Flying with skis

Frozen lakes, snow and crisp clear days are the delights of the ski aircraft pilot. Before you fly, review your operating handbook and the following safety tips.

On this page

Flight preparations

Prepare yourself:

  • Wear layers
  • Bring extra clothing in case of an overnight stay

Prepare the aircraft:

  • Make sure your skis are approved, correctly installed and properly maintained
  • If you plan on making a stopover at a remote location, carry a portable engine warm-up kit
  • When your survival gear was last inspected?
  • Carry with you:
    • an aluminum shovel
    • an ice chisel
    • a snow knife
    • 2 wing lines (about 15 feet)
    • 1 line (about 50 feet)
    • a windshield frost scraper
    • wing covers

Flight planning

  • You will likely operate in remote areas, lakes and open country. Share your travel plans with an air traffic control unit (ATC unit), the flight service station (FSS) or a responsible person
  • Check the forecast and allow for weather changes en route, at your destination and during the return trip
  • Plan for daylight visual flight rules (VFR) departures and arrivals (remember that winter days are shorter)
  • Consider alternate sites where food and shelter are available

Preparing for flight

  • Check your skis and rigging thoroughly: look for frayed cables, worn-out bungees and loose connections

Pattern for survival—Keywords

  • Protection
  • First aid
  • Signals
  • Comfort


  • You will be your own manager, dispatcher and controller for most ski flights, so be ready to make decisions.
  • Allow for wider turns while taxiing.
  • Remember that ski drag and wind are your only brakes
  • Check over your take-off area for snow or ice conditions and depth
  • Look for obstacles, drifts, ice hummocks, slush and cracks
  • Use flaps as set out in the pilot operating handbook.
  • Snow can be very sticky. It is possible you may not be able to take off. It is very easy to overheat your engine, so watch your temperatures and pressures.
  • Taxi back and try again, but be sure to taxi in your tracks to help pack the snow. When visibilities are restricted and you are operating from a large lake, do not take off heading out from the shoreline, as it is easy to lose your horizon. It is best to land and take off along the shoreline where you can maintain ground reference. Stay away from river mouths on the shoreline. Watch out for thin ice!

En route

The terrain looks very different in winter. Keep this in mind when map reading.


  • White-out can occur on dull days over large snow-covered lakes or on small lakes when landing on unbroken snow. Be prepared.
  • Land close to shore, on an island or on anything that will offer you ground reference
  • Overfly the landing area at 1,000 feet above ground level (AGL) to assess the:
    • dimensions
    • approach path (is it obstacle free?)
    • departure path (can you out climb the rocks and trees?)
    • other traffic (for example, aircraft, vehicles, people and wildlife)
  • It is recommended you circle at least 3 times at 1,000 ft AGL when assessing an area
  • If you’re able to manoeuvre safely, fly a standard circuit and approach to 200 feet AGL to determine:
    • the wind, by assessing drift
    • the location of any obstacles
    • snow or ice conditions (for example, drifts, slush, cracks)
  • If you’re unable to manoeuvre safely, choose another site
  • Climb and fly a standard circuit and approach
  • Use flaps as set out in the handbook
  • If you’re doubtful about surface conditions, conduct a touch-and-go, a circuit and a low approach to check for slush or water marks in the ski tracks
  • If you’re satisfied, fly the circuit and land
  • Keep moving after touchdown until you arrive at your parking spot
    • If you have to land in known slush conditions, never stop where you know there is slush o 360° circles on your own tracks and stop where the slush has not shown through
  • After shutdown, put some insulating material like evergreen branches under the skis
    You do not want your departure to be delayed until the spring thaw: freeing and clearing frozen skis is a miserable chore
  • If you’re operating a heavier aircraft, lay the branches out and taxi onto them before shutting down


  • Use engine and wing covers
  • Dilute oil as required
  • Remove the aircraft’s battery
  • Before shut down, turn the fuel off and run the carburetor dry
    • Preheating in the morning can cause fuel in the carburetor to boil over. Many aircraft have burned because of this oversight.

Preheating your aircraft

  • If you have to preheat with a blowpot or open flame, continue to move it around so you don’t overheat one spot
  • Never leave an open flame unattended
  • Never use an electric oil immersion type heater in your engine

Returning to base

When you’re ready to return:

  • Keep to your original flight plan departure time, or notify a responsible person of delays as soon as possible
  • Preheat the engine if required; a warm cabin would be nice too!
  • Recheck your take-off area (conditions could have changed since you landed)
  • Keep alert for other traffic and wildlife

Close your flight plan when you have completed your flight.