Discounted Heliskiing. Too good to be true?

Elemental Adventure •

In the last few weeks, we’ve noticed a phenomenon rarely seen – last minute discounts on heliski trips, some of them quite eye-catching. If you haven’t booked your 2024 trip, this might seem like what you have been waiting for. If you have booked, you might be wondering if you should have held off and waited for a special offer.

Descending faster than heliski prices? Image: Elemental Adventure

Price reductions, which are abundant in most other types of travel, have always been extremely rare in heliskiing because unsold seats have been few and far between and, in a small world with high levels of repeat business, the small short term benefit was dwarfed by the reputational risk of guests finding out over an après-ski beer at the lodge that they paid more than the guy they high-fived after the last run. So, what’s changed?

Most operations shut down or operated on a very limited basis during covid so the winter of 2022/23 saw extremely high occupancy as a result of two winters of frustrated skiing plans. Now that the pent-up demand from covid has been cleared and not insignificant price increases have been driven by high inflation, some skiers and snowboarders are deciding to take a break this winter, while others have chosen to head to Japan instead – fully open after two and a half winters of covid closure. That has coincided with increased capacity meaning that there is more availability than usual at this point for the forthcoming winter.

And so, we find ourselves in the unusual situation of having more available slots than usual and it seems that some operations who have committed to the costs of lodge beds, helicopter leases and big teams are feeling compelled to generate whatever revenue they can from empty seats in order to offset their overheads and some of the headline “never to be repeated” discounts are pretty substantial.

So, is now the time to grab a bargain and lock in that trip or should you wait for the same deals to return in future or is the whole thing just too good to be true?

Are there some genuinely great deals on offer?

To begin with, we would say, yes, if you know where to look, there are some genuinely great deals to be had this winter. If you don't know where to look, give us a call and we can help. Even if you do know where to look, it's worth checking in with us as we often gets a heads-up about price reductions that aren't promoted. That said, as usually happens with sales, the headlines only tell half the story. We will try to shed some light on what is really happening…

In some instances, we would suggest that the discounting is a consequence of some ambitious pricing on the part of operators who overestimated guests’ willingness to absorb the full impact of cost increases (and their normal margin on top). Those that had an eye on the value for money on offer priced a little more conservatively and have no need or intention of reducing prices.

In reality, the seats that are discounted represent a tiny proportion of those on offer for winter 2023-24. Discounts have been offered by a minority of operations, to selected lodges on a handful of dates and for a finite number of seats. It won’t surprise you to hear that in most cases, the cut prices apply to the places that were less sought after in the first place (at least not at the ‘list’ price), while the best weeks at the best operations are heavily booked as ever.

Almost all of the discounts apply to early (and to a lesser extent late-season) trips when conditions can be excellent but like any ski trip, a greater degree of luck is often needed at the fringes – hence the reduced demand.

Some of the offers include quite onerous qualifying criteria in the small print– nudging you into contact only to find you don’t qualify. For some you have to be a repeat guest while in others you have to be a first-time guest. Or offers might apply to clients coming from Canada or the US only. So before you get too excited, check carefully if you (and the friends you want to go with) are eligible for the offer.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that the discount applies to the headline price only, ignoring the extra costs such as flights, pre or post-heliskiing hotels, extra vertical etc. As a result a 30% discount might be work out to be nearer to 15% of the whole trip – still a healthy saving, but maybe not enough to choose a trip if it’s not exactly what you want?

Overall, it’s important to keep in mind that low price can, but does not necessarily, mean high value for money.

Are we likely to see more seats being discounted this winter?

It is possible that more offers will come out for winter 2024, but they are highly unlikely to be for the more desirable dates or places because these have plenty of existing bookings and all heliski operations, including those that have offered discounts, are acutely aware of the damage it does to have guests chatting over apres-ski and finding out that someone paid much less than them for the same trip.

What does this mean for next season and will we see similar discounting in 2025?

Leasing helicopters, operating remote lodges and hiring highly qualified guides, pilots, engineers and lodge staff are incredibly costly so heavily discounted prices are simply not sustainable. As some operations face a more challenging winter it seems likely that they will respond in several ways for winter 24/25 to ensure they can cover their costs (and sleep at night):

  • Reducing fixed costs by reducing capacity – expect to see shorter operating seasons and fewer seats as operators commit to fewer helicopters and guides and release surplus accommodation. Bigger operators might even mothball under-performing bases.
  • A combination of realistic prices and more generous early booking offers, though these might focus on less desirable slots.
  • We also might see price promises – so that if a price should be reduced after you book, you’ll get the same reduction, most likely applied as a credit for extra vertical and your lodge tab.

By reducing capacity and encouraging early booking, we think the industry will be ensuring that the last-minute offers we are seeing now really are “once in a lifetime”.

What does this mean for me?

  • If you haven’t booked a trip yet for 23/24 and are tempted by the offers, give us a call and we’ll be happy to see what we can find for you. The more flexible you are on dates and destinations, the more likely it is that you can snag a deal.
  • Most 24/25 programmes are already well on the way to being booked with some dates already full. If you are planning a trip, contact us now to find out if an early booking offer can be applied and get it secured.

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