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Takeoffs: Backcountry Bliss

Takeoffs: Backcountry Bliss

Travel
By Kendall Hamilton
posted: 02/15/2001

If you buried your savings in the backyard instead of the stock market, this may be the spring to finally go off the beaten piste. There are three basic ways to pursue the untracked: Splurge on a week-long heli trip, complete with all the bells and whistles, at a cost of $3,000 to $6,000. Or get a taste by booking a one-day heli excursion near your favorite ski resort, which will cost roughly $400 to $600. Or, forgo the flying altogether, and sign up with one of the many snowcat powder operations in ski country, at a daily cost of $140 to $300.

At Valdez Heli-Camps, Inc. (907-783-3243; www.alaska.net/~heliski), you'll stay in a modest lodge in Valdez, Alaska, feast on local seafood and sample a variety of terrain in the Chugach. The guides here become your best friends; they eat, drink and hang out with you. And they look out for you on the mountain, too. One-week packages start at $3,675, double occupancy.

Not ready for that cash commitment? There are heli operations near many of North America's top ski resorts, including Whistler, B.C., Jackson Hole, Wyo., Alta and Snowbird, Utah, Telluride, Colo., and Sun Valley, Idaho. Sun Valley Heli-Ski (800-872-3108; www.svheliski.com) charges $5.50 for each 100 feet of vertical, so a decent day of 10,000 verts will run you $550.

Prefer to stay on terra firma? Snowcats can operate in foul weather that grounds choppers, and they're easier on the wallet. Steamboat Powder Cats, now called Blue Sky West, (800-288-0543; www.blueskywest.com; $295 per day) offers luxury cats, gourmet lunches and an average of 15,000 vertical feet daily.

For a complete list of North American helicopter and snowcat operations, log on to www.skimag.com/helitrips.

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