The Economics of Heliskiing

The Economics of Heliskiing

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The Economics of Heliskiing

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By Alex Ford (heli.life) | Images by @guyfattalphoto

It’s no secret that the travel industry has taken a big hit with the spread of COVID-19. Destinations all over the world have essentially shut down open endedly, and frequent travelers can’t quite see around the corner yet.

However, some habitual travelers are taking advantage of the dollar’s strength to book 2020/21 dates abroad, particularly in big ticket adventures like heli skiing. Western Canada is regarded as the Mecca of heli skiing, with the highest concentration of operators and what many consider the world’s best conditions. With the Canadian dollar currently trading at $1.42, it’s frankly never been a better time to lock in heli skiing dates with our neighbors to the north.

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“We are seeing regular heliskiers use this spike in the US Dollar’s strength as an opportunity to pay additional deposits or full payments for Canadian ski trips next season” says Heli CEO Andy Culp. “Almost every Canadian operator we work with has cut their season short, so the most veteran guests are locking in their 2021 dates now. Canadian heli skiing is the cheapest it’s ever been.”

And the operators couldn’t be more pleased about it. Heli skiing is an expensive service to offer, with high fixed costs and variable conditions always playing a factor. “The continued support and loyalty of heli skiing clients will ensure that these challenges are short-term for operators” continues Culp.

The COVID-19 hysteria will eventually blow over, and travel experts are preparing for a booking boom as house bound adventurers emerge from what could be weeks or months on lockdown. As a result, some predict a bottleneck of availability for the 2021 heli skiing season.

March and April can be the best times of year for heli skiers. Solid base layers of snow have accumulated, with fresh powder still falling at night and longer days to take advantage of prime conditions. Many Canadian heli ski operators have rolled their March 2020 bookings into 2021, creating a shortage of inventory for would be heli skiers.

“While this [COVID-19] situation is not ideal for anyone in the travel industry, we are thankful to our existing bookings for their understanding of the current reality in Canada and across the world” said Northern Escape Heli Skiing owner and manager John Forrest based in Terrace, British Columbia. “Our sights are already set on next season, with the best dates going quickly – particularly to American clients looking to take advantage of the current exchange rate.”

Other Canadian travel industries are seeing similar trends as Americans take advantage of favorable exchange rates and discounted airfares. “Our season hasn’t started yet” said Chad Black, manager of Nicholas Dean Fishing Lodge also based in Terrace, BC. “But we’re seeing an influx of deposits for those booked during prime salmon and steelhead season from May to November.”

Some frequent travelers are more hesitant to put down deposits on 2020 trips with the end of the COVID-19 still not in sight. “I’ve been fly fishing in Canada every fall for 10 years” said long time client Alec Griswold. “With so much uncertainty, it’s difficult to make any solid plans.”

Almost overnight, adventure travel has turned into a futures market and an exercise in travel arbitrage. Some enterprising travelers will come out on top, or roll deposits even further down the road.

“[COVID-19] will end” said Culp. “The best thing we can do as an adventure travel marketplace and community is support our operators and provide maximum buying advice to our clients. Booking your Canadian heli skiing trip now is the equivalent of buying a discounted gift card to your favorite restaurant. Eventually, you’ll use it.”

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