Urban Escape

It’s like a James Bond dream sequence: Rise and shine in the five-star comfort of the Ritz-Carlton, the Grand Hyatt, or the swank W in Santiago, Chile. Enjoy a swim in a rooftop pool overlooking the cobbled streets, stone cathedrals, and urban skyscrapers of the Chilean capital. Then buckle up your boots and check-in with your doorman—your AStar helicopter is waiting. Within 30 minutes you’re perched at 15,000 feet, your skis ready to slip through 7,000 vert of untouched, waist-deep, dry Andean powder.

This isn’t Hollywood—an urban ski escape with Third Edge Heli is the real deal. From July to September, Greg Harms and his crew conduct customized heli-ski adventures in South America. By night their pampered guests sleep and dine in the sophisticated Chilean hotels only Santiago can offer; by day they ski the two-million-plus acres in Third Edge’s tenure—unending, above-treeline terrain on the Chilean-Argentine border, not far from Valle Nevado, and within sight of the Central Andes’ tallest wonder, Tupungato Volcano.urban_2

Harms spent years skiing, teaching, and guiding in many parts of the ski world before bringing his Third Edge Heli ops to South America. As a former ski pro, then Canadian and Alaskan heli guide with a near cult-like following, he grew to respect the Andes for their vastness, scope, height, and challenge. Says Harms: “The Andes are home to some of the world’s highest heli-skiing.”

Harms sought to tap into that off-piste potential. But he also sought to create a South American heli-ski experience with a big-city twist. No isolated lodges in the Andes backcountry for Third Edge. Instead, guests heli-ski by day, then sleep in the five-star comfort of a central Santiago hotel by night, tasting wine, dining on local sea bass, learning the cueca, and dancing the salsa. It’s the ultimate urban heli-ski escape.

As for the skiing, “Chile’s heli-ski terrain is more friendly than Alaska’s,” Harms explains. “Yet there’s more vertical in Chile per run, and the Andes can serve up more long, rolling runs. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of steep, isolated chutes, plus skiable knobs and spines. I would describe it as Alaska-ish, but with much longer pistes.”

On average, Third Edge Heli clients in Chile ski 35,000 vertical feet per day over six to 10 runs. Each run averages about 7,000 vertical feet, and can include up to 4,000 vertical feet of steeps. The climate, Harms says, is ideal. “The Andes are known for their big snow storms followed by long ridges of high pressure—perfect for heli-skiing. Endless sunny days skiing nothing but powder.” urban_2_001

Harms’ Third Edge Chilean operations are the ultimate ‘boutique’ heli experience. Private and semi-private groups with three to eight skiers are driven from their luxe hotels to a nearby heli-pad in Santiago and flown to a wide-open slope near Valle Nevado for a warm-up. From there, the group moves further into the Andes’ interior for steeper, deeper terrain as the day progresses. Lunch is served mid-day in the field—a custom mix of quesos, chorizo, and, of course, un poco de chocolate—something health-conscious Harms calls, “a light affair—nothing that slows down the body.” More runs follow the repast; then the helicopter shuttles spent riders back to Santiago for après-ski massages.

Think you’re off to bed early? Hardly. Santiago is renowned for its vampire schedule: Aperitifs at nine, dinner at eleven, dancing at a fiesta until morning. By the time you slip under your hotel’s goose down comforter your AStar will be revving up and waiting.