What's In A Heli-Ski Guide's Pack?

I’ve be incredibly lucky to spend my past seven winters winters working as a helicopter ski guide in the remote mountains of Northern Nevada for Ruby Mountain Heli Experience. With over 200,000 skiable acres and terrain varying from tree skiing to open bowls above 10,000 feet, I need to make sure I have the right equipment in my pack every day I’m at work. 

My ski guide pack is similar to a carpenter’s tool belt. Everything has its place on the tool belt and most tools can be used for multiple things. Similarly, I always keep my pack organized, and certain gear and tools can double as rescue equipment. Another key similarity relates to weight. It’s important to have the right tool for the job—but you can’t bring the kitchen sink.  An additional three or four pounds in my pack will make a big difference over a long season at work. Here’s what you can find in my pack this winter:

• Avalanche Rescue Tools

This consists of a shovel, probe and saw. These live in the outside zippered compartment of my pack on a daily basis. I typically have my shovel out at least ten times a day, digging snow profiles and helicopter pickup and landing zones. I use my probe as an indictor of snow depth, and it helps me identify snow layers over terrain.

• First Aid Kit and Rescue Sled Kit

Hopefully this stays in the pack all season, but as heli-ski guides we need to be prepared in case somebody gets injured. Along with that, I keep two 15-meter sections of rope and a couple of carabineers—locking and non-locking—in the bottom of my pack.

• Extra Gloves, Goggles, and Hat

You never know when somebody might take a digger and loose a glove or their goggles get fogged up. An extra warm hat can make somebody’s day if they loose their hat or their head is cold under their helmet.


• Snow Study Kit

When guiding, I keep my snow study kit in the top of my pack. This includes: a short ruler, crystal screen, magnifying glass, thermometer and AIARE field book. 

• Repair Kit

I carry a basic repair kit which includes: a multi-tool, extra ski basket, duct tape, ski wax, extra batteries, lighter, zip ties, bailing wire and a couple ski straps. Every once in awhile I find myself having to make a quick repair in the field. It’s nice to have a lightweight repair kit that can help keep the day going strong. 

• Big Warm Jacket

I keep my OR Floodlight Parka in my pack at all times, just in case somebody gets cold or wants to sit out a run due to tired legs. 

• Guide notebook, Map, Compass, and GPS

When skiing and moving over so much terrain, it’s essential for me to make notes of what I’ve been observing in the snowpack and ski quality. Along with my notebook, I keep my map, compass, and GPS in my pack to help give coordinates to our helicopter pilot.

• Sunscreen and Ear Protection

With sunscreen, I always try to remember to apply and reapply when out in the field all day. And loading and unloading the helicopter can be very loud and damaging to your hearing. I carry an extra set of ear protection, in case I lose mine in the field.


• Skins

These can be incredibly handy if for some reason I find myself needing to go back uphill for a short section. 

• Headlamp

I keep a really lightweight headlamp, like the Black Diamond Ion, in the bottom of my pack just in case of an emergency. 

• Inflatable Sleeping Pad

I typically use this several times a week to provide a comfortable bench for skiers and riders to sit on during our lunch break. This can be also used as an emergency splint.  

• Camera/iPhone

These are the most important things, as you’ve got to have a way to capture all the great powder shots!

This year Ruby Mountain Heli Experience is giving away a free trip. Check out their Facebook page for more details, and to join Jonathon and rest of the Ruby Mountain Heli-Ski team this year.

Have a great winter!