The snowiest mountains in Canada.
The world’s first Heli-Ski company.
The biggest employer of mountain guides in the world.
The world’s greatest skiing.
A lot of flattering statements have been used to describe CMH Heli-Skiing and the Columbia Mountains that CMH calls home, but there is one that is often overlooked (or only talked about in the dark of night) in the quest to explain this place.
And that is: the snow is just plain sexy.
It's true. The characteristics of this snow inspire pillow talk. It is drier than the snow found in coastal ranges, but more voluminous than the snow found in most continental ranges, creating a truly drool-worthy medium. If you're into that kind of thing, here are seven photos that put the soft in softcore:
A skier flirts with a snowball in the Monashees:
A snowboarder between the sheets in Galena:
A skier feeling confident with his pickup line in the Gothics:
Cornices show off their curves in the Adamants:
A woman in the Cariboos realizing that size matters when it comes to snowpack:
Bump and grind in the snow ghost disco above the Columbia River:
A shy helicopter sports the sheer look in Revelstoke:
Ok, that was bad. Just putting together these pictures that I took over the last few years kinda got me all worked up. Now I really want some, but at least the early season snow is falling!
One of the great things about CMH Heli-Skiing is that you don't have to bring much with you - CMH takes care of just about everything and the helicopter is never too far away. However, there are a few things that make a day of deep powder nirvana just that much sweeter. I'd suggest never leaving the Lodge without these 5 things in your pocket:
- Sunscreen: Sometimes even the snowiest mornings lead to sunny afternoons, and with the transportation capability of the helicopter it is easy to start at the Lodge, surrounded by thick clouds, thinking sunscreen will not be necessary - and then spend most of the day in the sun on the other side of the range. A small tube of SPF 30 or higher is recommended as well as lip protection. If you don’t have any, your guide or another guest will help you out, but it’s better to have you own.
- Goggle wipe: To protect the anti-fog characteristics and clarity of your goggle and glasses lenses, use the cloth or soft case that came with them to wipe them clean. If they’re not badly smudged, or you are near the bottom of a run and can see well enough to ski or ride safely, don’t wipe them at all and instead use the helicopter heater vents (ask a guide or veteran CMH Heli-Ski guest where they are on the machine) and hold the goggles over the vent during one of the day’s many heli lifts.
- Sunglasses or goggles: If you start the day in goggles, put your glasses in your pocket. If you start the day in glasses, put your goggles in your pocket. A soft case is nice to protect them from rubbing (and faceplants). Not only will the extra eyewear make your day nicer when the weather changes, but if you fill your goggles with snow in a wipeout, you can often save some time (and prevent the group from waiting for you while you struggle to clean your goggles in a snowstorm) by just putting on your glasses for the rest of the run and save the goggle drying project for the helicopter.
- Thin gloves: If you end up fiddling with your snowboard binding, your GoPro, or simply eating lunch on a cold day, having a pair of thin gloves can save you a painful case of cold hands. Also, if you accidentally let a glove get away form you on a windy ridge (and you wisely decide not to chase it over the cornice) you’ll have another pair to wear. Your guide will have an extra pair in his or her pack, but you may need to ski a little ways before he or she can get them to you.
- Camera: Although I’m a photographer by trade, I have the utmost respect for people who don’t want a camera to intrude upon their vacation. “I just want to have fun and not worry about pictures” is a perfectly admirable philosophy. The only problem with this approach is when the mountains deliver an exceptional moment – and there are many exceptional moments in the mountains where CMH operates. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard heli-skiers say, “Oh! I wish I had my camera!” Get a tiny point-and-shoot and stick it in your pocket. It won’t hinder your day and when the clouds part with the sun shining through a mist of rainbow-coloured ice crystals and the Canadian Rockies fading into the distance, you’ll have a way to capture the moment. Don’t carry your phone if you can help it. Phones are big, fragile and easy to drop, there is no cell coverage out there, and even inexpensive tiny cameras work really well.
Photo of skis and rotors turning simultaneously in CMH Adamants by Topher Donahue.
When I think of Heli-Skiing with CMH, the first thing that comes to mind is pow snorkeling through old growth forests with fluffy snow rushing past every inch of my body.
The second thing I think of is the common psyche of hanging out in ski paradise with a group of people who would rather be nowhere else on earth.
The third things I think of are the backdrops against which we ride. It is easy to get distracted by the first two, but here are a few photos to remind you of the spectacular arena where CMH Heli-Skiing takes place:
1. The Duncan River Valley, Bobbie Burns. The Duncan divides the Purcells from the Selkirks, and is one of the wildest valleys in North America. No roads, no trails except those made by moose and bears, and in the winter it creates a wilderness ski experience that must be experienced to be believed.
2. The Howser Towers, Bugaboos. Ok, I’m partial to the Howser Towers, having done the first free ascent of the North Howser Tower’s West Face (On the left side as seen in this photo) but even those who have no interest in climbing vertical rock find a day of skiing around the Howser Tower to be about as beautiful as snow riding can get.
3. Cariboos Glaciers. The Cariboos hold the biggest collection of glaciers left in the Columbia Mountains. It seems that nearly every run in the Cariboos, even the steep tree runs, have patterns of glacial ice forming an artistic backdrop.
4. Gothics Clouds. Perhaps it is the Gothics location at the junction of several immense mountain valleys in the Northern Selkirks and the Monashees that holds the clouds so well, but for some reason a classic day in the Gothics involves skiing the alpine above the clouds in the morning, then dropping into the steeper trees as the clouds burn off in the afternoon.
5. Monashees Trees: Just saying the words, “Monashees Trees” gives me a little shot of adrenaline. The Monashees has incredible peaks to look at as well, but this is the usual backdrop to a day of steep and deep in the Monashees – if you take the time to emerge from the countless face shots for long enough to take a look around.
6. Revelstoke Peaks: With it’s location in the epicentre of powder skiing, the mountains around Revelstoke create a spectacular canvas against which to ride. Revelstoke Mountain Resort is one of the world’s most impressive ski resorts, but it is possible to ski the backcountry around Revelstoke and never even see RMR because the rest of the terrain is so vast and rugged.
7. Adamants Cathedrals: In spending a good part of my life wandering the world's crags, summits and spires, I don't think I've ever seen a more impressive display of nature's architecture than the namesake peaks of the Adamants. Skiing below them is an unforgettable experience.
Photos by Topher Donahue.
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:
A mid-winter dirty martini sitting atop the 3-D ski area table of the Adamants in the commons area of the Adamants Lodge:
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:
Getting the giggle on after hitting the shot ski – anywhere CMH:
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:
Any of you million-footers out there have any great memories of CMH aprés ski that you'd like to share?
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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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?