Can you imagine taking your bride-to-be Heli-Skiing for the first time – on your wedding day?
Or how about being a guest of CMH Heli-Skiing for 17 years and then becoming their Colorado rep?
Or visiting 35 countries and all 7 continents?
Yeah, Brad Nichols has lived a pretty sweet life. Earlier this week I spent a day skiing with Brad and found out a bit about what makes him tick, as well as his approach to helping people interested in booking the ultimate ski or snowboard vacation.
Brad started skiing when he was two years old, and although his profession took him far from the slopes at times, he never lost his passion for skiing. His career took him from engineering with Texas Instruments, to information systems at a startup in Colorado, to trip planner for a bike touring company, to seven winters as a ski instructor, and most recently as a CMH rep. (A trajectory that clearly moved more and more towards the outdoors.)
So when Brad had the chance to begin working with CMH, he jumped on it. And as a rep who has vast experience as a guest of CMH, he knows exactly the kind of things first timers and veterans want to know.
Sitting on a chairlift, Brad explained to me the advantages of booking through a local rep. The price is the same either way, and the reservations agents at CMH in Banff are happy to answer questions, so why book your CMH trip through Brad or another rep?
Brad explained that it’s easier to plan something exceptional when you have someone local to answer questions and help with preparation. Brad explains that his goal is make people feel like part of the CMH family right from the first conversation: “I’ll meet people for a coffee to answer questions and talk through a potential trip – the personal touch makes people feel a lot more comfortable. This family feeling is one of the unique aspects of CMH starting right from the first contact all the way through the trip itself. From the first phone call, to greeting people in Calgary when you arrive in Canada, to the guides and staff dining with the guests – it really has a family atmosphere.”
When I asked Brad about the unique aspects of CMH in the ski industry, he didn’t hesitate in his answer:
“CMH is the biggest Heli-Ski company in the world, so we can provide just about any specialty trip you can imagine (like Brad and Dorothy’s wedding trip), but once you get to one of the lodges everything is on a small, intimate scale – as it should be in the mountains.”
“After nearly 50 years of dialing in and tweaking the Heli-Ski experience, we’ve got every detail sorted. Take the CMH safety program for example: With 115 guides, the computer modeling and collaboration between areas – CMH has the Rolls-Royce of safety programs.”
“We can accommodate everyone from a first timer who’s an intermediate skier at the resort to the best skiers in the world – and they all have fantastic experiences. When I’m helping people plan a trip, the first thing we do is talk about what CMH area would best suit their skiing style and ability – and then it’s just about timing what fits best to their life and schedule.”
One of the most common questions Brad is asked is, “When is the best time to visit CMH?”
Tongue in cheek, Brad likes to answer, “Right after it snows.”
But then he goes on to give a more useful answer: “It’s really more about fitting it into your schedule than trying to plan around the mountain conditions. Early winter with the low sun there is less sun effect on the snow, so powder stays fluffy longer, but late winter has longer days, is warmer and more comfortable, and can deliver excellent snow conditions as well. Let me help you choose the right Lodge, then pick a time that fits into your life.”
Ever since seeing a photo hanging on the wall of the Bugaboo Lodge of Brad and his wife Dorothy on their wedding day, dressed in ski gear, I was curious to hear the story of that wedding day. As it turned out, it was Dorothy’s first day Heli-Skiing. Brad recalls with an ear-to-ear grin, “I think she had a lot on her mind that day.”
Brad and Dorothy and the Bugaboos guides sat around the map and chose the most scenic and comfortable spot they could think of, the top of Flattop Mountain overlooking the legendary Bugaboo Spires, and the guides arranged a special flight for the small wedding party. After the ceremony, they skied powder the rest of the week – then went on their honeymoon in Antarctica.
“My best memory from CMH,” concluded Brad, “is chasing my wife down an untracked mountainside. It’s etched in my mind forever. I don’t think anything could improve on that.”
As it turns out, Brad’s main connection to CMH is a shared passion, a passion he describes as his mission in life: “To share my passion for these fantastic experiences so others can experience them as well.”
Photos of Brad on the cliffs above Capetown, South Africa; and with his bride Dorothy on their Heli-Ski wedding day on Flattop Mountain in the Bugaboos, courtesy of Brad Nichols.
In an article in Expressions, the luxury magazine of Acura Canada, I wrote: “If you compare snow sport to the two gold standards of fine living, wine and golf, Heli-Skiing with Canadian Mountain Holidays would be the Domaine Romanée-Conti or the St. Andrews.”
Even though I wrote those very words, I can’t help but feel that the kind of luxury you find at CMH Heli-Skiing is another flavor and experience entirely from the classical definition of luxury. The remoteness. The intimacy. The wilderness. The adventure. The camaraderie. The cozy comfort. The friendship. These are not concepts that first come to mind when you think of luxury. But luxury is not something typically experienced deep in some of the world’s snowiest mountains.
Sure, CMH Heli-Skiing has been providing the ultimate mountain experience since 1965, but in the early years “luxury” was not a word that would have been used to describe the Heli-Ski experience. The first Heli-Ski trips were based out of a rugged sawmill camp without indoor plumbing or running water. Since then, however, CMH Heli-Skiing refined the experience to meet the desires of our guests, guests accustomed to the best the world had to offer. After nearly half a century of refining, the modern world of CMH is the very definition of mountain luxury.
From the Snow Bar at CMH Valemount, where hospitality and the après ski party are delivered in the fluffy white stuff we travel so far to play in:
To the well-stocked wine cellars at each lodge:
To the ski- and snowboard-savvy massage therapists who know just how to treat your body after a thousand face-shots:
To the sauna and spa facilities that are just the right combination of intimate and modern:
To the living areas that blend ski tradition and cozy warmth:
To the way the lodges are designed to enhance the view of the heavy snowfall outside, promising another day of the world’s greatest skiing:
To the staff, trained to deliver surprising hospitality against the stunning backdrop of the mountains of Interior British Columbia:
To the widest variety of Heli-Ski experiences anywhere on earth ranging from small group, “boutique Heli-Skiing” with small helicopters, to our signature Heli-Ski trips that are the industry standard for fun and value:
To the experiences you’ll find nowhere else on earth, like champagne served on a helicopter’s ski and snowboard basket:
CMH Heli-Skiing is the kind of luxury that a twenty-something ripper can tweet as beyond rad, while a sixty-something connoisseur of life’s finest can describe as one of the best experiences ever. And while these images are a glimpse into the mountain luxury of CMH Heli-Skiing, it’s also the kind of luxury that can’t truly be explained in word or image – you just have to experience it yourself.
Wishing you many happy turns in 2014!
“I’ve got nothing to do today but smile.”
With over 40,000 photographs of CMH Heli-Skiing taken over the last decade in my archive, I find the ones that stand out most are not necessarily the images of face-shot powder, steep lines, and endless mountain vistas, but rather the ones that show the unabashed happiness of people getting to experience one of life’s ultimate pleasures.
With a year coming to a close, and a new one on deck, I thought it a good time to share some of those moments:
Like the look of this kind of happiness, but have never been Heli-Skiing? CMH is the best place to try Heli-Skiing for the first time. In fact, CMH has probably hosted more first time Heli-Skiers than the rest of the Heli-Ski industry combined. From our Powder 101 program, to our guides who are experts in taking riders into the deep powder for the first time, to our vast terrain with endless options for beginners and experts alike. Make 2014 your year to try Heli-Skiing!
My kids are in first grade, about the most exciting age in the known universe to experience Christmas. At a Christmas party a few days ago, Santa asked my son what he wants for Christmas. My son replied, “A seismometer.”
“A seismometer?” Santa replied, taken aback that a 6-year-old would want such a device. “Why?”
My son went quiet, blushing huge.
He wants a seismometer that can detect Santa landing on the roof, so he can bust him in the act. He's determined to discover if this Santa guy is real. He also has a strong suspicion that his parents are involved, and he thinks the seismometer would detect them moving too...
But in case Santa is real, he didn’t want to tell Santa of his plans for the seismometer.
His suspicions remind me of a story I heard from a Family Heli-Ski Trip over Christmas a few years ago, when a group of older kids was stunned to see Santa show up at CMH Gothics. Deep in the Canadian wilderness, a few of the older kids, who’d given up on believing in Santa, gave pause to question their doubts.
A few of them may have noticed that Santa had a strangely similar accent to one of the ski guides from Germany…
For Christmas this year my family, as usual, just wants to go skiing. Here’s a photo from a recent ski trip home from school, in an interactive form. Hover over the photo and click on the icons for some Christmas wishes:
CMH Heli-Skiing is a team and family that includes the guests and guides, staff and support, first timers and veterans. Liz Richardson, the Guest Services Coordinator at CMH Revelstoke and a newcomer to the CMH family has been learning what CMH is all about. She shared her perspective on Heli-Skiing after spending a day out with the guides during the making of the early season Revelstoke video. With a wide-open beginner’s mind (although she’s no beginner on skis) she has an incredible perspective on snow riding, the powder paradise of Revelstoke, and CMH Heli-Skiing.
TD: I hear you’ve spent some time running gates and skiing around the world. Can you fill me in on your ski career?
LR: Yes, I was a ski racer, way back now. I grew up skiing and racing in Panorama BC, which is well-known for long groomers and generally hard icy snow. A great place to become a well-established racer but a long way from the deep powder Revelstoke is known for. I competed up until 2002 with the BC Team and the Canadian National Team.
After ending my race career and finishing my degree, I drove from B.C. to Panama and fell in love with surfing, eventually spending six years in New Zealand where I surfed everyday there was a wave. The Deep South of NZ captivated me. The cold, raw surfing was one of the only challenges in my life that rivaled skiing; it filled the void for a continuous challenge and adrenaline that was left when I quit ski racing. I moved to Revelstoke for friends and family – and because the skiing is amazing. Things naturally fell into place, and I ended up as the Guest Services Coordinator with CMH Revelstoke.
TD: Can you share a little on your philosophy on life and skiing after so much racing and travel?
LR: My philosophy is to take time to do what you love with who you love. To fully embrace life you must embrace every bit of it. Ups and downs all have their place, feel it all and roll with the terrain, trust your instincts and act on those instincts.
TD: What was it like, your first time out with the CMH guides?
LR: Within my first month back in Canada, after 7 years away from skiing, I find myself heli-skiing with three CMH guides and a cinematographer....it was surreal. (Read more on the day with the cinematographer.) They took me through the beacon safety training, etc., but it wasn't until I was sitting down and the helicopter fired up that I became overwhelmed with excitement. I was rubbing my hands together like a greedy thief who had just come across a stash of gold. Although I felt a bit of trepidation about how my legs would hold out and where we were going, the guides immediately made me feel at home and well taken care of.
The guides are such a great gang to hang out with, always up for a laugh and each and everyone is a genuine character. Then you witness them out in the field and they become so focused. The level of comfort and knowledge they have is exceptional and it was privilege to see them in action setting up for the season.
TD: Did you quickly feel like part of the team, or does it take more time to fit in with such a group?
LR: One thing that is so unique about the CMH Heli-Skiing experience is how quickly a bond of trust and friendship is formed with the guides and group you are skiing with. I think it is rare to form this sort of relationship so quickly with people. Even though this is daily life for the guides they were genuinely stoked to get me up in the mountains and share that experience. This bond is something that our long time CMH guests understand and a big reason why they return. This bond is something new guests are not expecting and something that cannot be fully understood without coming here.
TD: How did your first day of Heli-Skiing change your view of what CMH is all about?
LR: One thing that I was well aware of before coming to work with CMH is their history and reputation of being one of the biggest and best heli-ski companies in the world. My view of CMH has not changed but has been confirmed and strengthened. This is one of the most comprehensive, safety-focused and passionate companies in the business. And it is obvious. A prominent theme among the CMH guides is their loyalty to their guests. I have heard so many great things about the CMH guests in the pre-season meetings and set ups that I can't wait to meet them. It is obvious that the guests are the key reason why CMH takes so much pride in the business and why CMH employees are so dedicated to the CMH experience.
TD: How do you think the riding around Revelstoke compares to other places you've been?
LR: I grew up on ski hills around the Kootenays. To me the epic snow, mountain atmosphere and endless terrain is just normal. It wasn't until I travelled around the world with ski racing and my other travels that I realized what we have here in the Kootenays. Revelstoke has developed into the symbolic heart of this culture. My brother, from nearby Nelson, reassured me that I would meet so many solid people and wouldn't regret the decision of moving here (I may have been a bit hesitant to leave the waves so needed some encouragement). My brother was bang on.
In regards to the skiing, Revelstoke really has it all. It is accessible, abundant and diverse. As one of my good friends quoted my first day skiing, "Revelstoke is not a lazy man's mountain" and she was right. The Revelstoke terrain in general is steep, deep and makes you work. The skiing here can be as challenging as you make it, which is why I think you find such a concentration of accomplished riders here. It allows these skiers to take on the next challenge with a network of people around them who they can trust.
TD: As Guest Services Coordinator, what is your goal for this winter?
LR: I am so excited to be taking on the GSC position with CMH Revelstoke! I can't wait to meet our guests! I have several main goals for this winter:
First, listen and learn.
Second, assist the guests and CMH team with anything they may require. Erin Fiddick, the last RE Guest Services Coordinator, is a real gem. She formed strong relationships with many CMH guests and put her heart into the position. I intend to do her justice by working to strengthen these relationships and continue her momentum.
Third, I hope to enhance the Revelstoke guest experience by providing them a direct link between CMH, their travels and other external factors. Our guests come from near and far to reach us here in Revelstoke. There are many unexpected things that can pop up. My job is to identify and manage these things so our guests can focus on what they came to do: ride.
Finally, I hope to take a page out of our guest’s book: have tons of fun, ski and enjoy life in Revelstoke and with CMH!
Meet Liz in Revelstoke and join the CMH family this winter by calling 1-(800) 661-0252 and find out why CMH is the first choice among veteran and first time Heli-Skiers.
Photo of Liz Richardson ripping it up on her first day Heli-Skiing by CMH guide Kevin Boekholt.
When CMH Heli-Skiiing wanted to capture the excitement of the Revelstoke ski guide’s first foray into their Heli-Ski terrain this season, they hired Adam Greenberg, a backcountry skier and filmmaker based in Canmore, Alberta to create this short on the excitement of early season Heli-Skiing:
After watching his short (which I must say cranked up my psyche for winter!) I caught up with Adam to learn about his experience working with the CMH guides and shooting CMH Heli-Skiing for his first time Heli-Skiing. Here’s what he had to say:
TD: How was it being out with the CMH guides?
AG: I have previously made films about the slowness and beauty of ski touring, and I was a little apprehensive about what I perceived to be a somewhat less intimate way to experience the backcountry. I couldn't have been more wrong about that point; the guide’s knowledge of the terrain is incredible, and it's clear they have a strong relationship with the landscape. Their comfort and total happiness moving through the terrain was contagious, and gave me a chance to relax and appreciate it.
TD: As a filmmaker, what inspired the story you tell in this short film?
AG: What I admire most about the staff and guides at CMH is their ability to share those emotions and make you feel truly among friends. This quality helped transform my workday into a day out shredding with my buddies; though of course skiing with a big pack filled with camera gear always feels like work to some degree. As I saw it more and more, the guide’s honest elation at being out in the mountains and total love of the work they do became the focal point of my filming, and formed the visual story of the short.
TD: Can you tell me about any of the unique challenges of shooting in that environment?
AG: One of the biggest challenges of shooting in the mountain environment in the winter is managing moisture. A wet snowy day paired with sensitive electronics can be an absolute nightmare. Thankfully, we had a beautiful day to shoot, and the combination of sun and cold temperatures sucked all the moisture out of the snow (Not bad for ski quality either!). After several years hauling all my gear up peaks on my back, having the helicopter was a welcome change that let me focus on composing shots instead of wondering how long my knees will last.
Earlier, Adam made a compelling visual tour of CMH behind-the scenes during lodge setup for the winter season. Check out Adam’s website for more if his diverse work, and contact CMH Heli-Skiing at 1 (800) 661-0252 to spend some time with the inspired guides of CMH Heli-Skiing.
When you Take Flight on your first helicopter ride of a CMH Heli-Skiing trip, there’s a little magic in the air. It feels as if everything was set up just for you. The lodge feels like home, the guides seem like they build their whole career around giving you the best snow riding experience on earth and the staff act, not like people at work, but rather like close friends who care about you. And the lofty mountains and deep snow? The ultimate gift.
Early winter is an exciting time for everyone at CMH, while we prepare the “magic” and get out into the hills to see what the mountains are like. Right now, some of the CMH areas have opened and the magic is happening, and others are being prepared and the guides are venturing into the field for the first tracks of the season.
While we have 48 years of experience at creating and crafting mountain hospitality, what the Germans call huttenzauber or “hut magic”, we still don’t create or craft the mountains or mountain conditions. We go out and find the right parts of the mountains where we can play safely in the, but we’re always thrilled when good snow conditions set up each winter and we hear back from the guides after their first days out.
A few of the CMH areas are now open and reporting great conditions, and sending in early season Heli-Ski photos! To share the stoke, here's a few of the photos sent to the Banff office recently from guides in the field:
Bugaboos, November 2013
Galena, December, 2013
Gothics, December, 2013
Revelstoke, November, 2013
The magic is on, and with snow in the forecast every day for the next week in Revelstoke, it only gets better from here. Contact CMH Reservations at 1 (800) 661-0252 to carve your piece of the magic (Hint: if your plans are set this winter, this week kicks off booking week for 2014-15 season!).
A magazine feature in the winter edition of Kootenay Mountain Culture is devoted to the young partnership between CMH and K2, and how it has put the sleepy town of Nakusp, in Interior BC, Canada, on the map.
If you haven’t picked up a copy of Kootenay Mountain Culture, check it out. It’s the magazine you wish all other outdoor mags were like. It’s honest, well-written and diverse, covering every mountain sport yet invented and revealing the often hidden world of mountain culture, art and lifestyle.
In the article on CMH K2, titled “Nakusp Gets Sethed”, Editor-in-Chief Mitchell Scott presents the local’s view of the new face of Nakusp, the K2 athletes and executives thrill at having a world-class Heli-Skiing destination to “work” with, and the CMH guide’s story of their “office.”
I suppose it’s not surprising that two of the snow sport industry’s most iconic brands, with a century of experience between them, could get together and turn one of the least know ski destinations in BC into perhaps the world’s coolest place to ride, but it is surprising how the change has permeated the local culture.
From the local ski hill, where K2 put up $1500 to install rails where the local kids could learn to jib like the pros, to the renovation of the Kuskanax Lodge into the K2 Rotor Lodge, in just two years, cool has transformed the ski scene in Nakusp.
A quote from Mike Gutt, K2s Global Marketing Manager, sums it up: “It’s a cool place where everything resonates with the K2 vibe: the town, the mentality, the terrain.”
Scott describes the renovation at the Rotor Lodge that helped lead the town’s metamorphosis from unknown to cool:
"Old K2 paraphernalia is sprinkled throughout the lodge, and each (room) has its own distinct theme. There are posters, top sheets of classic K2 models, covered bar stools, and bits of helicopters on the walls. It’s funky and it feels ‘ski’ in every room."
CMH K2 Area Manager, Peter Macpherson, reveals the mentality:
"The presence of K2 athletes and staff, who've been coming up religiously for the past couple of years, as well as the photography and footage that's coming out of our lodge, is beginning to attract younger, more adventure-oriented skiers."
Finally, an interaction with one of the guides reveals the conditions and terrain:
“It’s sunny, there are 20 centimetres of col -9C powder, and the mountains are firing. ‘This is skiing in the Selkirks,’ says lead guide and Nakusp local Patrick Baird. ‘It’s always good up here. It always snows.’ With that he leads his group of 10 skiers down into clouds of whitesmoke, through perfectly spaced trees, to the valley bottom far below."
The terrible twos at CMH K2 are happening, but there is hardly any space left at the party. All the seats during the K2 athlete weeks are sold out, and the rest of the season has precious few openings, so if you want in on the coolest partnership in skiing (and a free pair of K2 skis of your choice for your efforts) speed dial CMH reservations before anyone else at 1 (800) 661-0252.
Lots of space next season though!
Photo by John Entwistle: Seth Morrison hiding out in the Kootenays.
Being a guest of CMH inspires great stories. Today, with Thanksgiving coming in my neck of the woods, I was skiing with my kids and thinking about how thankful I am to have had a chance to work and play at CMH.
My story is by no means the best CMH story, but after contributing to the Heli-Ski Blog for the last 4 years, and working with CMH for the last decade, I thought it worth sharing.
In 2003 an assignment from Climbing Magazine gave me the chance to visit CMH Adamants, in the summer, to experiment with heli-climbing and write an article about it. I’d been to the Bugaboos before, but seeing the Admants opened my eyes to the vastness of the Columbia Mountains. For six days we bagged first ascents on the vertical walls of the Adamants.
After seeing my photos, Jane Carswell in the CMH Marketing department, invited me back the next summer for a photo shoot in the Cariboos. There, I was lucky enough to share the trip with none other than CMH founder Hans Gmoser, his wife Margaret, and their two grandkids.
Like most journalists, I had to ask Hans a few questions. Also, my father was a mountain guide, so I was curious about another family that made a life in the mountains. In the ensuing conversation, Hans told me about the upcoming celebration at the Bugaboos to celebrate 40 years of Heli-Skiing. I remember saying, “I’d love to be a fly on the wall at that party!”
Hans replied, “You should come.”
Who would turn down that invitation? When I got home, I contacted Powder Magazine to get an assignment that would make it worth my place at the party. And what a party it was; many of the original guests and guides, their families, and other friends of the business expressing their appreciation for being part of the invention of Heli-Skiing and 40 years of friendship.
After skiing, the wine and stories would flow and I took notes and recorded presentations. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the story of CMH is much more than a magazine article. At one point I asked one of the guides, “Hey, I’d be happy to contribute the material I’m getting here to whoever is writing the book.”
He looked at me and said, “Nobody’s writing the book.”
I was stunned. CMH seemed like the best story I’d come across in a lifetime spent living in, writing about, and photographing the mountain culture. After a few long conversations, I found myself with the dream assignment: write the story of CMH Heli-Skiing.
In 2006 and 2007 I visited every CMH area, filled several notebooks with interview material with some of the most incredible individuals I’ve ever had the honour of meeting, and in 2008 Rocky Mountain Books published the result: Bugaboo Dreams, A story of Skiers, Helicopters and Mountains.
Since then I’ve helped CMH with creative content of various kinds, becoming friends with the hard-working staff, guides, and guests and feasting on some of the most delicious snow I’ve ever tasted. And like so many long-time guests, staff and guides have told me: at first we think the CMH experience is all about the skiing, but then we realize it is so much more.
- It is the intimacy of the remote lodges and the great people.
- It is returning to a place that is so wild and pristine yet feels like home.
- It is living a lifetime in a week.
- It is getting to be where you’d rather be no place else on earth with a group of people who feel the same way.
The people I met while working on Bugaboo Dreams, and my relationship with the guides, staff and guests of CMH - and of course the skiing - have made working with CMH a dream project. Thank you CMH!