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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.

Deep Powder and Steep Rock - the Hans Gmoser biography


hans gmoser historyI just finished reading Chic Scott’s “Deep Powder and Steep Rock, The Life of Mountain Guide Hans Gmoser.”  The book holds a particular fascination for me because the events surrounding the last years of Hans’ life had drawn me into the web of his life and his legacy as the inventor of heli-skiing and perhaps the most influential figure in the history North American mountain guiding.

At the time of Hans’ death in 2006, I was working on a book, with Hans as my advisor, telling the story of Canadian Mountain Holidays and the invention of helicopter skiing.  Hans agreed to support my writing of the book largely, I suspect, because I wanted to combine the stories of the other people involved in the project into a version of the story that would give voice to people besides Hans in the exciting evolution he and his friends had pioneered in the sport of skiing.

When Hans passed away, for a time I felt that the entire weight of telling the story of his incredible life had suddenly fallen on my shoulders.  A short time later, Hans’ widow, Margaret, asked Chic Scott to pen Hans’ biography.  The news was a relief to me because now I could focus on the story Hans had wanted me to tell, while Chic, a seasoned historian, was the perfect man for the job of writing Hans' biography.

In the aftermath of Hans’ death, Chic and I sat down for dinner and made a plan.  Rather than competitors, I had the strong feeling that we were collaborators in sharing Hans’ story with the world.  Chic told me that he planned to focus 90% of his book on Hans’ life outside of CMH, and 10% on the heliskiing aspect of his story, and my plan was to focus 90% of my book (Bugaboo Dreams) on the heliskiing story and 10% on the rest of Hans’ life. 

helicopter skiing history

Chic’s book, Deep Powder and Steep Rock, digs into the earliest days of Hans escaping to the mountains of Austria for reprieve from the dark days of WWII, his emmigration to Canada, and his rise as one of the most influential mountain guides in history.  The book also offers a compelling look at the development of the outdoor industry over the last 60 years.

Written as a classical biography, Deep Powder and Steep Rock chronicles Hans’ life in an accurate and matter-of-fact prose that reveals much of the complex character of Hans Gmoser.  Even Hans’ closest friends will find Chic’s book delves into little-known aspects of Hans’ life.

For aficionados of mountain heroes and heli-skiing, Deep Powder and Steep Rock is a must read and includes three of Hans Gmoser's original films in DVD format. 

If there is any critique to be leveled at the book, it is similar to the critique I would level at my own book, Bugaboo Dreams: Neither book brings together the entirety of Hans’ life.  Bugaboo Dreams leaves much to be desired in revealing the life of Hans Gmoser, while Deep Powder and Steep Rock covers the colourful world of Han’s most dramatic contribution, heli-skiing, with academic simplicity.  A great project for a future writer?

Goggle innovator Smith gave skiers the gift of vision


A montage of deep powder skiing’s most influential innovations would have to include three things: Klaus Obermeyer fashioning the first down jacket out of a duvet in a cloud of feathers,  Shane McConkey mounting ski bindings on waterskis to prove that rockered ski technology was going to be part of the future of skiing, and orthodontist Bob Smith and his wife sitting at their kitchen table with dental tools making the world’s first double-lens ski goggles.

In April, Bob Smith passed away, leaving a legacy of happy powder skiers who can actually see while skiing in deep powder. In 1965, the same year CMH Heli-Skiing began offering the world’s first heliskiing in the Bugaboos, Bob Smith founded Smith Sport Optics

view through smith goggles

His double lens is now the standard in ski goggles, since the inner lens can stay warm with the heat from the skiers face, and the outer lens can remain at the temperature of the outside air, much reducing the fogging problem that was prevalent in single lens models. Airplane windows have a similar design to avoid fogging with the extreme temperature difference inside and outside the plane. 

While skiing in Utah’s legendary powder, Smith was frustrated by not being able to see, so he decided to make his own. His double lens solution worked wonders, and now Smith Sport Optics, which he sold in 1991, is North America’s biggest goggle manufacturer and the double lens design is copied worldwide. 

Like most ski innovators Bob was a ski bum at heart and he traded his first goggles for lift tickets. Bob Smith’s first goggles were vented between the lenses, which work well in moderately deep powder.

But in the bottomless, over-the-head powder of CMH Heli-Skiing and other backcountry areas, the vents tend to eventually let moisture creep between the lenses.  This moisture is then difficult to remove, so most ski guides recommend sealed double lenses, also built by Smith, for heli-skiing North America’s snowiest mountains around Revelstoke, BC. 

With so many innovations that make skiing so much more fun for so many more people, it begs the question: What will be next?

Photo of a pickup at CMH Kootenay through Smith goggles by Topher Donahue.

The Best Ski Photos of the 2011/12 Heli-Ski Season


After a season of unbelievable skiing and riding and awesome snowfall, we're itching for a summer of great climbing, hiking and via-feratte-ing in the Columbia Mountains of western Canada.  But before we get to all that, let's take a moment to reflect on the great ski photos our guides, guests and staff submitted from the CMH Heli-Skiing 2011/12 season.

We've compiled a full on-line gallery of ski images to amuse you, but wanted to single out a few of the more spectacular images from the past heli-ski season to keep your dreams alive until the snow flies this coming fall. 

Skiers and riders at CMH Monashees reveled in the fresh powder all winter long:

Heli Skiing at CMH Monashees

The Bobbie Burns team had epic skiing conditions this winter and both Bruce Howatt and Carl Tresher shared their perspectives on the Bobbie Burns Facebook page (if you're not a fan, you should be!)

Heli Skiing at CMH Bobbie Burns

Further south in the Bugaboos, the birthplace of Heli-Skiing, our 407 pilot, Alex Edwards, used his keen eye to capture the great skiing there:

Heli Skiing at CMH Bugaboos

This is how CMH Galena began their season in mid-December, 2011:

Heli Boarding at CMH Galena

The team down at CMH Kootenay played host to the K2 Skis design team and hosted 3 demo sessions in March with CMH guests skiing on protype skis and providing feedback to the designers:

K2 Skis Demo Week at CMH Kootenay

How about you?  We'd love it if you share your best skiing photos from the past season on our Facebook page.  We've been known to randomly mail gifts to people who post photos on our page. Wink, wink.


What can avalanches teach us about ice cream?


In an unusual sharing of technology, a tool used to study of one of nature's more irresistable forces - the avalanche - is helping in the development of one of the more irresistable treats - ice cream.

canadian avalanche

An article was recently published in the journal, Soft Matter, and has the ice cream industry excited by the possibility of making better ice cream.

The key to the research is the x-ray microtomography machine at the Institute of Snow and Avalanche Research in Davos, Switzerland. The machine is one of the few in the world that can capture images of microscopic structures at sub-zero temperatures.

By using this x-ray microtomography (also known as CT scanning) which results in a two-dimensional view of a slice of the material, snow scientists are able to observe the deformation of a snow on a microscopic scale.  This deformation eventually leads to large-scale avalanches, and by creating a time lapse of the change, snow scientists can learn more about avalanches and further our understanding of how a snowpack changes over time. Some of these learnings are applicable to making recreation safer, and are integrated into programs like CMH Heli-Skiing’s snow safety program.

ice cream avalanchesThe ice cream study used the same machine to produce time-lapse images of water crystals forming on the ice cream. This change alters the texture and gives ice cream left too long in the freezer that chewy, frosty texture that only vaguely resembles fresh ice cream.

This research has food scientists from companies like Nestle, interviewed here by the BBC, excited about the potential to make a long-lasting ice cream. Reminiscent of Mr. Willy Wonka’s fictitious chocolate factory, where ice cream is made that doesn't even melt on a hot day, the company who invents ice cream that lasts better in the freezer will sell a lot of desserts. 

Avalanche photo by John Mellis, CMH Cariboos, ice cream photo by Topher Donahue.

Best Cocktails for Apres-Ski


An essential part of any good ski trip is some good apres-ski fun.  For some that means a soda in the hottub with some pals and for others it means a cocktail or two to relax into the evening.

We've consulted with some of the best apres-ski pros in the business, the CMH bartenders, to see what are the cocktails of choice at a few of the CMH Heli-Skiing Lodge.

Here are the top picks.  Be sure to share yours in the comments below!

Galena Fog: Simple and easy to mix at home!  A Corona with a shot of tequilla.

Best Apres Ski Cocktails   Galena Bluebird MartiniGalena Bluebird: A martini with blueberry vodka and blue curacao.

The Steenroller: Created by Tanya Steen in the Gothics for 'The Boys', a group of repeat skiers that make themselves right at home in the lodge for thier week of heli-skiing.  A magical mix of Bluberi Stoli Vodka and some citrus ingredients and voila!  But be careful, if you have one too many you might get steamrolled!

The Monashee Flatliner: This has become a staple up in the Monashees, frequently requested at about 6pm!  1 oz baileys, 1/2 oz Absolut Vodka, 1/2 oz Kahlua and 1 oz expresso.  Shaken on ice, strained into a chilled martini glass.

Cariboo Kiss: A nice twist on a classic shooter. Combine Amaretto and Southern Comfort but the trick is that after consuming it, you have to kiss someone close to you!

With St. Patrick's Day around the corner, we're curious to know what will be your choice of apres-ski beverage on March 17?

Photo: The Galena Bluebird by Mike Welch, CMH Galena Lodge.

Photo Essay: The World’s Greatest Ski Terrain


Even if the Columbia Mountains surrounding Revelstoke, British Columbia, in Western Canada didn’t get dumped on to the tune of around 20 metres of snow each winter, the terrain alone would make it a world class ski destination

heli ski terrain trees

The best I can explain the Columbia Mountains is that they are like two mountain ranges - a high alpine range and a steep forested range - sitting on top of each other. 

heliski terrain alpine

Quite frequently a storm rolls in and obscures the high peaks for days on end.  In these conditions, heliskiing would be impossible in mountain ranges without trees.  The trees give the helicopter pilots enough visual contrast to allow them to fly in all but the heaviest snow, lowest visibility, and strongest winds.  It is during these storms that heli-skiing near Revelstoke really comes into its own.  The deepest powder clings to the steepest faces, and the same trees that give the helicopter pilots enough visibility to fly, also give the skiers and snowboarders enough visibility to shred. 

heliski terrain galena glades

Some of the forests have been logged, and the regrowth is often thick and difficult to ski through, but many ski runs pass though old growth forests with ancient cedar trees the diameter of an automobile.  While the alpine terrain is what drew heliskiers to the Columbias in the first place, it is the tree skiing that made the Revelstoke area a heavyweight contender for the world’s greatest skiing

heliski terrain treeline

Then, when the storm clears above the forests, the sublime alpine peaks of the Columbias reveal themselves.  A few lucky skiers have learned to ski here from day one, learning to turn on low-angled glaciers where there is nothing to hit for a kilometre in every direction.  Many lucky skiers and snowboarders have ripped steep lines off the pointy summits and through the varied forests of the Cariboos, Selkirks, Monashees, and the Purcells - the subranges of the Columbias. 

heliski terrain trees and alpine

Ski film makers have been shooting the more popular areas in the Columbia Mountains for years now but, in my opinion, the most spectacular ski lines in the Columbia Mountains have yet to be shown on the big screen.  There are thin couloirs dropping into glades filled with over-the-head powder, steep faces that rival the wildest Alaskan terrain, mellow meadows where even beginners feel comfortable, and everything in between.

heliski terrain trees monashees

There are some places where the hype is greater than the real thing.  In this case, no amount of hype could really do justice to the skiing in the Columbia Mountains of Interior British Columbia.  If you’re a skier or snowboarder, and you haven’t yet visited Revelstoke or the Columbia Mountains, do it.  Soon.  Heli-skiTourFusion.  Ride lifts.  The method doesn’t matter.  Just make it happen.

Columbia Mountains ski terrain photos by Topher Donahue.

CMH Apres Ski: Worth the price of admission


sexy skier apres skiDavid Copperfield, the famous magician, rents his resort on Musha Cay in the Bahamas for $325,000 per week.

The Presidential Suite in the Hotel Cala di Volpe in Sardinia costs $34,000 per night - and you’re charged extra for using the internet! 

These rates, for experiences far less life-affirming and memorable than a week of heli-skiing or heli-boarding, make just the aprés ski at a CMH Lodge seem worth the cost of the entire trip.  In fact, after looking at the kinds of things people spend bank-loads of money on, it seems to me that CMH Heli-Skiing is charging just for the aprés ski, and taking people heli-skiing for free just to get them ready for the main event!

Ok, I’m exaggerating, but not that much.  To me, these other top-dollar experiences pale in comparison to a well orchestrated mountain adventure, and the aprés ski with CMH is an unforgettable experience.

There are moments of the CMH aprés ski that will stay with a person forever - one part isolation, one part the afterglow of a day in the mountains, and one part CMH Heli-Skiing’s incredible staff that always seems to take hospitality to another level.  Three of my favourites are:

snowboard sushiBugaboos, 2005 - Coming in from a day of full-throttle skiing - on huge runs through some of the most spectacular alpine terrain on the planet with powder on the north faces and corn on the south faces - to a private cocktail party in the sunshine below the famous Bugaboo Spires.  Bugaboos Manager Dave Cochrane, mountain host extraordinaire, chatted with everyone and discussed the finer points of spring skiing - while riding a unicycle.  

Adamants, 2009 - We’d skied so much vertical that even a granola bar would have tasted great, but we were greeted with a sushi buffet served on a snowboard.

Galena, 2012 - It had been snowing for weeks.  Everyone’s cheeks were tingling with a thousand face shots.  The last night of our week in ski paradise, the staff built a bonfire on a hill above the lodge.  The orange flames painted the surrounding winter wonderland in dancing, stark contrasts of shadows and light.  Some people joined the party for a few minutes between enjoying the spa and a massage, but many stayed for hours, savoring both the warmth of the fire and the chill of the winter air, the cold beers in the snow pillow, and wishing the moment might never end. 

Apres heliski CMH style

Any CMH Heli-Skiing veterans out there with favourite CMH aprés ski stories?

Aprés ski photos by Topher Donahue.

CMH Heli-Skiing Set to Take on Steamboat & Squaw Valley


Afraid that you'll have nothing to look forward to after you've rung in the New Year?  Fear not, skiing friends. CMH Heli-Skiing is teaming up with our friends at Surefoot to offer on-hill ski days in both Steamboat and Squaw Valley, followed by some apres-ski fun in-store.  Ski with the CMH team and you'll have all day to ask them questions about Heli-Skiing in BC,Canada.  The most common question we are asked is "Am I good enough to Heli-Ski?" and a day with the team on your local hill will give one of our senior heli-ski guides a chance to evaluate your skiing and give you a definitive yes or no.

Here are the details:

CMH Ski Day at SteamboatSki Day at Steamboat

When: Sunday, January 8, 2012

Where to Meet: 10am at the Surefoot Store

Apres: 5-7pm at the Surefoot Store

Who: Open to all!  Come join CMH Galena Heli-Skiing Guide Mike Welch and CMH'er Brad Nichols.


Ski Day at Squaw Valley

When: Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Where to Meet: 10am at the base of Funitel

Apres: 5-7pm at the Surefoot Store

Who: Open to all!  Come join CMH Galena Heli-Skiing Guide Mike Welch and CMH'er Kirsten Clark-Rickenbach.


*Note that lift tickets are not included for the ski day in either location.  Participants will be required to purchase their own.

Wine & Cheese in Tremblant

When: Saturday, January 14, 2012, 5-7pm

Where to Meet: Altitude-Sports Mont Tremblant

Who: Open to all!  Join CMH Representative Pierre Verot for an informal evening of ski talk.

RSVP: No need!

As always, if you have questions about any of our events, just drop us a note at or call our Banff office at 1.800.661.0252.

What ski resorts would you like to see us visit in the future?  Let us know in the comments section below!

10 Top Heli-Skiing Photos from December 2011


Note: Looking for more great ski pics? View CMH Heli-Skiing Photo Galleries »

As December 2011 comes to an end, here are the top photos of the month from the various areas at CMH Heli-Skiing. In no particular order, here they are!

1. CMH Revelstoke: Guide John Lutrell doing the first full profile at the Sunrise Study Plot on Boulder Mountain. Already 1.92 meters of snow! (Dec 4, 2011)

CMH Revelstoke - Dec 4, 2011


2. CMH Revelstoke: Who doesn't love happy heli-faces!? The first Revelstoke guests of the season seem pretty happy! (Dec 9, 2011)

CMH Revelstoke - Dec 9, 2011


3. CMH Bugaboos: Family week at the Bugaboos means lots of fun for the whole family! It is so much fun, even Santa comes for a visit! (Dec 25, 2011)

CMH Bugaboos - Dec 25, 2011


4. CMH Monashees: Even through the snow you can see the smile on his face! Loving Steep & Deep! (Dec 8, 2011)

CMH Monashees - Dec 8, 2011


5. CMH Galena: Carving a fine line before dropping into "The Source". (Dec 19, 2011)

CMH Galena - Dec 19, 2011


6. CMH Revelstoke: This early season shot from setup shows the amazing quality of the powder in Revelstoke. (Dec 4, 2011)

CMH Revelstoke - Dec 4, 2011


7. CMH Revelstoke: Check out how heavy those trees are! Amazing Powder = Amazing Skiing! (Dec 4, 2011)

CMH Revelstoke - Dec 4, 2011


8. CMH Galena: This is what it is all about... A lone boarder on Mike's Hump. (Dec 4, 2011)

CMH Galena - Dec 4, 2011


9. CMH Revelstoke: Fine powder, fine technique, amazing photo! (Dec 4, 2011)

CMH Revelstoke - Dec 4, 2011


10. CMH Galena: There's nothing like the exhiliration of Heli-Wash, even for our guides. (Dec 3, 2011)

CMH Galena - Dec 3, 2011


Be sure to sign up to receive alerts when new blogs are published (at the top right of this blog post), so you don't miss out on the Best Photos of January 2012, when all of our 11 Heli-Skiing areas in BC Canada are open! In the meantime, have fun out there, and all the best for the new year!

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