Subscribe to
The Heli-Ski Blog

Your email:

Follow CMH Heli-Skiing

Browse by Tag

Loading

The Heli-Ski Blog

Current Articles | RSS Feed RSS Feed

A story from the Wild West days of Heli-Skiing

  
  
  

In 2005 I received an assignment from Powder Magazine to document a Heli-Ski party in the Bugaboos to celebrate 40 years of Heli-Skiing.  The story was far more than a magazine article, and from the magazine assignment the project transformed into a 293-page book called Bugaboo Dreams: A Story of Skiers, Helicopters and Mountains.

For two years I interviewed the characters involved in those 40 years of innovation and adventure, and in the process came across some wild stories. In the early days of Heli-Skiing, there were no radios, no avalanche transceivers, no mountain weather forecasts, no collaborative safety program between guides - and a bottle of wine was shared at lunch time. 

heli-ski-stories

Of all the stories I heard, this is one of the wildest; told by Bob Geber, a guide who retired from guiding just two years ago:

“The pilot had a southern accent and no mountain flying experience.  As we were landing I looked down to enter flight time in my book – when I looked up all I could see was snow.”
The pilot reacted at the last second and pulled up just before hitting the slope so the helicopter crashed with much of the force on its skids.  As the machine rolled backwards, a skid stuck in the snow crust, preventing a probably fatal tumble. When things stopped moving, Geber had one thought: “!#&$, I’m still alive!” 

During the crash, he slammed his head into something in the fuselage, and blood from the wound pooled in his eyes.  His second thought was: “!#&$, I’m blind!”

He could smell fuel, so he kicked down the door and started running away.  After a few steps he had a third thought: “!#&$, I’m the guide!”

Wiping the blood out of his eyes was a relief, as he realized he still could see.  He turned around and helped everyone else out of the helicopter.  No one was hurt, and there was wine in the lunch, so they grabbed the lunch and moved away from the helicopter to wait for a rescue.  There was no long-range radio in those days, so Geber hoped someone would realize the helicopter hadn’t returned and send out a second ship. 

They drank the wine and ate the lunch, and still no rescue was forthcoming.  The short winter day was half over, so Geber decided they’d better try to get out under their own power before darkness fell.  While the helicopter was bent, with pieces scattered everywhere, the basket miraculously protected the skis during the crash.  Everyone grabbed their skis and did what they knew how to do – ski.  The only problem was the pilot.  He had no skis and wouldn’t have known what to do with them if he did.

The snow was too soft to walk without debilitating effort, so Geber had the idea to make a sled using a disk-like cover that fits around the base of the helicopter’s rotor assembly on the very top of the fuselage.  There was enough room for the pilot to sit in it, like a child on a saucer, and the disk slid easily on the downhill.   They left the wreck and headed down the mountain, eleven skiers easily cruising along, and the pilot sledding behind on a piece of his mangled helicopter.  When the terrain was less steep, they attached a rope to the makeshift sled and pulled the pilot along, but when they hit a flat section, with deep, soft snow, it became impossible to pull.  He tried to walk, but ended up wallowing. 

To make forward progress, Geber and one of the stronger skiers each gave up one ski so the pilot, with zero ski experience, could use two.  Gently rolling terrain was perfect for the new system and they made good time, the pilot even started enjoying the idea of skiing with the exhilaration of sliding easily down a few small hills.  Soon they crested a bigger hill, and Geber was ready to change back to the sledding system, but the pilot asked, “Hey Bob, do you think I could ski by myself down this one?” 

Geber thought there wasn’t much of a hill, so he let the pilot go ahead.  Geber remembers, shaking his head, “He went about 50 feet, fell over, and started squealing like a pig.  We couldn’t figure out what he could have done to himself in such a short distance and insignificant fall, but I skied up to him and he was holding his leg.  Immediately I could see he had somehow gotten a compound fracture.  The bone was obvious sticking out against his pants.”

By now the day was well the way to a guide’s worst nightmare, in fact nightmare on top of nightmare.  With a crashed helicopter and a pilot with a broken leg, Geber was in no mood to listen to the pilot’s screaming.  “I shoved 200mg of Demoral up his #$$, and pretty soon he was grinning stupidly, happy as a baby.”

By this point a rescue helicopter found the beleaguered skiers.  The other guide was so happy to see the entire team alive and well, he got out of the helicopter and started running towards Geber – directly into the path of the rotor.  To end the day, Geber ran at his fellow guide and dove at his legs with a football tackle, effectively knocking the other guide over before he decapitated himself on the blade. 

Yup, more than a few things have changed in Heli-Skiing.

Photo courtesy CMH Archives.

Anatomy of a CMH Heli-Ski day – a photo essay

  
  
  

The early birds at CMH Heli-Skiing are the ski guides, who awake while the lodge is still quiet and dark to make plans for the day; checking weather reports, avalanche conditions, and determining the safest and best Heli-Skiing possible on that particular day.
1 ski guide morning
For the guests, the ultimate ski vacation begins as it should – by getting you ready to ski. A bell rings and anyone who wants to feel good on the first run meets for a ski and snowboard specific stretch class in the exercise room.2 heliski warmup
Next, a buffet breakfast with everything from cereal and fruit to bacon and eggs gives everyone a chance to fuel up in the way they feel suits them best.3 heliski breakfast
After breakfast, it is time to gear up, and the CMH boot rooms, equpped with boot and glove dryers, as well as plenty of space for everyone's equipment, make getting ready easy and efficient.4 CMH drying room

On the first day, everyone participates in the safety practice, where the guides teach everyone how to use the radios, avalanche safety equipment, and the ins and outs of how to stay safe while skiing deep powder in the mountains. After the first day, everyone is up to speed with the safety techniques, and we just get straight in the helicopter after breakfast and go skiing.4 z heliski safety
We meet at the heli-pad near the lodge. We stack our skis so the guide can easily load them, and when the helicopter lands we step aboard and fasten our seatbelts while the guide loads the skis in a ski basket attached to the outside of the helicopter. 5 heli pad
Then we lift off for ski paradise.5 z heliski pilot
The helicopter lands on a flagged landing area atop the first run, and we all get out while the guide unloads the skis. After the helicopter leaves, we put on our skis, and listen to the guides instructions for the first run. Then we ski our brains out.6 heli ski friends
After each run, we meet the helicopter at a landing area the bottom of the run and repeat again and again and again until lunch. Most days, lunch consists of sandwiches, tea, soup, cookies and other snacks delivered by a small helicopter, but on special occasions during good weather, mountaintop barbeques have been known to happen in the most spectacular locations imaginable.7 CMH Barbeque
After a fairly quick lunch, so we don’t get cold and stiff, we dig into more powder runs. Skiers and snowboarders who are tired after the morning usually have a chance to return to the lodge at lunch, as well as other times during the day. The logistics of some of the areas require that you stay out all day, but the guides will let you know this before the day begins. The lodges with the more aggressive riders and terrain are the most likely to have the fewest chances to return to the lodge, including the Bobbie Burns, Revelstoke, Galena, CMH/K2 and the Monashees.8 heli snowboarding
When we’ve schralped so much pow that it’s hard to remember all the great runs, face shots, cushy airs, and fresh turns, we return for CMH après ski – an experience no snowrider should miss.9 heliski apres ski
Then we gather in the dining room for a fine family-style dinner and many generous toasts to an unforgettable day of skiing and snowboarding.10 heliski dinner
Finally, we retire to our rooms - ranging from comfortable double rooms, to spacious single rooms, to deluxe chalets - for a well-earned sleep, dreaming of deep powder and endless freshies. deluxe heli ski room
The best part? We wake up the next day and do it all over again!

Photos by Topher Donahue.

Photos: the world's greatest apres ski

  
  
  

For decades, the CMH Heli-Skiing tagline has been the world’s greatest skiing. Of course such a statement begs to be refuted, but once people have skied with CMH, they quite often tend to agree.

One thing, however, that nobody argues with, is that CMH Lodges throw down the world’s greatest après ski!

It’s hard to put a finger on exactly why; indeed, the perfect après ski is a little different for each person.  But somehow, CMH gets it just right for virtually everyone.

Perhaps it is the number of fellow powder hounds – enough to have diversity but few enough to have intimacy.

Perhaps it is CMH Heli-Skiing’s special flavor of hüttenzauber, or alpine hut magic, that has remained a part of the CMH experience for nearly 50 years.

Perhaps it is the combination of remote locations and exquisite comfort.

Or perhaps it is the snow riding that makes the CMH après ski so enjoyable.

Most likely it is a combination of all of the above, distilled photographically into the following five photos.

Springtime in the Bugaboos, with après ski on the deck overlooking in the Bugaboo Spires:
apres ski canada
A mid-winter dirty martini sitting atop the 3-D ski area table of the Adamants in the commons area of the Adamants Lodge:heliski martini
Après ski with the Nomads South at the Halcyon Hot Springs pools overlooking the Arrow Lake after a world-class day of riding both Galena and Revelstoke terrain:hot springs heliskiing
Getting the giggle on after hitting the shot ski – anywhere CMH:shot ski
Digging into a sushi après ski served up on a Burton snowboard. I doubt Jake ever dreamed we’d be eating sushi off his invention in a Heli-Ski lodge deep in Interior British Columbia:heliski sushi
Any of you million-footers out there have any great memories of CMH aprés ski that you'd like to share?

NASA: Looking forward to astronauts snowboarding on Mars

  
  
  

Last year I wrote a post for the Heli-Ski blog, musing about the potential of snowboarding and skiing on the dry ice snow that falls on Mars. I had fun writing the post, but I must admit I felt a bit like the ski bum who’d had a few too many talking about some absurd snow-riding mission. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!)

Then, when Jason Semenek at CMH Heli-Skiing sent me a link from the NASA website with a clip of Serina Diniega, a Systems Engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, having similar ideas, complete with animation of an astronaut snowboarding on the Marian dunes, I suddenly felt like I wasn’t so far out after all. She concluded:

“I’m looking forward to the day when astronauts can engage in a whole new era of extreme sports – when they can snowboard down a carbon dioxide-covered dune on a cushion of carbon dioxide and just shoot right down those slopes. It would be amazing.”

snowboarding on mars

Of course Ms. Diniega has a lot better science to back up her musings.

While I imagined riding the dry ice snow that falls on the Martian poles during the winter, Ms. Diniega was explaining the mysterious, snowboard-like tracks seen on the slopes of Martian sand dunes:

snowboard tracks on mars

To test a theory that the tracks were caused by the motion of dry ice blocks melting from the ridges of the dunes, a group of scientists took blocks of water ice, dry ice, and wood to a sand dune on Earth. What they found was surprising, but backed up the theory of dry ice causing the tracks on Mars.

Unsurprisingly, the wood block, acting as a control group, slid until sand built up in front of it, and then stopped. The water ice acted much the same, stopping after only a few feet of travel. The dry ice block, surprisingly, slid smoothly and quickly all the way to the bottom of the dune.

On the steepest dunes – 33 degrees, the steepest angle sand can sit on in repose – the results were surprising. When they repeated the experiment on dunes as low angle as 6 degrees, the dry ice still slid all the way to the bottom of the dune. So what was happening?

According to the JPL scientists, what happens is that the sand was warmer than the dry ice, so it causes melting on the bottom of the solid ice. This forms a cushion of gas that allows the dry ice to slide along on an air cushion, thus travelling along the sandy surface with much reduced friction.

I must admit, it got me musing again. Not so much about snowboarding on Mars this time, but about riding sand dunes here on earth with a snowboard tuned, not with P-Tex and wax, but with dry ice. Ripping sand dunes on a board riding a cushion of air? Now we’re talkin’. Besides, the lift ticket would be a lot cheaper than riding on Mars…

Screenshot of dry ice tracks and video from NASA's multimedia gallery.

Ski guide tips for using a GoPro

  
  
  

Be a Hero - or so says the tagline for GoPro’s wildly successful camera.  The little cameras have forever changed the world of adventure filmmaking, and added one more must-have item to the list for adventure traveller video buffs.

go pro technique

At CMH Heli-Skiing, we see the numbers of our guests using GoPros growing exponentially every year. It’s fantastic to see skiers and snowboarders leaving with their own footage of their Heli-Ski dream trip. Some CMH Ski Guides are also using GoPros, and a few have gotten really good at it. The CMH Revelstoke crew has been capturing GoPro footage and editing it into some fun clips (like the one below). So for a few tips on how to integrate the GoPro into your Heli-Ski trip, I tracked down ski guides Steve Chambers and Jeff Bellis from CMH Revelstoke.

Big Friday from Global Powder Guides on Vimeo.

 

Steve’s GoPro tips:

  • Consider your final product/video when shooting. Have a 'shot list' in your mind as to what you want to capture and how you can use these clips to compose your video. Think of it as a story you want to tell versus random footage you cram together in a lengthy piece. Which brings me to my next point...
  • Keep it short. Think of short segments linked together that might make a great 2-3 minute long film. Any longer than that and you'll lose your audience.
  • Mix up your POV. If all you shoot is footage from a helmet or chest harness perspective, it will get 'old' quick. Get shots from all kinds of angles and vantage points. Consider having your subjects ski by you as opposed to only having moving footage of yourself. The pole cam angle is a great one to mix into your repertoire.
  • Keep your subjects close. With the wide angle nature of GoPro shots, if your subject is not right there with you (front, side, back) or coming right at you, they'll just be a dark spot moving through the frame. I tell people to come right at me close (carefully of course!) to get the best shot.
  • Brighter is better! If your subjects are dressed in darker colors, forget about it - you might as well not shoot at all. The brighter the clothing the better considering the various POV's and wide angle nature of most of the cameras on the market today. Reds, yellows, oranges and light blues are great.
  • Consider the music you might use with your final video. Putting your footage together with a great soundtrack will make a world of difference. I've always had some piece of music in mind when I've started every short project.
  • Happy film making!

Jeff’s GoPro tips:

  • Be creative: You can put a GoPro just about anywhere. Try out any crazy idea you have for a shot, you never know how its going to work out.
  • Keep the GoPro easily accessible: I have often just captured a really cool shot because my GoPro is always ready. 
  • Try to capture video other than skiing: Flying, scenery, lodge life, and travel to CMH all make great footage to mix in to a short video. 
  • Take short clips: Don't leave your GoPro running for an entire run. It will be horribly boring to watch, it will take forever to download onto your computer, and it will drain your battery quickly. Try to look at the terrain ahead in the run and figure out if there is anything worth shooting. Not all ski runs look good on video.
  • Share your footage: A typical heli ski group in Revelstoke will have at least 5 GoPros (The Dutch Air Squad who shot the video below had over 20 in their group this year). If you are taking short clips its easy to share your footage with others in the group. Everyone appreciates some video of themselves and more footage makes it easier for you to get different shots into your video. 
  • Know your GoPro before you go: Every week it seems I am giving a GoPro 101 class. You will get more cool footage if you learn how to use your camera before you get to CMH. 
  • Change speeds: When you are editing your video mix up the speeds of the footage. If you have a really great sequence that is a little long, speed it up. If you have captured an amazing face shot, slow it down.
  • Don't focus on your GoPro all day: If you are on a CMH ski trip you are here to ski. Don't spend your entire trip fussing with your GoPro. Shoot when it’s going to look good or your friends are into it. 
  • Charge the Battery! Every Night!

Ski Paradise from Jan Willem Metz on Vimeo.

Last but not least, the most important GoPro tip comes from the mountains themselves. The tagline “Be a Hero” only applies to the camera’s capabilities – not your own behaviour in the mountains.  This most important of all GoPro tips for skiing and snowboarding has been an integral part of mountain wisdom for decades before GoPros were ever invented, still holds true today, and is ironically: Don’t be a hero.

Videos courtesy CMH Revelstoke and Johnny GoPro of the Dutch Air Squad. Still photo from CMH Cariboos by Topher Donahue.

5 big photos – one millionth of the CMH terrain

  
  
  

A staggering amount of the 15,000 square kilometres that makes up CMH Heli-Skiing is ski and snowboard terrain. However, thick forests, massive cliffs, broken icefalls, and summits guarded by all forms of alpine barriers keep us from carving turns down some of it.

But every millimetre of those 15,000 square kilometres makes for a great view. For me, as a photographer, the incredible visuals provided by the CMH terrain are as fascinating, thrilling, and memorable as the deep powder itself. 

Surprisingly, however, it is hard to capture that vastness and diversity of terrain with a photograph. Only a few photos manage to bring home a little taste of that crisp alpine air, those deep valleys, the tenacious clouds, and the enormous snow riding potential and limitless beauty of CMH terrain. 

These photos are five of my best efforts at turning this wilderness the size of a small country into a postcard-sized matrix of pixels.

CMH Adamants is named after this collection of summits; summits so rugged and remote that mountaineers have only recently begun to explore the steepest faces. Even fewer professional skiers have visited the areas steep couloirs and plunging faces:

adamants scenery

The Bugaboos was the first, and is the most famous of the CMH Heli-Skiing areas, yet it remains one of the least-known of North America’s natural wonders. Here, the prisitine wilderness of East Ereek dances with mists during a CMH Summer Adventure:

canadian wilderness

Many people have said that the Cariboos are made for skiing, and metre by metre, the Cariboos may be the most versatile ski mountains in North America. In this photo, the steep couloirs that lace the range’s biggest peaks are begging to be ripped:

cariboos steep ski lines

Even ski guides call the Monashees, when conditions are right, the best skiing in the universe. Thousand-metre slots through the trees can be found by the hundreds dropping into the range’s deep valleys and many of the area’s hard-core Heli-Ski fans have decide there is nowhere else they’d rather ride:

monashees tree skiing terrain

The Gothics, just north of the now famous powder epicenter of Revelstoke, is one of those areas where you can ride 2000-metre alpine runs one day, and steep trees the next. The views into the Monashee and Selkirk mountains are stunning enough to give pause to even the most agro powder hounds:

skiing above the clouds gothics

How to teach your kids to ski powder

  
  
  
When I realized I was going to be a father, one of the first things I dreamed about was skiing with my kid. When I realized I was going to have twins, the idea of going skiing with them became daunting, and thrilling, indeed.

kids powder skiing techniqueJust getting out the door with all the gear almost gave me a brain freeze, but in five seasons of skiing with my kids, the only thing I’ve ever forgotten was the my own gloves - albeit on multiple occasions. Luckily, I leave a pair of gloves in the car for mid-winter flat tires and such.

Then I realized I couldn’t carry three pairs of skis, and hold the hands of two little kids staggering along in ski boots, for even the 50 metres from the parking lot to the bunny hill. A backpack designed for backcountry snowboarding with a large strap system that would accommodate a snowboard, or in my case three pairs of skis, was the solution.

Next was the dilemma of what approach to take to teaching them to ski. First, inadvertently, I took them cross-country skiing, or what they called “ski hiking”. This turned out to be their first breakthrough, and gave them a huge advantage. Without rigid downhill boots, they learned to stand up in the middle of the skis rather than leaning on their boots. Also, when we locked them into downhill gear, they already knew how to maneuver around without crossing their tips, how to side step, etc.

But then it was time to hit the slopes.

Lessons? Good option, but we ski several days a week and I wanted to ski with my kids more than I wanted them to spend the day with an instructor. Selfish, I know, but such is parenting (and powder skiing). This year, they did spend a couple of days with and instructor during a school ski trip, and it did give them a boost.

Edgy-wedgy? The little rubber strap used to keep them from crossing or spilling their tips? Might avoid some painful wipeouts, but would also encourage reliance on the snowplow rather than parallel skiing.

Handles on their backs? I’d seen parents with chest harnesses and handles on their kids for skiing, and even ski suits with handles built in, but I was reluctant to give my kids the idea that somebody would hold them up while they skied – besides, I wanted to ski instead of sliding along hunched over while holding my kid upright.

We tried a few things. Holding a ski pole so the kid could hold onto the handle end. We saw other parents using a hula-hoop the same way. But to me it always seemed best to me to just stay on the super low-angle terrain and let them ski along slowly unassisted.

The next downhill breakthrough came in the form of a trick that Bruce Howatt, the heli-ski guru and manager of CMH Bobbie Burns, used to teach his son to ski. He put a short cord around each of the kid’s boots, and then when it was time to go downhill, he clipped a leash to the cord. This allows the parent to control the kid’s speed, without giving them any assistance in staying upright – so when the terrain steepens the kid naturally leans forward (into a perfect stance) rather than bing pulled backwards (into the dreaded backseat).

Within days of using Bruce’s trick, they were making cute little parallel turns, and in many ways, the rest is history.

But my next concern was how to teach them to ski powder. I needn’t have worried. When fresh snow was found along the edges of the groomer tracks on the bunny hill, they sought it out as naturally as a dog chasing squirrels. “Papa, I’m getting powder turns!” my daughter yelled excitedly the first day she really felt the powder and the turn at the same time.  

Like so many things in parenting - and skiing - it was time to stop trying to control everything and just let it rip. This season, after they got out of their morning kindergarten class, they were leading me on legitimate seek-and-destroy powder missions all over the mountain, preferring complicated tight tree runs to the more open, faster runs. Maybe I’m the one who needs the ski lesson in order to keep up with my kids…

In the end, I realized that maybe it doesn’t matter what method you use to teach your kids to ski powder, as long as you strictly follow one essential rule: keep it fun!

Photo of the author’s 6-year-old daughter ripping her first backcountry powder turns after the ski area closed in the spring.

5 wilderness adventure lodge photos

  
  
  

The wintertime snow riding is often called the world’s greatest skiing, and the award-winning summertime adventures are the kind of experiences that imprint a person’s heart and soul with beauty, so it’s easy for the lodges of CMH Heli-Skiing and Summer Adventures to blend in with the scenery.

However, the location and the alpine hospitality delivered at the CMH lodges are so authentic and spectacular, that sometimes I wonder if CMH would become even more famous if the lodges were marketed as remote lodging destinations rather than base areas for world-class mountain experiences as they are today.

For those of us who enjoy the warm personality and dream-like mountain environment of the CMH experience, the lodge is just one aspect the comfortable outdoor immersion that the CMH winter and summer programs provide. Yet we all know that the charismatic lodges of CMH are a huge part of what makes a vacation at CMH so refreshing, memorable and enjoyable.

Looking back at my photo collection from a decade of pointing my cameras at CMH Heli-Skiing and Summer Adventures, the following 5 photos stand out as capturing the personality of the CMH Lodges.

Galena Lodge in January. 5cm/hour snowfall:galena lodge

Bugaboo Lodge in August. The view from the helicopter on the way to dreamland:bugaboo lodge

Cariboo Lodge in February. The only civilization for farther than the eye can see – even from the summits of the biggest peaks:cariboo lodge

Bobbie Burns Lodge in July. The most diverse and accessible smorgasbord of remote adventure options on planet earth:bobbie burns lodge

Gothics Lodge in March. The Germans call it hüttenzauber or, loosely translated, “alpine hut magic”:gothics lodge

These are lodges where world-class ski and snowboard athletes celebrate some of the most fun adventures they’ve ever had in the mountains; lodges where 90-year-old great-grandparents breathe the fresh alpine air and hike in the tundra; lodges where adventure travellers live their most memorable experiences; lodges where thousands of people from all over the world have spent the kind of days that make them feel most alive.

Photos by Topher Donahue.

Why don’t skiers ski when it’s snowy?

  
  
  

Maybe it’s Thanksgiving break. Maybe it’s pre-season marketing. Maybe it is the Forest Service permitting system for ski resorts. Maybe it’s the insatiable human psyche to move on to the next thing. Whatever it is, for some reason most skiers and snowboarders don’t ride when the snow is at its best.

I’m not talking about ski bums who live to ski, and chase the last scraps of snow in the springtime before going to the southern hemisphere for the southern winter. I'm not talking about backcountry skiers who wait all year for the big alpine descents to come into condition in the springtime. I’m not talking about the CMH Heli-Skiing guests who plan their dream ski trip a year in advance.

I’m talking about the skiers and snowboarders who are chomping at the bit to make some turns in October and November and risk their knees and teeth riding thin snow when there are still elk grazing on the ski runs. I’m talking about the ski areas that blast artificial snow all over the hills in November, but then close in early April when snowpacks are at their deepest.

ski areas close too early

This year in Colorado was an exceptional demonstration of this phenomenon. The skiing was marginal most of the year. Yeah, we know, Revelstoke got dumped on the entire winter and Jackson Hole and the Pacific Northwest had snowy winters. But that’s not what I’m talking about. In November, it was hardly cold enough to even make snow in Colorado but areas jousted to open first and bag the precious Thanksgiving skiers at the end of November. It was March before the backcountry was really worth skiing in much of the state.

Then in April, on almost the exact weekend that most of Colorado’s ski areas closed, it started dumping, and snowed in the high country for the next month straight. It was painful to watch. Some people were actually complaining that it was snowing because they wanted to go ride their bikes, go climbing, hiking or other warm weather activities. But aside from our calendar-based expectations, it was winter!

I drove by the ski area to take my kids backcountry skiing (photo above) in a kiddie sort of way. The lifts stood silent, base lodge buried in deep snow, trees cloaked in storm after storm of fantastic powder. 

My daughter asked me, “Papa, can we go turn on the lifts and go powder skiing?” 

How I wanted to. We had a blast, it was great for the kids to suffer a bit boot packing and earning our turns on a little hill, but even the 6-year-olds saw the irony in it.

This year in Colorado was unusual, but not unusual to the extreme. We quite often have our best snow after the ski areas have closed. The best skiing in Colorado is typically from March through May, but most ski areas have limited permits from the National Forest Service; however, I don’t think that’s the biggest reason ski areas close when the skiing gets good.

I think the biggest reason is that like any business, ski areas are beholden to the whims of their customers. Snow doesn’t matter nearly as much as people buying lift tickets and booking ski holidays.  I think we cause the problem ourselves by jones-ing for the winter long before winter even gets going, and then being over it before winter even ends; for taking our families on ski trips at Christmas when really we should be taking our ski holiday during spring break; for even buying lift tickets in November when some years there is not a single natural snowflake to be found anywhere south of the Canadian border. Ok, maybe it's not that bad, but you get my point.

If we all just stopped visiting ski resorts before Christmas unless the snow was great, and then packed the ski areas in April, maybe we could change the ski season to match the snow season. What do you think?

Goggles vs glasses for backcountry skiing

  
  
  

With the prevalence of helmets, the most popular eyewear for skiing has quickly become goggles. The most common approach these days is to just leave them on the helmet, and just wear them no matter what the weather is like.  But is this always the best option?  Not necessarily.

To decide which is best, I watched the group of people I know who spend the most time in the deep snow, bright sun, and variable conditions of mountain weather: The Ski Guides of CMH.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Some guides wear goggles almost all the time while skiing, but carry sunglasses for the brightest days, lunch, and relaxing.
  • Some guides carry goggles as well as two pairs of glasses, one with dark lenses for bright conditions and one with yellow lenses for flat light conditions - skiing first in flat light is one of the big challenges of guiding, and the right eyewear makes a huge difference.
  • And some guides, like CMH Cariboos Manager, John Mellis, love their glasses. I can’t blame him.  Glasses just feel better, allow better peripheral vision, and give more sensitivity to the lovely mountain world.  
  • Johnny wears glasses when the face shots approach neck deep:sunglasses for skiing
  • Then leaves them on when the face shots start wrapping around his head:sunglasses for powder skiing
  • And even when the face shots reach meaty double-overhead levels, Johnny still rips in his glasses:sunglasses vs goggles
  • But sometimes, when it’s snowing really hard, Johnny finally breaks out the goggles:goggle day

Here are the problems with goggles:

  • If you tend to overheat, even the best-designed goggles will fog up.
  • Goggles don’t handle bright conditions as well as glasses.
  • Goggles are not as comfortable as glasses.
  • Goggles tend to restrict your vision more.
  • Goggle lenses are not as versatile as glasses.
  • For uphill ski touring or boot packing, goggles are too warm.

Here are the problems with glasses:

  • Glasses don’t shed the face shots as readily.
  • Not all helmets fit well with glasses.
  • Glasses don’t keep your face warm.
  • Glasses fall off easier when you fall.
  • Glasses don't protect your face as well.

If you are going to carry extra eyewear while Heli-Skiing or anywhere in the backcountry, be sure to time your changes without causing other skiers to wait (or worry) for you, and without filling your glasses and goggles with snow in the process.  If you would rather keep it simple while Heli-Skiing, just wear goggles and choose a lens in the middle of the hue spectrum - not too dark and not too bright.

Like so many questions about the mountains, the right answer is: It depends on conditions.

All Posts