Alaska Heli Ski/Snowboard Guide Training

Leadership & Guide Training Course
(12 days)




The Alaska heliskiing & snowboarding course takes place Haines, Alaska.  Situated at the northern end of Alaska’s Inside Passage, the area is surrounded by an extremely jagged, glaciated, mountain landscape that includes the world’s largest non-polar ice caps, pristine fjords, and a vast expanse of wilderness area. The mountains outside Haines rise up to above 6,000 feet directly from the ocean. The variety of terrain; from glacier cirques with a multitude of steep couloirs and alpine faces to open bowls loaded with snow make for excellent skiing and riding. The combination of incredible skiing and the proximity to a helicopter base of operations make this area one of the best destinations in North America for learning heliskiing and snowboarding skills. This course is town based, and students will be set up with lodging for the duration of the 12 days.

These mountains get the greatest annual snowfall on the planet; neighboring Mt. Fairweather receives over 1,000 inches of snow annually. The terrain surrounding Haines, Alaska is unique in North America, and offers world class skiing and riding.

Over the 12 days, we’ll utilize 1 hour (per student) of HOBBS time with the helicopter. HOBBS time is a standard aviation metric of how long the aircraft has been running. Many operators in North America and internationally use the HOBBS metric to gauge how much heliskiing their client has left. We’ll incorporate HOBBS tracking into our lessons to keep everyone updated on remaining time while also teaching a valuable guide skill.

Over the period of 12 days, we’ll likely ski with the helicopter for at least 6 days, however it will depend on the weather.  When inclement weather prohibits use of the heli we may cover indoor classroom style lessons or travel to the Haines Pass for backcountry touring from the roadside.  Students will have the opportunity to be leaders of the day and advance their decision-making, leadership, and group management skills around the helicopter and on the slopes.  When not flying, we’ll use our time to advance avalanche assessment skills, backcountry skiing technique, and technical crevasse rescue and rope skills.  Easy road access to great skiing terrain provides a great supplement to time in the helicopter.

THE INSTRUCTORS AND GUIDES OF IWLS are widely recognized as some of the very best in their field and have practical leadership experience from around the globe. They are well trained and have an uncommon enthusiasm for sharing their skill and knowledge, borne out of a passion for outdoor exploration.

The International Wilderness Leadership Schools’ educational model nurtures leadership development and creates an awareness of the guiding mentality that is essential for leading safe, fun adventures in the mountains. The combination of technical skills training, experiential education and practical leadership experience make the IWLS curriculum world class.

THE IWLS GENERAL CURRICULUM outlines the essential components for effective outdoor leadership. Here are a few points that the course will focus on.

  • Decision Making and Problem Solving: Over the course of 12 or 24 days, we’ll discover ways to assess problems, explore solutions and evaluate options in order to make effective and safe decisions in the field.
  • Leadership: Opportunities to lead the group will be abundant, and you’ll have the time to learn and practice multiple styles of leadership in varied situations.
  • Expedition Behavior and Group Dynamics: Because this course is a true wilderness expedition, interactions between group members need to be supportive and contribute to the efficacy of the group. The daily dynamics of the group, combined with instruction, will teach participants not only how to be a member of a team, but how to influence and lead an expedition.
  • Environmental Ethics: As adventurers in some of the most pristine environments on the planet, it is our duty to respect the natural world. All of our courses practice and teach Leave No Trace® principles.

-Darsie Culbeck

IWLS MOUNTAINEERING CURRICULUM Built from countless expeditions in Alaska and around the world. You’ll learn how to be a competent and proficient mountaineer in a variety of different environments. Below are some topics we’ll cover.

  • General Mountaineering Skills: The mountain environment is an exciting and potentially dangerous place. You’ll discover how to travel on the steep mountain slopes using equipment such as an ice axe and crampons as well as how to teach these skills to your fellow students.
  • Timing: In the mountains, timing is everything: when to leave camp, when to turn around, and when to push for the summit. Time management is a critical component of safe travel and plays into many aspects of mountaineering.
  • Rope Teams: Rope team travel is a complicated endeavor that requires skill, technique and teamwork. We’ll cover everything from prussic arrangement to team management.
  • Objective Hazards: Rock fall, river crossings, and avalanches are examples of objective hazards. Learn how to identify such hazards and minimize group exposure.

-Ben Williams

IWLS SKIING/SNOWBOARDING CURRICULUM Developed for riders at or above the advanced intermediate level. Here are some points that will be covered during your course:

  • Site Selection: Learn how to choose the appropriate terrain and identify hazards to facilitate a safe, fun time in the mountains.
  • Snow Conditions: Whether skiing deep powder, spring corn, or breakable crust, learn how to identify variable conditions and employ different techniques to enjoy them safely.
  • Glacier Travel on Skis: When to rope up? How to read crevasse danger? How to ski safely on a rope team? All of these questions will be answered as we travel, ski, and board across ice-fields.
  • Routefinding: Both descents and ascents demand good route finding skills. You’ll develop your hazard assessment and navigation skills to be able to find the safest, most efficient route.

-Bryan Hinderberger

IWLS HELICOPTER CURRICULUM Working with helicopters in the mountains of Alaska is an incredibly precise and calculated activity. The following are several topics that will be covered at length during the course:

  • Helicopter Safety: Safety is always #1, especially when working around helicopters. Students will not only learn the safety fundamentals associated with helicopter skiing, but will continually teach these fundamentals to each other.
  • Flight Preparation: Developing a complete flight manifest supports good communication and maximizes efficiency for a day of helicopter skiing. Students will have the opportunity to develop flight plan proposals and organize passengers and weights.
  • Landing Zone Selection:Working with the pilot to identify safe spots for landings is an essential component of helicopter safety. Learn to assess landing zone viability: wind speed and direction, slope angle, visibility and exposure to objective hazards.
  • Loading and Unloading: While the pilot will always direct loading and unloading of the helicopter, students need to understand safety elements such as hatch operation, securing loose items, balancing loads, and visual confirmations with the pilot.

-Ted Roxbury

IWLS AVALANCHE CURRICULUM is a nationally recognized progression of material that prepares students to be safe backcountry travelers.

  • Avalanche Characteristics: We’ll examine loose snow, wet snow, soft slab, and hard slab avalanches along with some potential triggers. You’ll learn the four main types of avalanches, what likely triggers look like and begin to understand various terminology such as; alpha angle, windward/leeward, and bed surface.
  • Snow Stability Evaluation: What is the relative strength of our snowpack? Are there any red flags? Learn tests such as compression test and propagation saw test that will help you evaluate the snowpack. Develop your documentation skills for accurate recording and analysis of information.
  • Safe Winter Travel: As a group, we will travel safely through avalanche terrain. Considerations will include cornices, equipment selection, route finding, campsite selection, and effective communication.
  • Avalanche Rescue: Someone buried in an avalanche has an 87% chance of survival if found within the first fifteen minutes. We’ll practice using probes, beacons, and effective search patterns in order to quickly and efficiently find a buried person.

EXPERIENCE LEVEL IWLS requires that students have, at minimum, advanced intermediate skiing or snowboarding skills for the Alaska heliskiing & snowboarding course.


Passports – On no-fly days, when inclement weather prohibits flying we may go touring in the pass. Trips to the pass travel beyond the US border with Canada and require a US Customs & Border Patrol check-in for re-entry.  Passports are required for every student on this course.

Avalanche Airbag Backpacks/Technology – IWLS requires that all participants utilize avalanche airbag technology on our heli-ski program. These backpacks are available for rent.

CERTIFICATIONS Upon completion of the 12-day course, participants may qualify for the following certifications:

Level 1 Avalanche Certification*
International Wilderness Leadership School


12 Day Heli-Guide Training Certificate of Completion International Wilderness Leadership School

DATES & PRICES Please see our schedule for current dates and price information.