Being a guest of CMH inspires great stories. Today, with Thanksgiving coming in my neck of the woods, I was skiing with my kids and thinking about how thankful I am to have had a chance to work and play at CMH.
My story is by no means the best CMH story, but after contributing to the Heli-Ski Blog for the last 4 years, and working with CMH for the last decade, I thought it worth sharing.
In 2003 an assignment from Climbing Magazine gave me the chance to visit CMH Adamants, in the summer, to experiment with heli-climbing and write an article about it. I’d been to the Bugaboos before, but seeing the Admants opened my eyes to the vastness of the Columbia Mountains. For six days we bagged first ascents on the vertical walls of the Adamants.
After seeing my photos, Jane Carswell in the CMH Marketing department, invited me back the next summer for a photo shoot in the Cariboos. There, I was lucky enough to share the trip with none other than CMH founder Hans Gmoser, his wife Margaret, and their two grandkids.
Like most journalists, I had to ask Hans a few questions. Also, my father was a mountain guide, so I was curious about another family that made a life in the mountains. In the ensuing conversation, Hans told me about the upcoming celebration at the Bugaboos to celebrate 40 years of Heli-Skiing. I remember saying, “I’d love to be a fly on the wall at that party!”
Hans replied, “You should come.”
Who would turn down that invitation? When I got home, I contacted Powder Magazine to get an assignment that would make it worth my place at the party. And what a party it was; many of the original guests and guides, their families, and other friends of the business expressing their appreciation for being part of the invention of Heli-Skiing and 40 years of friendship.
After skiing, the wine and stories would flow and I took notes and recorded presentations. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the story of CMH is much more than a magazine article. At one point I asked one of the guides, “Hey, I’d be happy to contribute the material I’m getting here to whoever is writing the book.”
He looked at me and said, “Nobody’s writing the book.”
I was stunned. CMH seemed like the best story I’d come across in a lifetime spent living in, writing about, and photographing the mountain culture. After a few long conversations, I found myself with the dream assignment: write the story of CMH Heli-Skiing.
In 2006 and 2007 I visited every CMH area, filled several notebooks with interview material with some of the most incredible individuals I’ve ever had the honour of meeting, and in 2008 Rocky Mountain Books published the result: Bugaboo Dreams, A story of Skiers, Helicopters and Mountains.
Since then I’ve helped CMH with creative content of various kinds, becoming friends with the hard-working staff, guides, and guests and feasting on some of the most delicious snow I’ve ever tasted. And like so many long-time guests, staff and guides have told me: at first we think the CMH experience is all about the skiing, but then we realize it is so much more.
- It is the intimacy of the remote lodges and the great people.
- It is returning to a place that is so wild and pristine yet feels like home.
- It is living a lifetime in a week.
- It is getting to be where you’d rather be no place else on earth with a group of people who feel the same way.
The people I met while working on Bugaboo Dreams, and my relationship with the guides, staff and guests of CMH - and of course the skiing - have made working with CMH a dream project. Thank you CMH!
CMH HELI-SKIING TO UNVEIL REFASHIONED GOTHICS LODGE WITH EXPANDED SKI TERRAIN FOR 2013/2014 SEASON
CMH Heli-Skiing, the world’s largest Heli-Skiing operator and the company that invented the sport in Western Canada nearly 50 years ago, announced today that it will unveil significant renovations to its Gothics Lodge, along with a sizeable expansion in its ski terrain in the Selkirks sub-range of the Columbia Mountains for the 2013/2014 season.
The refashioned Gothics Lodge, which will open on December 7, 2013 for the CMH Heli-Skiing season, will feature new interior design by the cutting-edge Portland-based design firm, Skylab Architecture. This new design concept for the public spaces of the Gothics Lodge seeks to connect the rugged terrain for which CMH is known with a warm, yet contemporarily designed alpine lodge. The renovations include an overhaul of the central living and dining areas of the lodge, adding designer wrought iron chandeliers with hand-blown glass, wool accessories, digitally printed alpine views and Swiss-stacked fir tables from a regional Canadian designer to the lodge’s iconic native Douglas fir walls and columns and large stone fireplace.
Guests of the Gothics Lodge will also benefit from a significant expansion this Heli-Skiing season in the lodge’s skiable terrain, which will add nearly 18,000 acres to its tenure—an additional area almost as large as the three largest ski resorts in North America combined.
“With the redesign of the Gothics Lodge with its sleek new look, we are thrilled to usher in a brand-new era of CMH Heli-Skiing,” says Joe Flannery, President of CMH. “Skylab has done a fantastic job at creating an aesthetic that retains the warm social space of an iconic CMH alpine lodge while updating it for the next generation, as we head towards our 50th-anniversary celebrations next year.”
“For a skier, there is no place like British Columbia for fresh powder,” says Jeff Kovel, AIA, Principal of Skylab Architecture. “The CMH vision, aligning the hospitality experience with an inspired natural surrounding, is something we’re proud to be a part of.”
For more information about CMH Heli-Skiing and the brand-new Gothics Lodge, please visit: www.cmhski.com. For more about Skylab Architecture, visit: www.skylabarchitecture.com.
I’m speechless. After watching McConkey You have one life. Live it. the new film from Matchstick Productions that digs into the life and death of snowsport megastar Shane McConkey, I tried to put together my feelings into a tidy blog post about passions, innovation, adventure, life, and risk. But my feelings wouldn’t cooperate. I am torn, inspired, blown away, and don't really know how to begin.
The world’s most influential skier.
Those are some of the words his friends and the media used to describe Shane, and with innovations like the rockered ski to his credit, and a background going from pizza delivery boy to ski superstar, those words ring true. But there’s more to it than that.
Shane was one of those human beings that experienced the cultural and technological equivalent of the rogue wave that happens in storms at sea when one wave builds on top of another to create a single wave that is massively out of proportion to the rest of the swell.
Shane’s wave was so enormous (he was the first North American athlete sponsored by Red Bull) in part because his father, Jim McConkey, was part of a cultural and technological wave that launched what became known as Heli-Skiing half a century ago. McConkey begins with footage of Jim skiing in the Bugaboos and Cariboos in the 60s where he helped Hans Gmoser develop what became CMH Heli-Skiing, a recreation icon that today parters with Shane's sponsors Red Bull and K2 to help everyday skiers and superstars alike savor the ultimate skiing experience.
The movie follows the highlights of Shane’s life, benefitting from an incredible collection of home video and GoPro style footage from Shane’s own camera, shot decades before the GoPro was invented. Born in Vancouver, Canada, Shane started skiing when he was 23 months old, and he began with a fairly predictable trajectory of a ski icon, from joining the local ski team at 7 years old to attending high school at the Prestigious Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont where Olympic racers are made, to a ski scholarship at CU Boulder in Colorado. When Shane didn’t make the cut for the US Ski Team because he was too small, he was shattered and his predictable trajectory was interrupted.
He jumped on the wave left by the likes of Glen Plake and Scot Schmidt who’d shown a new generation of brilliant skiers that skiing wasn’t just about racing. He left ski racing with one last memorable slalom run (also caught on film) where he bashes his last gates in his birthday suit. Yup. Buck naked.
You’ll have to watch the film to get the whole story, but the bottom line is that Shane didn’t just raise the bar a little; Shane raised the bar by an order of magnitude. He didn’t just ski off the biggest cliffs, he hucked backflips of the biggest cliffs. Shane was a staple of cutting-edge ski films for two decades, and McConkey highlights many of his best moments (and some of his worst) but it wasn’t the mind-blowing lines he chose, or the committing tricks he pulled in the midst of them that really left me speechless.
It was the fact that Shane always came across as a regular guy. A regular guy who just liked to see how big he could go if he did everything right. And big he went. He didn’t give a whit about the latest snow-gangster fashion or what his fellow skiers did. He just went out and figured out how to make something outrageous into something that was for him normal and repeatable. In 1996 he founded the IFSA, International Free Skier’s Association (also known as I F&$#!$g Ski Awesome) helping boost the prestige and mainstream appeal of creative free skiing.
He discovered BASE jumping in the early years of the sport, and mastered it, logging close to a thousand jumps all over the world, with and without skis and was a veteran of BASE jumping's thrill and tragedy. He was there when a woman’s chute didn’t open properly on a demonstration jump off of Yosemite’s El Capitan. Shane stood next to her husband, watching his face as it happened. (Perhaps one of the reasons the film hit me so hard is that I was sleeping on El Capitan that morning, and awoke to the sound of her hitting the ground - a sound I'd buried in my memory for years until they talked about that sound in the film.)
Shane didn’t just try ski BASE, he mastered ski BASE, which allowed him to ski lines that ended on massive cliffs and did it so well that it seemed almost normal – at least for him – and did it successfully for years. We all know this was what cost him his life in the end, but one of the things that I hadn’t realized was that it wasn’t ski BASE that got him, it was ski BASE with a wingsuit, which added to the complications and risk. As usual, Shane was raising his own bar.
Perhaps the details of his final jump don’t really matter. What matters is that “everyman’s superman” did a lot more than be a superman – he helped the rest of us feel like superheroes. When I’m slashing down a face of steep powder, feeling like a hero instead of the hack skier I am, it is thanks to Shane McConkey who walked away from his ski racing pedigree and even his extreme skiing peers to create both technology and a mental approach to skiing that makes many thousands of everyday skiers all over the world feel like superheroes.
McConkey does about the best possible job of doing the impossible: capturing the beauty, the tragedy, and the brilliance of Shane McConkey’s life in under 2 hours. From intimate interviews with his loved ones, to footage of his journal where he drew pictures of the first rockered skis and mused on the potential of ski BASE, the experienced team at Matchstick Productions deserve all the accolades they will certainly get. Order it here.
McConkey premiered in London on October 1st, and the story of the premier was captured by Pure Powder. I’m sure the tears and beers flowed freely.
Photo of Jim McConkey jumping a plane in 1962, during the first explorations into the Columbia Mountains in what is now CMH Cariboos Heli-Ski terrain, with CMH Heli-Skiing founder Hans Gmoser. Courtesy CMH Archives.
Colorado is ready to ski!
Last night, CMH rocked Denver, Colorado. (Or maybe it was the other way around.) In either case, I headed to CMH Heli-Skiing’s Take Flight show in Denver last night hardly thinking about skiing, and today that’s all I can think about.
Maybe it was Open Snow meteorologist Joel Gratz’s presentation on long range snowfall predictions (which he prefaced by saying that long range snowfall predictions are terrible). But he dug into old records and found that after Boulder’s five wettest Septembers, the winter that followed was above average or significantly above average for Colorado Snowfall! Even Joel was shocked at the correlation, and with Boulder just finishing its wettest September on record, Colorado skiers might want to get some fatter skis!
Perhaps my skiphoria this morning is because of Chris Davenport’s inspiring presentation showing him going deep at CMH Valemount last winter and raving about just how darn much fun it is to ski – any kind of skiing.
Both Chris and Joel are hosting trips to CMH this winter – although after last night I don’t know if there are any spaces left. Give CMH reservations a call ASAP at 1 (800) 661-0252 to snag the last spaces with these two powder legends in Canada for a Heli-Ski trip.
It could have been being surrounded by 300 of Colorado’s most inspired skiers and snowboarders, from muscular 20 year olds with their baseball caps on sideways, to fit 60 year olds in leather.
Then there was the full length Take Flight movie, which is riveting. The sequences of powder skiing and snowboarding are good enough that you can almost feel the snow crystals bouncing off your goggles; some of the best snow texture and snow experience footage I’ve ever seen. I think the faces on the crowd in this photo pretty much agree:
Or it was the irrepressible stoke of the guy who won a pair of powder skis from Icelantic in the free gear drawing.
Then there’s the cold temperatures and fresh snow falling on the peaks this morning.
Whatever the reason, I can’t stop thinking about skiing today, and my suspicions are that it’s a combination of all of the above.
Thanks CMH, Joel and Chris for the incredible show in Denver last night. Thanks to the crowd for the psyche and the generous donations to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.
Only Sasquatch seemed grumpy, but maybe that's because he didn't win the skis.
Two wrap it up, we threw down on the rooftop of Battery 621 under the cooling Colorado skies that prefaced today's early winter storm.
Wanna get stoked and Take Flight with CMH Heli-Skiing? This is just the beginning…
Join us in Washington DC at the US Navy Memorial on October 9 (RSVP here), Seattle, WA on November 5, or New York, NY on November 21.
Photos by Topher Donahue and Mike Arzt
We're ready. Are you? That's right. The CMH Heli-Skiing season starts in 70 days and we are all gazing longingly at skis and boards in the garage, debating new ski pants, scoping out new touring gear. At the CMH lodges there are new runs being developed, walls getting repainted and storerooms getting stocked as we gear up for another great season of skiing and socializing with new and old friends.
This time of year also means we're hitting the road to get you stoked for the season. Our team leaves tomorrow for our first event of the fall season in Denver, CO. Here's where you can find us this fall, with more cities and dates to be announced:
Denver, CO September 26 Battery 621 RSVP Here
Washington, DC October 9 US Navy Memorial RSVP Here
Seattle, WA November 5 evo, in partnership with K2 RSVP TBA
New York, NY November 21 W Hotel, in partnership with Paragon Sports RSVP TBA
We hope to see you out there, and here's a little glimpse at the fun and excitement we'll be sharing along the way!
To add your name to the invite list for an event in your city, subscribe to our emails here.
This is a guest post by Chic Scott.
Between 1957 and 1968 Hans Gmoser, founder of Canadian Mountain Holidays produced 10 films of mountain adventure which he then toured across North America. Many of us have wonderful memories of those presentations: Hans at the microphone dressed in his Austrian sweater, glorious ski and climbing images on the screen and beautiful classical music in the air. For many of us those evenings were the beginning of our long love affairs with the mountains.
Soon it will be possible to relive those magic experiences. Chic Scott and Marg Saul, in partnerships with the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, and with the assistance of professional film-maker Will Schmidt, are digitizing and reassembling these films, just as they were 50 years ago.
Hans Gmoser presented his films each year at more than 50 different venues all across North America. While the film rolled on the screen and a soundtrack of classical music played independently, Hans would personally narrate the story. All three elements came together in a remarkably seamless and beautiful production. In his films Hans took us ski touring at Rogers Pass and the Little Yoho Valley. Together we explored the icefields along the Continental Divide and climbed the East Ridge of Mount Logan in the Yukon and Mount McKinley in Alaska. We rock climbed high on Yamnuska, Mount Louis and Castle Mountain. And of course we were there in the Bugaboos in 1965 and 66 for the first years of Heli-Skiing.
All ten films are now safely stored in the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, as are 7 of the original scripts. The films must first be transferred to a high definition digital format, a major expense in itself. Since Hans is no longer with us to narrate the script, we have come up with a novel solution: Michael Hintringer, Hans’ nephew, who lives here in Canada and was born and raised in the same Austrian town that Hans Gmoser grew up in, and who has an almost identical accent as his uncle, has volunteered to narrate the scripts for us. For the films to which an original script does not exist we are writing a commentary explaining the action which will be narrated by Chic Scott. All of this requires many hours in a sound recording studio. Finally, music must be integrated into the show. Since much of the music that Hans used in his presentations is under copyright and the original performers are difficult to identify, it will be necessary to purchase the rights to suitable music.
In addition, it is our goal to interview 13 individuals who appeared in these films then to create additional ‘chapters’ using these interviews, archival photos and narration to explain the story behind each film.
It is all a very big job and Will Schmidt, with 35 years experience producing and directing films, has been engaged to guide us through this complex process.
Our budget is $109,000.00. To date we have raised over $95,000 and feel confident that we can raise the remainder. We have already set to work and have transferred the films to HD, recorded the narration to the 10 films and recorded the 13 interviews.
For $500.00 you too can support this project and help make Hans’ remarkable films available for viewing. For five years these films will be for home personal viewing and will not be commercially available. For this donation you will receive a 10 DVD Collectors Edition Set PLUS a $400.00 income tax receipt from the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies.
To learn more about this project and to view a short clip of highlights from Hans’ films please go to http://www.whyte.org/archives/projects .
If you would like to know more about this project please contact Chic Scott at email@example.com.
If you would like to make a donation and receive a set of DVDs please send a cheque for $500.00 payable to the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, 111 Bear Street, Box 160, Banff, AB, Canada, T1L 1A3. Please mark on your cheque that it is for the Hans Gmoser Film Preservation Project and send the letter to the attention of Brett Oland, Executive Director.
In 1963 - 50 years ago this year - CMH began experimenting with what would become known as Heli-Skiing, and took the word’s first commercial Heli-Ski guests up a mountain with a helicopter for a ski lift. At the time, the best machine for the job was a Bell 47 B-1. The pioneers of Heli-Skiing strapped their skis to the skids with bungie cords and shuttled the group to the top, two passengers pusing the payload capacity of the reliable little helicopter to the limit.
The Bell 47 line were technological marvels for the time, setting helicopter records for distance and elevation.
- In 1949 it made highest altitude flight to 5,650 metres (18,550 feet).
- In 1950 it became the first helicopter to fly over the Alps.
- In 1952 it set a distance record of 1,959 kilometres (1,217 miles).
- In 1958 it became the first helicopter to be used for television news camerawork.
Its 178 horsepower engine had about the same power as a small car, but at the time there was nothing better for mountain flying than the Bell 47 B-1.
When Hans Gmoser, the founder of Heli-Skiing, was first approached by a couple of different skiers about the possibility of using a helicopter for a ski lift, he didn't immediatley jump on the possibility, but he didn’t forget the concept. Hans brought up the idea with Jim Davies, a skilled mountain pilot who had helped Hans with ski exploration in the Cariboo and Rocky Mountains using a fixed wing.
According to Hans, he asked Jim, “Do you think you could use a helicopter to take skiers up a mountain?"
And Jim replied, “I know I could.”
That’s how it began. But there were a couple of false starts including a trip in 1963 to the Goat Glacier near Canmore, Alberta where the helicopter worked great but the snow was hideous breakable crust, and a trip in 1964 out of Golden, British Columbia where windy conditions blew the little helicopter far from their destination, clear into the next province of Alberta, before they found a place to safely land and ski.
In 1965 Hans decided to try Heli-Skiing in a place called the Bugaboos, where a remote sawmill camp provided lodging, the endless mountain range of the Columbia Mountains provided the terrain, the now-legendary storm cycles of Interior British Columbia provided the powder – and the Bell 47 B-1 provided the power. The third try was, as they say, a charm; the snow was dreamy, the guests were ecstatic and wanted to go again the following year, and Heli-Skiing was born.
Helicopter technology changed dramatically in the late 60s and early 70s, so the Bell 47 was soon exchanged for larger, more powerful machines, but these pictures of the little helicopter servicing the very first commercial Heli-Skiers will forever speak to the world's greatest skiing and the unprecedented adventure of learning to use a helicopter for a ski lift half a century ago.
Photos courtesy CMH Archives.
Why is it that some of CMH Heli-Skiing's most experienced guests book early-season trips each year? They're going to throw snowballs at me for telling you this, but here's the top 5 reasons why:
#1 Snow Quality
While the Columbia Mountains are vast, northerly (Revelstoke sits at 51 degrees latitude), and receive immense amounts of precipitation (the snowiest mountains in Canada), they are not terribly high (Sir Sanford, the biggest peak in the Columbias is 3,519 metres or 11,545 feet) so the average winter temperatures are not as cold as you might expect. This means early season offers the shortest days to keep the snow cold at the moderate elevations and thus (now for the important part) quite often the lightest, fluffiest snow.
#2 The Vibe
Many of the early and late season skiers are seasoned heli-skiers and snowboarders who have learned the secrets of the early season. It’s typically an easy-going but hard-ripping crew you find at CMH Lodges in December and January.
#3 The Atmosphere
Mike Welch, the area manager of CMH Galena, put it best when he described why December is his favourite month: “The snow is bottomless. Twenty centimetres fall every night. The days are short. It’s kind of dark all day. I love the whole ambiance! We come home wet. Our gloves are soaked. Our zippers are frozen. I just love it!”
#4 The Psyche
There is no place more exciting to be as a snow rider than a CMH Lodge in the early season when that first massive storm cycle of the Heli-Ski season rolls in. The guides, staff and guests are fresh off summer fun and everyone is rip-roaring-ready for ski season. Sure, deep powder in mountain paradise with helicopter access is dream-worthy anytime of the year, but early season in Canada is when the amp gets turned up to 11.
#5 The Cost
Last but not least; it’s a simple matter of supply and demand. There are only so many seats on the helicopter, and more skiers and snowboarders want to go Heli-Skiing in February and March. This means you can get in on an early season CMH Heli-Skiing trip for about a third less than the cost of a peak season trip.
Photos of early season conditions in Galena and the Monashees by Topher Donahue and Fred Huser.
In 2005 I received an assignment from Powder Magazine to document a Heli-Ski party in the Bugaboos to celebrate 40 years of Heli-Skiing. The story was far more than a magazine article, and from the magazine assignment the project transformed into a 293-page book called Bugaboo Dreams: A Story of Skiers, Helicopters and Mountains.
For two years I interviewed the characters involved in those 40 years of innovation and adventure, and in the process came across some wild stories. In the early days of Heli-Skiing, there were no radios, no avalanche transceivers, no mountain weather forecasts, no collaborative safety program between guides - and a bottle of wine was shared at lunch time.
Of all the stories I heard, this is one of the wildest; told by Bob Geber, a guide who retired from guiding just two years ago:
“The pilot had a southern accent and no mountain flying experience. As we were landing I looked down to enter flight time in my book – when I looked up all I could see was snow.”
The pilot reacted at the last second and pulled up just before hitting the slope so the helicopter crashed with much of the force on its skids. As the machine rolled backwards, a skid stuck in the snow crust, preventing a probably fatal tumble. When things stopped moving, Geber had one thought: “!#&$, I’m still alive!”
During the crash, he slammed his head into something in the fuselage, and blood from the wound pooled in his eyes. His second thought was: “!#&$, I’m blind!”
He could smell fuel, so he kicked down the door and started running away. After a few steps he had a third thought: “!#&$, I’m the guide!”
Wiping the blood out of his eyes was a relief, as he realized he still could see. He turned around and helped everyone else out of the helicopter. No one was hurt, and there was wine in the lunch, so they grabbed the lunch and moved away from the helicopter to wait for a rescue. There was no long-range radio in those days, so Geber hoped someone would realize the helicopter hadn’t returned and send out a second ship.
They drank the wine and ate the lunch, and still no rescue was forthcoming. The short winter day was half over, so Geber decided they’d better try to get out under their own power before darkness fell. While the helicopter was bent, with pieces scattered everywhere, the basket miraculously protected the skis during the crash. Everyone grabbed their skis and did what they knew how to do – ski. The only problem was the pilot. He had no skis and wouldn’t have known what to do with them if he did.
The snow was too soft to walk without debilitating effort, so Geber had the idea to make a sled using a disk-like cover that fits around the base of the helicopter’s rotor assembly on the very top of the fuselage. There was enough room for the pilot to sit in it, like a child on a saucer, and the disk slid easily on the downhill. They left the wreck and headed down the mountain, eleven skiers easily cruising along, and the pilot sledding behind on a piece of his mangled helicopter. When the terrain was less steep, they attached a rope to the makeshift sled and pulled the pilot along, but when they hit a flat section, with deep, soft snow, it became impossible to pull. He tried to walk, but ended up wallowing.
To make forward progress, Geber and one of the stronger skiers each gave up one ski so the pilot, with zero ski experience, could use two. Gently rolling terrain was perfect for the new system and they made good time, the pilot even started enjoying the idea of skiing with the exhilaration of sliding easily down a few small hills. Soon they crested a bigger hill, and Geber was ready to change back to the sledding system, but the pilot asked, “Hey Bob, do you think I could ski by myself down this one?”
Geber thought there wasn’t much of a hill, so he let the pilot go ahead. Geber remembers, shaking his head, “He went about 50 feet, fell over, and started squealing like a pig. We couldn’t figure out what he could have done to himself in such a short distance and insignificant fall, but I skied up to him and he was holding his leg. Immediately I could see he had somehow gotten a compound fracture. The bone was obvious sticking out against his pants.”
By now the day was well the way to a guide’s worst nightmare, in fact nightmare on top of nightmare. With a crashed helicopter and a pilot with a broken leg, Geber was in no mood to listen to the pilot’s screaming. “I shoved 200mg of Demoral up his #$$, and pretty soon he was grinning stupidly, happy as a baby.”
By this point a rescue helicopter found the beleaguered skiers. The other guide was so happy to see the entire team alive and well, he got out of the helicopter and started running towards Geber – directly into the path of the rotor. To end the day, Geber ran at his fellow guide and dove at his legs with a football tackle, effectively knocking the other guide over before he decapitated himself on the blade.
Yup, more than a few things have changed in Heli-Skiing.
Photo courtesy CMH Archives.
The early birds at CMH Heli-Skiing are the ski guides, who awake while the lodge is still quiet and dark to make plans for the day; checking weather reports, avalanche conditions, and determining the safest and best Heli-Skiing possible on that particular day.
For the guests, the ultimate ski vacation begins as it should – by getting you ready to ski. A bell rings and anyone who wants to feel good on the first run meets for a ski and snowboard specific stretch class in the exercise room.
Next, a buffet breakfast with everything from cereal and fruit to bacon and eggs gives everyone a chance to fuel up in the way they feel suits them best.
After breakfast, it is time to gear up, and the CMH boot rooms, equpped with boot and glove dryers, as well as plenty of space for everyone's equipment, make getting ready easy and efficient.
On the first day, everyone participates in the safety practice, where the guides teach everyone how to use the radios, avalanche safety equipment, and the ins and outs of how to stay safe while skiing deep powder in the mountains. After the first day, everyone is up to speed with the safety techniques, and we just get straight in the helicopter after breakfast and go skiing.
We meet at the heli-pad near the lodge. We stack our skis so the guide can easily load them, and when the helicopter lands we step aboard and fasten our seatbelts while the guide loads the skis in a ski basket attached to the outside of the helicopter.
Then we lift off for ski paradise.
The helicopter lands on a flagged landing area atop the first run, and we all get out while the guide unloads the skis. After the helicopter leaves, we put on our skis, and listen to the guides instructions for the first run. Then we ski our brains out.
After each run, we meet the helicopter at a landing area the bottom of the run and repeat again and again and again until lunch. Most days, lunch consists of sandwiches, tea, soup, cookies and other snacks delivered by a small helicopter, but on special occasions during good weather, mountaintop barbeques have been known to happen in the most spectacular locations imaginable.
After a fairly quick lunch, so we don’t get cold and stiff, we dig into more powder runs. Skiers and snowboarders who are tired after the morning usually have a chance to return to the lodge at lunch, as well as other times during the day. The logistics of some of the areas require that you stay out all day, but the guides will let you know this before the day begins. The lodges with the more aggressive riders and terrain are the most likely to have the fewest chances to return to the lodge, including the Bobbie Burns, Revelstoke, Galena, CMH/K2 and the Monashees.
When we’ve schralped so much pow that it’s hard to remember all the great runs, face shots, cushy airs, and fresh turns, we return for CMH après ski – an experience no snowrider should miss.
Then we gather in the dining room for a fine family-style dinner and many generous toasts to an unforgettable day of skiing and snowboarding.
Finally, we retire to our rooms - ranging from comfortable double rooms, to spacious single rooms, to deluxe chalets - for a well-earned sleep, dreaming of deep powder and endless freshies.
The best part? We wake up the next day and do it all over again!
Photos by Topher Donahue.