Interviewing CMH Bobbie Burns guide Marty Schaffer would probably be best done on a pair of skis with a recorder taped to a ski pole – Marty was skiing in his mother’s womb before he was born, and hasn’t stopped since. In fact, the only reason I caught him on a down day was because he was at his 62-year-old mother’s house helping her recover from an injury that she sustained after a jump went awry while powder skiing.
You read that right - Marty's 62-year-old mother is still going big.
I’d heard about Marty, equally comfortable on a pair of skis, a splitboard or a snowboard, and already a legend and a full ski guide at 26 years old. He was profiled on the spirited website, GetRadRevelstoke.com, where the stories of him growing up with parents who ran a backcountry lodge convinced me I had to track him down for a few more tales.
And tales he had to share. When he was 3 years old, his parents were digging out the door to the Blanket Glacier Chalet while Marty played in the snow nearby. After digging for a while, his mom suddenly asked, “Where’s Marty?”
A minute of panic ensued while they looked frantically for their son – and for good reason. They found him deep in a nearby tree well! They got him out without incident, but a treewell is the kind of trap that can kill even a strong adult without help.
With childhood imprints like treewells and backcountry lodges, it’s no wonder Marty pursues the twin pillars of mountain life, fun and safety, with almost religious fervor. “I was sort of tricked into becoming a guide,” explains Marty between chuckles. “When I was 13 or so, my dad would be guiding a ski tour with a few faster skiers, and I would take the faster guys and ski laps around the rest of the group. I didn’t even realize I was guiding. We were just skiing and having fun. I was just showing my friends the good stashes.”
Coming from such a rich background in the ski world, I had to ask Marty about the changes he’d seen. His first answer was the same one everyone gives: ski technology. Ski technology has made everything more fun.
His second answer was more surprising: “The average weekend warrior is skiing things the pros were skiing 10 years ago. Backcountry education is cool now. It’s cool to be prepared.”
Marty adds a cautionary tale at this point. During a recent freeride camp organized by Marty’s private guiding service, CAPOW!, Canadian Powder Guiding, he took a group skiing with ski pro Chris Rubens. They were skiing on mellow terrain on Rogers Pass, looking up at tantalizing extreme terrain, when Chris turned to the group, “If it were just Marty and me skiing here today, we’d be skiing exactly this same terrain. Conditions have to be perfect to ski that stuff.”
The moral of the story is that while average backcountry skiers push into more serious terrain, the ski pros don’t always ski more aggressively. “My ski pro friends are some of the most conservative skiers I know,” explained Marty.
The Blanket Glacier Chalet works in the same area as the CMH Revelstoke Heli-Ski operation. Marty remembers slogging up a skin track with his dad and seeing the Heli-Ski helicopter fly overhead. He remembers saying, “Dad, when I grow up I’m going to do that!”
He did just that. And working with CMH Heli-Skiing has proven to be more than he could have even imagined: “I still have to pinch myself sometimes to make sure it’s real! There’s a great mentorship program at CMH. Even as a full ski guide I learn stuff every week.”
Talking with Marty was entertaining, and revealing of the cutting edge of both recreational and professional skiing, but as it should be, talking with Marty mostly just made me want to go skiing.
Showing wisdom beyond his years, Marty concluded: “I’d like to think things haven’t changed too much. It’s all about fun and safety, the same as it was when Hans (Gmoser, the founder of CMH Heli-Skiing) was taking people ski touring in these mountains all those years ago. It’s not just about powder snow – it’s the whole thing.”
It was a painful interview for Marty. He could scarcely contain his enthusiasm. “It’s totally bluebird in Revelstoke and the stability is great! I can’t believe I’m inside!”
Photos: Marty checking the air for the pilot in CMH Bobbie Burns by Carl Trescher, Marty dressed up as a mountain guide with his dad's old gear for Halloween from the Schaffer family archives, and waiting in the lift line at CMH Bobbie Burns by Ryan Bavin.
CMH K2 has played host to some of the most progressive heli-ski trips in the world this year. Among the most progressive has to be the K2 Demo Days. Why, you ask? That would be because these are trips that actually progress the sport of skiing. With a team of engineers from K2 Skis, armed with a fleet of prototype skis, and a large crew of guests and staff to test them to the max, it is guaranteed to produce something special.
This year, the first K2 demo trip had beyond epic conditions. With a huge amount of snow, skiers were finding it hard to carry enough speed down the runs to make it to the pickups. It was truly one of those legendary B.C. interior snow storms.
-The deepest of deep- CMH K2
Because of the over-the-head deep conditions, one of the most popular skis at the demo days was the brand new K2 Mon2oon. A ski derived from the extremely popular Pon2oon, but with a little more floatation. This ski incorporates some of the very latest in ski technology – powder specific tip, medial body fusion, progressive sidecut, SBS (Side-by-Side) binding mounts, and tip and tail holes for climbing skins (yeah right… Which way to the heli?). The powder specific tip cut seamlessly through even the deepest of snow. The deepest of snow required the widest of platforms for the skier to push off of. The 264mm waist provides that platform that deep snow skiers are looking for. “The use of medial body fusion allows us to create a ski that is wider than anything previously seen in the ski industry", said Andy Hytjian, K2 Ski Engineer. The SBS binding mounts allow the skier to attach both bindings to the same platform, allowing for optimal floatation.
If you think this sounds like CMH and K2 have developed a monoski, you are 100% correct. Bringing back a failed experiment from the 80’s the new Mon2oon will be phased in over five years as the official new ski of CMH Heli-Skiing, replacing the entire fleet. The first prototypes will be put in to use today, April 1, 2013. And yes, hope you had a laugh, it is April 1st!
-Mon2oons sure would have come in handy here!
The team at Snow and Rock, the UK outdoor sportwear icon, with help from the graphics team at Confuesed.com, put together a visual tool to help skiers, snowboarders and other winter sports enthusiasts dress properly. While experienced skiers and snowboarders will find only a few new techniques here, for people new to the winter game this infographic is a wealth of wisdom.
Here at CMH Heli-Skiing, we’re entering our most diverse weather season: spring. That means we’ll often start the day under sunny skies with warm temperatures, and by afternoon a convective snowstorm will roll in and both the temperature and snow will fall dramatically.
Layering, as shown in this infographic is the key to being comfortable, especially in the springtime. While a heavy winter coat might work during a frigid January day of Heli-Skiing, in the springtime the coat will be not give you enough versatility for the diverse weather conditions. Instead, layer for success and comfort, and adjust the layers as needed throughout the day.
In addition to the suggestions in this infographic, remember that the soft shell jackets that are so popular for aerobic winter sports like ski touring and nordic skiing are not waterproof enough to keep you dry during a full day of Heli-Skiing in heavy spring snowfall. Savvy skiers will use a softshell for ski touring, but then break out the waterproof hard shell for deep powder Heli-Skiing.
Brought to you by Confused.com and Snow + Rock
Photo of spring ski conditions at CMH K2 by Topher Donahue.
You can always pick out the CMH Heli-Skier in transit; they’re wearing hiking boots or something sturdy on their feet for the winter mountain world, are wearing a technical jacket, sometimes have ski boots thrown over their shoulder, and tote a small carry-on for the plane; and they’re usually smirking a little over how much fun they’re about to have – or just had.
Travel with CMH Heli-Skiing is easy. Sure, the roads through the Canadian Rockies can close down during the biggest storm cycles, but we've been experts at mountain travel for almost 50 years. 99% of the time, you can roll into Calgary, turn off your travel brain, and enjoy letting us take care of delivering your ideal ski vacation.
But there area a few things you can do to that can help ensure that your trip goes perfectly:
- Contact CMH to discuss your best transportation options. The timing of your arrival and departure can make the difference between a relaxing ski trip and a stressful one. CMH Reservation agents are familiar with the itinerary options and can suggest the travel plan that will fit your schedule and give you the most enjoyable trip.
- Carry your ski boots on the plane. But don't leave them in the luggage bin! Many million-foot guests of CMH will carry their ski boots as their “personal item” on the plane. If your luggage doesn’t arrive, which is thankfully less common in this age of computerized luggage tracking, you’ll at least have your boots. Borrowing some ski clothes is easy, we have plenty of skis and snowboards, but ski boots fitted perfectly to your feet are the one thing that would be more difficult to replace quickly.
- Fill out the lodge luggage tags as directed. When you get to Calgary, or wherever you meet the CMH concierge, you’ll be directed to put your name on a luggage tag labeled with the lodge of your destination. This is because we have 11 heli-ski areas and we want you to arrive at your area with your gear. We’ll deliver your luggage to the door of your room in the lodge, but to do this we need to know it’s yours.
- Use CMH transport when possible. While renting a car and being on your own schedule is tempting, we can do more for you if you travel with us. If roads do close, we sometimes arrange a helicopter transfer from a different location, and if you’re somewhere else in a private car, you’ll miss it.
- If your schedule allows, give yourself a little extra time to catch flights after your trip. Many of our European guests need to catch an evening plane out of Calgary on the last day of their trip. We arrange an early flight from the lodge to accommodate them, but it is far more relaxing to fly the following morning and have the last day of your trip to travel stress-free and reminisce about the ski paradise you just experienced.
- Travel light-ish. Remember that some of our areas are helicopter access only in the wintertime, and everything you bring will need to be flown into the lodge. You should bring whatever clothes and personal items you need to have a comfortable stay, but don't bring the kitchen sink - we supply those already.
Photos of Heli-Ski travel, CMH Cariboos style, by Topher Donahue.
Photo: Andi Kraus
Boarder: Keaton Sullivan
Date: March 24, 2013
Area: CMH McBride
Any list of the world’s 5 best ski towns doomed to be unfair. In many ways, the best ski town in the world is the one you’re in. But some, like my number one choice (shown in this photo), are the kind of ski towns where ski dreams meet reality.
To make this list for the Heli-Ski Blog, I considered the conversations I’ve had with the most experienced group of skiers I know: the guests of CMH Heli-Skiing. As a group, CMH Heli-Skiers have skied everywhere and know a thing or two about the best the world has to offer. At aprés ski in a CMH Lodge, waiting for a heli-pickup, or riding the bus from Calgary to the Revelstoke region, CMH guests talk about skiing. These are the ski towns that I’ve heard spoken of with the most reverence. To pick this list, I weighed the skiing heavily, followed by the culture and lifestyle of the area, and limited my list to no more than one ski town in a given country.
Number 5: Jackson Hole, Wyoming, USA
There’s nowhere in the United States where you get a more American skiing experience than Jackson Hole. Think cowboys and National Parks, big trucks, wolves and moose before even stepping into your skis. From Teton Pass, where a car shuttle and boot pack trail give access to world-class powder skiing, to the endless backcountry runs in Grand Teton National Park (photo right), to the progressive Jackson Hole ski resort where out-of-bounds skiing (with the right safety gear and training) is considered standard fare; the skiing during good snow cycles is about as good as snowriding gets.
Number 4: The Arlberg, Austria
It’s hard to pick one area in the Northern Alps. From Garmisch Partenkirchen in Southern Germany, to Innsbruck, Austria, a town many consider the winter sports capital of the world, there may be no region on the planet with better ski infrastructure or more ski-soaked culture.
I had to pick the Arlberg. Considered the birthplace of modern Alpine skiing, the Arlberg was also one of the places where skiers experimented with using a helicopter as a ski lift before CMH opened the world’s first Heli-Skiing business in 1965.
Number 3: La Grave–La Meije, France
Much of Europe is famous for impeccably groomed pistes, comfortable lodging, and well thought-out transportation. A few European areas, including the legendary Verbier in Switzerland, are known for out-of-bounds skiing and would be worthy of inclusion in this list. I had to give the love to a little lesser-known jewel of the off-piste lifestyle: La Grave, described here in an Outside Magazine article, is an almost mythical area famous for one thing, and one thing only. Skiing.
Home to the biggest lift-accessed off-piste skiing in the world, La Grave offers 2150 metres (7000 feet) of vertical and unrestricted backcountry access. There are no luxury hotels in La Grave, and only a single tram and a couple of surface lifts, but the town's classical stone construction and epic skiing make it a ski town unlike any other. If you go to La Grave, hire a guide, and get ready for the most thrilling lift-serviced skiing you’ve ever done.
Number 2: Akakura Onsen, Japan
The Revelstoke of Asia, this ski region surrounding Nagano was blown wide open by the 1998 winter Olympics. I remember having a hard time focusing on the races in Nagano because of the surrounding steep mountains coated in a generous blanket of powder snow kept catching my eye.
Akakura Onsen is known as the most central village to the best skiing, with access to several ski resorts. One area, Myoko Kogen, also allows off-piste skiing, while many of the other Japanese ski resorts do not. Add Japanese Onsen (hot springs) and cuisine to the equation, and you’ve got a recipe for what could be the world’s healthiest ski destination.
Number 1: Revelstoke, British Columbia, Canada
Let’s see. North America’s tallest lift-serviced ski area. Canada’s snowiest mountains. Arguably the world’s most diverse and vast backcountry ski terrain. The spiritual centre of CMH Heli-Skiing, the world’s first Heli-Ski service. Well-managed backcountry hut systems. A world-class avalanche forecasting service. Industry-leading ski guide culture. Canadians. Need I say more?
While I hummed and hawed over the other four, it was easy to choose the number one ski town in the world. For some reason, similar to Akakura Onsen, much of the ski world just recently learned about Revelstoke. But the word is out, and the combination of Revelstoke’s easy-going-yet-go-for-it-safely Canadian ski culture, the endless terrain, the epic snowfall and diverse ski options are taking the ski world by storm.
Photo: Carl Trescher
Skier: Marty Schaffer
Date: March 16, 2013
Area: CMH Bobbie Burns
“Quality.” Replied Joe Flannery, the new President of CMH Heli-Skiing and Summer Adventures, when I asked him what CMH is all about. “Quality of snow. Quality of experience. Quality of guides and staff. Quality of helicopters. Quality of lodges. Quality of the alpine ethic.”
Last month I had breakfast with Joe in Denver, Colorado where he was attending the SIA trade show. I was thinking he might give me a laundry list of the changes he was planning with CMH, but before the waiter even poured coffee, Joe made it clear that his role was not to make a laundry list of changes, but rather to get educated about the complex workings and then to ensure the future vitality of one of the world’s most established and respected mountain tourism companies.
He did explain that there were some things he saw no need to change, including CMH operations in the field. “The product doesn’t need to be reinvigorated,” he explained. “The product is the best in the world.”
And Joe knows something about quality. In the three years after he finished undergraduate studies at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, he went from a financial analyst, to a startup employee, to a product director for Nike. He then spent a decade working for Adidas in Bavaria, the mountainous region in southern Germany, where he headed Adidas’ billion-dollar sports heritage division. After returning to the United States, Joe landed a job as the Global VP of The North Face, and helped the company to grow 300% during his tenure.
During his free time in Europe, the United States, and now Canada, Joe picked up a wide range of outdoor sports including skiing, snowboarding, surfing, rock climbing, mountaineering and cycling. As he puts it, humbly: “I’m a participant in all. Expert in none.”
To lead CMH Heli-Skiing and Summer Adventures, Joe moved his wife and six-month-old child from San Francisco, California to Banff, Alberta, to be close to the heart and soul of CMH. “There is so much energy in this company,” he said, explaining his reason for immigrating to take the job, “it doesn’t make sense to be the leader and not be there.”
After a second cup of coffee, he shared a simple three-part plan for, as he put it, “making sure CMH is as successful in the future as it has been in the past.” First, learn as much as possible about the legacy, the present state, and the future potential of CMH; second, dial in the CMH business model to a contemporary, nimble form to match the company’s strong legacy as it moves into the future; and finally, bring greater awareness to the world’s greatest skiing. Joe explained, “We have such a diverse range of guests that we need to customize our voice so it is right for all of them.”
He shared an example of his own learning about the current state of CMH: At the SIA trade show he chatted with Chris Davenport, the visionary skier who has won extreme skiing competitions and skied all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks in a single year. Chris joined CMH Heli-Skiing for a week earlier this season and explained to Joe that before the trip he didn’t think skiing with CMH was his kind of thing. Chris went on to explain that the experience had exceeded even his expectations: “I was blown away. It was one of the best skiing experiences I’ve ever had in my life!”
“Even a skier as well-traveled as Chris Davenport didn’t realize what CMH was really all about,” explained Joe, “that means we need to tailor our message a bit better.”
By the time we finished breakfast, I had the strong sense of Joe Flannery’s ultimate goal as President of CMH Heli-Skiing and Summer Adventures – to tell the world what CMH is really all about.
Joe concluded with a big smile: “It’s going to be a lot of fun!”
Photo: Joe Flannery (on the right) with CMH General Manager, Rob Rohn, checking out the dreamy ski conditions of this season at CMH Galena. Photo by Mike Welch.
We experimented with one-day heliskiing too. In fact, the world’s very first attempt at commercial Heli-Skiing in 1963, exactly 50 years ago this spring, was a one-day trip. It was led by CMH Heli-Skiing's founder Hans Gmoser, so we know a thing or two about how it happened. On our very first day, we strapped a car's ski rack onto the skids of a helicopter and flew out of Canmore, Alberta, onto the nearby Old Goat Glacier, to try using a helicopter as a ski lift.
Granted, there were a few problems. First, we were using a Bell 47 helicopter, which could only carry 2 skiers at a time. Second, we tried Heli-Skiing in one of the driest areas in the Canadian Rockies so the snow was terrible. And third, everyone was wearing long, skinny, straight skis which made the terrible snow really difficult to ski.
It cost 20 bucks a person to be one of the world’s first Heli-Skiers.
Two years later, in 1965, we finally got it right in the Bugaboos. While the helicopter was still too small and the skis to skinny, we were in the right place - and we spent a week Heli-Skiing instead of just a single day.
Fast-forward 50 years, and Heli-Skiing has become a mature industry, but the problems with one-day Heli-Skiing have remained. We experimented again with one-day Heli-Skiing just a few years ago, and the problems are as plentiful now as they were that fateful day on the Old Goat Glacier in 1963.
At first glance, considering the expense of Heli-Skiing, the one-day idea seems like a good one. But when you dig in a little more, the reality tells a different story. Here are the five big problems with one-day heli-skiing trips, and the reasons that CMH Heli-Skiing does not offer one day trips:
- Training: Every Heli-Ski operator worth their googles trains guests in helicopter, avalanche, and skiing safety. A minimal training session takes an hour, and a good training session takes closer to two hours. In a three-day ski trip, spending an hour or two learning safety protocol doesn’t eat into much of your skiing time. In a one day trip, especially during the short winter days, the training cuts into your ski time dramatically.
- Burn per turn: How much money you spend per glorious, choker, blower, over the head powder turn goes down significantly the more days you can afford to ski. The best value heli-ski vacations are more than one day. No exceptions. If you are considering a trip with a “cheap” Heli-Ski outfit, do the math. For dollars per face shot, “cheap” Heli-Skiing is often the most expensive. Check out this article about one-day trips and other myths about Heli-Skiing.
- Conditions: No mountaineer travels to a mountain destination with only a single-day window to bag the ultimate mountain goal. In one day, you’re more than at the mercy of the mountain’s conditions – you’re a slave to them. CMH Heli-Skiing’s weeklong Signature trips were designed to take into account the fickle nature of mountain weather and conditions, as well as give people time to adjust to the rhythms of the wilderness.
- Friendships: For the guides and staff of CMH Heli-Skiing, this is the biggest reason we don’t offer one day heli-skiing. We don’t want to meet new people every day and then watch them leave before we even get a chance to become friends. And our guests don’t want to leave either. Everyone has more fun in the mountains after we get to know each other.
- Life: One day of surfing. One day of golf. One day of sailing. All one day does is get you ready for the second day. Even the best skiers amongst us have more fun Heli-Skiing the second day. If you’re going to throw down for the ultimate ski experience, you owe it to yourself to make it worth the cost, the time, the travel and the potential of Heli-Skiing.
CMH Heli-Skiing’s spring trips are some of the highest value options in the entire recreation industry. Join us this spring for a three to seven day trip that you’ll never regret.
Photo of one of the world's first commercial Heli-Ski flights from the CMH archives. Photo of the rewards of multi-day Heli-Skiing at CMH Gothics by Topher Donahue.
Skier: Anthony Clark (CMH Navigation)
Date: March 5, 2013
Area: CMH Gothics
Photographer: Trevor Ward