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.
David Copperfield, the famous magician, rents his resort on Musha Cay in the Bahamas for $325,000 per week.
The Presidential Suite in the Hotel Cala di Volpe in Sardinia costs $34,000 per night - and you’re charged extra for using the internet!
These rates, for experiences far less life-affirming and memorable than a week of heli-skiing or heli-boarding, make just the aprés ski at a CMH Lodge seem worth the cost of the entire trip. In fact, after looking at the kinds of things people spend bank-loads of money on, it seems to me that CMH Heli-Skiing is charging just for the aprés ski, and taking people heli-skiing for free just to get them ready for the main event!
Ok, I’m exaggerating, but not that much. To me, these other top-dollar experiences pale in comparison to a well orchestrated mountain adventure, and the aprés ski with CMH is an unforgettable experience.
There are moments of the CMH aprés ski that will stay with a person forever - one part isolation, one part the afterglow of a day in the mountains, and one part CMH Heli-Skiing’s incredible staff that always seems to take hospitality to another level. Three of my favourites are:
Bugaboos, 2005 - Coming in from a day of full-throttle skiing - on huge runs through some of the most spectacular alpine terrain on the planet with powder on the north faces and corn on the south faces - to a private cocktail party in the sunshine below the famous Bugaboo Spires. Bugaboos Manager Dave Cochrane, mountain host extraordinaire, chatted with everyone and discussed the finer points of spring skiing - while riding a unicycle.
Adamants, 2009 - We’d skied so much vertical that even a granola bar would have tasted great, but we were greeted with a sushi buffet served on a snowboard.
Galena, 2012 - It had been snowing for weeks. Everyone’s cheeks were tingling with a thousand face shots. The last night of our week in ski paradise, the staff built a bonfire on a hill above the lodge. The orange flames painted the surrounding winter wonderland in dancing, stark contrasts of shadows and light. Some people joined the party for a few minutes between enjoying the spa and a massage, but many stayed for hours, savoring both the warmth of the fire and the chill of the winter air, the cold beers in the snow pillow, and wishing the moment might never end.
Any CMH Heli-Skiing veterans out there with favourite CMH aprés ski stories?
Aprés ski photos by Topher Donahue.
Renowned architect and mountaineer Philippe Delesalle, the visionary behind the design of the remote CMH Heli-Skiing lodges, has been awarded the 2011 Summit of Excellence Award at this year’s Banff Mountain Festival for his architectural innovations on remote buildings in the heavy snowfall and harsh conditions of the Canadian Rockies.
Philippe emigrated from France in 1951 and took work as a lumberjack, among other jobs, before attending architecture school at McGill University in Montreal. An interest in adventure introduced him to skiing and mountaineering, and while learning to ski and working as a lifty at Sunshine Village Ski Resort, he met Hans Gmoser, the founder of CMH Heli-Skiing. At the time, Hans was working at the remote Mt. Assiniboine Lodge, and would use the ski lifts at Sunshine to begin his 25km ski commute to work.
In 2006 I had the honor of interviewing Philippe while researching Bugaboo Dreams, the book that chronicles the invention of heliskiing. Philippe first met Hans while working at the Sunshine ski lift. During my interview, with misty eyes and a warm expression, Philippe recalled meeting Hans: “This tall guy, who looked like Jesus Christ with a big pack, would come out of no man’s land, ask for a lift, and then disappear back into no man’s land.”
Philippe became one of Hans’ closest friends and adventure partners, sharing epic trips to Mt. Logan in the Yukon, pioneering long-distance ski traverses in the Rockies, and countless adventures in Little Yoho and the Bow Valley near Banff. As Hans’ heliski invention took off, he recruited Philippe to design the remote heli-skiing lodges in the Bugaboos, Cariboos, Bobbie Burns and Adamants.
Philippe describes his philosophy behind his design of the CMH Heli-Skiing lodges simply as creating a place where skiers can “live above the snow, looking out at the mountains.”
Philippe also designed the Lodge at Sunshine Village, the Sapphire Col Hut near Rogers Pass, and the original remote and exposed Alpine Club of Canada huts on the Wapta Icefield. “The most difficult site presents opportunity for the most interesting buildings.” says Philippe. WIth such a vision, Philippe’s architectural mastery was a cornerstone in the entire epic project of remote wilderness heliskiing in Western Canada, and he has created a lasting legacy of functionality and beauty with the design of the CMH Heli-Skiing lodges.
The CMH Heli-Skiing lodges are far more than just hotels; there are no other buildings or infrastructure near the lodges, so they must be complete life support systems that can sustain dozens of people through the most violent storms imaginable and weather many decades of Canadian winters.
For veteran CMH heliskiers, the unique look of a CMH Heli-Skiing lodge out the helicopter window on the approach is both a warm and thrilling sight. For skiers and snowboarders new to CMH Heli-Skiing, the lodge is different than what most people would expect. Rather than overt luxury or imitation of famous ski destination architecture, the CMH Heli-Skiing lodges are like no other buildings anywhere, and Philippe designed them that way on purpose.
He explained, “When Hans said, ‘Build me a lodge.’ he knew I would not give him an Austrian lodge or a French lodge, but a Canadian one.”
At first glance, the rooflines of the CMH Heli-Skiing lodges appear to be overbuilt, but in fact it is an extremely successful design that Philippe introduced to Western Canada. The roof consists of two roofs, a snow-bearing roof and an inner roof separated by a well-ventilated crawl space. This allows the roof to hold the entire winter’s snowpack without shoveling (other than cutting off the occasional cornice that overhangs too far over the edge) because the inner roof can breathe and behave like a roof in a dry climate without ever seeing icing, condensation, or wear and tear from the outside elements.
Now 82 years old, Philippe still skis regularly with his wife Mireille near their home of the last 50 years in Canmore, Alberta. The Summit of Excellence Award is given annually at the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival to an individual who has made significant contribution to mountain life in the Canadian Rockies.
Photo of the CMH Cariboos lodge by Topher Donahue.
The snow is piling up in the legendary ski paradise of the Columbia Mountains - another La Niña winter in the making.
Last winter I was fortunate enough to sample three different CMH areas during photography projects. It was also the best winter anyone could remember since the 70s; a La Niña winter - the same climate phenomenon meteorologists are predicting for this coming winter.
I know it is almost cruel and unusual punishment to post these photos right now, when most of us haven’t yet even buckled a ski boot, but I couldn’t resist. Not only do these photos illustrate a La Niña winter of heliskiing in Canada, they also reveal the quality of the snow that brings skiers from all over the planet to taste the world’s greatest skiing.
February 28, 2011, CMH Cariboos:
A short break between storms in the Cariboos had left a carve-able surface on solar aspects, but then another 30cm of low-density snow fell on the crust. Combined with -20C temperatures, the result was fast skiing and a swirling powder cloud that would twist and dance hypnotically after the skier had passed. I tried a few shots from below, but this one, looking down at the skier, best revealed the snow dance.
March 7, 2011, CMH Gothics:
Then it snowed for another week. Our first day in the Gothics dawned crystal clear. Even the most veteran guides and skiers were giddy at the breakfast table. Good stability, deep snow, and the massive Gothics terrain in the southern Monashees awaited. The day was like a dream. Not only did we ski CMH’s longest run, Thierry’s Journey, we skied it three times. After weeks of low visibility flying, the pilot was having a blast too. He dropped us off on tiny summits, plucked us from the deepest valleys, and was grinning as widely as anyone on the mountain. Here, the Gothics chef gets a few hours of dreamtime before going back to the lodge to prepare a gourmet dinner to give the rest of us the perfect ending to a perfect day.
April 12, 2011, CMH Adamants:
An assignment from Skiing Magazine, to tell the story of the the unprecedented CMH Heli-Assisted Ski Touring program, gave me another week in ski-topia. While we all anticipated spring conditions and corn snow, it was not to be. Instead, La Niña delivered deep powder conditions until well after the last week of the CMH season. I didn’t hear anyone in the group whining about skiiing in the Adamants during the winter that wouldn’t end.
At CMH Revelstoke, there is already a skiable base in the backcountry, and check out today’s 5-day Revelstoke weather forecast! S-N-O-W!
A recent article in National Geographic on the world’s Top 10 Ski Runs and Lodges brings to mind snow-laden luxury accommodations below mountains laced with fantastical ski lines. We’re proud that Western Canada’s very own Whistler/Blackcomb and the Fairmont Chateau Whistler tops the list, and even closer to home, Banff/Lake Louise and the Fairmont Banff Springs (though not exactly slope-side) is number five.
Interestingly, the article, while it contains “ski runs” in the title, doesn’t mention a single ski run, nor does it include heli-ski areas. The reader can only surmise that the writer intended “ski runs” in the most general sense, and not singular spectacular ski runs. Which for me, as a skier, was a bit of a disappointment. I was truly curious what the iconic National Geographic's list of the world’s top 10 ski runs would include.
Photo of the CMH Monashee Lodge and behind it the kilometre-tall ski run known as Elevator - a ski lodge and ski run that many have called the best in the world. Maybe next time National Geographic will include heli-skiing in their selection...
It's obvious why the article didn't include heli-skiing - heliskiing is so much better than resort skiing as to make comparisons seem absurd. What can compare with the CMH tenture? It is bigger than the rest of North America's ski areas combined!
Also, I can see why the writer chose to weight the article towards lodging rather than skiing. It’s much harder to give both lodging and skiing equal weight in such a selection. Even within CMH there are sometimes heated conversations, especially among the 3,921 guests who have skied over a million vertical feet with CMH, debating which is the best CMH area. Most understand that the whole discussion is subjective, and many ski at different areas every time, but each CMH area has its committed fans who have skied millions of vertical feet exclusively at their favourite CMH area.
So, if you asked CMH heli-skiers and snowboarders to pick their favourite ski run and lodge, which would they choose? The skiing is great everywhere, so some pick their favourite area based partly on the view from the lodge, and pick the Bugaboos or Adamants; others choose based entirely on the volume of steep tree skiing they can shred in a week, and might vote for Galena, Kootenay, or the Monashees; still others choose based on the variety of terrain they can encounter and might pick the Cariboos, Gothics, Bobbie Burns or Revelstoke; some like the most private luxury and mountain experience and would pick the private heli-skiing areas of McBride or Valemount.
Really, such a thing is utterly impossible to judge fairly.
But it’s fun to consider. So, just for the fun of it, what is your favourite CMH ski run and lodge?
It is hard to get a sense for just how remote the CMH Heliskiing areas really are. Even when you fly into Calgary, Kelowna, or another nearby town, and then ride a bus and helicopter into one of the remote CMH lodges, it is hard to grasp the isolation of the ultimate ski and snowboard destination. One of the best ways to get a sense of the area is with the almost magical world of Google Earth.
There are few adventure travel destinations that are better suited to perusing with Google Earth than the vast wilderness playground that is CMH Heliskiing. To access the CMH Google Earth Database, follow these steps:
- Download Google Earth (If you’ve never used it, check it out. It is arguably the most amazing thing the internet has yet spawned.)
- Go to the Canadian Mountain Holidays website and click on the Multimedia tab. In the pull down menu, select Google Earth, or click here.
- On the CMH Google Earth page, there is a list of Heliskiing Google Earth maps. You can select one area, but selecting the "Overview of CMH Heliskiing Areas" gives you all of the other maps in one click and gives a better sense of scale than any of the individual areas alone.
Now, when you open Google Earth, you’ll see Canadian Mountain Holidays listed under your Places menu. If you click the menu arrow next to Canadian Mountain Holidays, you’ll see the drop down menu of all of the CMH areas.
To get an idea of why CMH operates what is by far the world’s biggest ski area, first don’t click on any of the areas, but instead double click on “Canadian Mountain Holidays”. Google Earth will zoom into a view showing all the CMH areas with McBride in the far north, and Kootenay in the far south. Next, slide the scale slider and zoom out until you can see the Pacific Ocean to the west. You’ll see that suddenly the CMH terrain takes on truly massive proportions.
The distance from the southern edge of the CMH tenures to the northernmost edge is over twice the distance from Seattle to Vancouver and slightly more than the entire north-south dimension of Washington state.
Now double click on a CMH area, the Adamants for example. Google Earth will zoom to fill your screen with the Adamants area map. You’ll see the map is highlighted greenish yellow.
To turn off the yellow colouring so you can see more detail of the area, click the arrow next to the Adamants, and in the short drop down menu, uncheck the box that says “Adamants Area Map”. From there you can zoom in and explore the Adamants terrain.
Unfortunately, the Google Earth photos are mostly summertime images, so it doesn’t look much like what skiers see in the winter. Also, from the default view, directly above, even the biggest mountains flatten out. By rotating the perspective, found above the scale slider in the Google Earth interface, you can view the mountains more as you would see them if you looked out the window of a helicopter or plane. This perspective suddenly reveals the long tree shots, wide open glacier runs, steep fall lines, massive vertical, and spectacular alpine scenery of CMH Heliskiing.
Any heliskiers out there who have a favourite Google Earth trick for viewing CMH terrain?
For the upcoming 2011/12 Heli-Ski Season at CMH we have mixed things up a little bit in the Adamants. We tested a few weeks last year where the capacity of the lodge was reduced from 44 skiers to 30 and traded in the Bell 212 for two small ships - the Bell 407.
The Small Group Heli-Ski program in the Adamants calls for 3 groups of five skiers (each with their own guide) to share a Bell 407. The size of the Adamant lodge and the surrounding heli-ski terrain allows for 6 groups and two helicopters.
I talked with CMH Adamant Lodge Area Manager, Konrad Sheiber about the trial runs they did in 2010/11 with the program, guest feedback and what the future holds.
JC: Konrad, this past season you experiemented with some Small Group Heli-Skiing in the Adamants. Obviously the trips went well as you will be moving to Small Group Heli-Skiing for the entire 2011/12 season. Can you explain how the program works?
KS: Ya, it is very exciting to have the opportunity to try something new! It is a very different heli-ski program than the Signature Heli-Ski experience at CMH. It feels almost like skiing in a private group. With the two helciopters working with 3 groups of five skiers each the pace is a bit faster and runs very smoothly. Skiing in smaller groups allows stronger, faster skiers to ski tighter lines.
JC: How did the guests react to the new program - were they enthusiastic about the advantages?
KS: The guests really liked the small groups. It's a very individual experience and to some of our guests size really does matter!
JC: Can you explain for our readers how the smaller helicopter allows us to ski terrain that we normally can't ski with the Bell 212 and 11 skiers?
KS: It's not so much about the helicopter we use although yes, the 407 is able to pick up a group out of a tighter spot. But the big difference is the number of people in the group. With 5 guests instead of 11, we can ski different terrain features. And for guests that want to ski with their friends, sometimes it is easier to find 4 friends than it is to find 10!
JC: By all accounts, the winter of 2010/11 was one of the best on record. Can you give me a personal highlight of the season?
KS: Last winter was certainly a very good winter. The highlight was to experience the difference the small group program makes. With the combination of the awesome ski conditions and the small group format, we were able to ski runs we haven't skied in previous winter and to get out to the far reaches of the Adamant terrain.
JC: Looking forward to next winter, what advice would you have for a heliskier looking for a visit to the Adamants?
KS: Come prepared to ski a lot of vertical!
A big congratulations to Konrad from all of us here at CMH on your recent marriage! Wishing you and your new bride years of happiness and some awesome skiing!
Last week I pointed my camera at the CMH Adamants during a CMH Heli-Assisted Ski Touring week for an article that will appear in Skiing Magazine next fall. It is truly painful not to be able to share the photos with you right now – Skiing gets first choice – but the trip opened my eyes to a kind skiing that few people have ever seen, and may be a glimpse into the future of skiing.
When Hans Gmoser and Leo Grillmair invented heliskiing almost half a century ago, they had no idea just how captivating the sport of heliskiing would become. There was a similar sentiment in the air in the Adamants last week.
I overheard one experienced heliskiing guest say something that reveals that the new Heli-assisted Ski Touring program is more powerful than even the guides who envisioned it in the first place could have imagined:
“I’m never going heliskiing again. Just heli-ski touring.”
I don’t think CMH meant to turn heli-skiers into ski tourers when they created the Heli-assisted Ski Touring program three years ago, but they can’t stop now - the guests like it too much, and some skiers have come back to tour each of the last three seasons.
One ski guide said on the last day, “That was the best day of skiing all year!”
Another guide said, “ I guided 16 weeks this year, in some of the most epic powder, and this is definitely one of the best.”
It’s not hard to see why the program is exploding in popularity. Just imagine a day like this:
- 7:15 – Skiing specific stretch class.
- 8:00 – Deluxe buffet breakfast (think fruit bowls, eggs benedict, and espresso)
- 9:05 – Step into the skis for a casual, photo-friendly lap down the best downhill run the ski guides can find (think 1300 meters of whipped cream).
- 10:00 – Put on your skins and find the perfect aerobic output (not too hard and not too easy) while touring through old growth forests, along the edge of deep-blue glaciers and up serpentine ridges.
- 11:30 – Buckle your skis on your pack to bootpack the final few metres onto a rime-frosted summit (makes you feel like you’re starring in your own ski film).
- 12:00 – Eat lunch on the summit overlooking the kind of view only Everest summiteers and parachutists ever see (maybe don’t walk to the edge to pee).
- 12:45 – Lock your skis into downhill mode (without accidentally kicking one over the edge) and rip turns right off the summit.
- Repeat until you are ready for a 4-course gourmet meal CMH style and catch a lift back to the hot tub, sauna, massage therapist, and bar with a view of Mt. Downie, the Matterhorn of the Columbias.
Heli-assisted Ski-Touring with CMH feels a bit surreal, much like the first heliskiers must have felt as everyone on the team realized the potential of the program. I don’t know if CMH realized just how much appeal there would be in cherry-picking the ideal conditions and sweetest lines in the heli-ski capital of the world with local heliski guides - at a price that is affordable for the average skier.
Heli-assisted Ski Touring may be the best value in skiing right now, but for heli-skiers looking to save up to $700 on a regular heliskiing trip, book next year’s trip before our Early Booking Incentive expires on April 30!
It’s nearly impossible to compare skiing in a resort to heli-skiing with CMH. Ski Guide Kitt Redhead perhaps said it best: “It’s like swimming in a lake your whole life and then seeing the ocean.”
The other day on Skiing Interactive I came across a brilliantly done interactive terrain comparison between CMH Heli-Skiing and 20 other North American ski resorts. The point is to compare terrain and snowfall among the 20 resorts, but it is the comparison to CMH (shown in the screenshot here) that is mindblowing:
The article notes that the resort number reflects skiable acreage, and the CMH number reflects total acreage. In some CMH areas, like the Adamants, there are hanging glaciers, kilometre-tall cliffs, and other unskiable features; but in other CMH areas, like Kootenay, nearly every acre of the tenure is delightfully skiable.
The difference between the resorts and CMH is so great that it required an interactive Flash element to graphically illustrate the two. On the Skiing Interactive site, when you click on the CMH Heli-Skiing comparison, the 20 resorts are clumped together in a tiny dot representing their combined 52,281 acres, while the 3,895,616 acres of CMH Heli-Skiing terrain is represented by most of the rest of your browser window.
I did the math – that’s 75 times more acreage at CMH than the other resorts combined - and the list includes the renowned ski giants of Whistler and Vail.
The article conclusion is the best part: “…the latent point is that you should put a heli trip on your bucket list. Now shut off your computer and go skiing.”
CMH Kootenay terrain and awed shadow photo by Topher Donahue.
Back in the early days of heliskiing, the guide pack sometimes included a bottle of wine to share at lunch, skins for ski touring because the early guides were not confident that the helicopter would really be able to return, and other heavy gear that made the whole profession harder on the knees and backs of the ski guides.
Today, the CMH guide pack is much lighter and more streamlined - and don’t bother looking for that bottle of wine from 1969. For a view into the guide pack, I tracked down Erich Unterberger, the Manager of Guiding Operations for CMH, who took the time between a few days of guiding in the Monashees to share with us the guts of the guide pack:
"The guide pack got a bit lighter over the years with newer materials being used for lots of our tools. But essentially, the contents are not much different from what we used a quarter century ago when I first started with CMH."
- The shovel and probe only weigh a fraction of the first generation of their kind.
- The rope kit (for crevasse or cliff rescue scenarios) is small and still very strong.
- The headlamp is another tool that is much smaller and still provides better function than the older versions.
- Some guides use their probes as the ruler for the snow observation kit. The other Snow Observation tools remain the same.
Guide's Pack Contents:
1 medical kit
1 headlamp or light
1 improvised splinting materials
1 collapsible avalanche probe
1 snow shovel
1 bivouac bag
1 pair of spare gloves
1 warm hat
1 multi-purpose tool
1 metal container for melting snow
1 bush saw
1 snow observation kit:
- folding ruler
- crystal screen
- magnifying glass
- field book, waterproof
1 rope kit: may be carried separately
1 min. 25m / 8-9mm rope or equivalent
2 locking carabiners
3 5m slings
Photo of Erich Unterberger and his guide pack getting up to speed in the CMH Adamants by Topher Donahue.