Jackson heli-ski owner hands over controls after 40 seasons

What started as a move from California in the 1970s helped spawn the rise of the pricey adventure experience in the Tetons.
Jackson's High Mountain Heli crew's first trip in 1974 (Courtesy of Jon Shick)

by | Feb 9, 2023 | People

It’s been a long run for Jon Shick. 

He said there never was a so-called “light bulb moment,” that he just sort of happened upon heli-skiing — which is where a helicopter flies a skier up a mountain and sets them loose on rugged terrain full of deep powder.

“There weren’t really many of us back then. And you know, I just sort of fell into it,” he said. 

High Mountain Heli


After moving to Jackson from California in 1976, he soon became friends with a group of skiers that had founded High Mountain Heli. In the 1978/79 season, Shick was hired as an apprentice guide. 

At the time, the business was entering fresh terrain: The activity had already gained some ground in British Columbia, but was just getting started in the Lower 48. 

“There’s always that thought of, ‘What’s just on that ridge? Just beyond,’” he said. 

Shick became lead guide and operations manager at High Mountain Heli in the mid-80s, a time when the company had the only helicopters in the valley. Sometimes, the company would stop its operations to assist in search and rescue efforts.

Growing pains 

“It was pretty much flying around by our shoestrings, you know. It was difficult financially. And in the first couple of years, I don’t think anybody got paid.”

“If you got a helicopter sitting there, you’d better fill it up and you better look at everybody that you have in the back seat of the helicopter and make sure that somebody paid for it, because if they’re not paying for it, you are,” he said.

Shick said another challenge for High Mountain Heli — and victory for environmentalists — was the Wyoming Wilderness Act of 1984. 

The Act helped preserve thousands of acres of land, but it also cost the company about a third of the terrain it used.

Still, Shick says heli-skiing started catching on as the mystique around it grew. 

“It gets in your blood”

“It soon became on everybody’s bucket list to go out and go heli-skiing,” he said.

The High Mountain Heli crew’s first trip in 1974. (Courtesy Jon Shick)

One member of his crew, skier Doug Coombs, would go on to launch Valdez Heli-Ski Guides in Alaska

In 1998, Shick bought out Junie Fuchs and started running the company as managing partner, along with silent partner Lud Kroner. 

“I loved it. I had a passion for it,” he said. “You know, once I became the lead guide, it gets in your blood. It’s something that’s really hard to let go.” 

And the more time he put into the business side, he said, the better the company did. 

Shick said he’s proud to have managed a successful business which now operates in the Snake River, Palisades, Wyoming Range and Gros Ventre mountains.

High-cost adventures

Nearly half a century ago, tours went for $95 a seat. Now, at a minimum they cost $1,800. 

Outfits like High Mountain Heli have faced criticism in recent years for being accessible only to the mega-wealthy. 

But, Shick said, he’s proud of what he helped to create. 

“We had a really successful business in outdoor recreation. And I mean, really, we’re blessed to have done what we did around here,” he said.

In November of 2021, Shick, who is now 72, sold his company. He said it’s time to move on. That means getting away for the winters, focusing on a wine business he started with his son in California and seeing his grandchildren. 

“I skied on some of the most exciting terrain and under the best conditions you could possibly imagine for 40 years of my life,” he said. “If I walk away from it now — oh, it’s gonna be good. You know, I have no regrets.”

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About Natalie Schachar

Natalie Schachar is a freelance journalist currently covering the American West for KHOL and various outlets. Her stories have been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post Magazine, Rolling Stone, The Los Angeles Times and other publications. She feels that each of her articles contains tiny pieces of her soul which are now floating somewhere on the internet.

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