Helicopter pilots are the unsung heroes of big mountain skiing and riding, bringing a new meaning to the colloquial phrase “catching air.” Skiers and riders are familiar with gleaning modest elevation in terrain parks and off couloirs, but heli-ski outfits take bucket list skiers to unparalleled heights and remote terrain by way of helicopter.
This Saturday, August 19, we celebrate helicopter pilots worldwide in observation of National Aviation Day.
A heli-ski pilot has garnered thousands of hours of flight time and education before joining the heli-ski ranks. The Heli-Ski U.S. Association’s minimum requirements for a lead pilot are “at least 2,000 total hours, 1,000 hours of rotorcraft experience, and 250 hours of mountain flying experience or specialized mountain flying training.”
Not only is experience a crucial element for heli-ski pilots, but they must adjust to an ever-changing landscape of weather conditions and mountain terrain. A pilot’s ability to make safety decisions, postponing a flight due to weather or technical concerns, in the face of eager and excited passengers isn’t easy but it’s crucial in preventing potentially fatal accidents.
While heli-ski pilots transport lucky passengers to their own adventures, another kind of helicopter pilot fulfills a critical role in the mountains. Mountain rescue squads employ helicopter support in time-sensitive and high-stakes emergency situations, transporting rescue teams and the injured.
Helicopter pilots that service the mountain community typically stay behind the scenes (Sometimes these pilots are literally behind the scenes facilitating aerial footage in our favorite winter flicks), but they should never fly below the radar in our hearts.
Thank you, helicopter pilots.