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.
My neighbor told me recently that he had a friend who was a helicopter pilot, and he was thinking of getting a group of skiers together for some recreational heli-skiing that would be a lot cheaper than this professional, guided stuff.
Here in North America, mountain guiding is sometimes seen by self-proclaimed experts, like my neighbor, as an excellent resource for beginners and peak baggers, but not a service for real climbers or skiers. In many cases, people learn backcountry skiing and climbing from friends with various experience levels rather than being taught by professional guides. Inevitably, learning from friends involves a lot of trial and error, and with more people realizing the benefits of wilderness recreation more people are asking the question: Do I really need a guide?
The simple answer is no. Thousands of people ski off-piste (outside prepared ski runs) and climb mountains without ever hiring a guide. The more complex answer is that it depends how much time you can afford to put into the experience you want to have.
Let’s take a downhill skier for example. If you want to experience skiing in the legendary deep snow on the wild peaks outside of a ski resort, then doing it alone, with reasonable safety, requires several years of learning and practice. Doing this without a guide can be a reasonable undertaking if you have the time to put into the learning. Going heli-skiing on your own, however, is a really bad idea.
For a professional opinion of what this might look like, I asked Marc Piché, a long-time CMH Bugaboos guide and the author of The Bugaboos, One of the World’s Great Alpine Rock Climbing Centres. Marc is a well-rounded mountain guide trained by the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides and one of the few guides who splits professional time relatively equally between ski touring, heli-skiing, rock climbing, ice climbing and mountaineering.
TD: If a group of skiers, first time or experieced heli-skiers, hired a helicopter and went skiing without a guide,
what would happen?
MP: I think they would quickly realize why people hire a guide. No other means can deliver you to so much complex terrain so fast. It is one of the most demanding and rewarding forms of guiding but trying to go it alone in a new area with no experience would be a recipe for disaster. To an experienced recreational backcountry skier, heli-skiing may seem pretty simple but what they probably don’t recognize is how much experience it takes to safely manage the fast paced logistics and multiple hazards of heli-skiing in big mountains.
I told my neighbor that I would want nothing to do with an unprofessional heli-ski adventure, but that if it ever happens to let me know so I can write a story about it.
Would you go heli-skiing without a guide?