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.