Heliskiing Could be Coming Back to France!!

Long story short, heliskiing has been illegal in France for more than three decades but, as first reported by Le Gorafi last week, this may soon change! We’ll get to the details near the end of the article but first, here’s a history lesson that will allow me both to fill up space and flaunt my Canadian heritage. If you don’t care about the history (you should) then skip to the end of the article.
Kenny Jesus

Austrian Johann Wolfgang “Hans” Gmoser emigrates to Canada.  After spending time in Edmonton and Calgary he falls in love with the Rocky Mountains and moves to Banff.

A pioneering force behind the popularity of climbing, skiing, and guiding worldwide; Hans was the first to open many classic routes in the Rockies and spent years travelling throughout North America, presenting his films and devoting vast amounts of energy toward promoting the Canadian mountain experience.

Hans founds Rocky Mountain Guides which eventually grew to become Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH), advertised as the largest mountain adventure operation in the world. CMH is where Gmoser would later make his mark in heliskiing.

Hans, along with pilot Jim Davies, take a group skiing in the Cariboo mountains in a  Cessna 180 to shoot footage for Hans’ film “The Forbidden Snowfields”.  The skiing still had to be earned by climbing to the various peaks from wherever the plane dropped them.  The idea for heliskiing was born when Hans’ friend Art Patterson suggests helicopters as a more convenient alternative to airplanes.

Hans is a founding member of the Canadian Mountain Guides.  On April 28th he and Jim chopper a small group on to the North Canoe Glacier in the Cariboo range for Hans’ film “Skis Over McKinley”.  Conditions were superb and the pair became convinced that helicopters and skiing were a tremendous combination.  

At the time, the best machine for the job was a Bell 47 B-1 its 178 horsepower engine had about the same power as a small car, but at the time there was nothing better for mountain flying than the Bell 47 B-1. Hans’ strapped the skis to the skids with bungee cords and shuttled the group to the top, two passengers pushing the payload capacity of the reliable little helicopter to the limit.


Hans offered two weeks of helicopter skiing in the Bugaboos, to a group including former US Olympic skier Brooks Dodge.  Even though their accommodation was a simple abandoned logging camp, everyone agreed heliskiing was the best way to ski.

Bugaboo Lodge opens as the world’s first heliski lodge.

Heliskiing begins to expand all over Western Canada, and the rest of the world.

The French president, Valéry Giscard skied Mont Blanc after being dropped by ‘copter, a demonstration awaited him at the bottom. He appreciated the environmentalist arguments and heliskiing was banned on the French side of Mont Blanc. 

The first Mitterand government generalized the ban to the whole of France except for work or rescue. Heliskiing and tourist flights are banned in France for the reason that they disturb the environment and cause a great deal of noise in relation to the number of people who can benefit from this activity. This is the French idea of the interet general - the common good - often takes precedence over individual freedoms.

The actual piece of legislation is Article 76 of Law n°85 of the 9th January 1985 concerning the development and protection of the mountain (commonly called the “Mountain Law”). Which states that “dropping passengers for touristic reasons by aviation is illegal except on designated airports”. These measures were confirmed by Article L 363-1 of the Environmental Code.

1985 - Present
A loophole is found loophole whereby it is legal to use helicopter lifts in the same way one would use a taxi.  For example if it is legal to jump on a helicopter in Paris after a game of squash and head to Nantes on business, then it is just as legal to use a helicopter to return from the Lac du Chevril after skiing or boarding the Mickey’s Ears off-piste route.  Reverse heliskiing is born and other routes in France include pickups from Lanslebourg/Bonneval in the Maurienne valley after descending from Val d’Isère. You can also ski or board in Italy after being picked up by helicopter from Tignes or Chamonix and drops can be made in the border areas, for example close to La Rosiere to ski into the high Tarentaise valley. 

The downturn in the national economy prompts the French minister of labour, Agathe Zepower, to work with the ministry of the environment to re-introduce heliskiing to France.  The proposed legislation is intended to bolster the French infrastructure by allowing only French made  and designed helicopters to fly for leisure purposes.

If the measure passes then from 2016/2017 heliskiing will be legal for accredited associations flying out of Val d’Isere, Tignes, Couchevel, and Chamonix.

This is the good part:
From next week Val d’Isere/Tignes have been chosen as test sites for the future of French heliskiing.  Weather depending, between 5 and 10 half-day trips to, ironically, Mont Blanc are being planned.  Guide Valentin Nulachier will be taking groups of 4 comprised of either two professional skiers / journalists / environmentalists / government officials, and two ‘non initiés’ (laymen/regular people).  If you would like to take part in one of these inaugural trips, or for more information, call Valentin at +33 (0) 6 69 36 92 02.

We have our trip reserved (Yay for being “journalists”) for the morning of the 7th so check back next week and we’ll keep you posted!

Most of the photos in this article are from the CMH archives.  Check them out if you're ever in Western Canada.