“You should have been here yesterday!” We’ve all heard it. Sitting on the ski lift listening to somebody go on and on. For weeks now, the CMH Heli-Skiing crew has been talking about how good the snow is in the Columbia Mountains. This photo, taken recently by the CMH Bobbie Burns guides on the 1300-metre Super Duper, suggests skiing is about as good as it gets around there right now.
To get a little firsthand perspective, I tracked down Kevin Christakos, Manager of CMH McBride.
TD: So what makes the snow this season so special?
KC: We have been getting steady cold snow for the past 6 weeks. This has taken the snowpack from below average in December to above average in a relatively short time.
TD: Is there a way you can describe the consistency of the powder skiing in terms of the average conditions over the last month compared an average year?
KC: Much of these past storms have come from the NW and been associated with cold air so the snow has largely been the deep cold smoke we all dream about.
TD: What are the old-timers saying about this year?
KC: That's interesting you ask. Last week Pierre Lemire was guiding here with me and we had a good discussion about how this year compares to years in the past. Pierre has had his nose in the snow here for the past 40 years and was commenting that this winter was somewhat reminiscent of the early 70's where there were a couple of huge snow winters; and similar to this winter those too had a slower start.
TD: How does having exceptional conditions affect the CMH heliski program?
KC: It makes everyone's life better, makes us look younger and has a thinning effect on women.
TD: Sign me up. Any good stories about the skiing conditions lately?
KC: We were closed for a couple of weeks at McBride, and when we returned I checked our field weather station and there was 2 meters of settled new snow on our storm board. It took me a good 10 minutes to dig the board up. All the next week every time I'd step out of the helicopter the snow was up to my waist, it's a beautiful thing.
Next week I’ll be sticking my nose in the snow at CMH and will let the readers of the Heliski Blog know if the rumors are true! But if you've been out there already tell us here how the snow is stacking up! And if you haven't, what are you waiting for?!
Watching the events unfolding in Egypt recently made my own obsessions and little victories feel insignificant – but it also made me look into the nooks and crannies around me where the people’s voice is heard. The will of the human spirit is staggering. Even something as obscure and hedonistic as heliskiing was due to the adventurous spirit of North American skiers, not because some investor decided to create a heliski business.
While writing Bugaboo Dreams, the book that tells the story of Canadian Mountain Holidays and the invention of heliskiing, I was struck by a common thread throughout the now 46-year history of the sport: the skiers were the inspiration.
The first big change was in the early 60s, at MIT, when the first American Olympic ski racer, Brooks Dodge, approached CMH founder Hans Gmoser after a slideshow promoting Hans' ski touring business. Brooks was enamoured with the idea of using a helicopter for a ski lift in some remote, snowy mountains like those of Western Canada. Hans wasn’t crazy about the idea. Being a mountain guide, the complications of taking people skiing by helicopter must have been daunting.
But Brooks made Hans an offer he couldn’t refuse. Brooks would bring enough skiers to pay for the helicopter to leave the ground - and if it didn’t work out Hans could keep the money. Needless to say, it worked.
The second big change was when CMH opened the Cariboo Lodge in the early seventies. From the short sighted perspective of modern business, it would have been more profitable to expand the Bugaboo Lodge and pack more customers into the already established area – but the people wouldn’t have been as happy.
People wanted to go heliskiing because it landed them squarely in a vast expanse of wilderness with easy access to a nearly limitless supply of untouched powder snow. Hans knew that bringing more people into the Bugaboos would have reduced the quality of the experience for the people who mattered most – his guests. So instead of expanding the Bugaboos he built a lodge 300-kilometres to the north in the Cariboos.
The third big change was in the mid-eighties when a French ski guide named Ary Dedet suggested that skiing in small, private groups would be worth the additional expense. Again, if the decision had been made from a purely profit-based perspective, Ary would have been denied. Why not open another full-sized lodge to bring in more people?
Instead, the decision to try Private Group Heliskiing was based on the dreamy concept of skiing, dining and living for a week with just you and a few close friends - and a helicopter at your service – in some of the most epic ski mountains and snowpack on the planet. CMH opened Valemount and then McBride to cater to this more intimate heliskiing experience and the result remains one of the most popular CMH trips.
More recently, CMH introduced Small Group Heliskiing for the most addicted powder fiends, Powder Intro because intermediate skiers wanted to learn to ski the legendary powder of the Columbia Mountains, Nomads because skiers asked about skiing in more than one CMH area during the same trip, and Family Trips because veteran heliskiers wanted to share the magical experience with their families.
However - just like in a country where the people want change - there are the twin limitations of safety and sustainability. What the future of heliskiing holds is largely based on these two limitations balanced against the desires of the skiers and snowboarders who have shaped Canadian Mountain Holidays for nearly half a century.
Considering these all-powerful limitations of safety and sustainability, what do you want heliskiing to be like in another decade?
CMH archive photo of the birth of heliskiing, Bugaboos, April 1965. And a snowboarder ripping steep terrain in the Bobbie Burns, March 2008.
We’d been heliskiing with CMH Revelstoke all day long deep in the Monashee Range of the Columbia Mountains. The day was winding down, everyone was a little tired, our clothes were a little damp from equal parts sweat and powder snow, and the already low winter sun had just dropped below a cloud band when we heard on the radio that the helicopter had been forced to return to Revelstoke for a repair.
Although it appeared that the buttery-smooth world of CMH heliskiing had just come to a grinding halt - it was really just revving up.
The ski guides reassured us that we would not have to wait long for another helicopter, but that we should keep moving to stay warm. At the end of the day, in the heart of Canadian winter, the cold moves quickly into a tired body. One of the guides built a fire and some skiers huddled around it for warmth. Some of us with a little more energy to spare sidestepped up the hill and made a few more powder turns to keep the blood flowing.
It was hard not to imagine worst-case scenarios and the group good-naturedly shared our inner fears.
“Do you think we’ll have to stay out all night?” one skier asked.
“Do you think they’ll bill us for the extra vertical of sidestepping up the hill?” another joked.
“Where are they going to get an extra helicopter?” a third asked.
It didn’t take long for the skiers with extra energy to tire from sidestepping, and everyone snuggled around the fire while CMH went into evacuation mode. Surprisingly, evacuation mode while heliskiing with CMH also included a 1000-metre powder run.
Using the smaller jet ranger support helicopter, four or five skiers at a time were shuttled to a ridge high above the valley where the group was stranded. There, the first skiers would wait until the rest of their group and the guide arrived. Once a full group was gathered on the ridge, they put their skis on and dropped into a huge bowl that drained towards Revelstoke.
I was part of the last group to fly out, and by the time we began the final ski run, the familiar rhythm of a Bell 212 echoed out of the clouds below. Since Alpine Helicopters keeps a backup 212 always ready for CMH in Revelstoke, the delay had cost us about an hour and we still enjoyed a final ski run – and a really good one at that.
We shredded the town-sized bowl before traversing right to a long ridge dotted with trees and filled with over-the-head powder that disappeared into the mist rising from the Columbia Valley below.
We waited no more than 10 minutes at the bottom of the run before the backup 212 returned for the last group. On the ride out, I marveled at the system that is CMH Heliskiing.
Without the extra 212 stationed in Revelstoke, a helicopter repair could shut down a day of skiing. With the extra 212, and three other CMH Lodges - the Gothics, Adamants, and Monashees - operating nearby, there are multiple layers of support in case of a real emergency, and very little lost skiing in case of a minor mechanical delay.
The other CMH areas have backup as well, with the Cariboos, McBride, and Valemount watching each other’s backs to the north, and the Bugaboos, Bobbie Burns, Kootenay and Galena ready to help out in the south. No other heliski operation in the world has this kind of backup.
For example, another time when a weather delay left multiple groups in danger of being benighted far from the Bobbie Burns Lodge, the helicopter from the nearby Bugaboos was recruited to join the Bobbie Burns helicopter in shuttling skiers home; and turned a potentially desperate night of shivering into a quick flight back to the lodge for a gourmet meal, a massage, a few stories in the hot tub, and a deep sleep in a warm bed.
Heliskiing with CMH is sort of like flying with a reliable airline. If one plane has technical issues, another can take its place almost seamlessly. If a delay causes you to miss a flight, it is usually not a long wait until the next one. But unlike a big airline, CMH will not leave you in the woods if you’re a minute late to the pickup!
You heliskiers out there, do you have any stories of the CMH safety net working for you?
Photo of the CMH system at work in Revelstoke by Topher Donahue.
The behind the scenes aspect of CMH Heliskiing is as fascinating as the ski terrain surrounding it. Maximizing helicopter efficiency is a big part of heliskiing and ski guides are always considering how to get the most skiing with the least amount of flying. To this end, one of the CMH heliski program's most valuable, and least visible, assets is the remote fuel caches that allow efficient heliskiing far from the base lodges.
For some insights into the logistics of the remote fuel caches I tracked down heliski logistics mastermind Rob Whelan, the Assistant Manager of CMH Kootenay.
TD: How do the caches get filled?
RW: Most of the caches are filled in the summer. We take a tanker truck with an escort and drive up logging roads to the site. We regularly have to perform road maintenance and bridge repairs prior to deliveries. We have a core team of experienced drivers who are comfortable on the steep and narrow roads. They really look forward to our deliveries and a change of scenery from the regular highway jobs.
My favourite quote from this summer came from Dougie – an experienced trucker, but on his first trip to a CMH Fuel cache in the Cariboos. Dougie is from Newfoundland, and has been working in the oil patch in Alberta for a few years. When we finally arrived at the Blackstone fuel cache, 47 kilometres up a rugged forest service road, Dougie announced in his classic Newfie accent, "By T'underin' Jaysus bayz, D'ya call dat a friggin'road?"
We also have a few sites that are inaccessible by road. At these locations, we sling the fuel into the site by helicopter using special transfer barrels, and pump the fuel from the transfer barrel into the storage tank.
TD: How much fuel does each cache hold?
RW: The biggest locations, one in Kootenay and one in the Cariboos, have two 50,000 litre tanks for a total of 100,000 litres (20,000 gallons). Our smaller tanks are about 10,000 litres.
TD: Can a pilot fuel up at a remote cache alone or do they need help?
RW: Pilots can and do re-fuel themselves quickly at the fuel cache. If there is any concern about the cache being snowed in or not ready, the snow safety guide in the support helicopter will arrive in advance of the 212 to get the pump started and re-fuel the machine when it arrives.
TD: How does using the remote caches reduce fuel consumption compared to running a heli-ski operation without them?
RW: There is no question that remote fuel caches are essential for efficient flying and to reduce wait times. I would not hesitate to say that without the remote fuel, many of the operations would cease to be viable.
The benefits of remote fuel are huge:
- Reduced flying times = reduced cost ( both $$ and carbon cost)
- Reduced flights over wildlife habitat
- Reduced waiting times for skiers
- Access to dramatically more terrain
- Increased safety margins - pilot can operate with reduced fuel weight because he knows that fuel is nearby.
TD: How do you monitor the amount of fuel remaining in the remote caches?
RW: CMH has a satellite telemetry system that sends tank level data daily via the internet.
- The telemetry system can issue a warning in the event of unexpected level change in a tank.
- Sensors in the pump house can detect unauthorized access and pump activity.
TD: How do you prevent spillage at the remote caches?
- Every tank is double walled enviro-tank.
- All tanks have Anti-Siphon valves with top draw so the only way to get the fuel out of the tank is with a pump and there is no possibility of a broken hose or pipe resulting in a big spill.
- On many of our sites, we go over and beyond the government requirements for such installations by adding extra precautions. These include adding special liners below the tanks which contain and send any spills through fuel/water separators, instead of into the environment.
- Standard operating procedures and regular maintenance are a key part as well.
Remote fuel installations are common in British Columbia in supporting a variety of industries besides heliskiing. All operators must obtain government approval before building and must follow a wide range of provincial and federal laws to operate such an installation.
Photos by Rob Whelan, CMH Kootenay.
How did the eyes of the greater skiing world miss Revelstoke for so long? For those who have been fans of Revelstoke skiing for many years, this latent revelation that the region is the world’s epicentre of powder skiing must be what the Hawaiians experienced when Californians discovered the North Shore.
Vance Shaw, a former principal cinematographer for TGR, must have realized that the Revelstoke story had somehow missed the mainstream ski world and so he produced a revealing and tantalizing documentary about the budding ski Mecca. The result, Rev: A Buried Treasure, is an easy-to-watch ski flick that digs into the growing pains, the face shots that never stop, and the characters who live in Revelstoke simply because the powder skiing and terrain are as good as it gets.
The burning question is: Is the skiing around Revelstoke really that good? Consider the trifecta of Revelstoke’s ski assets:
- Snowfall. The snowiest weather station in Canada is on nearby Mount Fidelity where 15 metres (almost 50 feet) of snow fall annually.
- Mechanized access to big terrain including a ski area with the biggest vertical drop in North America, snowcat and helicopter skiing access - including CMH Heli-Skiing Revelstoke, which has a tenure spanning both the Selkirk and Monashee ranges of the Columbia Mountains and programs ranging from beginner-level Powder Intro to connoisseur-style Private Heliskiing.
- The Columbia Mountains are what Greg Hill, a skier who has skied 50,000 vertical feet in a single day and a million vertical feet in a single season without mechanized assistance, calls “unlimited backcountry” with an adrenaline-soaked gleam in his eye.
Throught the film, it doesn’t look like Shaw and his team had much trouble finding good snow to shoot – every ski segment is filmed in arguably perfect powder, and some of them feature just about the deepest powder you’ll ever drool over.
Dan Treadway, a ski legend who has skied everywhere and dreams of retiring in Revelstoke, calls the Revelstoke snow “by far some of the best that North America has to offer.”
The film narrator describes Revelstoke as a town “drenched in ski history and precipitation”. But it's not until you hear Eric Pehota’s story about skiing all day in a heavy snow storm and being unable to find his car in the parking lot afterwards - because it was buried in fresh snow - that you begin to understand the phenomenon of snowfall in the Columbia Mountains.
I downloaded the film, but it is also available on DVD. Either version should come with a disclaimer that reads: Warning, viewing this film could result in your booking a ski trip to Revelstoke.
Photo of CMH Revelstoke terrain and fun factor by Topher Donahue.
Heliskiing is intimidating. Most skiers and snowboarders can do it, but until you’ve experienced it it’s intimidating for just about everyone. Everyone has questions about it. Some have questions about their own ability, some have questions about the logistics of the program, and then of course there are questions about the skiing itself. For the top 5 questions asked by heliskiers, I tracked down Natasha Wiebe, with CMH Reservations, who spends most of her time patiently and expertly answering these very questions.
1. How many runs per day and how long are they?
This depends largely on two things: snow conditions, and your skiing or riding endurance. Most days are spent skiing and snowboarding a dozen or more powder runs between 300- and 1200-metres long. With the helicopter and multiple guides to lead different skill levels, there are chances to rest or return to the Lodge so some guests ski significantly more than others.
But don’t be surprised if, even as a first-timer, you ski a lot more than you might expect. If you’re a strong intermediate skier, and you don’t mind a few fluffy tumbles while learning the bouncy rhythm of riding in powder, you end up skiing long runs with surprising ease. If you’re an expert, you’ll be in good company with our faster skiers and riders on our longer, steeper runs.
2. What will the snow be like?
Snow is always changing, but an average heliski day will be in snow deeper than your boot tops and often deeper than your waist. There are no grooming machines at CMH, and with up to 20 metres (or 65 feet) of annual snowfall, the base you are skiing on can be up to 5 metres deep.
It's not always perfect powder - wind, sun, temperature and time can conspire against us and create diabolical crusts, bulletproof hard pack, soupy slush (which can be really fun to ski too) and everything in between – but Interior British Columbia has the best odds for betting on deep powder skiing of anywhere in the world.
3. What happens on a down day?
Thanks to the great snow and ski terrain of the Columbia Mountains, and exceptional pilots with Alpine Helicopters, we average only half-a-day without skiing each week, so a lot of guests just rest, visit the spa, get a massage, dine, and appreciate a chance to recover and ski stronger the next day.
However, after 45 years of heli-skiing, we’ve passed a lot of days when it's dumping so hard the helicopter can’t fly, so we have cross-country skis and boots in every size, pool tables, exercise areas, weight rooms and climbing walls. On occasion, down days have been known to include broom hockey, snowball fights, and building kickers in the woods near the Lodge.
4. I am coming alone on this trip. Do you think this is ok?
Absolutely. Mountain sport is conducive to camaraderie. You won’t be alone for long. Most heliskiers leave after a week with CMH with more friends than they arrived with. Every week, we’ll have a mix of guests travelling alone, in groups and in couples. Quite often we have guests come alone for one week and meet a friend or their family for the next week.
5. What is there to do in our spare time at the Lodge?
Other than during down days when the helicopter can’t fly because of weather conditions, most guests find little spare time after the long days of memorable skiing, gourmet dining, and relaxation. Wireless Internet will let you connect - and the spa, dining room, bar, and the rest of the CMH heliski experience will let you disconnect.
Are you curious about the other quesitons our guests ask us about heliskiing? Check out the FAQ section of our website.
Photo of answering these questions the fun way at CMH Adamants by Topher Donahue.
Skiing Magazine published an article recently, called “Trouble in Paradise”, in which the author gets a free trip with a small, new heliski company, and in return spreads a few myths about the big, established heliski companies - especially CMH Heli-Skiing. Among other things, the article provides a perfect template for clearing up a few misconceptions about heliskiing with CMH. Here are a few quotes from the brown-nosing article, and a glimpse of what really happens while heliskiing and snowboarding at CMH.
“Unlike traditional heli trips, where tame terrain is the rule, ours had a guide who charged steep tree shots at a speed well beyond the normal commercial limit.”
We’re unaware of any commercial speed limit, and every CMH ski guide I've ever skied with descends each given line at the speed that is best for the conditions and terrain at hand. It is often safest for a guide to ski the line quickly and wait for his or her group at a place where they are visible and out of any potential avalanche zone.
The only rule we have for terrain is to avoid slopes that could avalanche on us. Ski with CMH during poor snow stability, and we’ll ski a lot of really fun, safe and “tame” terrain. Show up when the stability is good and we’ll safely blow your mind. Do you think “Hanging Gardens” in CMH Galena got the name for being tame?
“Heli-skiing was synonymous with sushi buffets, tight turns, and massive tenures in the BC Interior.”
The author got part of this one right – CMH has massive tenures in the BC Interior, and the occasional sushi buffet, but the diameter of your turn is your choice. Some groups like to lay down a symmetrical pattern of tight turns, while others prefer big GS arcs, and still others prefer to let each individual skier do their own thing within the limitations of the mountain conditions on a given day.
I’m not sure what the author finds so unappealing about massive tenures in the BC Interior – the snowiest weather station in Canada is on Mt. Fidelity near Revelstoke, where 12 metres, or 40 feet, of snow fall annually. With 11 big CMH heliski playgrounds in this region, our skiers seem pretty happy with massive tenures in the BC Interior. We’d even venture so far as to guess this is part of the reason 70% of our guests have skied with us before – and ski with us again and again and again.
“The new operators recognized these customers’ needs and began offering smaller groups and more aggressive line selection.”
The smallest group we ever ski with at CMH is one guide and one guest. It doesn’t really get any smaller than that, unless we let a single skier go it alone – which we don’t. Our biggest group is 11 skiers supported by a Bell 212 helicopter. Our Small Group Heliskiing Trips use the Bell 407 helicopter to support groups of five skiers.
As far as line selection, that’s a factor of conditions and landing options for the helicopter, not the size of the business. With groups of strong riders in stable conditions, CMH goes as steep and big as any commercial ski guide service on the planet. We even offer Steep Weeks in the springtime for aggressive skiers and snowboarders who want to take the extra time to access and rip the steepest lines one rider at a time.
The author concludes the article by poking fun at “German tourists” and suggesting steep terrain is not for them. The author obviously didn’t do his research here either - some of the best skiers I’ve encountered while skiing in Canada, the US, and Europe are Germans.
CMH guests include skiers and snowboarders from all over the world, former Olympians, freeride superstars, young jibbers who go inverted every chance they get, old-timers hoping to milk one more season out of their knees, and thousands of everyday people who come to the oldest, most experienced, biggest and best heli-ski company in the world for these very reasons.
Photo taken by Topher Donahue at CMH Adamants, without speed limits or turn radius rules, just before the sushi buffet.
The CMH kitchens produce the kind of dining experience you see in the lefthand photo, in the kind of locations you see in the righthand photo. The juxtaposition seems kind of unreal to me, so to get a glimpse of how they do it, I asked Rick Carswell, veteran chef of heliski lodges, CP Hotels, Holland America Cruise Lines, the film industry, pirate ships and the food and beverage manager for CMH.
TD: What issues do you face cooking at a CMH Lodge compared to an equivalent restaurant?
RC: As a chef at CMH you have an incredible amount of culinary freedoms, and on the flip side lifestyle restraints that are different from your average restaurant job. There is no-one else qualified in the lodge to cover for you if you get sick or injured and that can be intimidating and all-consuming. I remember being sick once and I had a dream that I walked down the hall to the managers room and told him that I was sorry that I wouldn't be able to cook breakfast because I was going to die - and I was terribly sorry. He thanked me for telling him and said it had been a pleasure getting to know me, then I turned and walked toward my room were I was going to die.
TD: How do you get all that food in there anyway?
RC: It takes about a week per lodge to refit them in the fall for the coming winter with all their food and beverage inventory. I figure as accurately as I can the amount of food they will need for this coming winter, run quotes for those supplies from all our vendors and then drive it to the lodge by the semi load. If you are at a lodge early in the season ask to have a look in the store rooms. It's impressive to see the wall of Kokanee beer, or the 100 bags of flour. During the operating season, the fresh food is ordered weekly by the chefs, received in Banff from the 15 or so suppliers where it is then sorted by area, reassembled and shipped to the appropriate helipad to meet the helicopters for it's trip to the lodge. Quite an interesting journey if you're a fresh mussle from PEI to a mountain lodge in three days, one plane ride, three different truck rides, one helicopter ride, one ski-do ride and passing through about a dozen sets of hands to get there.
TD: What does a CMH chef typical work day look like?
RC: Long. At CMH workday begins at 6am and finishes at 9pm and goes day after day for two weeks before you get a break. As a chef, if I got out skiing it meant that I would work into the night to get pay back for my reward of skiing, but man is it worth it. I can work on six hours sleep if I can get a few runs in the middle of the day and I find that I work much more effectively if I get outside for a bit.
TD: If an experienced chef wanted to work for CMH, what advice would you have for them?
RC: This is a serious work hard play hard environment. But you need to have the experience and confidence to be able to pull it off. We look at chefs with about five years post apprenticeship experience and hopefully in the eight years of their work experience they have moved to lots of different places, worked different styles of cuisine and have some management experience. It's a hard position to fill and certainly we have taken the chance on lesser experience levels for exceptional personalities who mostly have worked their way up our ladder but team is sustainable because we manage to retain about 80% of our chefs from one season to the next. The average work/life expectancy for our 44 chefs is around ten years, which is pretty spectacular in this industry of nomadic pirate chefs. My best friends are CMH chefs and we go back 20 years with this company. They are a book of stories and talent.
TD: Anything else you'd like to add?
RC: Come, enjoy the mountains and the skiing, but when you get back to the lodge stop by the kitchen and visit the chefs, I'm sure you'll be impressed with my friends, ask them about the vegetarians who eat lamb when they are at CMH, ask them what wine they will be drinking with dinner, ask them about their greatest culinary disaster and how, as a good pirate, they pulled it off and nobody noticed. My friends tell good stories.
What makes a great heli-ski run? The easy answer, of course, is any heli-ski run YOU are on, but for the insiders perspective I asked Steve Chambers, the manager of CMH Revelstoke.
1) Great Snow - At CMH Heli-Skiing, we have runs that range in length from 400m to 2000m and if the snow is perfect it doesn't really matter if you're on a short or long run! This is why people come heli-skiing in the first place. I'm not talking about just any kind of deep snow here. I'm talking about that infamous, dry, interior British Columbia powder. This is the stuff of legend - you can almost feel your skis on a firm base deep in the snowpack while the lightest, fluffiest snow is blowing up into your chest, over your shoulders and yes, even over your head. You will remember this run and this day even years from now. After 16 years of doing this job, January 5, 2009 still stands out as one of those epic days with perfect snow, top to bottom on every run all day long. The best day ever? Perhaps...
2) Fall Line - The helicopter lands, you put on your skis, your heli-ski guide shuffles over to the 'edge' and you look down to the valley floor and see the helicopter, another group at a pickup or the pickup flag itself. There's one thing that stands out - it's STRAIGHT down with no deviations from the fall line! It's also a guide's favorite as well and a common phrase heard when you have the right group is 'see you at the pickup'. Need I say more?
3) Transitions through Terrain - There is something to be said about the run that begins high in the alpine and makes its way through the sub-alpine and then down below treeline to the valley floor. You know the type of run - we're talking about the mega-classic, long CMH heliskiing runs that give you all the goods. There's the high glacier landing and open turns followed by the sparse trees at treeline where you feel the snow getting a little deeper and then the finale into the old growth trees and that deep powder. It's amazing to see all that type of terrain & snow in one run.
4) Incredible Scenery & Location - Some runs just have a quality about them even before you make a single turn! Take another helicopter flight into another landing and wait for the silence after the machine leaves. Look around and try to imagine another place like this in the mountains anywhere on the planet. Now try to imagine 100's of places like this at CMH's 11 areas. I still have runs that leave this impression on me even after all these years - you never get tired of being there again and seeing the reactions on the guests faces when they have that 1st experience.
5) The Right Group - Not every run in heli-skiing is going to have that perfect powder but with the right crew and the right attitude, it doesn't even matter. I have had some truly 'dud' runs over the years that were a blast nonetheless because of the people I was skiing with. These are the kind of people that can make any situation seem fun and enjoyable and regardless of the snow quality, they're having a good time. It is only skiing after all and is probably a better alternative to what you could be doing instead...
6) History & Reputation - Every CMH operation has 'that' run - the one everyone talks about because of its history, legends attached to it, famous photos attributed to it and so forth. Just getting out at the top of a run like that gives you goose bumps even before you make that 1st turn. These are the quintessential heli-ski runs that have many of the above elements and then some.
7) First Tracks - What can I say? This is the selfish part of the blog where, as a guide, I get to rant about how much fun it is to get 1st tracks - on every run. There's something about that untouched blanket of snow in front of you that just makes for a great run. If you're right behind your guide and just out of their tracks to either side, guess what? It's all fresh right there as well! This is what most of us think about when we picture ourselves heli-skiing anyway - making our way down some untracked piece of mountain real estate and leaving our own little impression upon the terrain.
Photo by Topher Donahue
What makes a great heli-ski run for you? Share your thoughts...
by Russ Peardon, Director of Information Systems, CMH
Safety and service are deeply imbedded in CMH's culture and Internet access has become important to both. Our heli-ski guides use the Internet in our snow safety program to collect and share weather and snow data. Internet access is becoming so ubiquitous that it is an intrinsic part of the lifestyle of many of our guests. They just expect it to be there. We take pride in providing by far the best, most reliable internet service in our industry. There is a bit of a story to how we do this, one I thought you might find interesting.
Within our facilities, we use industrial-grade versions of the wireless access points you might have at home. In most of our buildings, 12-15 access points are needed to provide reliable coverage. It has been an ‘archaeological adventure' connecting those devices together in some of our older lodges. CMH's hard-working Infrastructure Manager Tim Hodgkinson returned from some particularly challenging work in the Cariboo Lodge commenting: ‘If we have some sort of apocalypse, I am going to the Cariboos - the place is solid concrete!'. Undaunted, we are taking another crack at improving coverage there and in the Monashee Lodge this summer.
Getting internet service to our lodges provides a range of challenges. Of course, ‘town' facilities like Kootenay, McBride and Revelstoke are easily serviced by commercial grade ADSL, much like you may have at home. Guests are often surprised that the same is not true for the Gothics, Monashees and especially Valemount lodges. Although these road-accessible sites have ‘town power and telephone', our phone company does not provide any kind of high-speed internet service due to their distances from the nearest connection office.
At the other end of the spectrum are four remote lodges - Adamants, Galena, Gothics and Monashees - each of which is a long way from any terrestrial internet source. For these lodges we rely on satellite internet. At each lodge we have a 1 metre Ku-band dish, and a 2.4 metre C-Band dish. We added the C-Band dishes this summer at considerable expense, as we found the Ku-Band dishes performed poorly during heavy snowfall. In addition, the lone satellite internet provider available to us in western Canada appears to have heavily over-subscribed the Ku-Band network. While the new C-Band dishes deliver the best satellite service available to us, it is important to understand just how limited even that service is. Our tests show download speeds of 0.8 to 1.1 megabits per second. Compare that to the 4.0+ mbs available to residential customers in most urban settings. I enjoyed hearing Monashee Area Manager Paul Vidalin explain this at dinner to his guests this past season: ‘Imagine your home internet is running at ¼ speed. Now, imagine you've invited 44 friends over, and most brought their laptops, iPhones and Blackberrys...'. These systems are sufficient to provide e-mail and web browsing services to all guests. Sadly, it only takes one or two guests streaming video or Skyping to slow them down for all.
Where the lodge is close to an internet source, and geography favors us with a low-elevation, line-of-sight ridge repeater location, we can bounce the internet from the source to the ridge, and then down to the lodge. We've employed systems like these for our Cariboo and Valemount lodges for three years, and in 2009 upgraded services there. We also added new systems for the Bugaboos and Bobbie Burns lodges this past summer. At their core, these are really simple wireless access points with very strong radios and highly directional antennas. The tricky part is delivering power at the ridge repeater site, especially during short, cold December days. As you can see from the photo of CMH Guide Kobi Wyss lining up the antenna, we use a mix of solar and wind generation, with battery backup. These systems are certainly the future for us. They are expensive and touchy (requiring redundant satellite backup systems), but offer terrific internet speeds.
Whichever CMH Heli-Skiing area you visit next, we want you to simply fire up your internet device and do what you usually do with great, simple service, without concern for how it gets to you. If you are interested in more details or have comments or suggestions, I'd enjoy speaking to you directly and can be reached by e-mail or phone at 1.800.661.0252.