Helicopters Facilitate Spectacular Skiing in the Alps

A little French village is home base for an unforgettable outdoor experience.

Exactly 100 years ago, long before Ernest Hemingway took aim at his first African lion or was awestruck at the sight of giant blue marlin airborne over the deep blue water off Cuba, the young writer and his new wife Hadley thrilled to skiing and bobsledding in the Alps. They were a long way from their midwestern American upbringing.

Hemingway could likely not have imagined the modern sport of heli-skiing in deep, virgin snow in otherwise inaccessible locations. As he wrote in A Moveable Feast: “In the morning after breakfast we all loaded to go up the road and started the climb in the dark with the stars close and very bright, carrying the skis on our shoulders.” What Hemingway would likely recognize today is the sublime French cuisine. 

Photo: Eleven Experience

French law doesn’t allow heli-skiing, but heli-skiing companies get around that by dropping clients across the border in Italy or Switzerland. Their guides then select a route back into France or offer a transfer back to a resort in that country. You can, for example, fly from a resort in France to a summit in Italy and then ski back to France.

Numerous outfitters offer all-inclusive heli-skiing experiences in Switzerland, including Elemental Adventure, which is based in the United Kingdom and operates from Arolla, Chamonix, Verbier, and Zermatt. In the Italian Alps, Guide Monterosa Heli-Guides Group offers daily trips as well as multi-day packages.

Eleven Experience, a U.S.-based luxury outdoor adventure company, touts a European alpine exploration package that comes complete with French chefs. Stays are customized for each private group.

Chalet Pelerin (accommodating groups of up to 14) and Chalet Hibou (accommodating 16) are in Le Miroir, France, at the top of a historic farming hamlet high up in the Tarentaise Valley on the French-Italian border.

Hannah Smith of Crested Butte, Colorado, told me that her favorite memories are lying in bed in the morning and hearing ski-area mitigation bombs drop, while anticipating an amazing day in deep snow. “Le Miroir gets mysteriously quiet when it snows,” she said. “It is already a sleepy little mountain village, but when it snows everything gets muffled and has this wonderfully peaceful excitement.” 

“As an avid skier and first-time visitor to the Alps, the vastness of the terrain completely blew me away,” Smith’s friend Laura Haselton said. “I will never forget lifting off the ground and landing on a peak in an immense sea of mountains that stretched as far I could see in every direction.” She and her party skied long descents of more than an hour and never saw another group. “Bluebird skies, untracked snow, and the feeling of being very small in a truly enormous expanse—it was one of most unforgettable days of skiing I have ever enjoyed.”

Each day, experienced helicopter pilots and mountain guides certified by the Union Internationale des Associations de Guides de Montagnes deliver skiers to spectacular ski terrain with neighboring Saint Foy, Val d’ Isere, Tignes, Les Arces, and La Rosiere, all within 20 minutes of the chalets. Their proximity to the Italian border gives guests access to three premier heli-ski bases with runs ranging from 1,000 to 2,200 vertical meters.

Jean Noel Gaidet, lead French ski guide, told me that the experience is unique: “We’re the only chalets at the bottom of the famous Ruitor heli-ski run, so we can start our runs and finish in Le Miroir.” If conditions are right, guests will be treated to a helicopter ride directly from the Le Miroir helipad, a two-minute drive from the chalets. 

“Finally,” Gaidet said, “at Alpage—our on-mountain ski-in, ski-out outpost—we enjoy homemade Génépi liqueur, chef-prepared Mise en Bouche, Savoyarde fondue charcuterie, and local wine around the fire. We ski back to the chalet to take in the view of Mont-Purri from the hot tub!”