Toby Ryston-Pratt 09.08.2023



There’s no denying helicopter skiing is predominantly a man’s world. The scarcity of women guests in heli ski lodges is a renowned phenomenon. But as in many areas of life and sport, the tables are slowly turning

From New Zealand to Canada, growing numbers of women are harnessing their mojo and discovering the joys of helicoptering to remote alpine summits and skiing perfect untracked powder snow for days on end. Yet despite a notable rise in women heli skiers over the last two decades, their overall participation in the sport remains stubbornly low.

Heli ski operators told Snow Action the number one reason was an often-baseless lack of confidence– the worry that “they will hold up or slow down the rest of the group” or that “they won’t be able to handle it”, says Rob Weingust, from Northern Escape Heli Skiing in Terrace, BC.

But any woman with intermediate skiing or boarding ability or above – a requirement listed by virtually every heli ski operator for all guests, male or female, has no reason for concern.

“I think that there is a common misconception that in order to heli ski you need to be an expert skier or snowboarder,” says Ben Duthie, marketing manager at Bella Coola Heli Sports,“ this is just not true.”

First tracks

Take the case of Stephanie Kennedy. The former Sydney journalist is a perfect example of a woman who signed up for her first trip 25 years ago after hearing two Thredbo skiers rave about “how incredible heli skiing was” and “the amazing powder snow”. At the time Ms Kennedy was an intermediate skier who had never skied deep powder. She had no one to go with either – her female skier friends being “at the stage of marriage and families


Regardless, she picked up the phone to Travelplan, the Australian agent for Canadian Mountain Holidays/CMH Heli-Skiing & Summer Adventures, and booked herself into a week at one of the operator’s 11 remote mountain lodges.

The thought of being helicoptered to perfect untracked slopes multiple times a day while staying in a luxury alpine lodge simply sounded too good an opportunity to miss.

The rest is history: Kennedy is a CMH heli skiing devotee with over 20 trips under her belt, equating to about 2.8 million vertical heli skiing feet.

“It was meant to be a one-off, the ski trip of a lifetime,” she says of that inaugural trip.

“I was nervous about the helicopter crashing and worried about avalanches and I’d never skied powder. I fell over a lot on that first day, but I just kept getting up and giving it a go.”

Kennedy has seen the gender balance in CMH’s odges shift markedly since that initial 1998 trip, mostly in the last 10 to 12 years.

“When I first went, there were three women on the trip out of 44 lodge guests,” she says. “Today, although there are variations, at least one third of the lodge guests are women. There are more women coming with partners or with their husbands too, whereas on my first trip I met only one couple.”

A big plus, and possible attraction for women to the sport, is the notable rise in female heli ski guides, Kennedy believes. “I think women like to see other women doing things and excelling in an industry.

Women like to see other women out there and ski with other women.” In her experience, and contrary to what many women may fear, mixed ski groups always work well. “There’s less adrenaline running through the group,” she says. “There’s less competition, and the women support each other, and it actually seems to make everyone more supportive of each other.”

An added bonus has been a wealth of global friendships. “Heli skiing guests at CMH are international, so now I’ve got lifelong friends from all over the world – a lovely couple from Paris, a woman who lives in Washington DC, a couple from Japan.”

Toby Withers, owner of Travelplan Ski Holidays, can only wish he had more clients like Kennedy. Travelplan is Australia’s sole booking agent for CMH, the longest established and largest heliski operator in the world, and Australian heli skiers are among their keenest customers, ranking as CMH’s second largest market, outnumbering those from every country except for the US.

“The proportion of Australian women booking CMH trips seems to average around 15%,” he says. “We would like it to be closer to 30%.” Of those women who do book to heli ski with CMH, about a third book for one week only, compared to 20% of men.

Even so, fluctuations do occur. In 2019, women made up a quarter of the Australian contingent.

Local ladies from Christchurch & Methven are booking trips together to spectacular terrain like this © Kevin Boekholt

Battling misconceptions

The struggle is real. Heli ski operators, as well as female heli guides who spoke to Snow Action, were more than keen to dispel misconceptions women may have about heli skiing. They are doing all they can to encourage more women to the sport. As for now, many in the industry are simply exasperated over the dearth of competent women skiers and boarders capable of heli skiing signing up for what is often a life-changing, mind-blowing experience. “I think that what holds a lot of people back from experiencing this life-altering sport for the first time is fear of the unknown,” says Ben Duthie from Bella Coola Heli-Sports.

For women though, Northern Escape Heli Skiing’s Rob Weingust is positive that lack of confidence is the number one culprit. “The male to female ratio in all our programs/lodges is so disproportionate,” he laments. “It’s too bad as we would love to host more women!”

It’s not for lack of trying either, as Northern Escape’s owners have been attempting to encourage women “for years”. But numbers have grown only slightly, representing just 5% to 10% of NE Heli Skiing’s overall business. “We do have women come with their husbands or families and we get the odd dad-and-daughter trip,” Weingust says. “This season we even had a mum-and-daughter group come heli skiing – but that is extremely rare.”

Some operators are tackling the issue head-on and those that aren’t are preparing to do so. CMH is large enough to have the economy of scale to fill a women’s-only Powder Intro week each season. Next year’s takes place at CMH’s Bugaboos Lodge. In New Zealand, Southern Lakes Heli Ski is in the throes of organising its second annual Women’s Weekend, which will introduce women to heli-accessed ski touring possibilities as well as helicopter skiing.

Operators now moving in this direction include Canada’s Bella Coola Heli Sports, which in coming seasons plans to host female-focused workshops and women specific weeks, while in Alaska, Majestic Heli Ski’s general manager Kari Rowley is looking to develop women’s clinics and working with her team’s three female heli ski guides to make it happen.

One of these, Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) qualified heli ski guide Sara Lundy, is witness to the power of women’s-only groups when it comes to trying a new skill on the mountain for the first time.

“I’ve found that many of the women that I backcountry ski guide are more likely to give it a try in women specific groups,” she says.

“I suspect the same would be true for heli skiing. Yet there are not many women specific heli opportunities, and I suspect that if there were we’d have takers.”

Bella Coola is also tackling the issue via its advertising, ensuring imagery in brochures, websites and such depict the operation as a welcoming lace, not just for women, but anyone. “Until recently the majority of media produced on heli skiing only featured men in the visuals,” Duthie says.

“Bella Coola Heli Sports has made a conscious effort to shift our marketing collateral to feature gender and racially diverse imagery in order to ensure that everyone who wants to heli ski feels welcome with us.”

There is no doubt, too, says Duthie that some women as well as men are buying into an intimidating image of the sport thanks to the plethora of movies and images of professional skiers and snowboarders being “helicoptered to high places then descending steep slopes at extreme speeds, dropping cliffs and riding spines over no-fall zones”.

While entertaining for viewers, such visuals create big headaches for heli ski operators.

“These movies and photographs do not set the appropriate expectations about what heli skiing truly is,” Duthie says. “In contrast it is an adaptable sport. We tailor it to people’s skill levels and the desires of each specific group. That is the beauty of having helicopter and 3.55 million acres of terrain. We can access terrain ranging from mellow, wide-open glaciers to steep tight trees and everything in between.”

As a heli ski guide, Ms Lundy could not agree more.

“Most of what folks see of heli sking is from the movies, social media and the like, where heli skiing is portrayed as happening in big, steep committing terrain,” she says. “That is not necessarily the case. We ski a lot of moderate terrain, customized to the conditions and what is most fun for the skiers.”

Several operators, including Bella Coola and Majestic Heli Ski, are making a point of hiring more female guides, which in turn appears to be helping draw more women to the sport

Opposite: The Tasman Glacier is the easiest intro to plane/heli accessed skiing © Alpine Guides ; In the chopper at Southern Lakes Heliski © Camilla Rutherford

“With more female guides on our team, more women will have role models to inspire them to pursue education and to spend more time in the backcountry,” says Duthie.

A heli guide since 2007, Lundy had not guided with another female heli ski guide until coming to work for Majestic. “But I am seeing more and more women interested in joining as skiers and guides,” she says. The fact that there are now two other female guides with her at Majestic Heli Ski is a great step in the direction of encouraging more women to try the sport.

The great hope of course is that with such changes afoot – more female guides, women-only heli ski packages and more balanced marketing – it will help diminish whatever reasons keep those women capable of heli skiing from giving it a try, whether it be lack of confidence, fear of the unknown, or not knowing what to expect.

Happy times shared © Guy Fattal Bell Coola Heliskiing

Being at the coal face, Lundy sees firsthand the propensity for women new to heli skiing to doubt their ability to carve tracks through the fresh, fluffy powder-filled slope laid out before them when they are more than capable of doing so.

“The women I heli ski guide typically underestimate their abilities more than many of the men,” she says. “And then at the end of the day – after they have actually done it – they seem especially excited, proud and accomplished.”

Even Majestic Heli Ski’s general manager Kari Rowley says when she took the job and went heli skiing for the first time she was “scared as hell” –and, she later learned, with no reason.

“I was scared that I would get hurt, scared of holding people back,” she admits. “But every single time it has been the most amazing experience of my life.”

Of course, a lot of obvious reasons prevent women from heli skiing she adds. “When a woman becomes a mother for instance things change,” Ms Rowley says. “They aren’t as willing to put themselves at risk because it’s not all about them anymore. My opinion is that most men don’t operate the same. Hate to be that blunt, and again, it’s just my opinion.”

Other societal reasons have clearly resulted in heli skiing becoming a male-dominated sport. There is no denying, for instance, that the majority of heli ski clientele hold senior management roles or similarly high paid jobs and thus have the funds to pay for a sport that easily costs upwards of $1000 a day. Or are tradies from downunder. “Statistically speaking, more men than women hold these positions,” says Bella Coola’s Duthie. “But as this gap closes, and we see a more refined gender balance in the workplace, I think that we will see a culture shift, and more women in leadership will feel empowered to experience trips like heli-skiing with other women.” Similarly, Rob Weingust points to social networks.

“Men simply tend to have more friends with the time, money and ability to heli ski. Most guys at Northern Escape come with one to ten buddies on a ‘boy’s trip’,” he says. “But it’s probably the case that many women with the ability to go heliskiing don’t have one or more friends who could join them.”

“It is also about financial priorities. Heliskiing is expensive, so many women who have the means probably end up choosing another type of girl’s trip.”

Operators are at pains to communicate that the sport does not involve jumping out of helicopters and tearing off into the distance either. Rather, heli skiing takes place in orderly groups led by highly trained professional mountain guides who watch over and tell the group exactly where to ski.

“Of course, some women may perceive heli skiing as too risky even when in reality it’s a very safe sport,” Weingust says. “There seem to be more men who tolerate risk of more extreme sports.”

Male vs female mindset is probably to blame in other ways too. “Many women seem to worry about holding back, or slowing the rest of the group down, and therefore won’t go on a heliskiing holiday. But there are slow male heliskiers and they don’t seem to worry or even care about holding up others if they are not good or fast enough.”

Doing it for themselves

Women in the industry – both mountain guides and operators – are targeting their own gender.

Across the Tasman in New Zealand, adventure sport lover and heli skier Cassie Kennedy has taken the reins of Southern Lakes Heliski’s Women’s Weekend, which debuted in 2022.

The concept was initially devised to break down the stigma among women that they needed to be experts to enjoy what heli skiing had to offer and show them it was perfectly possible for them to heli into spectacular and otherwise inaccessible terrain to enjoy untouched pristine snow with their friends. This coming season the event will be even bigger and better Cassie says.

“We will be utilising a local resort for a training day for both freeriding and ski touring before an evening discussion, and celebrating women in the mountains,” she says. “The second day is for heliskiing and boarding and heli touring.”

As a sports fanatic, as well as an action sports photographer, Cassie says she often witnesses the gender imbalance in outdoor sports.“It’s something I’m passionate about changing,” she says.

While Southern Lakes Heliski does not keep official statistics on the gender of its guests, men make up 70% of the operation’s social media following.

Start in NZ

New Zealand is easily the closest and most affordable option for most women who want to have a go at heli from Australia. The Tasman Glacier offers the mellowest introduction amid incredible scenery, from Mt Cook Village, or with flights included from Queenstown & Wanaka. It has by far the best female patronage of any plane or heli accessed ski operation we talked to for this feature.

Arthur McBride is GM at Alpine Guides, who run Mt Cook Heliskiing, Ski The Tasman and Methven Heliskiing. “Anecdotally for heliskiing, testosterone dominates, it’s easily 80/20 male/female” he says. “But on our glacier skiing operation it is more of a 50/50 split.” Methven Heliskiing, based near Mt Hutt and Christchurch, has been making inroads with the local famale market.

“Methven Heli has been popular with women only groups recently, especially Christchurch and Methven locals” says their Director Kevin Boekholt, (who is also father to our sometime Kiwi Editor and freeski gun contributor Kenji Boekholt).

Kevin has also been running annual Greenland heli trips for many years, which defy the normal trend.

“We certainly have more women in Greenland, as it is small group heliskiing in an amazing landscape. It is a special place and couples particularly like being able to share the experience together. It’s more about the adventure so sharing this with a partner is special.”

It’s your time to fly!

Whatever has been done to encourage women to heli ski, there still appears a lot to do. Ben Duthie believes operators will only see real change when the number of female heli skiers reaches critical mass. This is the missing link, the secret that will finally “make more women comfortable and excited about purchasing a trip as a small group” instead of fearing that if they do so alone, they may end up skiing with a group of strangers, all of whom are men

“The more women that continue to heli ski will result in more women wanting to heli ski. It’s the snowball effect that we’re waiting for. Pun intended.”

Over to you sisters, it’s your time to fly!

Yes you can: happy times on Southern Lakes Heliski’s Women’s Weekend

© Victoria Wells / Camilla Rutherford



Southern Lakes Heliski


Check the site for more on their next Women’s Weekend and meantime just get some of your girlfriends together and do a day from Queenstown or Wanaka with them anytime.

Alpine Guides

The glacier is the easiest intro & most popular already with women.

From single day to multi-day packages available from their base just outside Revelstoke so easily combineable with holidays there


CMH – Canadian Mountain Heli-skiing

They run women’s weeks every season, ask for details/book with travelplan.com.au/destinations/cmh-heli-skiing

Bella Coola Heli Sports


Northern Escape Heli Skiing


Majestic Heliskiing, Alaska

With a female GM & 3 female guides they offer plenty for women