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CMH Heli-Skiing to unveil refashioned Gothics Lodge

  
  
  

CMH HELI-SKIING TO UNVEIL REFASHIONED GOTHICS LODGE WITH EXPANDED SKI TERRAIN FOR 2013/2014 SEASON

2014 CMHGothics DiningRoom

CMH Heli-Skiing, the world’s largest Heli-Skiing operator and the company that invented the sport in Western Canada nearly 50 years ago, announced today that it will unveil significant renovations to its Gothics Lodge, along with a sizeable expansion in its ski terrain in the Selkirks sub-range of the Columbia Mountains for the 2013/2014 season. 

The refashioned Gothics Lodge, which will open on December 7, 2013 for the CMH Heli-Skiing season, will feature new interior design by the cutting-edge Portland-based design firm, Skylab Architecture.  This new design concept for the public spaces of the Gothics Lodge seeks to connect the rugged terrain for which CMH is known with a warm, yet contemporarily designed alpine lodge.  The renovations include an overhaul of the central living and dining areas of the lodge, adding designer wrought iron chandeliers with hand-blown glass, wool accessories, digitally printed alpine views and Swiss-stacked fir tables from a regional Canadian designer to the lodge’s iconic native Douglas fir walls and columns and large stone fireplace.

Guests of the Gothics Lodge will also benefit from a significant expansion this Heli-Skiing season in the lodge’s skiable terrain, which will add nearly 18,000 acres to its tenure—an additional area almost as large as the three largest ski resorts in North America combined.

2014 CMHGothics LivingRoom

“With the redesign of the Gothics Lodge with its sleek new look, we are thrilled to usher in a brand-new era of CMH Heli-Skiing,” says Joe Flannery, President of CMH.  “Skylab has done a fantastic job at creating an aesthetic that retains the warm social space of an iconic CMH alpine lodge while updating it for the next generation, as we head towards our 50th-anniversary celebrations next year.”

“For a skier, there is no place like British Columbia for fresh powder,” says Jeff Kovel, AIA, Principal of Skylab Architecture.  “The CMH vision, aligning the hospitality experience with an inspired natural surrounding, is something we’re proud to be a part of.”

For more information about CMH Heli-Skiing and the brand-new Gothics Lodge, please visit: www.cmhski.com.  For more about Skylab Architecture, visit: www.skylabarchitecture.com.

The ACMG, CMH and 50 years of Canadian guiding

  
  
  

In July of 1913, exactly 100 years ago this past July, Conrad Kain guided two guests, Albert McCarthy and William Foster, on the first ascent of Mt. Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies.

Kain wrote in his book, Where the Clouds Can Go, in his typically dry prose, an account of the ascent. In describing their summit push, he reveals much about the profession of guiding - the effort, the judgment, the human element, and about safely venturing into the unknown:

“About 3:45 I lit a fire, cooked breakfast, and at 4:30 we set out, reaching the summit of Mt. Robson ‘King of the Rockies’ about 5:30 p.m. I was half snowblind. I cut 500-600 steps in sheer ice, often breaking in above the knees in soft fresh snow. It was a hard day for me, but I reached the goal and made the real first ascent.”

Later, Kain describes his decision-making:

“The descent was very dangerous, and I would not undertake to follow the route of ascent going down. So we descended to the southwest side."

Today, Kain's ascent of Mt. Robson is revered worldwide by mountain guides aspiring to lead their guests safely through the ultimate mountain experience.

50 years after Kain's ground-breaking ascent, another phenomenon of mountain adventure was underway. This time it was not a singular summit, but rather an awakening; the realization of the quality of skiing to be found in Western Canada.

An Austrian guide named Hans Gmoser, who had immigrated to Canada to escape the deprivation of post-war Europe, was leading ski tours each spring and shooting films of the cozy huts, deep snow, long runs and camaraderie of backcountry skiing. During the off season, he took his films on tour through Europe and the United States, opening the eyes of skiers across the globe to the wonders of Canadian skiing.

Skiers by the dozens joined Hans, and the combination of Hans’ personality and the mountains and snow where they skied, proved irresistible.  One guest summed it up perfectly:

“Hans, when I skied with you, I not only learned how to ski powder, I learned to live. It was a precious gift; I have treasured it constantly since. Thank you, thank you more than I can express.”

The growing popularity of mountain sport, partly fueled by Gmoser’s inspiration, demanded that guiding standards were developed. So, in 1963, the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) was formed in collaboration with Parks Canada, with Gmoser as the ACMG’s first technical director.

The same year, Hans began experimenting with Heli-Skiing, and by 1965 had taken the concept into the promised land of helicopter-accessed snow riding, the Columbia Mountains, and founded CMH Heli-Skiing. The remote peaks, deep snow, and ideal ski terrain afforded meteoric rise to the popularity of Heli-Skiing. By the late 60s, without enough Canadian guides to handle the burgeoning popularity of the sport, Hans was actively recruiting European guides to work with him Heli-Skiing in Canada. There was no program for teaching Canadians the skills needed for mountain guiding, so in 1966 the ACMG ran their first guide training, with Hans as the instructor.

Two Swiss guides who worked with Hans, Rudi Gertsch and Hans Peter “HP” Stettler, began laying the groundwork to include Canada in the International Federation of Mountain Guide Associations (IFMGA).

50 years of the ACMG

Photo of some of Canada's guiding forefathers in the Bugaboos in 2005 to celebrate 40 years of CMH Heli-Skiing. From left: Rudi Gertsch, Hans Gmoser, Hans Peter "HP" Stettler, Kobi Wyss, Peter Schlunegger, Hermann Frank, Lloyd "Kiwi" Gallagher, Sepp Renner, Ernst Buehler, Leo Grillmair and Bob Geber. Photo by Topher Donahue.

In Seizing the Sharp End: 50 years of the ACMG, the 17th edition of The Summit Series books written by Lynn Martel and published by the Alpine Club of Canada, Stettler is quoted saying: “Canada was always very well accepted. We had something to offer that nobody else had, which was Heli-Skiing. It was a lot of work, but I always felt that Canada was important enough of a mountain country with a mountain guiding fraternity to be part of that (IFMGA).”

In the book's introduction, Peter Tucker, the Executive Director of the ACMG, sums up the philosophy of Canadian mountain guides: "But above all, the story of the ACMG is about its relationship with the public and the unrelenting commitment of its members to keeping (guests) safe while providing them with the adventure of their lives, a commitment that is carried out with an impossible-to-describe balance of bravura, humility and wisdom. A promise that is, indeed, the keystone thread throughout the tapestry of this organization."

In 1974, Canada officially became the first non-European country to be accepted into the IFMGA, setting the stage for other countries across the globe to become part of the organization.

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the ACMG, and nearly half a century of the world’s greatest skiing, and celebrations include an exhibition at Banff's Whyte Museum titled Pinnacle Perspectives: Celebrating the ACMG 50th Anniversary. One of the biggest reasons to celebrate this anniversary is in recognition of how the IFMGA and its affiliated associations, including the ACMG, have built the guiding profession to exemplify international cooperation and trust in a way that very few professions have ever achieved.

Roko Koell, a long-time CMH Heli-Skiing guide told me once that he thought Hans Gmoser deserved a Nobel Peace Prize for the way he helped the guides and guests from different cultures enjoy the mountains together in seamless harmony. Hans however, whose warm humility in his later years would have never wanted exclusive recognition, would likely suggest that the deserving party for a Nobel Peace Prize would be the IFMGA.

So tonight, when you’re daydreaming about enjoying the deep snow in the Columbias with the security of a mountain guide on your team, pour a toast to Hans, 50 years of the ACMG and the international cooperation of the guiding profession.

5 facts about the precipitation phenomenon in Western Canada

  
  
  

A lot of people ask me if the skiing and snowboarding in the Revelstoke area really lives up to all the hype, and if it does, why?

Well, it does, and the precipitation phenomenon is a big part of the reason why:

  1. During the winter months, the west coast of Vancouver Island and the Haida Gwaii Islands receive the most rainfall in North America. These storms turn to snow when they hit the coastal mountains.
  2. The driest locations in British Columbia are just inland from the coastal ranges where a series of huge valleys run north and south including the South Thompson and Okanagan. These are some of the driest and warmest locations in British Columbia, since the storms lose much of their moisture passing over the coastal ranges and warm air is funneled up from the south.
  3. The warming of the air over these valleys allows the atmosphere to pickup more moisture as the storms pass over the rivers and lakes of these Interior valleys, one of the world’s largest reserves of fresh water.  The air in these valleys is warm enough that the lakes and rivers remain largely unfrozen, allowing evaporation to continue through the coldest winter months.
  4. When the storms reach the Columbia Mountains on the eastern edge of these warm valleys, they are again saturated with moisture. Most of the moisture in the Columbia Mountains, which feeds North America’s 4th largest river by volume, falls during the winter months, in the form of snow – usually the light, fluffy champagne kind.
  5. To the north the Polar High, a shallow dome of high pressure and frigid air that moves south during the winter months, feeds cold air into the northern reaches of the north-south valley systems including the North Thompson and the Columbia River valley.

Super-saturated storms simultaneously slam into a huge mountain range and a wall of frigid arctic air directly on top of the CMH Heli-Skiing areas. Bingo - Take Flight!

deep snow canada

This phenomenon is what makes the Mt. Fidelity weather recording station near Revelstoke, some 400 kilometres from the coast, the snowiest weather station in Canada. On average, the Mt. Fidelity station receives almost 15 metres (49 feet) of snow, and during one epic season the station recorded 23 metres (75 feet) of snow!

Any ski guide will tell you that while the Mt. Fidelity weather station gets a lot of snow, there are pockets in the region receive even more. Those spots just don’t have a weather station to record the totals, but we can go Heli-Skiing there…

Photo of the Gothics Lodge and a happy Heli-Skier, with a view out the window worth writing home about, by Topher Donahue.

Video: How CMH Heli-Skiing prepares for your dream season

  
  
  

For the last three months, the CMH Heli-Skiing staff has been competing with the squirrels for who can be better prepared for the deep snows of Western Canadian winter.

For those of us who join CMH for the world-class powder and hospitality, it seems as though the lodges are stocked and ready for us as if by magic, so this year the staff made this video to capture the precision frenzy of preparing a CMH Heli-Skiing lodge for a winter of fun and pleasure.

Get Ready to Take Flight - Winter is Coming from CMH Heli-Skiing on Vimeo.

The mastermind behind stocking the lodges is Rick Carswell, who, with a small team, carefully inventories and stocks 40,000 pounds of non-perishable food and beverages into each lodge before the roads are drifted closed for the heart of Heli-Ski season. Perishable items are brought in to the remote lodges each week using a combination of helicopter and snow machine, but the fall stock provides the lion’s share of the calories that will fuel five months of turning deep powder dreams into reality.

Then there’s the 13,000 bottles of wine that are stocked to celebrate realizing those dreams...

Meanwhile, in the Alpine Helicopter’s hangar, the fleet of helicopters used by CMH Heli-Skiing is being tuned up for ski season and converted from fire fighting and flight-seeing machines into one of the world’s largest and most well-maintained fleets of Heli-Ski helicopters.

Ski and snowboard technicians are slapping bindings on the latest quiver of powder harvesting tools from K2, Atomic and Burton, guides are testing safety equipment and the lodge staff is putting the final touches on the comfortable rooms, luxurious spas, welcoming living areas and cozy lounges that so many CMH Heli-Skiers call, quite simply, “home”.

CMH Heli Ski lodge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo of Gothics Lodge by Topher Donahue.

A new knee ligament - could it help skier ACL recovery?

  
  
  

Two Belgian knee surgeons claim to have found a “new” ligament in the knee, called the Anterolateral Ligament(ALL) that could have great implications for the success of ACL reconstruction, one of the most common skier injuries.

acl and skiing

After reading about the new ligament on BBC, I could hardly believe that something as large as a ligament could have escaped the eyes of great surgeons and MRI scans, so I called an old friend, skier, and knee guru, Dr. Gilbert Anderson, to get his perspective. “I’d be surprised if they found a new ligament,” he replied, “but what happens sometimes is they learn to break down a previously known structure into new parts.”

In 1879, a French surgeon named Paul Segond pointed out the potential of such a ligament, but it has been classified more as part of the neighboring Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) rather than its own structure.

So new or not, here’s the exciting part for skiers: 10-20% of patients with ACL reconstructions do not recover fully. The hypothesis of the two Belgians, Dr. Claes and Professor Johan Bellemans, is that many people injure the ALL at the same time as the ACL, but that only the ACL is being properly repaired. Studying the ALL may give surgeons a better understanding of the damage that happens to the knee in ACL injuries, and potentially increase the recovery rate of patients.

But before you hammer those bump runs even harder, or ride that backseat even lower like in the photo above, thinking that ACL surgery just got better, the integration of this knowledge into clinical practice is a long ways off. While some surgeons are excited about the implications of the discovery, others made the point that it is entirely unknown if operating on the ALL would actually help ACL patients.

I know a few of you readers of the Heli-Ski Blog are orthopedic knee masters who also understand skiing – what do you knee gurus think?

Photo of ACL testing by Topher Donahue.

Avalanche rescue apps for your smartphone

  
  
  

Want to find the nearest gas station, read reviews of a bottle of wine by scanning the bottle, or find someone buried in an avalanche?

There’s an app for that.

Turning a smartphone into an avalanche victim locator is a bold and innovative idea, and these three European companies are now marketing apps that they claim turns a smartphone into an avalanche rescue tool:

While the specifics differ in each app, they use WiFi or Bluetooth signals, and the idea is that two smartphones running the same app can be used to find each other. It's an exciting concept, however, the smartphone apps have serious shortcomings when it comes to being used as an avalanche transceiver, including:

  • Battery life – International standards for avalanche transceivers require them to transmit over 200 hours. Smartphones hardly last a day, especially in the cold.
  • Compatibility – These apps only work with another phone using exactly the same app while different brands of avalanche transceivers all work on the same frequency so different brands can find each other.
  • Antenna – Modern transceivers use two antennas, smartphones only have one, making them less accurate.
  • Reliability – Ever try to use your touch screen while wearing gloves in a snowstorm, or have your OS crash during a rescue?
  • Harness – Smartphones do not have a harness designed to prevent being torn away during an avalanche. 

But the biggest issue appears to be the signal itself – avalanche transceivers operate at 457kHz because it transmits very well through heavy snow, rocks and wood, and is extremely accurate. Canadian Avalanche Centre (CAC) Director Gilles Valade explains: “WiFi and Bluetooth signals are significantly weakened when passing through snow, and easily deflected by solid objects we expect to see in avalanche debris. And the accuracy of a GPS signal is nowhere near the precision required for finding an avalanche victim.”

avalanche transceiver

The apps have been tested at distances around 40-metres and up to 2-metre burials, but the tests were done by the companies that make the apps, so the tests were likely conducted in optimal conditions. Unknown factors in their performance include a person lying over the phone, wet or dense snow, and objects in the snow interfering with the signal.

So the question remains: Is there a place for these apps?  After reading through the websites of the three apps (interesting reading by the way), I tried to think of a scenario where the app may have a place. One possibility is the use described as appropriate on the iSis site: skiing deep powder in-bounds at a ski area. (To iSis' credit, they are the only one of these app makers that specifically says that the technology is not appropriate for use in the backcountry.) But then you'd need a friend who has the same app as well as a shovel and probe. Rescuing a person under avalanche debris if the rescuer does not have a shovel and probe is nearly impossible. And if you own a shovel and probe you’d better have a proper avalanche transceiver as well.

The CAC has posted a press release and a comprehensive paper on the app technology with the clear message that these apps are inadequate for avalanche rescue purposes, and the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) has posted the paper on their website.

Besides the warnings from these respected professional organizations, the apps are getting a lot of bad press, and perhaps the mistake being made is in marketing more than technology. Rather than promoting them as technology that turns your smartphone into a reliable avalanche rescue tool, they should be promoted more in the way Todd Guyn, the Mountain Safety Manager at CMH Heli-Skiing, described his view of the apps: "It is an interesting concept of  technology and possibly useful in  an unplanned, unprepared  avalanche rescue. Having said that, I like to have the right tool for the right job. If you are ill do you want to go to the doctor or do you want to pull out your app? In the end it is your life."

By the end of my research I came to the obvious conclusion that smartphones are not designed - at least not yet - to be used as avalanche rescue technology for backcountry use. You wouldn’t replace the Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) on your boat or the smoke detector in your bedroom with a smartphone app, so don’t use a smartphone in place of an avalanche transceiver either.

Photo: Just because this avalanche transceiver is about the same size as your phone doesn't mean your phone can do the same job.

The Wild Network – a collaboration to get kids outside

  
  
  

get kids outsideLast month in the UK, 300 organizations including schools, play groups, Scout groups, businesses, conservationists, campaigners, farms, and others officially launched the Wild Network, a movement to help break kids away from growing up indoors in front of screens and to get them outside.

It’s already old news that our kids are losing touch with the outdoors at a staggering rate. Exposure like Richard Louv’s best selling book, Last Child in the Woods, that explores what he calls “nature-deficit disorder” is blowing the problem wide open. But even with the headlines, the books, and obvious connection between health and the outdoors, we’re not changing the trend. The Wild Network is the most ambitious collaborative effort yet to do just that.

Andy Simpson, chairman of the Wild Network, put is bluntly: "The tragic truth is that kids have lost touch with nature and the outdoors in just one generation."

The Wild Network’s opening salvo in their battle to get kids outside is a feature length documentary film, Project Wild Thing, which began a tour of 50 cinemas across the UK on October 25th.

Just watching the trailer for Project Wild Thing made me shudder; the picture painted by the film is horrifying, but it’s not a horror film, it’s a documentary about our kids. Here are a couple of attention-getting sound bites from the trailer:

“Technology is turning our children into glassy-eyed zombies.”

“Our children’s generation is going to be the first in history to have a lower life expectancy than their parents.”

Producer David Bond calls the outdoors “the ultimate, free wonder product.” But for some reason parents aren’t buying it.  Bond explains, “It’s not the kids don’t want to touch the frog or jump in the pond, it’s the adults that have said, ‘no’.”

family dream trip

Only one in five children between the ages of eight and 12 have a connection with nature and, on average, children in the UK spend four and a half hours in front of a screen. The rest of the modern world shows similar trends.

One goal of the Wild Network is to get kids outside for an extra half an hour of “wild time” each day. To put that in perspective, getting your kids outside for half an hour each day will only reduce their screen time by 10%.

I wasn’t able to download the film here in North America, but when it becomes available, it will be high on my list.

Meanwhile, we all need to do what we can to get our kids outdoors. To begin with, taking your kids on a dream trip works like magic for turning kids into lifelong outdoor enthusiasts, but what matters in the long run is turning the outdoors and nature into a normal part of your child's everyday life. It seems to hardly matter what activity kids do, so long as they do something outdoors almost every day.

father daughter heliskiing

The Wild Network is essentially a marketing agency representing nature, giving parents ideas and resources for easy, and often free, access to natural areas: be it landscaping your own backyard, local parks, simple play areas or other family recreation resources.

In some ways, writing about this on the Heli-Ski Blog feels a little like preaching to the choir. We all love the outdoors. But are we giving our kids the same opportunity to be outside that we had when we were young - or that our kids deserve? And do we have the same conviction to get kids away from their screens as we do to direct our children away from other aspects of an unhealthy lifestyle? Or are we buying healthy food for our kids, sending them to good schools, and then accidentally doing them a huge disservice by helping them spend their childhood in front of a screen?

Unfortunately, it seems that in trying to protect our children from the dangers of the world, we’re creating another monster and keeping them inside a bit (ok, a lot) too much. And the powerful marketing machine behind electronics does nothing but make it easier for our kids to be outdoors less, get less exercise, socialize less and be less healthy.

The Wild Network is nature’s first public relations firm. It’s about time. Bring it across the Pond, please!

Photos of kids unplugged at a local playgound, and far from the screen with CMH Heli-Skiing and Summer Adventures by Topher Donahue.

7 sexy snow shots from CMH

  
  
  

The snowiest mountains in Canada.
The world’s first Heli-Ski company.
The biggest employer of mountain guides in the world.
The world’s greatest skiing.

A lot of flattering statements have been used to describe CMH Heli-Skiing and the Columbia Mountains that CMH calls home, but there is one that is often overlooked (or only talked about in the dark of night) in the quest to explain this place.

And that is: the snow is just plain sexy.

It's true. The characteristics of this snow inspire pillow talk. It is drier than the snow found in coastal ranges, but more voluminous than the snow found in most continental ranges, creating a truly drool-worthy medium. If you're into that kind of thing, here are seven photos that put the soft in softcore:

A skier flirts with a snowball in the Monashees:

monashees powder ball

A snowboarder between the sheets in Galena:

snowboarder in deep powder

A skier feeling confident with his pickup line in the Gothics:

gothics powder

Cornices show off their curves in the Adamants:

adamants cornices

A woman in the Cariboos realizing that size matters when it comes to snowpack:

cariboos snow

Bump and grind in the snow ghost disco above the Columbia River:

Columbia river trees

A shy helicopter sports the sheer look in Revelstoke:

snow helicopter

Ok, that was bad. Just putting together these pictures that I took over the last few years kinda got me all worked up. Now I really want some, but at least the early season snow is falling!

McConkey – The Movie

  
  
  

I’m speechless.  After watching McConkey You have one life. Live it. the new film from Matchstick Productions that digs into the life and death of snowsport megastar Shane McConkey, I tried to put together my feelings into a tidy blog post about passions, innovation, adventure, life, and risk. But my feelings wouldn’t cooperate. I am torn, inspired, blown away, and don't really know how to begin.

Everyman’s superman.

The world’s most influential skier. 

Those are some of the words his friends and the media used to describe Shane, and with innovations like the rockered ski to his credit, and a background going from pizza delivery boy to ski superstar, those words ring true. But there’s more to it than that.

Shane was one of those human beings that experienced the cultural and technological equivalent of the rogue wave that happens in storms at sea when one wave builds on top of another to create a single wave that is massively out of proportion to the rest of the swell.

Shane’s wave was so enormous (he was the first North American athlete sponsored by Red Bull) in part because his father, Jim McConkey, was part of a cultural and technological wave that launched what became known as Heli-Skiing half a century ago. McConkey begins with footage of Jim skiing in the Bugaboos and Cariboos in the 60s where he helped Hans Gmoser develop what became CMH Heli-Skiing, a recreation icon that today parters with Shane's sponsors Red Bull and K2 to help everyday skiers and superstars alike savor the ultimate skiing experience.

mcconkey plane jump

The movie follows the highlights of Shane’s life, benefitting from an incredible collection of home video and GoPro style footage from Shane’s own camera, shot decades before the GoPro was invented.  Born in Vancouver, Canada, Shane started skiing when he was 23 months old, and he began with a fairly predictable trajectory of a ski icon, from joining the local ski team at 7 years old to attending high school at the Prestigious Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont where Olympic racers are made, to a ski scholarship at CU Boulder in Colorado. When Shane didn’t make the cut for the US Ski Team because he was too small, he was shattered and his predictable trajectory was interrupted.

He jumped on the wave left by the likes of Glen Plake and Scot Schmidt who’d shown a new generation of brilliant skiers that skiing wasn’t just about racing. He left ski racing with one last memorable slalom run (also caught on film) where he bashes his last gates in his birthday suit.  Yup. Buck naked.

You’ll have to watch the film to get the whole story, but the bottom line is that Shane didn’t just raise the bar a little; Shane raised the bar by an order of magnitude. He didn’t just ski off the biggest cliffs, he hucked backflips of the biggest cliffs. Shane was a staple of cutting-edge ski films for two decades, and McConkey highlights many of his best moments (and some of his worst) but it wasn’t the mind-blowing lines he chose, or the committing tricks he pulled in the midst of them that really left me speechless.

It was the fact that Shane always came across as a regular guy. A regular guy who just liked to see how big he could go if he did everything right. And big he went. He didn’t give a whit about the latest snow-gangster fashion or what his fellow skiers did.  He just went out and figured out how to make something outrageous into something that was for him normal and repeatable.  In 1996 he founded the IFSA, International Free Skier’s Association (also known as I F&$#!$g Ski Awesome) helping boost the prestige and mainstream appeal of creative free skiing.

He discovered BASE jumping in the early years of the sport, and mastered it, logging close to a thousand jumps all over the world, with and without skis and was a veteran of BASE jumping's thrill and tragedy. He was there when a woman’s chute didn’t open properly on a demonstration jump off of Yosemite’s El Capitan. Shane stood next to her husband, watching his face as it happened. (Perhaps one of the reasons the film hit me so hard is that I was sleeping on El Capitan that morning, and awoke to the sound of her hitting the ground - a sound I'd buried in my memory for years until they talked about that sound in the film.)

Shane didn’t just try ski BASE, he mastered ski BASE, which allowed him to ski lines that ended on massive cliffs and did it so well that it seemed almost normal – at least for him – and did it successfully for years. We all know this was what cost him his life in the end, but one of the things that I hadn’t realized was that it wasn’t ski BASE that got him, it was ski BASE with a wingsuit, which added to the complications and risk. As usual, Shane was raising his own bar.

Perhaps the details of his final jump don’t really matter. What matters is that “everyman’s superman” did a lot more than be a superman – he helped the rest of us feel like superheroes. When I’m slashing down a face of steep powder, feeling like a hero instead of the hack skier I am, it is thanks to Shane McConkey who walked away from his ski racing pedigree and even his extreme skiing peers to create both technology and a mental approach to skiing that makes many thousands of everyday skiers all over the world feel like superheroes. 

McConkey does about the best possible job of doing the impossible: capturing the beauty, the tragedy, and the brilliance of Shane McConkey’s life in under 2 hours. From intimate interviews with his loved ones, to footage of his journal where he drew pictures of the first rockered skis and mused on the potential of ski BASE, the experienced team at Matchstick Productions deserve all the accolades they will certainly get. Order it here.

McConkey premiered in London on October 1st, and the story of the premier was captured by Pure Powder. I’m sure the tears and beers flowed freely.

Photo of Jim McConkey jumping a plane in 1962, during the first explorations into the Columbia Mountains in what is now CMH Cariboos Heli-Ski terrain, with CMH Heli-Skiing founder Hans Gmoser. Courtesy CMH Archives.

Powder forecasting guru on BC snow trends

  
  
  

Last week I had a chat with Joel Gratz, the legendary meteorologist who has turned the ski conditions forecasting world on its head with his snow-rider-centric websites, Colorado Powder Forecast and Open Snow. We were at the Denver showing of Take Flight, the latest visual treat from CMH Heli-Skiing where he shared some interesting (and exciting for powder hounds) trends in Colorado precipitation after the record-breaking Colorado floods.

Joel told me he’d been looking at historical weather data from the Mica Dam, just up the road from the CMH Monashees lodge and an area known for extraordinarily deep snow (and steep tree skiing) but that his results weren’t quite ready for prime time.  Since then he dialed it in and this week he sent me a summary of his results.

BC early snow

To begin with, this year the water in the central Pacific is about average temperature, creating what Joel calls La Nada, as opposed to El Niño (warmer than average waters in the central Pacific) or La Niña (cooler than average waters in the central Pacific).

Joel found the following trends in snowfall at the Mica Dam:

  • During El Niño years, snowfall is 92% of average, and is twice as likely to have a below normal snow year than a normal year or an above average year.
  • During La Niña, snowfall is 111% of average, with almost no “normal” years and is twice as likely to have an above average year than a below average year.
  • During La Nada (which we have this year) snow is 100% of average, with equal chances of having an above average or a below average year.

By crushing more of the Mica Dam data into statistics, Joel found a few more interesting things:

  • In December, it snows an average of 61% of the days, with 13% of the days having at least 15cm (6 inches) and 3% having at least 30cm (12 inches).
  • In January, it snows an average of 56% of the days, with the same percentage of 15cm and 30cm days as December.
  • In February, it snows and average of 44% of the days, with 7% of the days getting 15cm and 1% getting at least 30cm.

Joel noted that Mica Dam is at the lowest altitude of any Heli-Skiing pickups and explained that “Even though it's at a low elevation, the snowfall trends should be similar to higher elevations, but the amounts at the dam are far lower.”

In his research, Joel came up with a couple of other interesting tidbits:

First, he learned that there is no trend in snowfall over the past 30 years, but that the late 60s and early 70s had average snowfall that was about 25% more than the snowfall during the past 30 years. This supports the observations made by some of the old-timers that I interviewed while writing Bugaboo Dreams, the book that chronicles CMH and the invention of Heli-Skiing, who said that in the early years it snowed more. They’ll be happy to learn that it wasn’t just the passing of the years that made the snow seem deeper – it really was deeper.

Second, and perhaps most fascinating to CMH and Revelstoke area skiers and snowboarders, is that about 75% of the maximum base (which occurs from February 1 to March 1) is accumulated by December 31. This may come as no surprise to fans of the cold smoke of early season Heli-Skiing, but it is a fascinating statistic considering how much it snows in the Columbia Mountains from January through April. Perhaps the part we forget to consider is that right now the snow is already accumulating in the Columbias…

If anyone knows when to plan a ski trip, it’s Joel Gratz himself, and he’s planning a trip to the tree skiing nirvana of CMH Monashees this winter from December 28 to January 2 where he will share some secrets of the art of forecasting powder – as well as schralp a bunch of the white stuff. Want to join him? Contact Brad Nichols, CMH Rep at brad@cmhrep.com or call (303) 378-9106.

Photo of early season snow in the Columbias by Dani Lowenstein.

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