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Want to be ready for your CMH Heli-Skiing dream trip?


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.”

what to do before heli skiing

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...)

ski host banff

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.

CMH Heli-Skiing Wins Powder Highway Award


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.

powder highway

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.”

kootenay rockies

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.

Four foot powder dump in the Bugaboos already!


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. 

bugaboos early snow

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?

western Canada early winter

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?

NASA finds powder snow on Mars!


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:

powder skiing on Mars

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.

Hans Gmoser, ski filmmaker extraordinaire


In 2009 Chic Scott penned Deep Powder and Steep Rock, The Life of Mountain Guide Hans GmoserThe 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.)

Hans Gmoser on Denali

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. 

Hans concludes:
“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. 

Freedom and adrenaline: the girls ride the Bugaboos


Bugaboos snowgirlsPhotographer 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.

Bugaboos skiing resized 600

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.

bugaboo girls

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.

Bugaboos hot tub resized 600

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.

Dreamtime - 5 photos for wintersick snow riders


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:

ski dreams

But full-body powder immersion like this snowboarder at CMH Galena sounds even better:

snowboard dreams

Here’s the shot that sent my wife into fits of wintersickness, a lone ski track in the Revelstoke high country:

revelstoke ski dreams

Dreamtime in the Bugaboos - where heliskiing began:

heliski dreams

And finally, a dreamscape at CMH Monashees, one of several CMH areas known worldwide for the most exciting tree skiing on the planet:

tree skiing dreams

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.

What is it about tracks in the snow?


ski track fun"I don’t know what that is, but it’s not skiing.” I overheard one heliskier say to another as they watched one of the group's last skiers make their way to the lunch spot at CMH Bobbie Burns. “Look. He started way over there on the left, crossed all our tracks, and skied down the other side. That’s not skiing!”

bugaboo ski trackIt was one of those perfect bluebird days with CMH, with the mountains generously blanketed in easy-to-ski powder, and a group of guides who were fired up about getting in as much skiing as a twin-engine jet helicopter could provide. 

Everyone was having a blast, and even the skier who was irritated by the cutting of the tracks didn’t stay grumpy for long. But it made me wonder. What is up with our fascination with tracks in the snow?

I enjoy looking back up the hill at ski and snowboard tracks as much as anyone. The tracks tell a story. The long arcs of the snowboarders, the symmetrical lines left by good powder skiers, the chaotic patterns of a heavily skied powder slope that shows the crashes, the timid traverses, the big airs, landing craters, the speed demon's lines, and slow zen-like lines all reveal the fun of a powder day.

There are still a few heliski groups who choose to adhere to the "Arlberg style" where each track spoons agains the next, leaving a perfect comb-like pattern. Largely, however, thanks first to snowboarding and now to big mountain freeskiing, diversity is the name of the game and each skier, safety and space allowing, can leave their own mark, from straight-lines, to 50-metre arcs, to tight parabolas.

Joe Vallone, a new-school ski pro who has skied the Eiger, is a skilled jibber in the terrain park, an experienced alpine climber and UIAGM Mountain Guide, says, “I like to make every kind of turn I know on every run I make.” 

Some might argue that snowshoes don’t leave as nice of a track as skis or snowboards, but French artist Simon Beck, after foot problems forced him to give up running, began making massive patterns in the snow while wearing snowshoes, sometimes working several days on a design like the one below.  More if his spectacular snow art can be seen here

snowshoe track art

Even in the summertime, leaving tracks in the snow is a blast, as shown below in a photo by CMH hiking guide Lyle Grisedale of a Bugaboos-sized bumslide during a CMH Summer Adventures fun-fest. These adventure travellers might have ridden a zipline over a canyon the day before, and climbed a via ferrata the next day; standard fare with CMH Summer Adventures.

bumslide track CMH summer

In the concluding lines of Bugaboo Dreams, the book about the invention and state-of-the-art of heliskiing, I wrote: “There is poetry to it: perhaps the most fitting monuments to his (Hans Gmoser) team’s contribution to the mountains are the countless tracks left beside each other each winter in the snows of the Columbias, as impermanent as one man’s life, yet telling a story of excitement and friendship in the mountains.”

The best early season heliskiing ever?


The news of the most epic early season snowpack ever in the Canadian Rockies is getting entirely over the top.  Over the last week I have received several reports of ski conditions that are unbelievable for this time of year, even in the deep powder heliskiing paradise of Western Canada

Revelstoke early season powder

The first was from CMH Bugaboos manager Dave Cochrane, who spent a couple of days ski touring above the CMH Cariboo Lodge near his home in Valemount, BC.  After the first day, here’s what he had to say:

“This is Dave Cochrane, back in my old stomping grounds in the Cariboos.  I just had the pleasure of joining Doug Dowling on a ski tour up the ever daunting Neckroll ski run. We skied from the Lodge up the switchbacks on the Neckroll road,  to the avalanche path which is the main part of the run.

We started with 50 cm on the ground at the lodge, very supportive snowpack, with about 15 cm of ski penetration in fluff.  At the top of the logging road where it meets the chute at 1450m there  is 70-80 cm of well supported snow. We skied to the top of the slide path to the “low heli landing” on the skier’s left of the slide path. There, at 1780m we had 120 cm.  Lower down in the chute @ 1680m. there was 100 cm  At the heli landing the ski penetration is 25 cm and the boot penetration is about 35 cm.  The boot penetration tells a good story for early season snowpack, not much penetration and the boots don’t go any further in since the snowpack is so supportive.

The downhill run was truly outstanding in an average of 25 cm of super powder with a great support, no breaking through in weak snow anywhere. If I had to open heli skiing today here, based on my limited observations, the skiing story on Neckroll would certainly make it a good opening.

I am hoping to return here tomorrow for some more skinning up and great shredding going down. Since 10:00 this morning it has been snowing steadily at just less than 1 cm an hour, with thick overcast skies.”

The next day, Dave sent this follow up:

“I skied up Neckroll again today. I just couldn't get enough yesterday. Where I took my skins off at 1780 m. the same high point I went to yesterday, there was 25 cm. of new overnight snow, making for spectacular skiing on the way down.  The storm today was very intense with strong winds all day and while I was skiing there this morning it was snowing 2 cm. an hour.  We had warm temperatures and rain in the town of Valemount, but as soon as one left town for the mountains it was snowing hard. Keep it coming!”

Then I received a note from a long time CMH guest who forwarded me an email from Rob Rohn, the Director of Mountain Operations at CMH Heli-Skiing:

“Hello everyone – We’ve had a really great start to the winter with a snowpack that’s well above average.  There’s a meter and a half to two meters at tree line with a very solid base already.  Konrad went for a ski tour today in the Adamants and had good skiing to the lowest pick up on Bungee at 1200 m.  We’re all wishing we were open now!  So spread the word that the best skiing on the planet is out there waiting for our first guests to show up.  Anyone who’s been contemplating an early season trip should get off the couch – winter has arrived!
See you on the slopes!”

Just this morning, I received this note from Rob, who is just finishing up CMH Guide Training at CMH Monashees:

"It’s snowing again and we’re expecting a substantial accumulation over the day.  I was just talking to the long time Monashee guides this morning and none of them can remember a year with this much snow and such a solid snowpack this early.  It’s like mid-winter out there.  A couple of days ago we skied Come Again to the bottom at 950 m and it was really good all the way.  Some winters it doesn’t get that good that low ever!  All the big tree runs in Soards Creek are in prime condition.  It really is a phenomenal start to the season and our first guests are going to enjoy some incredible skiing."

Photo of ski touring on Rogers Pass near Revelstoke by CMH Guide Marty Schaffer during November 2011.

There are still a few spaces left in the helicopter for the most epic early season heliskiing ever - give CMH Reservations a call at (800) 661-0252.

Architect of CMH Lodges receives Summit of Excellence Award


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.

cariboos ski lodge design

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.

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