Last weekend, CMH Heli-Skiing wrapped up the Heli-Ski season in style. On Saturday, Dave Cochrane, the Bugaboos Area Manager, sent our Banff Office this letter that nicely sums up not only Dave’s perspective on the world’s greatest skiing, but also the entire company’s focus on safety and attention to our guests:
Good morning everyone,
Our last guests just got on the bus about 20 minutes ago.
We have had a truly outstanding last week of skiing with good weather, and every kind of good condition you can imagine, from deep silky powder to the best corn you could possibly have or dream about and also a little sticky gluey snow here and there, with very little or no transition from powder to corn.
We had a really fantastic season, with a lot of deep powder through the first half and then smaller storms after that. I can’t recall any bad skiing at all, although I am more than heavily biased for all the good memories. We had a couple of rainy days and didn’t ski, but it literally was seen by all of us simply as a huge opportunity for new snow and we remained positive. As it turned out the rain healed everything with lots of new snow at the ends of the rainy periods as the weather cooled down.
Our staff were really incredible and were instrumental in keeping everything safe and fun for everyone. I am privileged to be able to work with the remarkable people here at the lodge.
I would like to thank you all again for the tremendous hard work to keep us well supplied, safe and running smoothly. Your collective dedication to high quality professional management of all aspects of the support you provide us is really the best and makes running the show up here very easy indeed!
For so many of us it’s a job, but we are fortunate to work with incredible people and like I said before you should all be proud for a job very well done!
Thanks and to many more safe and happy mountain adventures!
Every skier and snowboarder who joined CMH for a trip, from some of the sport’s visionary superstars to first timers who are intermediate skiers, gave us rave reviews. The common story across the range of skill levels and experiences is how the combination of the staff hospitality, comfortable lodging, careful and personable guides - and of course the epic snow riding -make for one of the finest experiences this world has to offer.
Thanks Dave! Here’s to a fine conclusion to the 48th winter of CMH Heli-Skiing!
We all know what it’s like to ride on corn snow – that smooth, easy turning velvet that is so conducive to high speed ripping. We know if we get on it too early in the morning that it tends to rattle our teeth out of our skulls; if we get on it too late it is slurpy mush that sucks on our skis like quicksand. But what is the stuff we call corn snow?
The best definition and scientific explanation for corn snow I found is on fsavalanche.org, where they describe corn snow as: “large-grained, rounded crystals formed from repeated melting and freezing of the snow.” Their page on the subject includes the image below that illustrates how it is the surface tension of the water between the rounded ice crystals that creates the perfect corn snow. After a cold night, the water between the ice crystals is still frozen; when the ice crystals melt too much, the matrix of ice and water loses cohesion, falls apart and turns to slush. The magic time between too hard and too soft under intense sun is often no more than an hour.
Because of the short window of perfection, the tricky part about corn skiing is the timing, and on really long runs, it is almost impossible to get it just right. On a spring descent of Mt Shasta, known as one of the longest ski runs in the United States with over 2100 metres (7200 feet) of vertical, we waited on the summit until the steep upper slopes were just soft enough to ski but still rattled down the first 500 metres of sketchy, still-too-frozen corn. Then we had a thousand metres of glory before the surface melted out from under us and we wallowed in the slush for the last 500.
There is an atmospheric phenomenon that can preserve the corn low in the valley, while the sun bakes the upper slopes, and that is valley fog. The only time I’ve experienced perfect corn snow from top to bottom on long runs is when valley fog insulates the lower elevations. The Wasatch Range, the Cascades, the Columbias and the Alps are all mountain ranges known for frequent valley fog conditions. If you are in any of these ranges in the springtime, and getting frequent valley fog in the mornings, go find the biggest, safe, corn run in the area and enjoy gorging on the stuff.
Leo Grillmair, shown in the photo at right Heli-Skiing in the Bugaboos in 2005, is one of the founding guides of CMH Heli-Skiing. He explained to me once that the best corn snow forms when temperatures reach 10 degrees C during the day, and fall to minus 10 degrees C at night.
For beginners, corn snow is the very best, most forgiving, most comfortable snow condition for learning to ski or snowboard.
In a ski area, corn snow behaves a little differently because of all the ski traffic, but still there is often a good corn cycle when conditions are right. The best tactic for getting it right in a ski area is to take it easy.
- Don’t shoot for first chair unless your area has a lot of south facing terrain - give it an hour or so extra.
- Find the aspects that have been in the sun for a couple of hours.
- Ski the side of the run where there is less tree shade and the snow has warmed uniformly.
- Avoid entirely shady terrain until very late in the day.
- Wear a carving ski/board rather than a fat powder tool.
However, without a doubt the best way to feast on corn snow, cooked to perfection, is with a helicopter. Interestingly, for the last few years at CMH Heli-Skiing, corn snow has been a largely absent part of the CMH Heli-Skier diet. Nobody’s complaining, because epic powder conditions from the first to last day of the Heli-Ski season in the Revelstoke region has more than made up for it, but still, there is nothing quite like a perfect corn feast with a Bell 212 helicopter and a group of savvy mountain guides to dial the timing and serve it up just right.
Photos of CMH Adamants corn smile and Leo Grillmair portrait by Topher Donahue. Corn illustration courtesy Forest Service National Avalanche Center.
Heli-Skiing is different from other kinds of skiing in a number of ways. The obvious ones, like the volume of untracked powder you get to shred each day and the vast selection of ski terrain at your ski tips, speak for themselves.
Once you get out in these mountains, with a helicopter as your ski lift, a few other differences become obvious – like the clothes you wear in a ski resort aren’t necessarily optimal for Heli-Skiing.
Finally, talk to your fellow Heli-Skiers. CMH Heli-Skiing guests are an experienced lot. It’s not uncommon to be at a CMH Lodge with guests who have as much Heli-Skiing experience as some guides. They are a wealth of wisdom in how to get the most out of your precious time in the unique world of deep powder heli-skiing.
- Close the gap. I’m not talking about gap jumping. I’m talking about the gap between your jacket and pants. While the low-riding pants and high-riding jackets look great in the lift line, there are no lift lines in Heli-Skiing. This fashion statement acts more as a snow-melting system in deep backcountry powder. Even if you don’t fall, the deep powder will quickly fill your pants, melt down your leg, and eventually make it’s way into your boots. You don't want that water in your boots - you never know where it's been. Ski guides prefer high top pants with suspenders or snug belts and long shirts that will stay tucked in all day.
- Don’t wear white. Even if you’re extra attentive to staying close to your group, when skiing in the trees wearing white makes life more difficult for your tree skiing buddy. We ski in pairs in the trees, and a flash of colour is easier to keep track of than a flash of white in a white world. In a worst-case scenario, if you do get separated from your group, the helicopter pilot will be called upon to find you from the air. I’m sure you can visualize what a white skier in the middle of some of the world’s snowiest mountains looks like from the air…
- Under-dress, then add a vest. The helicopter is heated, and there is usually not much waiting around, so you don’t need to dress like you would for a long, cold chairlift ride. However, Canadian winters can be quite cold and there are occasionally delays, so you want to dress warm enough. What to wear is a debate every Heli-Skier has every day. My favourite piece of Heli-Skiing kit is a light vest with synthetic insulation. I can wear it at the beginning of the day to stay warm, and then stick it in my pocket or in the tiny pack provided for each CMH guest. Wearing too much is a common mistake made by Heli-Skiers. This results in excess perspiration which fogs up your goggles, dehydrates you, and detracts from your enjoyment of the world’s greatest skiing.
- Monitor and adjust your temperature. If you feel that you are about to get cold, make sure you put on your hood, zip up your zippers, tuck in your sweater and loosen your boots at the pickup to increase circulation BEFORE YOU GET COLD. If you’re getting hot, take off your hat and vent your jacket BEFORE YOU OVERHEAT.
- Wear a hard shell rather than a soft shell or an insulated jacket. While insulated jackets and soft shells are great at the ski area, they don’t allow enough versatility for a week of Heli-Skiing. In a typical week of Heli-Skiing in Interior British Columbia, you’ll see both brilliant sunshine and heavy snowfall - sometimes in the same day. Even the best soft shells tend to get wet easier and stay wet longer than hard shells.
Photo of a well-executed wet-sock-grab at CMH Bugaboos by Topher Donahue.
Like most good things in Heli-Skiing, the need drives the innovation, and Pre Heli-Skiing, offered in Banff by Vertical Unlimited Ski Hosts is no exception. Last season, CMH veteran Kimbi Farrelly took a British family skiing near Banff before their maiden Heli-Skiing voyage in the Bugaboos. To start with, they didn’t really know which lodge they were going to. Kimbi said, “It was all neatly written up for them on their correspondence, but they obviously did not have the time or desire to read it.”
Personally, I like that British family’s approach - just sign up for the dream ski trip with CMH Heli-Skiing and get on with it. Why bother with the details, eh? But the family gave Kimbi the idea to start a program to help people get ready for their CMH Heli-Skiing trip. We all know CMH will take fantastic care of you on your dream trip, and teach you what you need to know while you’re out there, but Kimbi had discovered a valuable addition to the CMH Heli-Skiing program.
While skiing with the British family around the Banff ski areas, Kimbi found herself teaching them many of the things that would help them get the most out of their ski holiday:
- She explained the kind of terrain they would end up skiing in the Bugaboos, and how the heli-skiing program works in the various terrain.
- She went over the techniques for tree skiing, like the buddy system and leap frogging.
- She showed them how to find a lost ski in the deep powder.
- She showed them how to put on skis in difficult terrain and deep snow.
- She coached them on how to approach difficult terrain.
- She taught them how to get up after falling in deep powder.
- She gave them pointers for how to conserve energy throughout the day and week.
- She emphasized the importance of listening to the guide’s instructions.
- She explained how to dress for a day of heli-skiing in various temperatures and conditions.
- She showed them how to bundle their skis and poles together for the helicopter.
By the end of the day, Kimbi had designed the beginnings of an entirely new ski program.
After 12 years of working for CMH as a ski shop manager, in almost every CMH area, and accumulating over 8 million vertical feet of heli-fun, Kimbi knows what will help CMH guests get the most out of the vacation.
“Not only is this great for first timers,” she explains, “but it is also an add on for the returning guests that want to bring their families, or for groups of friends who want to get their ski legs underneath them; a lot of heli-skiers don’t have the time to prepare before their vacation and this is a great way to get the ski legs moving again.”
There are also some benefits that even the experienced CMH powder hounds would appreciate. Kimbi provides private shuttles from your hotel, and will take you on a tour of Banff’s “hidden stashes and secret spots that all the locals ski!” (Sign me up for that part alone...)
Besides Kimbi’s substantial fun hog credentials, she is also a certified Nordic and Alpine ski instructor. Everything Kimbi teaches will be explained by CMH guides as well, and repeated whenever needed, but joining Kimbi for a warm-up allows you to spend more of your concentration and ski energy simply enjoying the world’s greatest skiing.
For more information about Pre Heli-Skiing, visit Vertical Unlimited Ski Hosts or call CMH Heli-Skiing reservations at 1 (800) 661-0252.
This fall, CMH Heli-Skiing was honoured to receive the 2012 Gordon Wilder Memorial Award. The award, dedicated to the former president of Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, is presented annually by Kootenay Rockies Tourism in recognition of achievements in the mountain tourism culture of British Columbia’s Kootenay region.
The Kootenay Rockies have become legendary the world over as the ultimate powder riding destination, and CMH is proud to have been one of the first to put the Powder Highway on the map.
To put the Kootenay region's ski resources in perspective, CMH Heli-Skiing is the biggest Heli-Ski operator on earth, but only operates in a small fraction of the vast ski terrain in the Kootenay Rockies. Each winter journalists travel the Powder Highway trying to capture the dream-like snow, terrain, and mountain culture for the world’s skiers; but even the best of them only see, ski, shred, film, write about or photograph a small slice of the area’s potential.
And that’s a big part of why we’re so honoured to receive this year’s Gordon Wilder Memorial award.
An article on this year’s award in Kootenay Business reads: “ CMH was recognized for the pioneering of heli-skiing in the Rockies and their world-wide promotion of the sport. Their innovation and vision has made the Kootenay Rockies not only the birthplace of heli-skiing but also the world's premiere heli-skiing destination.”
CMH Bugaboos manager and mountain guide Dave Cochrane received the award at the Kimberley Conference Centre from Annie Pigeon, the marketing director of the Whitewater ski area. It was an emotional moment as Dave represented the entire CMH family, going back to the early 60s when CMH Heli-Skiing's founder, Hans Gmoser, began exploring the potential for deep powder skiing in the Kootenay region.
Today, the Kootenay Rockies are famous for unbounded ski terrain with 40 to 50 feet of annual snowfall blanketing newer ski resorts near Golden and Revelstoke, as well as the area’s charismatic and much-loved areas near Fernie, Nelson and Rossland. In between lies a vast wonderland of backcountry skiing, an area that now boasts over 25 snowcat and helicopter skiing operators as well as more than 40 backcountry ski lodges.
In many ways, each Kootenay backcountry operation shares its bloodline with Hans Gmoser and his perseverance in helping to make this mecca of backcountry ski destinations accessible to so many happy skiers and snowboarders. For CMH Heli-Skiing to receive this award is a coming of age of backcountry skiing in the region and a nod to CMH Heli-Skiing as both a forefather of the area’s deep powder skiing and a contemporary leader among backcountry operators who, while competitors in one sense, are at heart collaborators in the common goal of providing comfortable, safe and exciting access to what is, without a doubt, the world’s greatest skiing.
First of all, I’ll start with an apology. This is a bit like reporting on a great vintage a year early, before even a single person gets to pop a cork. So I’m sorry to do this to you. Believe me, I'm suffering for it too.
But the snow at CMH Bugaboos is already incredible. Dave Cochrane, the CMH Bugaboo Lodge area manager is always keen to share what he sees out there and this is what he sent in yesterday:
“We were out today hiking in Septet Creek, that is where you find the ski runs Groovy West, Groovy East and Groovy Ass.
The landings are at 2550m and we picked up at 2130m. We found snow up to 130-140 cm. (That’s four feet deep!) below the ridge line and at the pickup an honest 50cm of fairly well settled snow and an average on the run of 80-120 cm.
The snow cover on those runs is really good and settled enough it would make for really great skiing. I definitely could run a ski program at the moment in the Groovy area.”
The day before yesterday, the Bugaboos team sent in these photos.
Last summer I was talking to one of the CMH ski guides and I asked him if he’d noticed any big changes in the skiing conditions in recent years. With the huge drought last season in the States, I was wondering what might be happening to our beloved snow.
He replied, “Compared to historical records, our snowfall in recent years is spot on.”
Last season's snowfall in the Revelstoke region, where all the CMH Heli-Ski areas are located, would certainly support this. Excellent skiing all winter. The 2010-2011 season in the Revelstoke region? Excellent skiing all winter. The 2009-2010 winter in the Revelstoke region? Great early season skiing, spotty in places during high season, and great late season skiing. It's not called the world's greatest skiing because of the region's grooming capability...
I also spoke with Dave Cochrane last summer. In fact, I was poking a bit of fun at him because he’s a huge fan of corn skiing and I knew it had dumped all spring in the Columbia Mountains leaving little time for the sunshine to form the velvety springtime corn snow.
I asked, “Dave, did you miss corn skiing last year?”
His reply: “Nope. The spring powder skiing has been so good the last few years that I haven’t really missed corn skiing at all. In the spring it’s just kept dumping and we’ve been skiing powder right up to the end of the season.”
So much for making a ski guide miss corn snow.
The big question is: what does all this mean for this year?
Dave concluded his letter to the CMH Heli-Skiing office in Banff: “So,,,,it’s only the third week in October and anything can happen but it is looking very promising so far.”
My read? It dumped four feet in the Bugs and Dave wants to go skiing.
The effect his report has on me? It dumped four feet in the Bugs and now I want to go skiing too.
Looking at the photos I can’t help but see the snow being whirled into the sky from the rotor wash, the rippled ridges of deep powder already taking on the seductive lines of winter drifts. I can’t help but daydream of the feel of snowflakes on my face, the giddy roller coaster-feel of arcing through bottomless powder, and the winter vistas changing with every breath.
Dave, do us all a favor and stop sending in these brutal reports - it isn’t ski season yet!
Or is it?
Mars boasts the solar system’s biggest mountain, Olympus Mons, a 90,000 foot behemoth that’s three times as tall as Mt. Everest and so wide that from the view on top its base would extend beyond the horizon; and now, with the Curiosity rover grabbing headlines almost weekly, Mars is capturing our fascination perhaps more than any time since the controversial radio hoax that broadcast H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds in 1938.
Then, just last week, NASA discovered snowfall on Mars! Scientists with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, using data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, have discovered evidence of snow falling on the Red Planet’s south pole during the Martian winter. Their discovery will appear in an article in the Journal of Geophysical Research.
This is the first example of snowfall anywhere in our solar system besides Earth, but before you call CMH Heli-Skiing to see if we’ll be opening our next Heli-Skiing Lodge on Mars and going big off of reduced-gravity kickers and pillow drops, there’s a catch:
The snowfall on Mars is carbon dioxide snow, or precipitated “dry ice” as frozen carbon dioxide is better known. Carbon dioxide freezes at about -125C (-193F) so even Arc’teryx’s most futuristic technology wouldn’t protect a Martian powder skier.
According to the JPL press release the report's lead author, Paul Hayne, said, "These are the first definitive detections of carbon-dioxide snow clouds. We firmly establish the clouds are composed of carbon dioxide, flakes of Martian air, and they are thick enough to result in snowfall accumulation at the surface."
The data for the recent discovery was supplied by the Mars Climate Sounder, a device on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that measures changes in atmospheric temperature and composition using a wide range of channels across the electromagnetic spectrum to map the planet's atmosphere.
In 2008, the Phoenix Lander observed water-ice snow on Northern Mars, and the presence of carbon dioxide ice caps on the planet has been known for much longer. The latest Mars mission, Curiosity, has captured the imagination of both adults and children, with the very naming of the mission coming from a competition held among school children from K-12.
Clara Ma, a 6th grader from Kansas, won the competition with her essay, Curiosity:
Curiosity is an everlasting flame that burns in everyone's mind. It makes me get out of bed in the morning and wonder what surprises life will throw at me that day. Curiosity is such a powerful force. Without it, we wouldn't be who we are today. When I was younger, I wondered, 'Why is the sky blue?', 'Why do the stars twinkle?', 'Why am I me?', and I still do. I had so many questions, and America is the place where I want to find my answers. Curiosity is the passion that drives us through our everyday lives. We have become explorers and scientists with our need to ask questions and to wonder. Sure, there are many risks and dangers, but despite that, we still continue to wonder and dream and create and hope. We have discovered so much about the world, but still so little. We will never know everything there is to know, but with our burning curiosity, we have learned so much.
Her words embody the phrase, “Out of the mouth of babes oft times come gems.”
Much of what we enjoy in our modern lifestyle - including the very invention of skiing (the oldest evidence found dates back about 7000 years), lift-serviced skiing, and eventually CMH's invention that we now call Heli-Skiing - owes its inspiration to the seemingly limitless human curiosity.
As a skier who has been lucky enough to taste our world's greatest skiing, I can't help but be curious about what it would be like to shred huge Martian peaks, ripping turns in crystalline dry ice. For starters, those Martian face shots would really hurt.
Photo composite of Jordy demonstrating a Martian Kicker in the Bugaboos by Topher Donahue.
In 2009 Chic Scott penned Deep Powder and Steep Rock, The Life of Mountain Guide Hans Gmoser. The biography is a must read for any ski buff or adventure enthusiast, and included with each copy of the book is “Hans Gmoser, Filmmaker”, a DVD compilation of Hans Gmoser’s films.
In many ways, Hans was a pioneer of documentary filmmaking, but his contribution to film has been overshadowed by his legendary invention: heliskiing. He carried his camera with him everywhere, skiing with it, climbing with it, living with it - and then sharing his films with audiences all over North America and Europe. (Shown below with his camera on the first ascent of Denali's Wickersham Wall.)
The first film in the trilogy included on the DVD is from 1966, a film called “The High Road to Skiing” and chronicles a group of ski instructors on holiday in late April in the Bugaboos (the second season of CMH Heli-Skiing) after several feet of new snow. 1960s era knit ski sweaters, nonchalantly triggering an avalanche (before avalanche transceivers were invented) set the scene perfectly. As usual, Hans’ narration is priceless:
“Have you ever heard your ski instructor tell you you should keep your knees so close together that you can pinch a ten dollar bill between them? I think the only way Rod (one of the skiers using a slightly wider stance) could hold a ten dollar bill between his knees, is if he had a whole stack of them.”
“The snow is so light, once you kick it up it seems to hang in the air forever.”
“It’s almost like a dream, flying through this world of clouds, mountaintops and beautiful powder snow.”
And about the sawmill camp where heliskiing was born he had this to say:
“Even though this camp is rough and frugal, the people don’t mind it, because the skiing is the ultimate - and this is what they came for.”
The second clip is from 1959, a film called “Vagabonds of the Mountains” which tells the outrageous story of Hans and a team of six friends making the first Canadian ascent of Mt. Logan.
The adventure turns out to be one of the more epic adventures in North American mountaineering history: combining a fast ascent of the second highest peak on the continent with a previously untouched ski traverse and culminating with a disastrous whitewater finish where their makeshift rafts are lost along with 1300 photographs and all their gear. Luckily, the team escapes unharmed, and Hans’ films survived, as he kept them on his person, and saved this exceptional documentary for perpetuity.
“What we really treasure is those memories which we have brought back; and I’m sure those memories will let us remain calm and confident when we encounter all the pressures and difficulties of our future lives.”
The final clip on the DVD is from Hans’ 1958 film, Ski Trails, which he shot to promote his ski touring program in Yoho National Park near Banff.
Hans’ poetic narration accompanies his footage of ski touring where he utilizes creative camera techniques that would be impressive even today - shooting into the sun, playing with low angles on the skiers, and following shadows of skiers on the snow. The film is a testament to Hans’ incredible communication skills in an array of mediums - all the more impressive when you think that merely seven years earlier, Hans emigrated from Austria with very little english.
“Out of a deep, dark valley, leads a ski trail, winding along a creekbed through the early morning forest. Then, all of a sudden (with added excitement in his voice) it opens onto the first sunlight which you can see on the highest peaks through the morning mist. You, yourself, are still in the deep shadow. It is a cold, clear morning.
“On such a morning you have a tremendous desire to climb up there, into the sun, and to look out over this beautiful country. With each step you take, the horizon widens and more and more of the peaks glisten in the morning sun, casting dark shadows into the deep valleys.
“Then at last, you too step out into the light and your shadow moves across the clean snow.”
With footage of breaking trail up a steep hill in deep, fresh snow, Hans continues:
“Perhaps it is difficult for you to imagine that one’s desire could be to plod through the deep snow. But let’s be frank, in spite of all the arguments against it, don’t we all have a desire to do something difficult and thereby lift ourselves above the dull everyday?”
“Climbing up every morning, it becomes, actually, every bit as enjoyable as the ski down - in a very different way though. Everything is quiet around you, and as you push your skis through the soft, new snow, you are once more in perfect harmony with the beautiful land in which we live. Every morning you feel as if all this had been created the night before - all is fresh and new."
On one section, where it was too steep to continue upward on skis, Hans shows footage of a skier carrying his skis up an extremely exposed looking section: Hans says, in his light-hearted and honest form of humor, “This is quite awkward, particularly if you tilt the camera a little bit.”
This collage of three of Hans Gmoser’s classic films was produced by Guy Clarkson, a mountain guide and filmmaker, in cooperation with The Banff Centre, Canadian Mountain Holidays, and the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. Chic Scott’s book can be ordered here, and includes the historic DVD collection.
Photographer and writer Andrea Johnson got to live her dreams in the Bugaboos last winter. Here's what she had to say about the realization:
I’ve dreamt of the complete freedom and incomparable adrenalin rush of helicopter skiing & snowboarding for the past twenty years. My expectations were high, yet these visions were exceeded by my CMH Heli-Skiing experience in the most surprising ways.
I learned to ski at the age of 9 from my grandfather, Andy Hennig, who was an Austrian Ski instructor at Sun Valley, Idaho until the age of 77. He was a legend in his own right teaching the Hemingway family and countless celebrities while working with Warren Miller in the early days of the adventure ski films. This lifestyle made an unforgettable impression, so in my mid 20’s I took a job at a snowboard company, hired photographers for marketing campaigns, and watched endless ski and snowboard films to fuel the fire.
Fast forward 15 years and my dream had nearly slipped away. I used the same excuses of lacking time, money, and fitness that most of us justify in delaying such adventures. Additionally last summer I lost my snowboarding partner of 15 years, Dale Johnson, who died in a tragic accident before he had the chance to heli snowboard – #1 on his bucket list. As life teaches us through unexpected circumstances, I found my dream reignited through the inspiration of Fred Noble.
Fred has heli-skied over 7 million vertical feet with CMH as their North American Agent, choosing to use his commissions in trade for heli-ski time during the past 38 years. This trip was his most challenging yet – 18 months ago Fred was diagnosed with ALS and he has lost all mobility in his legs. He was determined to celebrate his 75th birthday at the Bugaboos with the first descent on a sit ski, and I was there to help capture the event for a documentary film on his life (see next blog entry for this story). The experience was bittersweet, his unquenchable spirit contagious, and by watching Fred overcome obstacles of this magnitude I realized my excuses were miniscule in comparison.
In reality all of my concerns vanished the minute the helicopter dropped us off besides the magnificent Bugaboo Spires. CMH invented heli-skiing at the Bugaboos over 45 years ago and they’ve perfected the experience. The first day our group of 10 women, one man, and two guides had countless fresh tracks on a perfect bluebird day offering unlimited access to the high alpine glaciers.
On the second afternoon when many guests opted for a rest I had the chance to join a group of guides, staff, and several skiers with over a million vertical feet at CMH. At first I was intimidated, but soon found that my level of riding rose to the occasion. Cannon Barrel run was in perfect condition to rip with unrestrained speed: In a few minutes our group traveled over 2,000 vertical feet, stopping only once for a brief rest. I can still hear the hoots and hollers of my fellow skiers, tele-markers, and riders – we made three epic runs that are seared in my mind as my most unforgettable riding experience.
My fellow skiers were fun and relaxed, and our camaraderie was always high. Though we had both expert and virgin heli-skiers, we were a very compatible and tight knit group. I enjoyed not having to fight for my turn to go first and the shouts of encouragement as everyone continued to gain confidence and improve. As a tomboy, I’ve been accustomed to fighting alpha males for position in adventure sports. I had honestly never considered the fact that I could have more fun joining a group of women who would push my limits – but in a joyful, non-competitive way.
Mid week a series of storms dumped 1-2 feet of fresh snow each day. These conditions were ideal for extensive tree runs with the lightest deepest powder I’ve ever encountered. One morning I rode with the chef, another snowboarder, enjoying the long easy lines through the trees. Each of us paired up with a buddy and made our own unique call to each other as we traveled; I can still hear the yodel of Seth, our Austrian guide, echoing through the forest.
Everything at CMH is world class, and after a long day on the mountain nothing beats a soak in the hot tub. This was my daily ritual, and on the days when my body gave out I indulged in a 45-minute deep tissue massage expertly applied to the areas most in need of recovery.
It’s tradition on the last evening of the week to dress up in costume, share stories and skits from the most entertaining parts of the trip, and join a dance party after dinner. My only regret from my experience was not conditioning better in advance – next time I’ll be prepared for the endless activity!
This trip broke nearly every stereotype and concern I had of heli-skiing. Groups ranged in age from 30 to 75 years old and from expert to first time heli-skiers of varying fitness levels and expertise. Over half our group were women, and though I was the lone snowboarder much of the time, the guides were careful to take me on alternative routes to avoid flats or let the group break the trail when traverses were unavoidable. The one thing we all shared was an unquenchable thirst for skiing or snowboarding; sharing the week with like-minded, passionate adventurers is an incredible experience I’m now addicted to relive as often as possible.
Photos and story by Andrea Johnson.
It must be summertime. I dreamt of skiing last night, which for some reason doesn't happen in the winter. A couple of days ago my daughter asked me when we could go skiing again. My wife came into my office this morning while I was looking through winter photos from Revelstoke. She stopped and stared. Then said wistfully, “I’m already sick of summer.”
It's clear that I'm not the only one beginning to dream about frosty mornings, cold face shots, blinding white alpine vistas, and the exhilarating rush of downhill speed in deep snow.
So I went through my collection and put together these 5 dream-like ski photos to help us all through the longest days of the year.
Just a cool December lift ride, like here at the Sunshine ski resort near Banff, at minus 30C sounds refreshing right now:
But full-body powder immersion like this snowboarder at CMH Galena sounds even better:
Here’s the shot that sent my wife into fits of wintersickness, a lone ski track in the Revelstoke high country:
Dreamtime in the Bugaboos - where heliskiing began:
And finally, a dreamscape at CMH Monashees, one of several CMH areas known worldwide for the most exciting tree skiing on the planet:
If these photos are too painful to look at right now, my apologies. If these photos get you inspired for a bike ride to keep the legs in shape, or to plan a ski trip, you’re welcome.
Photos by Topher Donahue.