I’m standing on the summit of 3040-metre Pizzo Zembranka on the border of Italy’s Stelvio National Park with four other skiers. Way down below us is Livigno, allegedly the highest town in Europe; and some way up above us a helicopter is coming in to land.
It’s the same helicopter that brought us here, and by being in the first group we all get to experience the excitement not just of flying through the mountains ourselves but also of watching the chopper containing our four mates land next to us in a whirl of snow crystals and noise.
And then, in the calm silence that follows, there’s the little matter of a 2090m descent down wide-open, humanity-free powder fields…
You’re probably thinking “Yeah, and there’s also the little matter of cost” but this particular heliski adventure with Livigno-based Heli Guides costs as little as €275 per person for two drops – and that’s why it makes the first slot on our top 10 heliski destinations in the Alps.
Staying in Italy, Heliski Cervinia offers the appropriately named ‘Helibaptism’ programme, a one-drop experience high up in the mountains between Italy and Switzerland which will see your guide escort you down between 1300 and 1500 metres of untracked powder.
A group of four can score the pow for €250 each, along with some of the most spectacular mountain panoramas in Europe (you’re right next to Monte Cervino, otherwise known as the Matterhorn, in Cervinia).
Pyrenees Heliski’s half-day intro packages are great value at €190 since they include all the instruction, guiding and gear you need for your first ever heliski experience along with a single drop (you can get two drops for €290, three for €390).
Located at an altitude of 1000m in Vielha in the Val d'Aran, the area is best known for Spain’s premier ski resort Baqueira, but away from this it offers a range of off-piste skiing at altitudes of between 1500-3000m in a region that few British skiers ever get to.
La Rosiere, France
Heliskiing is actually forbidden in France, but Tarentaise-based Val Heliski get round this by meeting you in the resort of La Rosiere, heading to the Italian border by a combination of ski lifts and skiing, and here hopping into a helicopter for a heliski adventure on the Italian side of the Alps.
I did a single drop with them last winter, which saw us land atop 3200-metre Mont Freduez from where our guide Alessandro led us down an 1800-metre descent to the resort of La Thuile, from where we took ski lifts back to La Rosiere.
It costs €299 a drop, so is not that cheap, but as the only heliski option available in France it’s definitely worth considering.
Without a doubt Iceland offers some of the most mind blowing heliskiing on the planet, and whilst you have to commit to a multi-day package if you want to ski here this is a destination that it’s worth begging, borrowing and stealing – or maybe just saving – to ski.
Arctic Heliskiing offers you the chance to make first descents from remote flat topped summits looking out across the North Atlantic down huge snowfields all the way to that same ocean; there are very few places on Earth where you can do this.
It will set you back €5285 (plus flights) for a four-day package, but it’s a ski experience you’ll never forget.
Arolla is located in the heart of the Swiss Alps and as such is ideally placed for heliskiing; and even better, your helicopter picks you up from outside your hotel, giving something of a North American heliski lodge feel to the adventure.
Unfortunately this doesn’t come cheap at CHF2700 (approx €2250) but you do get the full works for your money including three days of guided descents with up to 4000-metres vertical on each day, plus three-nights of three-star hotel accommodation, and airport transfers.
The Arlberg region of Austria is one of the few regions in the country where you can heliski, with a drop on the 2600-metre Mehlsack above Lech-Zurs costing from €390 including guide.
You’ll need to be a pretty competent skier or boarder as you’ll encounter some steep slopes, particularly on the upper elevations, although challenging pitches appear throughout the 900-metre descent. Classic Austrian powder is the big draw here, of course, with the Arlberg region being noted for some of the driest and deepest snow in the Alps.
Caucasus Mountains, Georgia
Some might quibble over whether Georgia is technically part of Europe, being sandwiched as it is between said continent, Asia and the Middle East, but the deep, dry powder of the Caucasus Mountains offers superb heliskiing with Austrian guides and pilots from €550 for three runs.
On top of this you get to experience the local culture, which like the region is an unusual and fascinating mix of East meets West, so for a reasonable value skiing and cultural experience Georgia is right up there.
Riksgransen, northern Sweden
Located within the Arctic Circle is the largest wilderness area in Europe, within which some 60,000 square kilometres are available for heliskiing. Terrain that varies from easy ‘red’ grade runs through to as challenging as you want is available, and assuming you can get yourself all the way up here the heliskiing will set you back as little as €320 for three drops – which makes it the best value heliskiing in Europe.
And for something a little different, you can do a single drop and heliski under the midnight sun for around €235.
Vall di Susa, Italy
Its back to Italy for our final heliski destination, and it has to be said that this country appears to have the best range of reasonable value heliski options in the Alps; if you want to do just one drop, say as part of a regular ski holiday, Italy is far and away the best place to go.
This operation on the upper slopes of the Valle di Susa is within easy reach of Sauze d’Oulx, and offers a single drop for €210 which will give you access to between 800-1600-metres of ‘vert’ depending on your level of ability.