Photo: J. Mac
Skier: Bell 212
Date: February 28, 2013
Area: CMH Bugaboos
Heli-Skiing is different from other kinds of skiing in a number of ways. The obvious ones, like the volume of untracked powder you get to shred each day and the vast selection of ski terrain at your ski tips, speak for themselves.
Once you get out in these mountains, with a helicopter as your ski lift, a few other differences become obvious – like the clothes you wear in a ski resort aren’t necessarily optimal for Heli-Skiing.
Finally, talk to your fellow Heli-Skiers. CMH Heli-Skiing guests are an experienced lot. It’s not uncommon to be at a CMH Lodge with guests who have as much Heli-Skiing experience as some guides. They are a wealth of wisdom in how to get the most out of your precious time in the unique world of deep powder heli-skiing.
- Close the gap. I’m not talking about gap jumping. I’m talking about the gap between your jacket and pants. While the low-riding pants and high-riding jackets look great in the lift line, there are no lift lines in Heli-Skiing. This fashion statement acts more as a snow-melting system in deep backcountry powder. Even if you don’t fall, the deep powder will quickly fill your pants, melt down your leg, and eventually make it’s way into your boots. You don't want that water in your boots - you never know where it's been. Ski guides prefer high top pants with suspenders or snug belts and long shirts that will stay tucked in all day.
- Don’t wear white. Even if you’re extra attentive to staying close to your group, when skiing in the trees wearing white makes life more difficult for your tree skiing buddy. We ski in pairs in the trees, and a flash of colour is easier to keep track of than a flash of white in a white world. In a worst-case scenario, if you do get separated from your group, the helicopter pilot will be called upon to find you from the air. I’m sure you can visualize what a white skier in the middle of some of the world’s snowiest mountains looks like from the air…
- Under-dress, then add a vest. The helicopter is heated, and there is usually not much waiting around, so you don’t need to dress like you would for a long, cold chairlift ride. However, Canadian winters can be quite cold and there are occasionally delays, so you want to dress warm enough. What to wear is a debate every Heli-Skier has every day. My favourite piece of Heli-Skiing kit is a light vest with synthetic insulation. I can wear it at the beginning of the day to stay warm, and then stick it in my pocket or in the tiny pack provided for each CMH guest. Wearing too much is a common mistake made by Heli-Skiers. This results in excess perspiration which fogs up your goggles, dehydrates you, and detracts from your enjoyment of the world’s greatest skiing.
- Monitor and adjust your temperature. If you feel that you are about to get cold, make sure you put on your hood, zip up your zippers, tuck in your sweater and loosen your boots at the pickup to increase circulation BEFORE YOU GET COLD. If you’re getting hot, take off your hat and vent your jacket BEFORE YOU OVERHEAT.
- Wear a hard shell rather than a soft shell or an insulated jacket. While insulated jackets and soft shells are great at the ski area, they don’t allow enough versatility for a week of Heli-Skiing. In a typical week of Heli-Skiing in Interior British Columbia, you’ll see both brilliant sunshine and heavy snowfall - sometimes in the same day. Even the best soft shells tend to get wet easier and stay wet longer than hard shells.
Photo of a well-executed wet-sock-grab at CMH Bugaboos by Topher Donahue.
A few years ago, kite boarding met surfing, and the result was the hybrid sport of kite surfing that forever changed the way we look at the water. Now, creative thrill-seekers are combining paragliding with skiing. The result? Speedflying, AKA Speed Riding.
I’m not sure what came first, speedflying or the GoPro, but they seem made for each other. GoPro footage shot while skiing is often sickeningly wobbly, while the smooth ride of the paraglider offers a silky-smooth view of dancing with the mountain world by ski and wing.
I came across these 3 videos that show the different faces of Speedflying, and demonstrate clearly that for those who have the skills and the inclination, Speedflying is one of the most beautiful, terrifying, and fascinating things that the human being has yet invented.
First, a 30 second aerial dance with an unskiable ridge in Alaska shows that sometimes speedflying can be more flying than skiing, with the skis providing a smooth takeoff and landing:
GoPro: BombSquad Alaska TV Commercial from GoPro on Vimeo.
The second clip, a first descent of a route (or flight path?) on the infamous Eiger Nordwand in Switzerland, shows the cutting-edge, mind-bending potential of speedflying. Laying down turns on snowfields in the middle of the world’s most dangerous alpine faces, slicing through the air inches from jagged rocks, and truly treating the most rugged mountain like a terrain park:
This final clip, shot on the Mt. Blanc Massif in France, is like a dream-skiing sequence. While the other videos are fascinating, this one actually makes me want to go speedflying. Touching down to carve the smooth snow, while lifting over crevasses and cliffs. Snow conditions seem entirely irrelevant. Hit a bit of crust? Just lift a few inches. Want to shred the top of that serac? Give ‘er. Then in the end, instead of carrying your skis to the bottom of the Chamonix valley, or making sure you catch the last ride on the telepherique, just soar to a quiet landing in a grassy meadow 3000 metres later:
While I don’t think I’ll be an early adopter of Speedflying, these videos made me wonder, will futuristic wings, updrafts and natural airflow one day allow the freedom, power and level of safety that the helicopter now offers Heli-Skiers?
Photo: Jorg Wilz
Skier: Guide John Luttrell
Date: February 23, 2013
Area: CMH Revelstoke
Camera: Nikon D7000
Earlier this winter, Forbes.com ran an article titled “Why You Need To Try Heli-Skiing This Winter” that inspired me to compile this list of things that Heli-Skiing, at least with CMH Heli-Skiing in Western Canada, is most definitely not.
It isn’t that there is anything wrong with the article. The author, Larry Olmstead, is a genuine fan of skiing who is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the Most Trails Skied in 8 Hours (a record he explains, humbly, is “begging to be broken”) after skiing 64 different runs in 8 hours at Crested Butte in Colorado.
What inspired me to do a little myth-busting is that the first photo in the article is perhaps the most misleading photo ever published in an article about Heli-Skiing. It shows a group of guys braced against the wind on a dirt ridge next to a helicopter. There is no ski terrain, not even a pair of skis, and hardly any snow in sight. I’m sure they went on to have a great run, but the photo hardly does justice to one of the most exciting forms of recreation ever invented.
So here’s my short list of what Heli-Skiing is not:
I know there are a lot of other experienced Heli-Skiers reading this. What else is Heli-Skiing not?
- Heli-Skiing is not about groveling on dirty ridges while the helicopter spits gravel in your face. Most of the time, the helicopter lands in the snow with flags placed to mark the landing spot amidst a winter wonderland of alpine peaks or snow-cloaked old-growth forest.
- Heli-Skiing is not about jumping out of the helicopter. Last month I was interviewed by a journalist from Yahoo Travel who wrote a fantastic article titled “Take the kids Heli-Skiing”. The author, Deborah Hopewell, is a skilled journalist and she asked the kind of questions people are curious about - including whether or not Heli-Skiing involves jumping out of helicopters. Anyone who has used a helicopter for a ski lift knows the reality couldn’t be farther from the truth. The helicopter lands and everyone gets out with no rush (and without wearing skis). When the helicopter leaves, we put on our skis and snowboards. Heli-Skiers are about as likely to jump out of the helicopter as we are to jump out of a commercial jet.
- Heli-Skiing is not only for super-fit, expert skiers. Families with children as young as 12, intermediate skiers, older skiers, skiers with average fitness and skiers who live nowhere near a ski area all have a great time with CMH Heli-Skiing. Sure, some of our areas, like the Monashees and Galena, are famous for challenging terrain, but anyone who can ski a blue run with confidence can enjoy Heli-Skiing with CMH. In fact, our Powder 101 program was designed by a Level 4 Austrian ski instructor with specific curriculum for intermediate skiers who want to learn to ski powder.
- Heli-Skiing in Canada is not limited to low-angled glaciers. There is a persistent myth in Heli-Skiing that Canadian Heli-Skiing all happens on low angled, glaciated terrain. Sure, there are a lot of great low-angle glaciers to ski, which are perfect for learning to ski powder, but we also have a wonderland of steep skiing, both in the trees and in the alpine – and we get after it.
- Heli-Skiing is not for people who like ski touring. In fact, CMH Heli-Skiing’s first guests, 48 years ago, were ski touring guests of Hans Gmoser, the founder of Canadian Mountain Holidays. And recently, the CMH Heli-Assisted Ski Touring program has become one of our most popular programs, selling out every season. Form many people, the recipe is the best of both the Heli-Skiing and ski touring worlds: stay in a comfortable CMH Lodge, take a flight each morning to the ideal touring location, tour all day using skins for uphill travel and skiing down runs that sometimes even Heli-Skiers can’t reach, and then catch a return flight to the lodge for après ski massage, dining and CMH camaraderie.
Photos of steep tree skiing at CMH Galena and a Heli-Ski pickup, Powder 101 terrain and Steep Week terrain at CMH Cariboos by Topher Donahue.
Yesterday (Monday) was a holiday here in Alberta, Canada. So this week's photo of the week should help you get your Tuesday off to a great start! And, because it was a long weekend, I am in a great mood. So, this weeks photo of the week is a "motion" photo of the week.
Shot by the guys at Stellar Media at CMH K2, K2 Skis athlete Reggie Crist finds out what the "Kootenay Gold" is all about!
Powder Highway #2 CMH/Nakusp from Stellar Media on Vimeo.
Mid-February...this is the time of year we see lots of ski videos coming out. Some great, some not so great and some really off-the-wall and quirky.
Earlier this week on The Adventure Blog, an blog which covers news, commentary, and insights on adventures, and adventurers, from around the globe, they posted this fun video created in Whittier, Alaska called 5 Floors of Fury. It's not quite JP Auclair's street skiing segment, but these kids are on their way!
But for some really great videos of people skiing on mountains enjoying nature's finest fresh powder, you might want to subscribe to CMH Heli-Skiing's YouTube channel.
Solo travellers, consider these options:
Option one: Travel to a huge and famous resort. Check into a hotel room on the 6th floor. Go out looking for a place to have dinner. Eat at a table by yourself. Go to a bar in hopes of finding someone to talk to. The next day, ski alone and try to be social on the lift. Channel Jason Bourne strategies to get a few fresh tracks.
Option two: Take a trip with CMH Heli-Skiing. From the moment you meet the CMH concierge in Calgary or wherever your trip begins, you’re warmly welcomed into the fold of CMH Heli-Skiing. Every aspect is taken care of for you. Go to a remote and cozy lodge where you’re immersed in ski paradise with people having the best days of their lives. Request a private room or let us find you a roomie. Dine with snow riders from all over the world who quickly become your friends. Use the world’s safest helicopters for a ski lift. Channel Scooby-do appetite to devour thousands of vertical metres of untouched powder.
Which would you choose?
For some reason, there’s a common myth among snow riders that you have to be part of a group to book a trip with CMH Heli-Skiing.
This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Among CMH Heli-Skiing’s 11 ski tenures in the Revelstoke region, two of them are private lodges that are (mostly) booked by groups; the rest are filled with singles, couples, families, small groups, and every combination of powder enthusiasts imaginable.
Not only are single Heli-Skiers allowed at CMH, there are numerous return guests at CMH Heli-Skiing who book trips with their friends and family for the shared experience – and then return for a trip alone for the full-throttle experience of snow-riding without friends and family.
For solo travellers who want to socialize outside of the CMH Lodges, CMH Revelstoke and CMH K2 are based in the charismatic Canadian mountain towns of Revelstoke and Nakusp where nightlife and a ski bum scene can be found between days of Heli-Skiing in the legendary mountains of the Selkirks and the Monashees.
For the unique combination of camaraderie and comfort that makes you feel like you’d rather be nowhere else on earth - a feeling known in the German alpine culture as huttenzauber, or hut magic – a Heli-Ski trip to one of the nine remote CMH Lodges would be a solo travellers dream trip.
Whatever you choose, CMH has been hosting solo travellers (and groups) for 48 years, and there may be no other place on the planet where you’ll feel more welcome or have more friends more quickly than CMH Heli-Skiing.
Photo of a solo traveller making friends with a few snow mushrooms, CMH Adamants, and huttenzauber at CMH Gothics by Topher Donahue.
A bit of a deviation from the norm this week, mainly because it was snowing so much in all 11 Heli-Ski areas last week that it made for lousy photos.
Here's a glimpse at apres-ski, CMH Style. CMH Bobbie Burns cleared off the snow and laid down an ice rink for a few ends of curling for guests and staff last Friday night.
Photo by Ryan Bavin
Area: CMH Bobbie Burns
When we spend a day with a CMH Heli-Skiing Guide, it is impossible not to be in awe of their profession. It appears that every waking hour they are committed to the safety and quality experience of their skiing and snowboarding guests.
But every single one of them has a life outside of guiding.
A couple of years ago I went Heli-Skiing with Liliane Lambert in the epic tree runs and scenic alpine terrain of CMH Revelstoke. At that time she had a toddling daughter at home and a son on the horizon.
Liliane’s blossoming home life and commitment to her profession begs the simple question: How does she do it?
So I tracked her down between guiding ecstatic guests through the epic storm cycles of the 2012-2013 winter to find out.
TD: How old are your kids now?
LL: Thomas is almost two and Emilie is four.
TD: How did you meet your partner?
LL: I have a great husband (Dominic). I met Dominic in the Bugaboos during the spring of 2002! He was the chef. Three months later we moved to Revelstoke and bought a house.
TD: What do your little ones do while you are working?
LL: They are with Dominic. Dominic takes them skiing (alpine and x-country), swimming, skating, Strong Start (a drop in no-charge preschool for kids in British Columbia), Mother Goose (a story telling program), the train museum, long hikes with the dog (Texas), and riding bikes (when the snow is not too deep). They go to day care twice a week so they get their social time and Dominic can go ski touring. During the four month winter season Dominic does not work to be with the kids, and during the 8 month summer season Dominic goes to work and I stay home with the kids. Dominic is the owner of Indigo Landscaping in Revelstoke.
TD: Have you taken Emilie Heli-Skiing yet?
LL: Yes and no. I was guiding until I was 5.5 month pregnant with Emilie. She has been on 6 helicopter flights. When she was 4 months old we took her to a backcountry lodge. I was guiding and Dominic was the chef and Emilie came along. Dominic was cooking and taking care of her during the day. I am planning to take her out Heli-Skiing in the spring during the staff day.
TD: Has having kids changed your approach to managing risk in the mountains?
LL: My approach to managing risk has not changed that much. I would say that I think twice when I make a decision about managing risk.
TD: Does CMH Heli-Skiing do anything differently from the old days (when guides worked for a month or more straight) to make it easier for parents who are guides to be with their kids?
LL: The schedule is 2 weeks on, 1 week off. CMH has been really good about accommodating time off so we can spend more time with the kids.
TD: How does winter season affect Dominic's relationship with the kids?
LL: They spend a lots of time together so their bond is getting stronger. Dominic is extremely comfortable spending all day with the kids, keeping them busy and entertained - and he has fun has well.
TD: During the winter, what does your workday look like?
LL: I leave the house at 4:45am to get a bit of a work out. The guide’s meeting is at 6:00am until 7:00am, then breakfast and go skiing from 8:00am until 4:00pm. Between 4:30pm and 5:00pm I go home to see how Dom and the kids are doing. Them I’m back at the guide's office from 5:00pm till 6:00pm for guides meeting. I go back home from 6:00pm till 6:30pm and then go back to be with the CMH guests from 6:45pm until 9:15pm. I’m in bed buy 9:30pm.
TD: How long have you been guiding and how old are you?
LL: I have been guiding since 2000 and am 41 year old. I was born in Rimouski , Quebec and I never lost my accent...
TD: How did you get into the mountain sports?
LL: My family was into skiing. My Mom put me on skis at 2 years old. I grew up in Rimouski (near the Val Neigette ski area), ski racing and teaching skiing and telemark ski racing. At 16 I started ski touring in the Chic Choc in Gaspe (1.5 hours from Rimouski). In my early 20's I moved to Banff to go skiing. Then I really got involved in telemark ski racing on the Canadian National Team as well as ski touring and mountaineering. I did my ACMG Assistant Ski Guide Training in 2000 then got hired at CMH for the winter 2000-2001.
TD: On the scale of 1-10, how happy are you with the life of a guide and parent?
LL: 9 out of 10. I am super happy. The minus 1 point is because I get tired. I get tired from not sleeping all night (kids waking up!!). I feel very lucky to have a great partner, 2 great kids and to be able to guide. Life is good.
TD: How do you reconnect with your kids after working such long days?
LL: Emilie and Thomas are use to having one of us away. When I get back I make sure that I spent time a lots of time playing hide and seek and then doing puzzles to get back in the groove. It seems that if I play a game that both them can be involved it seems to be the trick.
Every CMH ski guide has a story like Liliane's, so next time you’re out with them in the snow-laden woods, in awe of their professionalism and mountain savvy, remember to ask them what they do when they’re not guiding. It’s always a great conversation that follows.
Photo of Liliane Lambert in her big office, the Selkirk Range of CMH Revelstoke, by Topher Donahue.