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Inside Out

The Drop Zone
Expanding the frontier of first descents, a heli-skiing company is opening up the Himalayas to downhillers

By Craig Vetter

Imagine yourself standing in skis at 18,000 feet watching the chopper veer away toward the down-mountain rendezvous zone. The morning air is thin, clear, cold. The slopes below are wide-open, treeless and range from gentle to gnarly. You are on one of the four Annapurna sisters, mountains whose 26,000-foot peaks loom above you. Maybe this afternoon, depending on how you feel and on the snow conditions, you'll take the helicopter 200 miles east and ski Everest.

Tighten your bindings. This winter, for the first time, you can heli-ski the Nepalese Himalayas. Himalayan Heli Ski Guides (HHSG) will take its first clients into this cathedral of peaks between mid-January and April. "Nearly every run will be a first descent," says HHSG director Craig Calonica, a 49-year-old adventurer and former professional speed-skier who has been climbing in the Himalayas for 22 years. He has been up Everest twice with the ambition of skiing it from top to bottom, and though storms have kept him from reaching the summit, he says his time in the Himalayas has always made him wonder what it would be like to have a helicopter to scout those mountains and open ski slopes. "The possibilities are endless," he says. "We've only just nicked the bare edge of it in the Annapurna region, but we're hoping to open other areas every season. It's like finding the Alps before anybody skied them."

While these days you can heli-ski mountains from Greenland to New Zealand, the addition of the Himalayas has even veterans of the sport whirling. "I'd love to go, take some groups in with their outfit," says Dean Cummings, owner and guide for Dean Cummings's H20 Guides, which has been running Alaskan ski tours for eight years. "It's exciting that they're going to provide a way to use those mountains with minimal environmental impact -- no roads, no discarded oxygen bottles. They're going to fly in and leave nothing but tracks."

Calonica and his three guides, Stephan Dan, Dede Rhem and Jerome Ruby, all former ski-racing and snowboard professionals from Chamonix, France, made their first scouting trip last March, choppering into the Manang region, which lies on the north side of the Annapurna range. They began most of their runs at around 18,000 feet and finished 10,000 feet below. "We had perfect conditions," Calonica says of that trip. "Everything from knee-deep powder to windblown to hard pack to spring snow and every terrain from flat to rolling to as steep as you want. It was amazing to stand there in the shadow of these incredible peaks picking your line down a slope that no one had ever put a line on before."

HHSG plans to scout and open Everest-area slopes soon (weather permitting), as well as slopes in the Dolpo region, which borders Tibet in northwestern Nepal and was until 1989 closed to Western tourists. "Dolpo could be one of our best areas," says Calonica, "because it gets the best snow in the country and has endless miles of wide-open mountains for ripping or just plain cruising. But we have permission to scout the whole country, so there's really no limit to what we might find."

Clients (who, as a reminder in the company's brochure puts it, should be "accomplished skiers in fit shape") can choose from one-week, 10-day or two-week itineraries, with accommodations at local inns or in tents at a fully equipped base camp manned by Sherpas. The camp will be stocked with medical equipment, including oxygen and a decompression chamber.

"Skiing is a risk sport," says Calonica, "and heli-skiing adds to that. But our guides all have extensive avalanche security experience, and we'll be checking the runs every morning." So that you can check them out for the rest of the day.

Prices and schedules can be obtained by e-mailing Calonica.

Issue date: December 16, 2002

Logo Outside online

Outside Magazine January 2003

Dispatches: Extreme Skiing
Into Big Air
Hoping to snag high-rolling adventurers, Nepal green-lights its first full-time heli-skiing operation
By Jenny Dubin

Stephan Dan finds a line in the Annapurna Range, March 2002. (Himalayan Heli Ski Guides)

Stephan Dan finds a line in the Annapurna Range, March 2002. (Himalayan Heli Ski Guides)

WHAT'S A HIMALAYAN KINGDOM to do when a limping world economy, Maoist uprisings, and an international travel slump have whacked its tourism industry? If you're Nepal, you always have the mountains to fall back on. After three years of negotiations, the country is opening its section of the Himalayas to a foreign-owned heli-skiing operation—the first permanent commercial heli service in the world's greatest range.

Founded by Craig Calonica, a former U.S. Ski Team racer based in Chamonix, France, Himalayan Heli Ski Guides, headquartered in Kathmandu, will begin flying its customers up Nepal's virgin slopes in mid-January. Starting at a staging base in Pokhara, 100 miles west of Kathmandu, expert clients will be whisked to various camps at the foot of the Annapurnas, catching rides to 18,000-foot ridges, jumping out, and heading down the mountains' 5,000- to 9,000-foot lines. On a good day, Calonica estimates, a skier could tick off 39,000 feet of untracked descent.

Calonica, a 49-year-old veteran extremist who has attempted three unsuccessful ski descents of Everest, started scouting routes last spring after securing permission from the Ministry of Tourism. With help from a handpicked team of top Chamonix guides that includes Jerome Ruby, Dede Rhem, and Stephan Dan, he cut Nepal's first heli-ski lines during test runs on the flanks of 26,040-foot Annapurna II and 24,688-foot Annapurna IV, in the Manang region. "The conditions were incredibly superior to anywhere we've ever skied before," he says. "We were shocked by how good it was." If weather permits, Heli Ski Guides hopes to begin running trips in the Everest region this winter.

Laying down first tracks won't be cheap—though Calonica declines to discuss prices, the experience will probably set you back about as much as the down payment on a new truck. Even so, the company's Ecureuil B2 and B3 helicopters are already booked through April. Among the early clients looking into trips were film companies Teton Gravity Research and Warren Miller Entertainment, both eager to send skiers down Nepal's big faces.

Nepal's government is excited by the possibilities too. "Heli-skiing will bring new target groups to our country in a season when most people do not want to come to Nepal," says Shankar Koirala, joint secretary of Nepal's Ministry of Tourism. Officials are considering waiving fees for five to ten years to promote the sport, which means the government might not see an immediate influx of cash. But the hope is that the whirlybirds will bring people back to the mountains—and put a better spin on Nepal's tarnished image.

News - Himalayan Heli Ski
Press Release

HighSky Adventures (HSA) chosen by Himalayan Heli Ski Guides (HHSG) for Canadian Partner

HighSky Adventures (HSA) is rapidly establishing themselves as Canada's most innovative heliski tour facilitator and apart from premier tours in BC, they have been chosen to represent the first ever heliskiing in Nepal. "We are excited to be a part of growth of heliskiing," says Nina Kaufman, Adrenaline Broker for HighSky Adventures.

HHSG director Craig Calonica states "We are not out there just looking to work with anyone that will fill seats for us, we are looking for high quality companies that specialize in, and appreciate true adventure and go the extra mile to provide top quality assistance too their clients. HSA fulfills those standards and then some. They excel in providing their clients adventure to the truest form, which makes them a perfect fit and compliment for HHSG."

Himalayan Heli Ski Guides has just opened up Nepal to Heli Skiing, and with it comes some of the finest skiing on earth, along with the adventure of a lifetime.

HHSG is just beginning to open these areas up, there is something here that does not come along too often in one's lifetime, and that's the chance to make first descents and there will be plenty. The terrain varies from intermediate low angle cruising to as steep as you like. All parties will be allowed to name the run of their first descent as they wish and it will be documented in the annuals of Nepals Himalayan skiing. This is an historic moment and quite a big one at that, and you have the opportunity to take part in it.

If the Himalayas still aren't high enough for you, HSA can also provide you with a Sub Orbital Tour or Zero Gravity Flights.

For further information, contact HSA at: or visit our website at: Click on Himalayan Heli

First Tracks Online Magazine

Heliskiing in the Himalayas

(August 2002) -- In today's era of big mountain skiing, fewer and fewer opportunities exist to make first descents. A new heliski operator, however, is out to change all of that.

Himalayan Heli Ski Guides (HHSG) began operation last March as the first helicopter ski and snowboard business in Nepal, after that country's ministry of tourism granted them a license to operate. Following only one trip last year, HHSG is ready to open the door to their exclusive operation in the shadow of the world's highest mountains. The Everest region, Annapurna, Dhauligiri, Makalu, Cho Oyu, Kangchenjunga, the Dolpo regions, and more are all ready and waiting for your on-snow signature. It would take a lifetime of skiing each and every area before you skied the same run twice.

"This is a pure adventure heli ski company, where one will get to experience the worlds most famous and beautiful mountain range in the world, Nepal's Himalayas," says HHSG director Craig Calonica. "We will mingle with the local villagers and stay in the local villages and lodges nearest the areas we ski at. Knowing the areas well, we have chosen the most comfortable lodges available and will be bringing in our own food and cook staff for all meals. For those who wish to stay the night out in a tent, we have a base camp set up in each area we ski at fully staffed with Sherpas, food, tents sleeping bags, etc. What we have to offer here is the best skiing and adventure of a lifetime, as this is sure to be a trip you will never forget as long as you live.

"If you want to make an first descent, you can," explains Calonica, "and you will be able to name the run. We will mark it in the annals of Himalayan Skiing and you get put into the history books of being an pioneer of first descents in Nepal's Himalaya, with photos and video of you doing it. The runs available for first descents right now are from intermediate level to as steep as you like, with endless -- and I mean endless -- miles of all of it."

Calonica is no stranger to Nepal. The forty-four year old extreme skier and mountaineer from Tahoe, who now calls Chamonix home, has a 22-year history of climbing within the country, and counts amongst his accomplishments the lead role in the 1995 Annapurna IV expedition and expedition leader for both the Ski Everest '96 and Ski Everest '97 efforts. "I got tired of carrying my skis around," the down-to- earth skier quips. He attributes the Nepalese government's approval of HHSG's operation to "becoming like family with the right people, to timing -- timing is everything."

In March 2002, Calonica brought the French Ecureuil B-2 & B-3 helicopters to the Annapurna region for a combination client trip and reconnaissance mission. The crew consisted of Calonica and three HHSG guides -- Jerome Ruby, Dede Rhem, and Stephen Dan -- plus professional skiers Arnaud Adam and Stephan Lagarde, professional photographer Pascal Tournair, and cinematographer Jean-Marc Ouvrier Buffet. Adam, Dan, and Lagarde are producing a feature film of the event along with Dynastar, Rip Curl, and other sponsors.

"The skiing was simply the best any of us have ever experienced in our lives," Calonica enthuses. "On the average we skied from 5,300 meters (17,388 feet) down to 3,500 meters (11,483 feet). We also had a few 5,500-meter (18,045-foot) starts, making the ski descents up too 2,000 vertical meters (6,562 vertical feet). Each run had excellent snow conditions which consisted of perfect powder, wind blown, hard snow, and perfect spring snow all on one run."

The average angle of the runs that Calonica’s crew explored last March ranged from intermediate to advanced level cruising terrain. For those who like it steeper, Calonica says, "No worries, we have plenty available."

Each and every run last March was a first descent. "We just scratched the surface in the Annapurna region this year," says Calonica. "There are so many places to ski at in this area that one could spend a lifetime just trying to ski all the areas available here. For a long time coming, if you wish to make a first descent in the Annapurna region, there are plenty to make for many, many years to come."

Calonica says that HHSG will open up an additional heliski region each year. Even as they continue to develop the Annapurna region this winter, the company will expand operations into the Everest region, or the Dolpo region if the Everest snowpack is thin. "Both areas will offer some of the most spectacular skiing on earth," assures Calonica, "with the Everest region obviously coming in strong on the view department via its spectacular and classic views of Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, Ama Dablam, etc., and yes, we will be skiing at times along side Everest itself."

The Dolpo region was closed to trekking and Western tourists until recent years. It is in the northwestern section of Nepal and consists of an wide-open, gentle, rolling mountains that border Tibet. Its proximity to Tibet influences the religion and culture in all the villages throughout the region.

"The Dolpo area will perhaps be one of our star areas for skiing," explains Calonica. "This is due to the snows it gets and the kind of terrain it offers. To begin with, northwestern Nepal tends to get more snow then any other region in Nepal. They typically get early snow that often lasts up to the end of May, making it a prime area for an early and late ski season. In many cases we will be able to begin at 5,500 meters (18,045 feet) and ski down to 2,500 meters (8,202 feet). The terrain is perfect for skiing with wide-open smooth, rounded, treeless mountains to rip down, or if you’re into it, just good old plain cruiser runs, with endless miles of it."

The guides conduct snow stability analysis to help limit the avalanche risk. "We throw a body out of the chopper from 50 meters off the deck first, and if the slope stays, we know it's OK," Calonica jokes. "Just kiddin'... but I did make up an item with which we can compression check the slopes, and a system to cut the slopes with if we think it warrants it. We also do the diggings and checking of the surface below, etc." In case of injury, most of the company's ski regions are a 30-minute flight from the nearest hospital, and medical centers staffed with Western doctors are located within the regions themselves.

The Himalayan heliski season runs from January 15th through to the end of April. While HHSG is not making public their rate structure, Calonica says that it's "basically the same as any heliski operation." Rates are sent to any prospective client who inquires. He adds that travel to Nepal "is as easy as getting on an plane. You can obtain your Visa upon arrival at the Kathmandu Airport or any border town."

Tiscali Sport

Nepalese Himalayas open up to Heli skiing
18 July, 2002

The Himalayas in Nepal have finally opened up to Heli skiing. The 'Himalayan Heli Skiing Guides' (HHSG) have been granted permission by the Nepalese government to run trips in the Annapurna range of the Himalayas. Up until now there have been heli-trips organised but they have been run on a 'one off' basis. HHSG will run trips through out the year. As to be expected prices are not your average package deal. But the old adage 'You get what you pay for' does ring true. You will only ever see fresh snow and a shed load of it! If you are into extreme, big mountain riding then it doesn't come any better than this.

The Himalayas offer some of the most challenging terrain on the planet. Access to the snow has always prevented widespread ski and snowboard expeditions, until now. The height of the slopes should guarentee some superb snow conditions. Base Camp Lodges will be at around 3,200 - 3,500 metres, with riding on the higher slopes. At these heady heights, prospective clients will have to be aware of the inherent dangers of high altitude pursuits.

The operation has been started up by American, Craig Calonica and has the full backing of the Nepalese Tourism Board. Craig is an experienced ski guide and mountaineer, and HHSG is staffed with the highest quality, experienced guides, including Jerome Ruby, Dede Rhem and Stephan Dan.

The company offers comprehensive packages for single days, one week, ten day and two week trips. For full details check out the official website, here!

I spoke with Craig Calonica, and asked whether there were problems when riding at such high altitudes. He replied: "...Many of you when you see the elevations we are skiing at will immediately think, whoa... that's really high. While your right, it is somewhat high, especially when you consider how fast you get there, it is not as bad as you think.

What we have found about the acclimatization here is that it is not the same situation that you experience when trekking or climbing at these elevations. Flying in and skiing at these elevations is completely different. For example, it is not much different then leaving for a ski trip from a lower elevation, say sea level and going to 3,800 meters the first day out. While you might feel a bit light headed, you will find that everything else seems to work just fine. The reason is that you are at these higher elevations for a very brief period of time, and within minutes you are at a lower elevation and you are constantly going lower every time you point them down and within 20 to 30 minutes you can be anywhere from 3,500 to 2,500 meters, which is an elevation all will normally feel good at. We then take a 20 to 30 minute break at our fully stocked base camp staffed by our Sherpas where they will serve you coffee, tea, sodas, mineral water, biscuits, cookies, candy bars, soups, etc. After this break, we go back up and do it all over again.

We will also not be going to the highest elevations the first day out, we will begin at a comfortable elevation that everyone will feel good at and work our way up throughout the day and week.

Another reason the elevation is not such a problem is that the lodges we sleep at, are at lower elevations. They range from 2,000 meters to 3,200 meters, which allows you an easy nights sleep and a good way to further acclimatize. What we are doing here is following the basic climbing rule of thumb, climb high, sleep low... in this case it's ski high, sleep low...

Bottom line, it is not as much a problem as one might think. It is very different, for example, to climb at these elevations then to ski, with skiing being almost effortless when compared to climbing. Example, just try and walk up the same run you just skied and you'll see what we mean here, it is a big difference... and after you go skiing with us at these elevations, you will see exactly what it is we are talking about here.

As each day goes by, you will fell better and better... and stronger and stronger, and you'll be wanting to go higher and higher each and every run. Although we will not start much above 4,000 meters on the first day, we did just do a trip where on our first day we skied at 5,300 meters! Not one person had any problems dropping in like this and everyone was surprised at how good they felt.

Last but not least, do try to go out in your local mountains and go as high as you can just before coming out, it will be helpful for those first few days. Also, we'll have oxygen available at all times for those who would like a little boost every now and then!"

Sounds like they've got all bases covered then!

the inside track


Want a mountain to yourself?
Well, you may not be able to go heliskiing in France, but there is some new territory to be had - we're talking about Heli Skiing in the worlds biggest, highest and most outrageous mountain range in the world - Nepal's Himalayas.

For the first time ever, the Nepalese ministry of tourism has granted permission to operate the first and only Heli Ski company in the Kingdom of Nepal, Himalayan Heli Ski Guides (HHSG). They mingle with the local villagers and stay in the local villages & lodges nearest the areas they ski in. For those who wish to stay the night out in a tent, there is a base camp set up in each ski area at fully staffed with Sherpas, food, tents sleeping bags, etc.

Every run a first descent
HHSG first trip took place in March 2002. "The skiing was excellent, the best any of us have ever experienced. The team was a hand picked team of well known skiers and snowboarders, four of which are Himalayan Heli Ski guides. The group consisted of Craig Calonica, director of HHSG, Dede Rhem, Jerome Ruby and Stephan Dan, all HHS Guides. The two other skiers were Stephan Lagarde, and Arnaud Adam, professional photographer Pascal Tournier and cinematographer Jean Marc Ouvrier Buffet."

"On this trip, we skied in the Manang region which is on the north side of the Annapurna mountain range. The skiing on the average began at 5,300 meters and finishing at 3,500 meters with one start at 5,500 meters. We had perfect knee deep powder, wind blown, hard snow and spring snow all on one run and every run was a first descent! Looming above us were Annapurna II 7,937 meters, Annapurna IV 7,525 and Annapurna III 7,555. The area is simply beautiful with your typical giant Himalayan faces hanging above you all day long."

Stunning scenery and incredible lines
"This is not the kind of Heli Ski trip where you think about the vertical you will ski each day, it is just the opposite. You will want to stop many times through out the run and marvel at the peaks surrounding you, taking photos while laughing and loving every minute, while you pick your next line down a 2,000 vertical meter run."

Interested? Contact Craig Calonica or go to the Himalayan Heli Ski Guides website.

El Himalaya se abre al Heli Esquí
Por pepe el 27/07/2002 a las 10:22:14

The Himalayas in Nepal have finally opened up to Heli skiing. The 'Himalayan Heli Skiing Guides' (HHSG) have been granted permission by the Nepalese government to run trips in the Annapurna range of the Himalayas. Up until now there have been heli-trips organised but they have been run on a 'one off' basis. HHSG will run trips through out the year. As to be expected prices are not your average package deal. But the old adage 'You get what you pay for' does ring true. You will only ever see fresh snow and a shed load of it! If you are into extreme, big mountain riding then it doesn't come any better than this.

The Himalayas offer some of the most challenging terrain on the planet. Access to the snow has always prevented widespread ski and snowboard expeditions, until now. The height of the slopes should guarentee some superb snow conditions. Base Camp Lodges will be at around 3,200 - 3,500 metres, with riding on the higher slopes. At these heady heights, prospective clients will have to be aware of the inherent dangers of high altitude pursuits.


Ski Nepal, Name Your Run

Himalaya, Nepal (Ski Press)-For the truly wealthy and truly extreme, Himalayan Heli Ski Guides are sending out invites for riders to become pioneers of skiing and snowboarding in Nepal’s Himalaya

The company, HHSG, has been granted permission to Heli Ski in Nepal’s Himalaya for the first time ever. What this means is that you have the opportunity to open up Nepal’s Himalaya with HHSG.

Taking part in early operations allows you the opportunity to make many first descents that will be documented in Nepal’s Himalaya for the first time.

HHSG is in the process of opening up Nepal’s Himalaya to Heli Skiing and if you are interested, you can take part in that. On each run you would be accompanied by two HHSG guides and you will be allowed to open up runs never before skied or snowboarded.

The company will document the names, time and date of the first descent party. You and your group will be allowed to give the run an appropriate name. All this information will go into the skiing and snowboarding journals of Nepal’s Himalaya, which HHSG and the Nepalese Ministry of Tourism will keep and record for the rest of time.

All the runs given names will be put on all HHSG Heli Ski maps of the regions for the rest of time. HHSG will also be shooting video footage of each first descent you make and will give you an edited copy.

In a note from Craig Calonica, director of the company, he wrote, “Also, do not let the words “first descent” scare you into thinking that you have to be some extreme skier/boarder, to do this. We have slopes that range from beginner, intermediate, advanced, expert, to as steep as you like just waiting to be skied or snowboarded for the first time ever, and there are endless amounts of them. The first groups coming in with us are going to have the opportunity to open up all the classic lines in regions we are working in for the first time ever. At this time we are opening the Annapurna, Everest and Dolpo regions and you have the opportunity to be one of the first groups to come and open these areas up with us, thus truly making it a unique and special situation. This is definitely something that does not happen very often, it is an opportunity of a lifetime, and one that you don’t want to miss out on.”

For those of you who are not wanting to make first descents, you can ski or snowboard on the runs that have already opened.

So dream big, or scare yourself silly by checking out the HHSG website at: "". (© 2003 Ski Press Media, Inc).

Ski Press Magazine

Nepal Launches first Heliski Operation

The company Himalayan Heli Skiing Guides (HHSG) has been granted permission to operate the first ever Heli Ski Guiding company in the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal. This is the first time that heli skiing been allowed in the kingdom and with countless thousands of miles of potential trails, is seen as a major break through for heliski fans.

The company, run by highly experienced American & European ski guides and current or former world class skiers and boarders is offering early participants the chance to name the trails as they ski them for the first time (as no one else will have), an experience described as,

" extra special event that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. These first guests are going to become legendary in the world of Himalayan Heli Skiing."

Each and every first descent will be written up the Himalayan Heli Ski Guides service brochure with a map showing the runs names and a short story of its first descent party. All persons or parties of first descents will be given a certificate verifying the name of the run, (which they have given it) the date and time of the descent and of course the vertical and degree of the run.

The heliski areas have been carefully chosen by the company for its perfect skiing terrain and lends itself to all levels of skiers. The runs vary from perfect low angle endless effortless powder skiing terrain to moderate, advance and extreme terrain. There is something here for everybody and lots of it.

Prices range from $5,500 to $6,500 (US) for a mixed group week to $10,000 to $13,000 (US) per person for a private group week. The price includes all food, lodging and ground transportation as well as the heli skiing in Nepal, but excludes airfare to and from the Kingdom. 10 and 14 day packages are also available, some including stop overs at the Tiger tops Jungle lodge/Chitwan national park ( which includes elephant rides and excursions to see Bengal Tiger, Leopard, Rhinoceros, Alligators and Crocodiles, Monkeys, Sloth Bear and the list goes on.

Flight seeing tours of Everest and Nepals impressive Himalaya are also a possibility.

Although the trip is marketed as an adventure ski trip of a lifetime, and not for vertical, the latter figures can be impressive. For example six runs a day with a 2,000m vertical = 12,000 meters or approx. 39,360 vertical feet per day x 5 days and you get a 60,000 vertical meters or nearly 200,000 vertical feet.

The guides include former ski racer Craig Calonica (director of HHSG) who has a long history as a successful mountaineer who has been climbing and skiing in Nepal for 22 years now and Jerome Ruby, Dede Rhem and Stephan Dan with similar credentials and worldwide expedition experience in Nepal, Tibet, Alaska and so on as well as many first ski and snowboard descents world wide.

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