous heli ski companies and lodges. This could be a huge barrier to starting up a heli skiing
company in Canada, because there are so many companies who have years of experience and ones
that have already set huge names for themselves.
Intended clients
Usually when it comes to heli skiing, the clients that participate in the sport are wealthy. It
costs a lot for a heli skiing experience and usually those who do it have the money for the activity.
Also, clients are usually older, and highly experience skiers or snowboarders. This narrows the heli
ski clientele down dramatically, which contributes to acting as a barrier for heli skiing companies.
Employees
It could become hard for many heli skiing companies to find employees that are certified
and experienced to the heli ski guiding standards. However with the growing certification bodies;
nationally and internationally the training and certifications are becoming more standardized and
accessible.

Geographic Scope
Heli-skiing is a growing sector of the alpine skiing and snowboarding industry.
There is a large demographic that is covered by skiers and snowboarders internationally.
Heli skiing is limited by its geographic boundaries; it is difficult to heliski in an area with a
flat landscape and subtropical temperatures. Canada is very fortunate by having the
Rockies which is a vast mountain range that allows room for many heliski operators. For
this reason, Canada is easily labelled as the most supreme destination for heli skiing
throughout the world.
HELI-SKI OPERATORS IN CANADA

Bella Coola Heli Ski Sports- Bella Coola, British Columbia

Chatter Creek Mountain Lodges- Golden ,British Columbia

CMH Heli-Skiing- Nakusp, British Columbia

Coast Range Heli-skiing- Whistler, British Columbia

Eagle Pass Heli-skiing- Revelstoke, British Columbia

Fernie Wilderness Adventures- Fernie, British Columbia

Great Canadian Heli-skiing- Golden, British Columbia

Kingfisher Heli-skiing- Cherryville, British Columbia

Last Frontier Heli-skiing- Belle II, British Columbia

Mica Heli-skiing- Revelstoke, British Columbia

Mike Wiegle Helicopter Skiing- Blue River, British Columbia

Northern Escape Heli-skiing- Terrace, British Columbia

Purcell Helicopter Skiing- Golden, British Columbia

Rk Heliski- Panorama Mountain Village, British Columbia

Robson HeliMagic- Valemount, British Columbia

Selkirk Tangier Heli-skiing- Revelstoke, British Columbia

Selkirk Wilderness Skiing- Meadow Creek, British Columbia

Skeena Heliskiing- Hazelton, British Columbia

TLH Heliskiing- Gold Bridge, British Columbia

Whistler Heli-Skiing- Whistler, British Columbia

Deep Lines Guiding Service- Nelson, British Columbia

Kicking Horse Mountain Resort- Kicking horse Mountain Resort, British Columbia

Powder Guides- Garibaldi Highlands, British Columbia

Red Mountain Resort- Red Mountain Resort, British Columbia

Resort tours & Transportation- Kimberley, British Columbia

Heli-ski Operators in BC Canada

There are many operators on the west


coast of Canada majorly located in British
Columbia. Currently, over 20 heli ski
companies are located throughout the
province. Many consisting of untracked
terrain, as well as accommodation.
Compared to the US and other countries
who offer this type of sport, Canada is the
current leader in the heli ski industry.
British Columbia, Canada holds some of
the best rating and most heli ski
companies in the world.

Heli-Ski Operators in North America, Europe and United Kingdom

In Switzerland, the Alps offer a great


terrain for Hel-skiing adventures along with
the elevation in France, Spain and Italy. There
are quite a few heli ski organizations
throughout these regions, however you can
clearly see that BC Canada holds the majority
of these companies by looking at this map.
New Zealand is a large participant of the
Adventure tourism market, and holds around 5
different operators. The amount of operations it
lower in New Zealand than it is in British
Columbia, because of the area comparison
between the two regions. This is also because
New Zealand also thrives in many other areas of
the outdoor industry, whereas heli skiing is BCs
main attraction.

CONCLUSION
The heli ski industry is constantly growing, every day, around the world. There is no doubt
that Canada could possibly, in the future, be overtaken as the leading country for heli skiing in the
world. However, BC Canada is currently known in this industry as the inventor, and the top
destination for heli skiing and snowboarding. Today, there are numerous organizations,
associations, certifying bodies, and laws and regulations within the heli ski industry. This industry
as well as ways to better this industry, is continually expanding all over the world.

Competition Profile
MARKET STRUCTURE
95% of all heli skiing in the world is held in British Columbia Canada. All of Canadas heli
skiing companies are located in BC. Heli skiing has expanded greatly over the past couple of
decades, pushing many new businesses to start up within the industry. Today there are numerous
successful amounts of heli skiing companies throughout British Columbia. Canadas Heli skiing
industry would be classified under the Monopolistic competition sector of the market structure.
This is because of the many heli skiing companies in Canada, which all generally provide the same
thing (heli skiing and snowboarding). However, each claim to have differences in overall
experience. Monopolistic Competition structure covers both aspects of national as well as regional
heli skiing, because of the concentrated area of heli skiing in Canada (BC). This is because BC is the
only region in Canada that provides the adequate area for heli skiing.

INDUSTRY LEADERS
The top 5 heli ski companies in Canada:

# Company
#1 Canadian Mountain
Holidays
#2 Mike Wiegele Heli-Skiing
#3 Bella Coola Heli Sports
#4 Whistler Heli-Skiing
#5 Great Canadian Heli Skiing

FACTORS FOR SUCCESS


Company
Canadian Mountain Holidays

Mike Wiegele Heli-Skiing

Bell Coola Heli Sports

Whistler Heli-Skiing
Great Canadian Heli Skiing

Location (all in BC)


Blue River/Valemount
Region
Blue River/Valemount
Region
Coast Mountains
Whistler
Selkirk and Purcell
Mountains

Factors for Success


First company established in BC
Owns the most skiable terrain
Innovative trip packages
Great location
Known for professional instruction and superior lodging
Many professional riders and skiers go here
Easiest heli-ski location to fly to
Small tour groups (four or less)
Skiing designed by riders for riders
Central location in the Whistler Village
Offers high priced but convenient day trips; lots of skier traffic
Very flexible package offers
98% fly rate
Also offer resort and cat-skiing options

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PROFITABILITY
The table below displays the profit and success of the top two heli-ski companies and one
mid-range company. This allows you to see how factors like being a part of a corporation like
Intrawest vs. grassroots Start-up Company doesnt always greatly impact success; if the business is
ran properly.

Company
Canadian Mountain
Holidays

Mike Wiegele
Helicopter Skiing

Whistler Heli Skiing

Success Factors
-veterans in the
industry
-first company to offer
heli-skiing
- very experienced and
trained guides
-known as second best
in industry
-great location
-good involvement with
environment and
community-Very
popular tourist
destination

Profitability
-Profit in 2006 was
72,600
- sales were 1,601,810

-Whistler village is
known as the most
visited ski resort
-very accessible/ great
location

-Company is Privatized
-Profit in 2006 was
$72,000
-sales were 1,601,810

-Sales were 700,000 on


average annually

SEASONAL ISSUES
Heli ski company's face the challenges of a multi seasonal climate. Because there is little to
no snow in the summer months, the businesses cannot provide the same type of activities all year
round. Larger more accessible companies like Whistler Heli Ski and Mike Wiegele Helicopter offer
mountain biking, canoeing trips and heli hiking. These organizations often have heli village resorts
where they would also offer accommodations. Some smaller companies in the industry cannot
support to operate during the summer months and shut down for the season. Heli skiing is not a
sport that is available all year round, it is an issue as well as an opportunity for companies to offer a
variety of activities.

CAPITAL INVESTMENT
Starting a company in the heli ski industry is a very expensive task. Because the sport
involves the use of helicopters, business owners must invest a lot of money initially and throughout
the years of operation. In addition, the cost of a lodge or home base which is crucial for most
companies in the industry. Overall the Capitol investment starts at $500000. This although is for a
very small operation and would be limited to what the owners could offer in the means of a resort.
It is a very difficult trade in begin investing in and requires very costly resources and equipment.

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STRATEGY CANVAS

This chart was created by Kait Clow; it shows the strengths and weaknesses of the top Canadian
heli-ski operators.
Scale:

Price- comparison was decided according to a few factors: what is


included in the trip, options (package, accommodations etc.), peak
season prices and discounts. Overall the prices offered are consistent
with the quality of the operator.

Terrain- was ranked according to: skiable terrain, quality of snow,


natural features and total vertical

Accessibility- is based on the travel time to lodge, this includes distance


from an international airport and if shuttles/public transportation is
available.

10 = Industry
Leader
5 = Minimum
Industry
Standard
1 = Poor
Quality

Group Sizes- The industry standard is 5 clients/guide, so if a company offers smaller or


larger groups this affects: safety, skiing time, what helicopters are used and the overall
quality of skiing.

Safety- If the guides have the highest industry certifications and many years of experience
this will increase the safety of the clients. The safety briefings, equipment and courses
offered all are factors considered as well.

Lodging- Is based upon the accommodations. Proper rest is important to ensure a great
day on the slopes; the quality of the bedrooms and the attitude of the lodge staff can make
or break a heli-trip.
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Amenities- Extras offered are a huge bonus to clients: gourmet food, hot tubs/Jacuzzis,
spas, other activities and high quality rental gear are all factors that increase the ranking.

GROWTH STAGE
Nationally, heli skiing would be placed at the maturity stage on the industry life cycle
analysis. This is because the majority of heli ski companies in Canada are now professionally
managed. Most of these companies have reached the stability within the industry. The existing heli
ski companies have very little threat of any other companies starting up in the industry because of
the majority of challenges they will face. Heli skiing in Canada is a big thing today and there are
more than enough existing resources for this sport. Some of the smaller, more lifestyle oriented heli
ski companies in Canada would fall under the growth or expansion stage. This is because of the
existing big name companies that are basically taking over the business which are continuing to
expand. The company is either constantly expanding or shrinking, they are never in a secure place
in the lifecycle.

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Marketing and Promotion


PRODUCT OFFERING AND MARKET LEADER COMPARISON
Heli-Ski operators offer more than just a guide and a helicopter; they are trying to sell an
unforgettable experience to you. Many factors are considered when putting together custom ski
vacations like: top quality cuisine, luxury or rustic accommodations, rental gear, who the target
client is etc. For heli-skiing it is all about location, location, location; since the Rockies in Canada
are the premium backcountry destination the real estate has been bought up quickly; this is the
limiting factor on the number of operators and quality of the terrain they offer. Therefore a
successful heli-ski company sells the experience that makes the clients want to return year after
year to your operation!
This table will allow you to compare what each company has to offer, various trip prices, specific promotion
strategies and personal thought on each company.

Company

Product

Price

Promotion

Personal
Comments

CMH was one of the


first companies in
the industry so they
set many of the
standards and are
the top dog in
Canada.

CMH is an
impressive industry
leader. They boast
the most variety in
terrain and still
manage to keep
their prices low.

CMH markets using:


Word of mouth,
their website, social
media. They have a
marketing team that
works hard to
promote nationally
and internationally.

They market
among the ski
resorts at many ski
and snow shows so
the average skiers
and snowboarders
even know their
name!

(per person)
Canadian
Mountain
Holidays
(CMH)

All trips come with:


three meals provided
Accommodations in
Lodge
Limited use of rental
equipment
PPE and avalanche
equipment
Photo/Video guide
ACMG certified
guides
Instructional courses
available
Every trip has a
vertical meter
guarantee
Shuttle service for
most trips

** Will take beginners

CMH offers trips


from 1-10 days.
There are
signature, private,
semi-private,
family, womens
only etc. trips
available at CMH.

Their most
popular trips are:
Signature Skiing 5
days: ~$6000

Signature Skiing 7
days: ~$8500

Many movies have


been shot with CMH
so they use product
placement
throughout those.

** prices vary
depending on if
its shoulder, mid
or peak season

Mike Wiegele
Heli-Skiing
(MW)

All trips come with:


three meals provided
Accommodations in
Lodge

MW offers
Deluxe, Super
Elite, private and
semi-private trips.

MW uses similar
marketing strategies
as CMH. However
one thing they boast

MW is the first
heli-ski operator I
ever knew about; I
remember
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rental equipment
PPE and avalanche
equipment
Photo/Video guide
Some ACMG certified
guides
Instructional courses
available
Every trip has a
vertical meter
guarantee
Offers use of spa
facilities

Their most
popular trips are:
Deluxe 3 day:
~$4000

Deluxe 7 day:
~$9000

They also offer 3


day Snowcat tours
~$2500

more about is their


affiliation with
Warner Miller Films;
Warner Miller
makes some of the
top movies in the
skiing and
snowboarding
industry. In turn
many pro-riders
choose to
ski/snowboard at
MW

watching
snowboard films
and hearing the
name and seeing
the logo
throughout the
films.

BC uses social media


such as trip advisor
to promote
themselves. They
also do a lot of
international
marketing to
countries like: Japan,
Holland and
Germany

BC seems quite
expensive for what
they offer.

Promotion is done
through Intrawest
and
Whistler/Blackcomb
resort. There is
packages so you can
add on a heli-skiing
experience to your
regular resort skiing.

I think Whistler is
offering a bland
heli-skiing
experience;
however it is
perfect for the
average skier joe
who wants to brag
about it when they
return home from
their family
vacation.

** Will take beginners

** prices vary
depending on if
its shoulder, mid
or peak season

Bella Coola
Heli Sports
(BC)

Whistler HeliSkiing

All trips come with:


three meals provided
Accommodations in
Lodge
Use of rental
equipment
PPE and avalanche
equipment
Photo/Video guide
Some ACMG certified
guides
Instructional courses
available
Many activities
available for no fly
days

** Will take beginners

All trips come with


lunch

Shuttle provided for


return transportation
to Whistler Village

Photo/Video guide

PPE and safety


equipment

** NO beginners

BC offers trips to
specific vertical
heights for a set
number of days.

7 days at 100,000
feet is ~$11000

3 days at 42,500
feet is ~$6000

Trips are one day


and are based on
how many runs
you want to do
(excluding private
trips)
There three
packages offered
are:
Classic Experience
(3 runs) - $929

They promote at
various ski shows at
the resort booth.

They have
multiple lodges
but dont advertise
it well.
They focus on
providing quality
trips at a
grassroots sized
level.

Elite Adventure (4
runs) - $1024
15

Ultimate
Excursion (6
runs) - $1319

Great
Canadian HeliSkiing (GC)

All trips come with:


three meals provided
Accommodations in
Lodge
Use of rental
equipment
PPE and avalanche
equipment
Photo/Video guide
ACMG certified
guides
Instructional courses
available
Every trip has a
vertical meter
guarantee

GC boasts about
offering a
boutique style
heli-ski package;
this means they
will be flexible
and let the clients
hand pick what
they want.
They offer a 2 day
package ~$4000

Their 6 day
package ~$12000

GC promotes mainly
in Alberta and
America. They use
online promotion
through Google; this
allows them to be
the top result that
comes up when heliskiing is searched.
This is a good
technique to use
since most heli-ski
companies book
online.

GC offers good
quality but with a
very high price!
They seem to use
their customability as a key
marketing point.

** Will take beginners

DISTRIBUTION
Most heli skiing bookings are done either by internet or over the phone. The company
website will have a separate page explaining the packages as well as specials available. All Major
companies packages will usually consist of safety gear, ski or snowboard rentals, guides,
accommodation, 3 meals, unlimited vertical feet, and use of resources within the resort (spa, sauna,
gym, pool, etc.). Once youve chosen your preferred package, you complete your booking by calling
the number given on the website, or fill out your information online if available. You will usually be
required to have a credit card handy for a down payment. When arriving at the resort you will need
ID and credit card to confirm booking.

PROMOTIONAL STRATEGIES
Heli ski companies in Canada use the basic tactics of promotion such as: tv commercials,
Youtube, travel review sites and Google ads, billboards, etc. They also use some other unique
promotional strategies such as the following:
Resorts

One good promotional tactic that pretty much every heli ski company in Canada contains
is a resort or lodge

They manage to advertise the backcountry experience, while making sure your stay is
luxurious

They advertise their delicious cuisine, and comfortable cabins and rooms, and all of the
amenities that their lodge provides

Location

they advertise location - in breathtaking British Columbia

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Guides

some even explain the friendly guides and staff and the connections that you will make
with them

all skilled and certified through a big name corporation such as ACMG

Many boast about how many years their guides have in the field

Safety Features

how there company is dedicated to safety

the safety equipment they have

the safety certifications that they obtain

Deals
Heli ski companies will come out with a deal on their packages. For example Whistler heli-skiing
often offers a package deal to add on a heli-skiing experience with the normal resort vacation
package.
Ski and Snow Shows
Many heli-ski operators are starting to pop up among the North American resorts at Ski and
Snowboard shows and exhibitions. They will have booths advertising heli/backcountry adventures.

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Demographic Profile
TARGET MARKET
The skiing and snowboarding industry has many faucets; heli-skiing is a very specialized
section of the industry. The demographic profile of the average heli-skier shows who is
participating in the activity; it works as a map to define the target markets and will display the
lifestyles they live.
Americans make up a large segment of skiers and snowboarders. 4.6 million or 3% of
American adults are considered Alpine Ski Tourists out of this group only 0.3% or 567,211 have
participated in extreme skiing. Out of the total extreme skiers, there are a total of 210,107 who heliskied. With a large section of the Rocky Mountains located in western Canada is no surprise 37.9%
of extreme skiers have travelled to Canada to ski/snowboard; 20.1% to British Columbia and 9.6%
to Alberta (TAMS, 2007).
Extreme skiers are more likely to participate in various activities while traveling compared
to the average pleasure traveler; this is displayed in the chart below.
This chart shows the breakdown of the American winter sport industry

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DEMOGRAPHIC CHARACTERISTICS
The typical heli-skier is:

Male between 25-34 years old

Married with no children

Has a university degree or some equivalent post-secondary education

An average household income of $95,000/year this puts them into the upper-middle class

These extreme skiers are at the end of the baby boomer generation

This chart gives an in-depth display of the significant background information of the average heliskiers life.

(TAMS, 2007)
The first generation of heli-skiers are considered the grass root/founders of the industry. These
people were baby boomers; they are the older siblings, parents and grandparents of the target
market. As seen on the chart above as our market grows older there will be a dramatic shift and we
will see a gap in the age of heli and backcountry skiers (Morton, 2010). As the target market grows
older the focus of heli-skiing will shift from backcountry extreme adventures to a more luxurious
adventure where the end of the day you will be drinking cocktails in the hot tub of a five star lodge.
Lodges like these are starting to prosper across the west coast; such as Canadian Mountain
Holidays (CMH) and Mike Wiegele heli-skiing, to name a few.

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PARTICIPATION RATES
As the number of accessible heli-skiing operations are increasing the number of extreme
skiers is increasing as well. In 2006 there was a market research survey done on the extreme skiing
industry. In 2000 there were 28,000 heli-skiers, by 2006 this number grew to an impressive 210,107.
This shows a 750% increase in the market in less than 7 years (TAMS, 2007).
It is estimated that California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington have the most extreme
skiers; between 22,000-119,000 people in each state. These states are located near the Pacific coast
and are in close proximity to the Canadian border.
Location, new technologies and more companies in the industry are all influencing a rise in
the participation rate for heli-skiing in the west coast.

PSYCHOGRAPHICS
From the information displayed above we can inference the personality, values and interests of the
typical heli-skiing client.

Male or Female

Age: 25-34

Tech savvy (most heli-ski bookings are done online)

Thrill/Risk seeker

Independent (most heli groups are less than 12 people)

Financially stable (the average income is between 60,000-100,000/year)

Healthy lifestyle orientated (75.6% of extreme skiers workout during the year (TAMS,
2007))

Married, no kids

Seek learning experiences

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Staffing Profile
DEMOGRAPHIC AND PERSONALITY PROFILE
The demographic and personality of the average heli guide is difficult to say since guides come
from many different backgrounds. However the most common guide follows roughly along these
lines:
A Male possibly married or not, usually without kids. He is between the age of 30-45 and has been
snowboarding or skiing for at least 20 years with roughly 10 years of backcountry experience. He is
usually well educated and very well-traveled. He comes from a north American/European
background (Caucasian). He will continue to ski/snowboard until an age is reach where the body
can no longer function to the level required. Once that happens he will most likely take up a
management position in the company he has been working for or he will retire. During retirement
this male would possibly travel and begin checking items off his bucket list.
The graph below displays the correlation between age and skiing. It demonstrates that as the
population grows older they are less likely to participate in downhill snow activities (including heli
skiing)

Figure 1

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TRAINING LEVEL AND SOURCES


Guides:
Heli and backcountry guides in Canada have a few different certification bodies they can go
through. At a base level CSIA and CASI is the ski hill instructor base level certification; both CSIA
and CASI have 4 levels of certification. From the base level there is the Canadian Avalanche
Association (CAA) they provide safety training courses specifically on avalanche awareness. Once
you receive your CAA level one you can start your path towards becoming an ACMG Ski guide,
once you have completed ski guide training and certification you can become an ACMG Mountain
Guide. This is the highest level of training and you will be granted the IFMGA badge. It is an
international badge that is recognized for competence and professionalism in all aspects of
mountaineering and client care.
Air Crew:
To be a heliski pilot you must attain your commercial piolets license; this training involves 100
hours of in air training and 80-200 hours of ground school, Helicopters Canada provides lots of
training and certification in Canada. From there each heliski operation has their own specific
training for their pilots and the air crew. Many operators hire contracted Air Crews with their own
helicopters. It is also common for companies to contract helicopters and aircrews. An example of a
company that provides helicopter services is Sequoia Helicopters. This company contracts to
several heliski businesses in British Columbia.

Figure 2

Office Staff and Lodge Staff:


These workers will come from various industries with backgrounds in; business, travel and tourism,
event planning, housekeeping, maintenance, accounting etc. Some workers such as custodians and
maids are usually contracted while others like accountants, front desk and retail positions are
employed by the operator.
Management:
Many managers at heliski operations are retired guides; they will move up the ranks until they land
in a managerial position where they can finally settle down. The pros to having a manager with a
background in the guiding industry is that they will understand the guides and clients better
however the disadvantage is often they may be uneducated in the business side of the company. An
effective manager is one who can balance both including a background in both aspects as well.

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Pay
The salary of a heli-ski or snowboard guide averages from $17,000-$56,000. The pay is not typically
what drives adventurists to becoming guides of the back country, it is the passion for this specific
mountain top lifestyle. This type of career pays for itself in experience, it is an opportunity for a
devoted skier or snowboarder to do what they personally enjoy on a professional level. These
guides also take pride in sharing the experience and teaching the clients they have day to day.
Although the job does not pay $300,000 dollars a year, it still stands as one of the most sot after
jobs in the world.
Life Span in the Industry
The life span of a career as a heli-ski guide is fairly long. In order to become a heli-ski expert it
takes numerous courses, and a number of years. A person who devotes their time and effort to
making this their career is going to be in the industry for the long run. A guide can stay at a
company for 10-20 years depending on the age. As the job description requires you to be active and
healthy, as guides get older it is hard to maintain the level of health required. Although that being
said, you are not going to find many 20 year old guides taking clients down the mountains. These
guides are experts of the backcountry and know every tree, rock and sketchy nook on the
mountain, which takes a long time to memorize. The lifespan of a guide is long although when
compared to a career like a lawyer or business salesman it is not as lengthy.

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Environmental Considerations
HELI-SKIING AROUND THE WORLD
The heli-ski industry requires a very specific environment and landscape. The majority of
operators in Canada are located in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia and Alberta.
Internationally Chile, U.S, New Zealand and Japan also have sufficient elevation to sustain this type
of sport. These areas provide a great place for companies to build a revenue and give clients a high
adventure ski experience. The land that is used is typically part of a National Park, for example;
Banff National Park or Jasper National Park. There are strict regulators of the land and they set
most of the guidelines on use of, and sustaining land. The government and the adventure tourism
sector also play a large role in the operation standards along with the HeliCat Canada, Mike Wiegle
Helicopter Skiing and many more parties.

ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES
Mountain ranges have very sensitive ecosystems that can be devastated by improper
human impacts. Backcountry operators have an environmental duty of care when establishing their
company. Some of the largest environmental hazards identified by operators are; fueling
helicopters, building the resort and amenities and constructing and maintaining backcountry trails.
In the Canada, Helicat Canada is a large enforcer and asset to companies to ensure they run a
sustainable and environmentally conscious company. The government of British Columbia has
publicized the Wildlife Guidelines for Backcountry Tourism/Commercial Recreation in British
Columbia, and Wildlife Guidelines for Backcountry Tourism/Commercial Recreation in British
Columbia published by the Ministry of Environment. These publications provide a great resource
and guideline for operators to follow and reference when doing further development or changes to
the resort.

BOTH SIDES OF THE ARGUMENT


There are many ways that the heli-skiing and snowboarding impact the environment, both
in ways good and bad. Lots could be said about the degrading factor on the environment from the
use of helicopters, in fragile ecosystems. Many would argue that any motorized vehicle could
distress endangered wildlife within the area, not to mention its releasing of large amounts of fuel.
There is also a very strong positive for heli-skiing in the area of low environmental impact. Heliskiing is mostly held through resort lodges away from civilization. The good thing about these
lodges are that they are extremely different than a ski resort. Ski resorts have great impacts on the
environment due to the construction of the ski lifts, ski resorts basically take up a chunk of land.
Whereas, heli-ski lodges take up a very small portion of land for the lodge itself, and use the back
country for skiing which has very little impact on the land.

MITIGATION STRATEGIES
Helicat Canada has done its part, by addressing a set of guidelines that all member of the
association must follow. It is called; Stewardship of Mountain Ecosystems. These guidelines can be
seen below.

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(Helicat Canada, 2006)

LAND MANAGEMENT ISSUES


Why cant adventurous skiers and snowboarders ride backcountry wherever they want?
Trespassing on government, private and first nations property is illegal and can end in a hefty fine.
That is why backcountry stakeholders such as operators have to be very careful where they position
their companies. Below is a list of additional conflicts that arise when operators are dealing with
land management:

Environmental concerns: Is there currently endangered or at risk species of fauna, flora in


the area? In the Rockies Woodland Caribou and Huckleberry are both species at risk
located in popular backcountry areas.

Development Restrictions: What permits, surveying and testing is needed before


development can start?

Mountain Conditions: Is the mountain relatively safe? Is there a high number of


avalanches, crevasses, unstable rock faces?

All land management issues are to be determined and resolved before an operation can be
developed. Gaining a permit is the lengthiest process in starting up a business, it requires specific
planning on prevention, mitigation and control of land management conflicts.

GIVING BACK TO THE LAND


There are many environmental issues that this industry has to be wary of. Because of global
warming, the ski industry faces a huge threat. Snowfall is predicted to lessen over the years along
with shorter winter seasons and warmer temperatures. This is very devastating for winter sport
tourism because of its dependence on weather cooperation. Millions of dollars can be lost due to a
poor winter season. Operators like mike Weigele Helicopter Skiing Company have made large

25

efforts to positively impacting local communities. Since 1992 they have been monitoring wildlife
activity in relation to helicopter skiing and were involved in a caribou recovery plan with the British
Columbia Ministry of Natural Environment. This company is also partnered with Thompson Rivers
University and offers a $50,000 scholarship for a TRU student to do research in the Monashee and
Caribou mountains this is a doctors program, which allows practitioners to become Mountain
Rescue Physicians.

CONCLUSION
Many heli-ski companies are doing their part in minimizing their global footprint. The
emissions released by the helicopters as well as their disturbance to natural wildlife is something
that cannot necessarily be avoided if these companies were to continue in business. However, there
are steps being taken to affect as little wildlife as possible. New technologies should improve
helicopter designs with minimizing the amount of fuel that is being released into the air. The
studies of endangered species, such as the caribou in British Columbia is another positive step
forward for heli-ski companies and their effects on the environment. The encouragement of
research of such wildlife is helping these companies decide which land is most beneficial to use
with least effect on the surrounding ecosystem. Overall if you were to compare ski resorts to a heliski lodge there would be a dramatic difference of environmental impacts between the two. Heliskiing has a much lower impact on the environment than a resort does. I believe that heli-skiing is
a positive example for existing winter sport companies on how they can reduce their global
footprints as well.

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SWOT Analysis
STRENGTHS
The heli-ski is a strong sector in a huge market even though it is relatively small. Heliskiing remains so strong because of its high industry standards. Mountain guides require some of
the most difficult to attain certifications in the adventure industry. A majority of Canadian heli-ski
companies require their guides to have their ACMG mountain guide certification along with 10
years of industry experience. Helicat Canada has done an amazing job of being the mountain police
force for the Canadian Rockies; they are huge enforcers of licencing operations, setting minimum
requirements for guides, designing hazard and avalanche safety plans, providing resources and so
much more for companies around the world. The heliskiing sector is a very professional
community of competitive companies that strive to improve and innovate heliskiing for years to
come.
In recent years heliskiing has become a more well-known activity to the average person in
North America and Western Europe. The popularity of backcountry is growing thanks to many
professional snowboarders and skiers. As they continue to push the envelope on backcountry riding
they have started to film cinematic quality films that show the pure beauty of the mountains and
the heart pumping action that goes along with it. In 2011 the movie The Art of Flight was released;
this was one of the first huge release backcountry riding movies that caught the eye of more than
the average secluded group of riders. This movie was made possible by the iconic rider Travis Rice,
he introduced heli and backcountry skiing and snowboarding into the homes of thousands. By
having strong passionate professional riders in the industry they drive success even when the odds
might push against them.

WEAKNESSES
The average heli skier was born between the years 1970, and 1985 sitting between the age
range of 30-45 years of age in year 2015. The heli ski company is slowly losing clients due to the
baby boom factor. Since the number of this specific demographic is constantly lessening, the heli
ski industry will have to work hard to sustaina and grow. This is a weakness within the company
because of the potential loss of clients. The target clientele is decreasing fast with little population
to take the place of the dropping numbers. Companies will have to rely on promotion of the sport
and bringing in different demographics to help improve the loss of clients.
Another weakness of this industry is the high prices that are charged. These prices are
necessary although not pleasant. They are due to; price of fuel/ operation of helicopter, guide pay,
gear, remotene location ect. The cost is the main thing that deters interest of potential clients from
the industry. A sudden crash to the economy could be detrimental to the survival of this industry.

OPPORTUNITIES
There are many things that North American heli ski companies are introducing into their
companies in order to better the overall industry.
For example, Canadian Mountain holidays has come out with a sustainability report that
follows all of the GRI (global reporting initiative guidelines. They have also obtained a partnership
with the Nature Conservancy of Canada collaborating on field projects and research as well as
27

promoting awareness of conservation initiative. They have previously introduced wildlife


management, by becoming aware of the endangered species within the area that they run their
trips. They have set up wildlife operating procedures which is essentially to avoid any disturbances
to wildlife within the area. CMH has also set up a recovery plan for the endangered mountain
caribou. CMH has also shown to be very involved with the communities around it. They have
offered many scholarships, economic development and outdoor education. CMH has been
recognized and awarded for their innovation efforts by many different organizations. Canadian
Mountain Holidays has really set the bar for the innovation aspect of the heli ski industry.
A successful innovation within the industry has been when Whistler opened up heli skiing
within their ski resorts and lodges. Heli ski companies are likely to start introducing not only heli
skiing but a full ski and snowboard resort in the near future. This would be a great step in
expanding the industry as well as to welcome for people, and age ranges into it.

THREATS
There are a few threats to this industry one is the baby boom factor (The baby boom threat
is explained under weaknesses in previous text (pg.3-4)), which is currently effecting the industry,
and then there is climate change.
Of course without snow, this industry would not exist. Global warming is occurring right
now, all evidence is there. Many ski companies have put in added pressure over the recent years of
practicing the green way. The first ski company to close because of absence of snow due to global
warming was in 2007 which was located in the Alps. Global warming is catching up to us and is
making Canadian ski companies squirm at the thought. This is an extremely serious threat to the
heli ski industry, and will only get worse unless more is done to prevent, or prolong it.
The graph below shows the effects on a specific area used for recreation alpine sports. The snowfall
amounts seem to be decreasing compared to previous years.

(Figure 3)
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Conclusion
Heli-skiing in Canada is a sport brought to the west coast by Swiss Mountain Guides. The
niche market has grown to create a quite impressive sector of the skiing and snowboarding
industry. However the pressures from insurance, permits, changing climate conditions and a
decreasing market will put heli-skiing and the industry as a whole through a rigorous test of time
and committed guides and clients. If operators continue to be ambassadors for sustainability,
provide excellent customer service and sustain world class mountain guide training the
backcountry sector should be able to turn a new page and continue to reach new industry summits.

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