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5 tips for skiing and riding safely at a resort

  
  
  

As ski technology has made skiing easier, the average speed of average skiers has also increased, especially on a powder day where the fat skis allow us to really get going - before we crash. Since force equals mass times acceleration, at whatever our ability, our fat, shaped skis and snowboards are allowing us all to go hurling down the mountain with more force than we used to have. While it sure is fun haulin’ tail through the fluffy stuff, the bottom line is that our increased force means that if we hit a tree, another skier, a snow machine, a lift tower, or get hit by another skier, it’s gonna hurt more.

Besides the simple physics, there’s the fact that modern skis allow more people to ski the powder, so on a powder day there will be more people charging for their slice of the pow harvest than there used to be (a great excuse to go Heli-Skiing).  Snowboarders used to be, without a doubt, the fastest riders on the mountain. With modern skis, skiers are now rivaling snowboarders for speed.

resort skiing safety

Last year, most ski resort fatalities in Colorado happened on an intermediate groomed run after the skier or snowboarder lost control and hit a tree. This victim's average age is 37, is an experienced skier, and is wearing a helmet. According to an article in the Denver Post: “Those who died on Colorado slopes ranged from a local doctor to a snowboard instructor to a paraplegic using a sit ski. More than 80 percent were men. The youngest two were 11; the oldest, 73. Just more than 60 percent were out-of-state visitors.”

Considering the trends, here are 5 suggestions for making your time at the resort a safer experience:

  1. Ski good or eat wood? How about live to ski another day. Give the trees a wide berth when you’re skiing fast, and as the quest for freshies pushes you closer to the edge of the runs, slow down, way down - as in really slow - and enjoy the turns without redlining the adrenaline of powder skiing near the trees. Helmets are designed to protect you up to about a 19 kph (12mph) collision – most fatal accidents happen at 40-65 kph (25-40mph). For perspective, an ASTM study (an international standards organization) revealed that the average speed for a skier or snowboarder on a blue run, with good visibility, is 44.5 kph (27.6 mph) - plenty fast to render your helmet useless.
  2. Get out of the back seat. According to a study from the University of Vermont, skiers have the same statistical chance of getting an ACL injury as a college football player – or 365 times more likely than the rest of the population. Leaning back on your skis puts your ACL in a compromised position. Leaning forward doesn’t eliminate your chances of a knee injury, but it does put your knees in a stronger position, and allows you to react quicker. Besides, being centered or slightly forward on your skis will teach you to ski better than that old faithful backseat boogie. Here’s a detailed article on how to adjust your skiing habits to protect your ACL.
  3. Slow down at intersections, and don’t bag on snowboarders. Skiers love to say that snowboarders are more dangerous since they tend to look one way, creating what appears to be a blind spot on their backside turn. Statistics, however, tell a different story. According to a study done by the Rochester Institute of Technology, explained in this excelent article on ski safety, snowboarders are between 50% to 70% more likely to get injured (mostly wrist and upper body injuries), but they are about a third less likely to be killed on the slopes than skiers.  Additionally, the study revealed that skiers are three times more likely to be involved in a collision than snowboarders. That said, snowboarders need to be aware of their blind side at all times, and beware of the trend that snowboard accidents are on the rise, while skiing accident rates are relatively flat. Both skiers and snowboarders need to heed that deceptive mistress of speed. 
  4. Avoid crowds. Like a freeway, the ski hill tends to create bottlenecks and crowded zones. Choose runs that avoid these areas if possible, but when you must ski through these areas, make consistent turns in the fall line without stopping, give other skiers a wide berth and rotate you head frequently to see what’s happening in your blind spots – and yes, us skiers have blind spots too.
  5. Wear a helmet. No list of safety suggestions would be complete without suggesting that you should wear a helmet, but again, the statistics are surprising.  While the number of skiers and snowboarders wearing helmets is increasing each year, with almost 70% of all snow riders helmeting up these days, the fatality rate has remained flat. This suggests that wearing a helmet is a good idea, but skiing in control at slower speeds is an even better idea; as the numbers show in tip # 1, if you hit a tree with your head at 40+ kph, your helmet will not save you. When you're near the trees or on a crowded slope, challenge yourself with technical lines and perfect technique rather than tongue-wagging speed.

On the bright side of snow riding statistics, skiing and snowboarding are no more dangerous than other active participation sports, and safer than some of them, so while you're out there on the slopes, don't forget the most important element of all: have fun!

Photo of Telluride, Colorado by Topher Donahue.

Point of view ski descent of Mt. Robson

  
  
  

I don’t think I’ve ever watched any video and felt my stomach in my throat as much as I did while watching this short film of a recent climb and ski descent of a variation of the Kain Route on Mt. Robson (3,954 m), the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. Shot just two weeks ago, during the first week of August, the 12-minute film features Jeff Colvin and Reiner Thoni making a rare ski descent of the peak. This is shot in HD, so give it time to load and watch it full screen for maximum effect - from a stable chair.

The film is exceptional – besides the obviously horrifying footage of scratching down green ice with skis and an ice tool above massive exposure.

The best part about the film is that it shows what modern mountain explorers are doing for a weekend of fun with their friends. It's not just about the skiing, but when they do point 'em downhill, hang on...

It’s a fantastic trend.

Up through the 1960s, mountaineers had to be good skiers as well as climbers to consider themselves experts. That’s how guiding developed to include both skiing and climbing skills in mountain guide training programs – one got you up the hill, and the other got you down.

Then in the 1970s, the mountain sports diverged and specialized. Over the next 30 years, rock climbing, ice climbing, alpine climbing, skiing, snowboarding, freestyle, racing, pipe and park, nordic and big mountain all carved out their niches, complete with followers, fans and fashion.

Most recently, however, the trend has in many ways, been back towards the all-around roots of mountain sport – with an X-Generation flair.  Young mountain enthusiasts are getting good, really good, at a wide range of mountain skills, getting super fit, and then taking modern lightweight gear and an easy-going attitude into the world’s most stunning terrain. 

And they’re doing it with Go Pros strapped to their helmets. It’s only just beginning…

Thanks for the inspiration Jeff and Reiner!

For more info on their descent, and insights into the complexities of such an endeavor, visit Reiner's blog.

5 tips to help first time Heli-Skiers have the most fun

  
  
  

My first time heli-skiing I was nervous. Not because of the skiing – I’d been skiing my whole life and knew that once the boards were on my feet it would be the same as it ever was. Not because of the helicopter – I knew CMH Heli-Skiing's partner, Alpine Helicopters, has one of the most well maintained fleet of helicopters on the planet. Avalanches make me nervous anytime I go skiing, but I knew I was safer with CMH and their world-renowned snow safety system than any other time I'd spent in the backcountry or sidecountry.

So why was I nervous? In hindsight, I think I was nervous because Heli-Skiing was something new. Like the first day of school, or learning a new skill, doing anything for the first time is a little scary.

By lunchtime of the first day, my nervousness had disappeared, and was replaced by utter fascination and absurd amounts of fun. Looking back on my own maiden voyage, and watching other first timers go through the same transformation from intimidation to fun, there are five things that seem to help the most:

heliski tips for first timers

1. Get to know your guide, and follow their directions. I knew our ski guide was a seasoned veteran of Heli-Ski guiding, but for some reason after we talked for a while at the pickup and got to know each other a little, I felt like the seed of friendship had been planted, and everything felt more relaxed. It’s a lot more relaxing when your guide becomes your friend. Follow their directions and you’ll stay safer, become ever better friends, relax even more, and have more fun.

2. You don’t always need to hurry. At my first pickup, I was trying to bundle my skis as quickly as possible to prepare them for the ski basket, and my guide noticed my haste.
“Island time, man.” he said, “No need to hurry.”
When he said that, I felt every bone in my body relax. There are times when it is important to bundle your skis quickly so the helicopter doesn’t have to wait, forcing the rest of the groups to wait, but much of the time you can take the time to bundle your skis slowly.  The best way to know is to simply ask your guide:
“Are we in a hurry?”
If there is no need to hurry, don’t. Learn to bundle your skis properly and you’ll be faster at it later. If there is a reason to hurry, ask for help. Your guide or another experienced skier or snowboarder will be happy to give you a hand.

3. Learn to put your skis on in deep snow.  Even on the most epic powder day at a ski area, underneath the powder is a hard-packed ski area base, making it easy to put on our skis and snowboards. While Heli-Skiing, we sometimes step out of the helicopter into waist deep powder with more soft snow underneath the fresh, making it a tricky process to get into your skis or board - until you get used to it. When you first experience this, ask you guide, CMH staff, or other experienced rider to show you how to put on your skis or board in deep powder. If you don’t learn this trick, you’ll fight with your board(s) at every landing, wasting energy and becoming frustrated; not a good way to start each run. Also, if you loose a ski mid-run, where the snow is usually even deeper, much deeper, than on the landings, you’ll be able to put it back on much easier. Also, ask for tips on getting up if you fall down. On one board or two, getting up after falling can be one of the most exhausting parts of riding deep powder.

4. Ask your tree buddy to ski right behind you on the first couple of runs.  Unless you’ve skied a lot in the backcountry, Heli-Skiing often provides the deepest snow you’ve ever ridden. It is pretty intimidating your first time, but with the fat skis we use at CMH, and a friend to help you out if you fall, even intermediate skiers learn quickly how to ride the pow. Regardless of the size of the group you’re skiing with, your guide will ask you to always ski in pairs - the buddy system. If you’re nervous, ask your buddy to ski behind you for a couple of runs. This way if you fall, you’ll have someone right there to help you get up, and even if you don’t fall, it’s nice to have a friend backing you up.  After a couple of runs, take turns going first - but always stay together. In no time, the intimidation quickly transitions to insane amounts of fun.

5. Pay attention during the safety training, but don’t stress over it. At the beginning of each CMH ski trip, every guest goes through a short training exercise, covering the use of radios, avalanche transceivers, avalanche rescue technique and helicopter safety. It’s hard to learn if you’re stressed out. Instead, get into the beginner’s mind and just listen to what the guide is telling you. The avalanche equipment is important, but because the goal of the CMH guide team is to keep you out of danger in the first place, the vast majority of CMH guests, even thouse who've ripped millions of vertical feet with CMH, will never have need to use the avalanche equipment. Instead, focus on learning these just-in-case skills and then go have fun. If you ever go backcountry, sidecountry or cat skiing, you’ll be one step ahead of the game.

While the safety and helicopter efficiency systems that CMH guides have developed over the past five decades are complex, for guests the system is designed to be simple.  The guides and the rest of the CMH staff are there to help you have the time of your life. Get ready to have the most fun you’ve ever had with your boots on.

Photo of the fun kicking in for a first time Heli-Skier at CMH Gothics, by Topher Donahue.

The Hans Gmoser Film Preservation Project

  
  
  

This is a guest post by Chic Scott.

Hans Gmoser Film Preservation ProjectBetween 1957 and 1968 Hans Gmoser, founder of Canadian Mountain Holidays produced 10 films of mountain adventure which he then toured across North America. Many of us have wonderful memories of those presentations: Hans at the microphone dressed in his Austrian sweater, glorious ski and climbing images on the screen and beautiful classical music in the air. For many of us those evenings were the beginning of our long love affairs with the mountains.

Soon it will be possible to relive those magic experiences. Chic Scott and Marg Saul, in partnerships with the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, and with the assistance of professional film-maker Will Schmidt, are digitizing and reassembling these films, just as they were 50 years ago.

Hans Gmoser presented his films each year at more than 50 different venues all across North America. While the film rolled on the screen and a soundtrack of classical music played independently, Hans would personally narrate the story. All three elements came together in a remarkably seamless and beautiful production. In his films Hans took us ski touring at Rogers Pass and the Little Yoho Valley. Together we explored the icefields along the Continental Divide and climbed the East Ridge of Mount Logan in the Yukon and Mount McKinley in Alaska. We rock climbed high on Yamnuska, Mount Louis and Castle Mountain. And of course we were there in the Bugaboos in 1965 and 66 for the first years of Heli-Skiing.

Hans Gmoser with CameraAll ten films are now safely stored in the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, as are 7 of the original scripts. The films must first be transferred to a high definition digital format, a major expense in itself. Since Hans is no longer with us to narrate the script, we have come up with a novel solution: Michael Hintringer, Hans’ nephew, who lives here in Canada and was born and raised in the same Austrian town that Hans Gmoser grew up in, and who has an almost identical accent as his uncle, has volunteered to narrate the scripts for us. For the films to which an original script does not exist we are writing a commentary explaining the action which will be narrated by Chic Scott. All of this requires many hours in a sound recording studio. Finally, music must be integrated into the show. Since much of the music that Hans used in his presentations is under copyright and the original performers are difficult to identify, it will be necessary to purchase the rights to suitable music.

In addition, it is our goal to interview 13 individuals who appeared in these films then to create additional ‘chapters’ using these interviews, archival photos and narration to explain the story behind each film.

It is all a very big job and Will Schmidt, with 35 years experience producing and directing films, has been engaged to guide us through this complex process.

Our budget is $109,000.00. To date we have raised over $95,000 and feel confident that we can raise the remainder. We have already set to work and have transferred the films to HD, recorded the narration to the 10 films and recorded the 13 interviews.

For $500.00 you too can support this project and help make Hans’ remarkable films available for viewing. For five years these films will be for home personal viewing and will not be commercially available. For this donation you will receive a 10 DVD Collectors Edition Set PLUS a $400.00 income tax receipt from the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.

To learn more about this project and to view a short clip of highlights from Hans’ films please go to http://www.whyte.org/archives/projects .

If you would like to know more about this project please contact Chic Scott at chic_scott@hotmail.com.

If you would like to make a donation and receive a set of DVDs please send a cheque for $500.00 payable to the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, 111 Bear Street, Box 160, Banff, AB, Canada, T1L 1A3. Please mark on your cheque that it is for the Hans Gmoser Film Preservation Project and send the letter to the attention of Brett Oland, Executive Director.

The Heli-Skiing evolution of the ski basket

  
  
  

“It’s a thing of beauty.” Said Dave Cochrane, the manager of CMH Bugaboos, when I asked him what he thought about the new ski baskets that were installed on Alpine Helicopter’s fleet of Bell 212 helicopters in the last few years.

It may be hard to believe that something as dialed as the CMH Heli-Skiing system would need to change something as simple as the ski basket, but the story of the ski basket, like much of the Heli-Skiing story, is long and colorful. The heli-ski ski basket has gone through an evolution every bit as significant than the evolution in snowboard, ski and snow safety technology.

Cariboos 1963 Bell G 3 J. Davies tying on skisTo begin with, the ever innovative ski guides and pilot Jim Davies attached to the skids a simple ski rack designed for an automobile, and strapped the the skis and poles to the rack with bungie cords. (Photo at right. Note the extra gas can strapped to the side of the helicopter - there were no fuel caches in those days.) While this method would never fly (so to speak) in the modern world of safety-obsessed Heli-Ski companies and oversight from Transport Canada that has to approve every detail of air transport, it was a workable solution in 1965.

After the car ski rack was retired, the first real ski basket turned out to have a serious safety flaw. They began using a basket built to fit the helicopter - but the basket had no lid. Jim Davies explained that they figured it would work fine because when they were lifting the group to the top, the airspeed and rotor wash would tend to pin the skis in the basket, and in those days nobody ever flew back to the lodge. Instead, they always skied to the bottom of the valley or to the lodge at the end of the day, so there were never skis in the basket while the helicopter was flying downwards. 

Then one day a tired skier wanted to go in early. As the helicopter quickly lost eleveation, the skis were lifted out of the basket by the airflow, and flew through the rotor. The skis were chopped in half like a carrot hit by a machete, and the skis carved a dinner plate-sized chunk out of the rotor. The pilot, none other than the original Heli-Ski pilot Jim Davies, mustered his considerable skills and managed to land the wobbly and aerodynamically compromised machine safely at the lodge.

The next basket was built to handle the speed, power and safety of modern Heli-Skiing, and it served the industry well for decades - until we changed the dimensions of the tools we use to ride the pow.

ski basket on helicopter

Fat skis and snowboards came along, pushing the well-designed little basket to overflowing, and requiring the most recent basket design change (above) which accommodates our larger boards without sacrificing aerodynamics and weight. The new basket required years of design innovation and approval from Transport Canada, and each one costs upwards of $15,000. But it seems the new ski basket can handle the high standards of safety, equipment and efficiency that we’ve all come to expect from the modern world of CMH Heli-Skiing.

Going where the helicopter cannot: Heli-Assisted Ski Touring

  
  
  

Of all the questions that heli-skiers are asked about the sport of heli-skiing, they are never more inquisitive than when we talk about Heli-Assisted Ski Touring.

At first, Heli-Assisted Ski Touring seems like a contradiction in terms, and my friends give me the most confused look when I mention the idea. But the expression on their faces is priceless as they begin to visualize the potential.

It goes something like this:

Start the day with a helicopter flight out of the warmth and friendly comfort of a CMH Lodge to a lofty summit above a glorious morning ski run:

helicopter ski touring drop off

Begin the day with a frolicsome ride:

heli assisted ski touring

At the bottom of the run, click into touring mode, put climbing skins on your skis for uphill traction, and let your skilled guide take you on the tour of a lifetime.

ski touring uphill

Snowboarders with spliboards do just as well (and smile just as much) as skiers with backcountry gear:

heli snowboard touring with splitboard

By not having to deal with approach bushwhacking, camping, or making it to the car at the end of the day, we are able to spend the entire day in the kind of terrain that dreams are made of:

heli ski touring terrain

Between the healthful uphill exercise and the epic downhill fun, the ski touring buzz is one part endorphins and one part meditation. The smiles tell the story best:

ski touring smiles

At the end of the day, the helicopter returns and like magic lands us back at the lodge for massages, spa therapy on the tired legs, and an evening of that one-of-a-kind CMH alpine hospitality:

alpine lodge hospitality

The next day? Do it all over again.

One of the best parts of Heli-Assisted Ski Touring is that it is equally appropriate for experienced backcountry skiers as well as for newcomers to the backcountry scene. Groups often split into smaller groups (each group with its own guide) to seek out the right challenge and experience for the skiers and snowboarders.

With backcountry skiing being the fastest growing outdoor sport, Heli-Assisted Ski Touring is quickly gaining popularity. And for good reason: by using the helicopter and CMH know-how, we can ski and snowboard where backcountry touring groups never go; and by using ski touring gear we are able to go where Heli-Skiers cannot go.

ski touring bugaboos

This coming winter, CMH Heli-Assisted Ski Touring weeks are planned for the Admants, Cariboos and Bugaboos. In recent years, CMH has hosted Heli-Assisted Ski Touring groups in Galena, Revelstoke, Bobbie Burns, Bugaboos Adamants and the Monashees. While the scheduled weeks are great for individuals and small groups, CMH also hosts custom Heli-Assisted Ski Touring trips to any CMH area at any time provided that lodging space and guide availability can accommodate the trip.

Contact CMH Reservations at (800) 661-0252 to learn more about Heli-Assisted Ski Touring.

Photos courtesy CMH Ski Guides and archives.

The first Heli-Ski Helicopter

  
  
  

In 1963 - 50 years ago this year - CMH began experimenting with what would become known as Heli-Skiing, and took the word’s first commercial Heli-Ski guests up a mountain with a helicopter for a ski lift. At the time, the best machine for the job was a Bell 47 B-1. The pioneers of Heli-Skiing strapped their skis to the skids with bungie cords and shuttled the group to the top, two passengers pusing the payload capacity of the reliable little helicopter to the limit.

Bugs 1965 B 1 high landing

The Bell 47 line were technological marvels for the time, setting helicopter records for distance and elevation.

  • In 1949 it made highest altitude flight to 5,650 metres (18,550 feet).
  • In 1950 it became the first helicopter to fly over the Alps. 
  • In 1952 it set a distance record of 1,959 kilometres (1,217 miles).
  • In 1958 it became the first helicopter to be used for television news camerawork.

Bugs 1965 B 1 skiers on glacier

Its 178 horsepower engine had about the same power as a small car, but at the time there was nothing better for mountain flying than the Bell 47 B-1.

When Hans Gmoser, the founder of Heli-Skiing, was first approached by a couple of different skiers about the possibility of using a helicopter for a ski lift, he didn't immediatley jump on the possibility, but he didn’t forget the concept. Hans brought up the idea with Jim Davies, a skilled mountain pilot who had helped Hans with ski exploration in the Cariboo and Rocky Mountains using a fixed wing.

Bugs 1965 skiers, B 1 Bugaboo Glacier

According to Hans, he asked Jim, “Do you think you could use a helicopter to take skiers up a mountain?"

And Jim replied, “I know I could.”

That’s how it began. But there were a couple of false starts including a trip in 1963 to the Goat Glacier near Canmore, Alberta where the helicopter worked great but the snow was hideous breakable crust, and a trip in 1964 out of Golden, British Columbia where windy conditions blew the little helicopter far from their destination, clear into the next province of Alberta, before they found a place to safely land and ski.

In 1965 Hans decided to try Heli-Skiing in a place called the Bugaboos, where a remote sawmill camp provided lodging, the endless mountain range of the Columbia Mountains provided the terrain, the now-legendary storm cycles of Interior British Columbia provided the powder – and the Bell 47 B-1 provided the power. The third try was, as they say, a charm; the snow was dreamy, the guests were ecstatic and wanted to go again the following year, and Heli-Skiing was born.

Bugs 1965 B 1 two skiers

Helicopter technology changed dramatically in the late 60s and early 70s, so the Bell 47 was soon exchanged for larger, more powerful machines, but these pictures of the little helicopter servicing the very first commercial Heli-Skiers will forever speak to the world's greatest skiing and the unprecedented adventure of learning to use a helicopter for a ski lift half a century ago.

Photos courtesy CMH Archives.

How the Bobbie Burns Heli-Ski area got its name

  
  
  

bobbie burns heli skiingAmong Heli-Skiing areas, Bobbie Burns is memorable in many ways: the fast-paced skiing and snowboarding, the diverse terrain that includes parts of both the Purcell and Selkirk ranges, the summer program with a headline-grabbing via ferrata and now a one-of-a-kind adventure hike (story in the Robb Report) past waterfalls and glaciers.

But there is also the name. With its CMH siblings sporting an entirely different flavor of nomenclature - Bugaboos, Galena, K2, Revelstoke, Galena, Gothics, Monashees, Adamants, Cariboos and Valemount – just how did the Bobbie Burns get its name?

Well, my research first took me to Sun Valley Idaho where a lifer ski bum and ski legend by the name of Bobbie Burns changed the way the world skis moguls with his SFD (Straight $%!& Down) approach to bump runs, and in the 1970s he invented The Ski, which was the freestyle ski of choice for years. In 2013 The Ski was resurrected by Scott (with a rocker) and took this year’s Ski of the Year award at Fall Line Magazine.

Next, I came across an 18th century Scottish poet and lyricist with the same name. In 2009 the poet Robert Burns was chosen in a vote run by a Scottish television channel as “the greatest Scot.”  His most famous poem, Auld Lang Syne, is a staple of New Year’s celebrations in English speaking countries for it’s theme of paying respect to times gone by.

Third, I found myself researching a Swedish footwear brand, Bobbie Burns, that in their words was “inspired by the early rock-and-roll, skate and punk scene." Their website is complete with images of parkour athletes throwing huge tricks against graffiti-strewn concrete walls.

Finally, I came across a book, “Canadian Mountain Place Names:  The Rockies and the Columbia Mountains” by Glen W. Boles, William Lowell Putnam and Roger W. Laurilla. Roger Laurilla?  That name brings to mind epic tree skiing in one of the world’s most legendary of ski destinations: The Monashees. For indeed, Roger and I shared a week of epic skiing at CMH Monashees during his tenure as the CMH Monashees area manager. We didn’t see much of each other, however – it snowed nearly two metres during the week we skied together. According to his book, the Robert E. Burns is an old mining claim in the Vowell group on the eastern side of the Columbia Mountains, which is named in honour of the Scottish Poet.

So which one was it that inspired the name of the CMH Lodge? As a disciple of the ski bum lifestyle, I threw out a silent vote for the Sun Valley bump master being the inspiration for the Bobbie Burns Lodge. Also, the rock-and-roll, skate and punk footwear theme does share some aspects of the ski and snowboard culture - especially on a Friday night at the Bobbie Burns Lodge - but the Bobbie Burns footwear brand is 30 years younger than the CMH Bobbie Burns Heli-Skiing area.

As it turns out, the CMH Bobbie Burns Lodge is located next to the Bobbie Burns Creek, which was named after the mining claim.  So while our current snowsport and Heli-Skiing culture may share more commonalities with punk footwear and legendary ski bums than with 200-year-old poets, the CMH Bobbie Burns Lodge's namesake is the 18th Century Scottish Poet, Robert E. Burns.

Photo: Approaching Mach 1 while Heli-Snowboarding at CMH Bobbie Burns by Topher Donahue.

The 5 best things about early season Heli-Skiing

  
  
  

Why is it that some of CMH Heli-Skiing's most experienced guests book early-season trips each year? They're going to throw snowballs at me for telling you this, but here's the top 5 reasons why:

early season powder galena#1 Snow Quality

While the Columbia Mountains are vast, northerly (Revelstoke sits at 51 degrees latitude), and receive immense amounts of precipitation (the snowiest mountains in Canada), they are not terribly high (Sir Sanford, the biggest peak in the Columbias is 3,519 metres or 11,545 feet) so the average winter temperatures are not as cold as you might expect.  This means early season offers the shortest days to keep the snow cold at the moderate elevations and thus (now for the important part) quite often the lightest, fluffiest snow.

#2 The Vibe

Many of the early and late season skiers are seasoned heli-skiers and snowboarders who have learned the secrets of the early season. It’s typically an easy-going but hard-ripping crew you find at CMH Lodges in December and January.

#3 The Atmosphere

Mike Welch, the area manager of CMH Galena, put it best when he described why December is his favourite month:  “The snow is bottomless. Twenty centimetres fall every night. The days are short. It’s kind of dark all day. I love the whole ambiance! We come home wet. Our gloves are soaked. Our zippers are frozen. I just love it!”

#4 The Psyche

There is no place more exciting to be as a snow rider than a CMH Lodge in the early season when that first massive storm cycle of the Heli-Ski season rolls in. The guides, staff and guests are fresh off summer fun and everyone is rip-roaring-ready for ski season.  Sure, deep powder in mountain paradise with helicopter access is dream-worthy anytime of the year, but early season in Canada is when the amp gets turned up to 11.

early season heliskiing monashees

#5 The Cost 

Last but not least; it’s a simple matter of supply and demand. There are only so many seats on the helicopter, and more skiers and snowboarders want to go Heli-Skiing in February and March.  This means you can get in on an early season CMH Heli-Skiing trip for about a third less than the cost of a peak season trip.

Photos of early season conditions in Galena and the Monashees by Topher Donahue and Fred Huser.

Lego Freeskiing - are we no better than toys?

  
  
  

After watching the Lego Freeskiing clip that’s been circulating the ether, I was struck by two things. First, how fantastic it is that modern digital capture and editing methods can make a plastic toy reveal much about the experience of snow riding. And second, how we’ve become so distracted by modern digital capture and editing methods that a one minute clip of a lego skier can inspire nearly the same emotional response in the viewer as many ski videos.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lego Freeskiing, and hats off to Devon, who made the clip, but as a visual storyteller myself it left me with some curious questions.

The sudden drop is frame rate to slow motion, the shallow depth of field, and sincere music; is this all that is needed to make a modern ski or snowboard video? Are we so saturated with visual stimulation that footage of the world’s best skiers ripping the world’s most demanding lies is little-more impactful than a stop-motion project shot with plastic toys in the garage?

Or perhaps I was taking it all a bit too seriously, so I showed it to my 6-year-old daughter to get her perspective on Lego Skiing.

She had one word to describe it: “Funny.”

That’s better.

But she didn’t get all the innuendo poking fun at the snowsport movie industry like I did.

Then I showed it to her twin brother.

His response was disturbingly in line with mine: "He's pretty good at skiing. For a Lego."

Hmm. That didn't help my dilemma.

I haven't come to grips with some backroom artist making a video with a toy that compares favorably with some of today's most popular ski videos, but the inspiring thing about it is what it means for the future of ski and snowboard cinematography. If Devon can do that with a toy, just think of what photographers, videographers and editors will do in future projects – once we learn to balance the eye candy with the deeper human story.

Think about it. Today’s ski and snowboard athletes are amassing an incredible visual record of their careers. Not just the money shots of them winning Olympic gold, or ripping the radest lines and throwing down the sickest tricks while being filmed with the cameras that cost as much as a new car, but the camera-phone footage of them learning to ski or snowboard with their families, throwing tantrums after crashing in the terrain park at 10 years old, and growing up on the snow.

We now have digital records that have the potential to capture entire lifetimes in a visually entertaining format, and when outdoor sports filmmaking culture moves beyond the eye candy, which many producers are already beginning to do, ski and snowboard movies are going to get entertaining indeed.

Then someone will make a spoof of Barbie growing up to be an Olympic downhill racer and going on to date the world's best golfer.  Oh well.

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