We experimented with one-day heliskiing too. In fact, the world’s very first attempt at commercial Heli-Skiing in 1963, exactly 50 years ago this spring, was a one-day trip. It was led by CMH Heli-Skiing's founder Hans Gmoser, so we know a thing or two about how it happened. On our very first day, we strapped a car's ski rack onto the skids of a helicopter and flew out of Canmore, Alberta, onto the nearby Old Goat Glacier, to try using a helicopter as a ski lift.
Granted, there were a few problems. First, we were using a Bell 47 helicopter, which could only carry 2 skiers at a time. Second, we tried Heli-Skiing in one of the driest areas in the Canadian Rockies so the snow was terrible. And third, everyone was wearing long, skinny, straight skis which made the terrible snow really difficult to ski.
It cost 20 bucks a person to be one of the world’s first Heli-Skiers.
Two years later, in 1965, we finally got it right in the Bugaboos. While the helicopter was still too small and the skis to skinny, we were in the right place - and we spent a week Heli-Skiing instead of just a single day.
Fast-forward 50 years, and Heli-Skiing has become a mature industry, but the problems with one-day Heli-Skiing have remained. We experimented again with one-day Heli-Skiing just a few years ago, and the problems are as plentiful now as they were that fateful day on the Old Goat Glacier in 1963.
At first glance, considering the expense of Heli-Skiing, the one-day idea seems like a good one. But when you dig in a little more, the reality tells a different story. Here are the five big problems with one-day heli-skiing trips, and the reasons that CMH Heli-Skiing does not offer one day trips:
- Training: Every Heli-Ski operator worth their googles trains guests in helicopter, avalanche, and skiing safety. A minimal training session takes an hour, and a good training session takes closer to two hours. In a three-day ski trip, spending an hour or two learning safety protocol doesn’t eat into much of your skiing time. In a one day trip, especially during the short winter days, the training cuts into your ski time dramatically.
- Burn per turn: How much money you spend per glorious, choker, blower, over the head powder turn goes down significantly the more days you can afford to ski. The best value heli-ski vacations are more than one day. No exceptions. If you are considering a trip with a “cheap” Heli-Ski outfit, do the math. For dollars per face shot, “cheap” Heli-Skiing is often the most expensive. Check out this article about one-day trips and other myths about Heli-Skiing.
- Conditions: No mountaineer travels to a mountain destination with only a single-day window to bag the ultimate mountain goal. In one day, you’re more than at the mercy of the mountain’s conditions – you’re a slave to them. CMH Heli-Skiing’s weeklong Signature trips were designed to take into account the fickle nature of mountain weather and conditions, as well as give people time to adjust to the rhythms of the wilderness.
- Friendships: For the guides and staff of CMH Heli-Skiing, this is the biggest reason we don’t offer one day heli-skiing. We don’t want to meet new people every day and then watch them leave before we even get a chance to become friends. And our guests don’t want to leave either. Everyone has more fun in the mountains after we get to know each other.
- Life: One day of surfing. One day of golf. One day of sailing. All one day does is get you ready for the second day. Even the best skiers amongst us have more fun Heli-Skiing the second day. If you’re going to throw down for the ultimate ski experience, you owe it to yourself to make it worth the cost, the time, the travel and the potential of Heli-Skiing.
CMH Heli-Skiing’s spring trips are some of the highest value options in the entire recreation industry. Join us this spring for a three to seven day trip that you’ll never regret.
Photo of one of the world's first commercial Heli-Ski flights from the CMH archives. Photo of the rewards of multi-day Heli-Skiing at CMH Gothics by Topher Donahue.
Heli-Skiing is different from other kinds of skiing in a number of ways. The obvious ones, like the volume of untracked powder you get to shred each day and the vast selection of ski terrain at your ski tips, speak for themselves.
Once you get out in these mountains, with a helicopter as your ski lift, a few other differences become obvious – like the clothes you wear in a ski resort aren’t necessarily optimal for Heli-Skiing.
Finally, talk to your fellow Heli-Skiers. CMH Heli-Skiing guests are an experienced lot. It’s not uncommon to be at a CMH Lodge with guests who have as much Heli-Skiing experience as some guides. They are a wealth of wisdom in how to get the most out of your precious time in the unique world of deep powder heli-skiing.
- Close the gap. I’m not talking about gap jumping. I’m talking about the gap between your jacket and pants. While the low-riding pants and high-riding jackets look great in the lift line, there are no lift lines in Heli-Skiing. This fashion statement acts more as a snow-melting system in deep backcountry powder. Even if you don’t fall, the deep powder will quickly fill your pants, melt down your leg, and eventually make it’s way into your boots. You don't want that water in your boots - you never know where it's been. Ski guides prefer high top pants with suspenders or snug belts and long shirts that will stay tucked in all day.
- Don’t wear white. Even if you’re extra attentive to staying close to your group, when skiing in the trees wearing white makes life more difficult for your tree skiing buddy. We ski in pairs in the trees, and a flash of colour is easier to keep track of than a flash of white in a white world. In a worst-case scenario, if you do get separated from your group, the helicopter pilot will be called upon to find you from the air. I’m sure you can visualize what a white skier in the middle of some of the world’s snowiest mountains looks like from the air…
- Under-dress, then add a vest. The helicopter is heated, and there is usually not much waiting around, so you don’t need to dress like you would for a long, cold chairlift ride. However, Canadian winters can be quite cold and there are occasionally delays, so you want to dress warm enough. What to wear is a debate every Heli-Skier has every day. My favourite piece of Heli-Skiing kit is a light vest with synthetic insulation. I can wear it at the beginning of the day to stay warm, and then stick it in my pocket or in the tiny pack provided for each CMH guest. Wearing too much is a common mistake made by Heli-Skiers. This results in excess perspiration which fogs up your goggles, dehydrates you, and detracts from your enjoyment of the world’s greatest skiing.
- Monitor and adjust your temperature. If you feel that you are about to get cold, make sure you put on your hood, zip up your zippers, tuck in your sweater and loosen your boots at the pickup to increase circulation BEFORE YOU GET COLD. If you’re getting hot, take off your hat and vent your jacket BEFORE YOU OVERHEAT.
- Wear a hard shell rather than a soft shell or an insulated jacket. While insulated jackets and soft shells are great at the ski area, they don’t allow enough versatility for a week of Heli-Skiing. In a typical week of Heli-Skiing in Interior British Columbia, you’ll see both brilliant sunshine and heavy snowfall - sometimes in the same day. Even the best soft shells tend to get wet easier and stay wet longer than hard shells.
Photo of a well-executed wet-sock-grab at CMH Bugaboos by Topher Donahue.
This fall, CMH Heli-Skiing was honoured to receive the 2012 Gordon Wilder Memorial Award. The award, dedicated to the former president of Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, is presented annually by Kootenay Rockies Tourism in recognition of achievements in the mountain tourism culture of British Columbia’s Kootenay region.
The Kootenay Rockies have become legendary the world over as the ultimate powder riding destination, and CMH is proud to have been one of the first to put the Powder Highway on the map.
To put the Kootenay region's ski resources in perspective, CMH Heli-Skiing is the biggest Heli-Ski operator on earth, but only operates in a small fraction of the vast ski terrain in the Kootenay Rockies. Each winter journalists travel the Powder Highway trying to capture the dream-like snow, terrain, and mountain culture for the world’s skiers; but even the best of them only see, ski, shred, film, write about or photograph a small slice of the area’s potential.
And that’s a big part of why we’re so honoured to receive this year’s Gordon Wilder Memorial award.
An article on this year’s award in Kootenay Business reads: “ CMH was recognized for the pioneering of heli-skiing in the Rockies and their world-wide promotion of the sport. Their innovation and vision has made the Kootenay Rockies not only the birthplace of heli-skiing but also the world's premiere heli-skiing destination.”
CMH Bugaboos manager and mountain guide Dave Cochrane received the award at the Kimberley Conference Centre from Annie Pigeon, the marketing director of the Whitewater ski area. It was an emotional moment as Dave represented the entire CMH family, going back to the early 60s when CMH Heli-Skiing's founder, Hans Gmoser, began exploring the potential for deep powder skiing in the Kootenay region.
Today, the Kootenay Rockies are famous for unbounded ski terrain with 40 to 50 feet of annual snowfall blanketing newer ski resorts near Golden and Revelstoke, as well as the area’s charismatic and much-loved areas near Fernie, Nelson and Rossland. In between lies a vast wonderland of backcountry skiing, an area that now boasts over 25 snowcat and helicopter skiing operators as well as more than 40 backcountry ski lodges.
In many ways, each Kootenay backcountry operation shares its bloodline with Hans Gmoser and his perseverance in helping to make this mecca of backcountry ski destinations accessible to so many happy skiers and snowboarders. For CMH Heli-Skiing to receive this award is a coming of age of backcountry skiing in the region and a nod to CMH Heli-Skiing as both a forefather of the area’s deep powder skiing and a contemporary leader among backcountry operators who, while competitors in one sense, are at heart collaborators in the common goal of providing comfortable, safe and exciting access to what is, without a doubt, the world’s greatest skiing.
Yesterday, I received a note from Mike Aucoin, a mountain guide from CMH Revelstoke and co-host of the latest CMH Powder U Program, Powder 405: Freeride Camp based in the legendary powder epicentre of Revelstoke, BC.
First, he asked the obvious question: "How can I best characterize Freeride as a ‘new’ concept in Heli-Skiing and why now?"
Then he answered his own question, brilliantly putting to words the intangible magic the new crop of rockered skis from our friends at K2, a Bell 212 Helicopter, the snowiest mountains in Canada, a team of experienced mountain guides, and the desire to ride the mountain like we ride in our dreams - CMH Heli-Freeriding:
"Helicopter skiing has always had a uniquely ‘free’ component to it because of the swift access to an unbelievable selection of deeply snow-covered mountains. Then there’s the unparalleled feeling you get looking back at your signature in the powder after an exhilarating and awe-inspiring run. For me, the most relevant motivation to promote CMH freeriding began with the occasional skier or boarder in the group who would ask, 'Can we do some freeriding today?'
"This simple request always made me smile, and every time someone asks for freeriding, I understand the root of the question. The comment would often come from someone relatively new to heli-skiing, an individual who may have been experiencing this feeling of freedom on skis for the first time, away from the lifts of a resort, far from a line of people waiting for one part of their local mountain to open up after a snowfall. This is the time and place to demonstrate what you’ve envisioned for so long.
"It only makes sense since ‘Freeriding’ has become an established part of the skiers’ and boarders’ vocabulary. It’s how you see a feature on the mountain and imagine just how you would soar through it. For one skier it could mean laying out a deep carve in a long untracked field, while others see themselves riding up on a rib or shoulder and slashing a big plume of powder in the air before accelerating down the next steep roll. It could mean picking your way through a narrow gully to ride a unique part of the mountain, or just letting those dogs run on a remote mountainside.
"I have always looked at these mountains through those eyes. Constantly evaluating how fun it would be to ride a particular feature on the mountain in my own fashion. Until recent changes have surfaced in ski design and technique, the reality rarely mirrored the vision. Today, many strong skiers can now enjoy the sensation of expanding the arc of the turn in powder like never before, and still dump speed with a quick brake check while flying through knee deep powder. The concept of a specific ‘freeride Heli-Skiing’ trip is to provide the opportunity to those who want to feel the mountain in a new way and truly express their will on the hill.
"Your guides have spent years working in these mountains and recognize when it is appropriate to access the terrain that is suitable for this kind of skiing. While skiing, we will discuss hazards specific to particular features while evaluating changes in snow quality and stability. As in everything we do, safety is our chief concern. We have two guides dedicated to the group each day to allow flexibility in the group. Not only will the guide provide the terrain decision and safety management, but they will also provide instruction and video analysis - and of course large doses of fun skiing in big mountains.
"If you are a strong skier who knows what rocker is, come ride with us and we’ll show you why rocker is. It’s sure to be a blast."
CMH Freeriding in Revelstoke? Can't think of anything better in the galaxy? Think you've already done it? Never been Heli-Skiing but this is what you've been waiting for? For questions about the new CMH Freeride Camp taking place March 23-28, 2013, contact CMH reservations at 1.800.661.0252.
The 2012 Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival will kick off tomorrow. While the festival has become a prestigious global showcase for the greatest creative minds in outdoor adventure, we’re proud to announce that the featured lineup opens with a film honouring Banff local, the great historian of Canadian mountaineering and skiing, Chic Scott.
In the opening film at the festival, The Gift, mountaineer and photojournalist Andrew Querner has created a moving discussion on the fragility and importance of history and community. Chic’s perspective as a historian of mountain sport is powerful, and Andrew’s experience as a mountaineer and photographer helps to convey the rich history of mountain sport.
We’re especially excited to see Chic featured in a film. In 2009, Chic completed Deep Powder and Steep Rock, the Life of Mountain Guide Hans Gmoser. The book is the biography of Hans Gmoser, who passed away in 2006. Hans was the founder, and to this day remains the spiritual leader, of Canadian Mountain Holidays.
The Gift was filmed at the Alpine Club of Canada’s Wheeler Hut, BC in January of 2012. Near Rogers Pass, just east of Revelstoke in the heart of Canada’s snowiest mountains, the hut is a fitting place to meditate on the culture and community of mountaineering.
With flickering of firelight in the hut reflecting in his eyes, Chic explains his passion for history, “Mountain climbing is an interesting sport because if you ask the man in the street, ‘Who are the great climbers?’ and then you ask the hard core climbers, ‘Who are the great climbers?‘ you’ll get two totally different answers; whereas, if you ask the man in the street and the professional hockey players, ‘Who are the great hockey players of all time?’, you would get the same answer.”
He further explains his motivations for writing the history of his sport: “Everybody knows the guys and gals who get up Everest, but the climbers out there who have practiced their passion for decades, the best of them are largely unknown.”
The Gift from Andrew Querner on Vimeo.
Chic was a member of the first Great Divide Ski Traverse in 1967, the epic traverse from Banff to Jasper along the icefields and glaciers that cover the continental divide as it winds through the Canadian Rockies. The traverse was completed with wool and cotton clothing and a cotton tent, the best equipment available at the time, but some things haven’t changed since then. Chic’s musings on “mountain time” still ring true. How, after being in the mountains, the worries of life tend to lose importance and life happens in the present, not in the future and not in the past. “You have a simple purpose. Life becomes simple in the mountains.”
Decades later, motivated by a French book on world mountaineering that short-changed Canada by only dedicating one paragraph to his mountainous country, Chic embarked on the biggest project in his career. “Canada probably has more mountains than any nation on Earth, and yet (in that book) there’s one paragraph on Canada. So, I wanted to set the record right.”
The result, Pushing the Limits, The Story of Canadian Mountaineering, took Chic six years of full-time work during which he conducted 95 interviews with leading mountaineers across Canada and completed one of the most comprehensive and artistic histories of mountain sport ever written.
Chic concludes The Gift with an unusual and insightful perspective on history:
“People don’t realize that yesterday is history. History is right behind us."
Image of Chic Scott in front of the Wheeler Hut from the film, The Gift, by Andrew Querner.
First of all, I’ll start with an apology. This is a bit like reporting on a great vintage a year early, before even a single person gets to pop a cork. So I’m sorry to do this to you. Believe me, I'm suffering for it too.
But the snow at CMH Bugaboos is already incredible. Dave Cochrane, the CMH Bugaboo Lodge area manager is always keen to share what he sees out there and this is what he sent in yesterday:
“We were out today hiking in Septet Creek, that is where you find the ski runs Groovy West, Groovy East and Groovy Ass.
The landings are at 2550m and we picked up at 2130m. We found snow up to 130-140 cm. (That’s four feet deep!) below the ridge line and at the pickup an honest 50cm of fairly well settled snow and an average on the run of 80-120 cm.
The snow cover on those runs is really good and settled enough it would make for really great skiing. I definitely could run a ski program at the moment in the Groovy area.”
The day before yesterday, the Bugaboos team sent in these photos.
Last summer I was talking to one of the CMH ski guides and I asked him if he’d noticed any big changes in the skiing conditions in recent years. With the huge drought last season in the States, I was wondering what might be happening to our beloved snow.
He replied, “Compared to historical records, our snowfall in recent years is spot on.”
Last season's snowfall in the Revelstoke region, where all the CMH Heli-Ski areas are located, would certainly support this. Excellent skiing all winter. The 2010-2011 season in the Revelstoke region? Excellent skiing all winter. The 2009-2010 winter in the Revelstoke region? Great early season skiing, spotty in places during high season, and great late season skiing. It's not called the world's greatest skiing because of the region's grooming capability...
I also spoke with Dave Cochrane last summer. In fact, I was poking a bit of fun at him because he’s a huge fan of corn skiing and I knew it had dumped all spring in the Columbia Mountains leaving little time for the sunshine to form the velvety springtime corn snow.
I asked, “Dave, did you miss corn skiing last year?”
His reply: “Nope. The spring powder skiing has been so good the last few years that I haven’t really missed corn skiing at all. In the spring it’s just kept dumping and we’ve been skiing powder right up to the end of the season.”
So much for making a ski guide miss corn snow.
The big question is: what does all this mean for this year?
Dave concluded his letter to the CMH Heli-Skiing office in Banff: “So,,,,it’s only the third week in October and anything can happen but it is looking very promising so far.”
My read? It dumped four feet in the Bugs and Dave wants to go skiing.
The effect his report has on me? It dumped four feet in the Bugs and now I want to go skiing too.
Looking at the photos I can’t help but see the snow being whirled into the sky from the rotor wash, the rippled ridges of deep powder already taking on the seductive lines of winter drifts. I can’t help but daydream of the feel of snowflakes on my face, the giddy roller coaster-feel of arcing through bottomless powder, and the winter vistas changing with every breath.
Dave, do us all a favor and stop sending in these brutal reports - it isn’t ski season yet!
Or is it?
It always seemed to me that when conditions were bad in a particular region of the climbing or surfing world, the sport’s aficionados load up the van, or buy a plane ticket, and go somewhere else.
But when ski conditions are bad in a particular region of the ski world, the sport’s aficionados seem to complain loudly and forget that even a short trip can reap dividends in face shots, big lines, and save your ski season.
I always kept this observation to myself, but then I read a Powder Magazine article that confirmed my theory in a most dramatic way. The author, Ryan Dunfree, loudly states that skiing conditions are terrible everywhere in North America except Alaska. He writes: “...2012 has been about confronting record periods of high pressure, rain, April temps and instability in the backcountry. That is of course unless you live in Alaska, Europe, or Japan.”
Strangely, he left out the vast ski paradise that sits precisely north of the US border, Between Whistler, British Columbia and Calgary, Alberta lies some of the most sublime ski terrain on the planet, which just so happens to be having an incredibly snowy winter.
While the legendary deep powder of the Columbia Mountains near Revelstoke is often excellent, and has bee truly epic this season, even the more easterly areas near Calgary are starting the spring ski season with massive snowfalls.
“This is definitely one of the top ten March snowfalls on record,” said Mike Moynihan of The Lake Louise Ski Area in a press release from the Banff National Park. “We’ve seen a metre of snowfall this week and with the storm cycle finally clearing and giving way to clear blue skies, skiers and boarders are simply lapping it up.”
Sunshine Village reported 118 centimetres of new snow in the past seven days with Mount Norquay pulling down 50 centimetres of fresh dry powder just in the last 24 hours. The Powder Magazine article reads: “Unless your name is Klaus and you live in St. Anton, there’s hardly been a faceshot to be found within five hundred miles.” Hardly.
The author of the Powder article seems to forget that if you live anywhere in the northwestern US, you’re a weekend road trip away from what has been deep powder central almost all winter long. If you consider air travel, it’s just 2 hours from Denver to Calgary and any skier in North America is just a long weekend from this winter’s plentiful powder harvest in Western Canada.
The guests of CMH Heli-Skiing know just how good the skiing has been at the CMH Lodges lately, but you certainly don’t need to go heliskiing to take advantage of the easy access to world class skiing just to the north of the US border.
Somehow, the entire ski epicentre of Revelstoke of is overlooked by this article in Powder Magazine, one of the continents most respected ski publications, and by many skiers who must not quite realize just how easy it is to go deep powder skiing in Western Canada.
If California surfers were watching calm seas, and the North Shore of Hawaii was as accessible and vast as Western Canada, there would hardly be a surfer left in the state. If it were rained out in Yosemite, but the Bugaboos and Squamish was dry, hundreds of climbers would be packing up to head north. C’mon skiers and snowboarders, learn from your adventure brethren and pack the bags!
Photo of deep powder skiing 2012 - just north of the US border - by Topher Donahue.
With a little light-hearted humor from the CMH reservations office, a little genuinely scary snowfall trauma in some parts of the world, and epic early season conditions in BC, here are today's top 3 reasons to go heliskiing in Canada:
Reason number 3: Tired of riding chair lifts.
Last month, CMH Heli-Skiing reservations received a request for information from a group of snowboarders. In the questions and comments section of our information request form, the curious party wrote: “Six experienced snowboarders - all sick of ski lifts.”
Yeah, sitting on ski lifts gets old. By comparison, while heli-skiing the ski lift is a fastidiously maintained jet helicopter and between ski runs you get the most jaw-dropping tour of some of the most inspiring ski terrain in Canada. Boring it is not.
Reason number 2: You’ve never been heli-skiing before.
If you’re a skier or snowboarder, and you’ve never been heli-skiing before, it’s the kind of thing everyone should do once in their lives. CMH provides fat skis and offers programs designed for inexperienced powder skiers to make heli-skiing fun for everyone, not just expert skiers and snowboarders.
Of course if you’re an expert, and you haven’t been heli-skiing before, we don’t need to tell you how much fun you’ll have hucking laps with a jet helicopter on some of the world’s snowiest and most spectacular ski terrain.
With so many trip options for heliskiing in Canada available these days, and the high cost of ski resorts making the price of entry for heli-skiing seem like a deal, there is no excuse not to give it a try.
Reason number 1: It’s not snowing anywhere else.
This year may be the best year in history to go heliskiing in Canada. It seems that all the snow on the planet is falling in western Canada. I went for a ski tour in the Colorado backcountry yesterday, and it was not only poor ski conditions, it was not yet possible to properly ski in the backcountry. While there would normally be perhaps a metre of snow at treeline by this time of year, there were only a few centimetres of unconsolidated snow.
And Europe has it worse. According to an article in the BBC on Europe's snow woes, this fall has been the driest on record in Switzerland. A few ski resorts have managed to open by utilizing man-made snow, but at the edge of the piste, brown fields tell the story of a season without snow. The webcams at Davos reveal a dismal scene. It is not that there is less natural snow than normal - there is no natural snow!
While we wouldn’t wish bad ski conditions on anyone, and we feel the pain of our fellow snow riders in less snowy zones around the world, we can’t help but point out that CMH heliskiers are right now soaking up face shots and pillow drops in what is probably the finest early season ski conditions we’ve ever seen - might as well go skiing where there's snow!
La Niña. El Niño. Whatever. It always sounded to me like a soundbite for the media more than a real predictor of local weather. Sure, the temperatures of the ocean currents surely have profound effects on the planet’s weather, but how much they affect things like snow quality for heli-skiers is is another thing entirely. Or so I thought.
I was always a cynic of long term weather forecasting. Then last winter happened. I don’t think I’ve had more face shots in a single winter in my entire life. Nearly every day was a powder day. And all the North American skiers I talked to - from Aspen, to Jackson Hole, to Banff to Revelstoke - had the same experience. By February, I found myself asking: “Now, was this a La Niña or an El Niño season? ‘Cause whatever this is, I want another one!”
Last winter, demonstrated in the above photo from CMH Gothics, was a strong La Niña, so this year when August rolled around and I heard La Niña was in the forecast, I started getting excited.
Curious about long range forecasts, I looked at the usual places. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center anticipates above normal precipitation and snowfall in parts of the Pacific Northwest (a good thing for heli-skiers), with equal chances for above or below average precipitation for the southern US Rockies of Colorado and Utah. For skiers interested in weather predictions, it’s worth checking out NOAA’s maps of precipitation and temperature. The map below is NOAA's the predicted precipitation for the USA this coming December through February:
For a more applicable insight into how much long term weather prediction can foecast ski quality, I looked up Joel Gratz, a skier and meteorologist who has combined his passions into one of the web’s most followed ski websites, Colorado Powder Forecast. He has an immense following, and his visionary approach is profiled here in Colorado's Denver Post.
I asked Joel straight up: How much can skiers rely on La Niña/El Niño to forecast skiing quality for an upcoming winter? For example, would you base purchasing a season pass or a ski trip based on La Niña?
Joel replied: “Weather is only one factor I look at when deciding to purchase a ski pass or plan a trip. Meteorologists can somewhat accurately predict snowfall patterns during seasons with a strong El Nino or La Nina. But this season features a weaker La Nina compared to 2010-2011, so confidence in a snowfall outlook for the winter is lower than last year. Ultimately, the quality of skiing comes down to each individual storm, which aren't predictable more than about a week ahead of time.”
Gratz wrote an article on La Niña for Skiing Magazine and, while he’s not a big fan of long term weather forecasting as it relates to ski quality either, he did make this general - and if you’re a skier, highly exciting - statement: “For North America, La Niña has some predictable consequences for snow during the winter: it snows a lot.”
To give heli-skiers some real information on the World’s Greatest Skiing, I sent Joel snowfall data for the Columbia Mountains near CMH Heliskiing areas going back as far as the 70s. From the reports, he looked at for Mica Creek weather station near CMH Monashees, he had this to say: “In short, it looks like La Niña signals at least average or well above average snowfall.”
That's saying something - average snowfall in the Columbia Mountains is utterly epic. His quick study agrees with Environment Canada’s predictions, visible above in their precipitation forecast map for this coming December and January, which puts CMH Heliskiing areas in the red and white zone for normal or above normal precipitation.
What about you? Is the La Niña forecast changing your winter plans?
In the spring of 2007 I attended the CMH Agents Meeting in the CMH Gothics. I was working on Bugaboo Dreams, the book that chronicles the history of CMH and the invention of heliskiing. Before arriving, I wondered if the agents would be travel agents who happened to sell skiing, or skiers who happened to be travel agents.
I needn’t have wondered; the grandfather of Miguel Arias, the Spanish agent for CMH Heliskiing, took people skiing in the mountains above Madrid using a donkey for the ski lift and helped introduce skiing to Spain a century ago. Two generations later, his grandson is selling heli-skiing in Canada using a helicopter rather than a donkey. The CMH heliski agents are ski fanatics.
My notes from Bugaboo Dreams read:
The potential of international CMH agents was realized in 1976 when a group of 44 Germans descended upon the Cariboos. It was the entrepreneurial effort of a man named Pepi Erben who owned of a travel agency called Aeroski that specialized in packaged ski tours to the best ski areas. To try out this heli-skiing concept, Aeroski booked the largest group of Europeans to yet go heli-skiing together in the Columbias. Pepi and his son Viet (Pictured here with Grandson Thor in the Bugaboos in 2008) accompanied the group. As Viet explained with a grin, “We didn’t want to sell things we didn’t know about ourselves.”
Pepi said, “The Cariboos exceeded our expectations by quite a bit!” His group also introduced the Canadian ski guides to the “Arlberg Design” of spooning one track against the other for a visually pleasing and yet somehow homogenous pattern in the snow. Discussions with Hans followed, and on a handshake Aeroski became the German agent for CMH Heli-skiing. Other countries followed a similar model with passionate individuals visiting CMH and starting a conversation with either Hans Gmoser or later CMH President Mark Kingsbury, about bringing groups to go heli-skiing.
The relationship has been flourishing for so long, that now a number of agents have now passed on the job to their children. Martin Gallati, the Swiss agent, explained that the European skier's perception of heliskiing is partly due to the European CMH agent’s sustained efforts. “In Europe, CMH and Western Canada is known as the place for heli-skiing.” he said.
Freddy Weis, the original Austrian agent for CMH Heliskiing, was instrumental in convincing Austrians to give heli-skiing a try. Like many agents, Freddy’s first experience was as a guest. Interestingly, it wasn’t the skiing that first hooked Freddy on the experience, but the camaraderie of the lodge. “My first time heli-skiing I came in, sat down at dinner and said, ‘Hello, my name is Freddy.’ Five minutes later we were all friends!”
Weis started the role of an agent, as he says: “As friends, for fun, and for no money. We wanted to come skiing! We just quit racing and we wanted a new challenge.”
In the face of modern business, the role of the CMH agents is utterly unique. They work together, trading spaces on the helicopter to make it work better for the guests, doing promotions together, and established agents help newcomers learn to work most efficiently. Competition is real, because there are a limited number of seats, and yet everyone works with the philosophy that what is good for one is good for all. CMH Heliskiing is now represented in 21 different countries.
The family of agencies globally representing CMH Heliskiing continues to grow globally and both new and veteran peddlers of heliskiing in Canada are fiercely proud of their service connecting people to the world's greatest skiing. The annual CMH agent’s meeting, often held at one of CMH's remote heliskiing lodges, is as much of a family reunion as a business meeting - yet the agents account for nearly half of CMH business. At the meeting, pranks are rampant, the party ends only for the skiing, and even those who are retired sometimes come back for the annual meeting.
CMH’s relationship with its agents is a direct result of Hans and Mark’s way of doing business through interpersonal trust and commitment, more like a climbing or skiing partner than a cold, hard business deal. Their vision is alive and well today. By welcoming others to be part of their project, the agents return to their home countries and sell heli-skiing as if they own the company.
Skiers interested in heliskiing in Canada can call an agent who speaks their own language, in their own time zone, and with an understanding of their own ski culture. Thanks to the CMH agents, booking heliskiing in Canada from anywhere in the world has never been easier - or more personal.