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7 sexy snow shots from CMH

  
  
  

The snowiest mountains in Canada.
The world’s first Heli-Ski company.
The biggest employer of mountain guides in the world.
The world’s greatest skiing.

A lot of flattering statements have been used to describe CMH Heli-Skiing and the Columbia Mountains that CMH calls home, but there is one that is often overlooked (or only talked about in the dark of night) in the quest to explain this place.

And that is: the snow is just plain sexy.

It's true. The characteristics of this snow inspire pillow talk. It is drier than the snow found in coastal ranges, but more voluminous than the snow found in most continental ranges, creating a truly drool-worthy medium. If you're into that kind of thing, here are seven photos that put the soft in softcore:

A skier flirts with a snowball in the Monashees:

monashees powder ball

A snowboarder between the sheets in Galena:

snowboarder in deep powder

A skier feeling confident with his pickup line in the Gothics:

gothics powder

Cornices show off their curves in the Adamants:

adamants cornices

A woman in the Cariboos realizing that size matters when it comes to snowpack:

cariboos snow

Bump and grind in the snow ghost disco above the Columbia River:

Columbia river trees

A shy helicopter sports the sheer look in Revelstoke:

snow helicopter

Ok, that was bad. Just putting together these pictures that I took over the last few years kinda got me all worked up. Now I really want some, but at least the early season snow is falling!

McConkey – The Movie

  
  
  

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.

Everyman’s superman.

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.

mcconkey plane jump

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.

7 favourite CMH snowriding backdrops

  
  
  

When I think of Heli-Skiing with CMH, the first thing that comes to mind is pow snorkeling through old growth forests with fluffy snow rushing past every inch of my body.

The second thing I think of is the common psyche of hanging out in ski paradise with a group of people who would rather be nowhere else on earth.

The third things I think of are the backdrops against which we ride. It is easy to get distracted by the first two, but here are a few photos to remind you of the spectacular arena where CMH Heli-Skiing takes place:

1. The Duncan River Valley, Bobbie Burns. The Duncan divides the Purcells from the Selkirks, and is one of the wildest valleys in North America. No roads, no trails except those made by moose and bears, and in the winter it creates a wilderness ski experience that must be experienced to be believed.

bobbie burns duncan

2. The Howser Towers, Bugaboos. Ok, I’m partial to the Howser Towers, having done the first free ascent of the North Howser Tower’s West Face (On the left side as seen in this photo) but even those who have no interest in climbing vertical rock find a day of skiing around the Howser Tower to be about as beautiful as snow riding can get.

bugaboos howser

3. Cariboos Glaciers. The Cariboos hold the biggest collection of glaciers left in the Columbia Mountains. It seems that nearly every run in the Cariboos, even the steep tree runs, have patterns of glacial ice forming an artistic backdrop.

cariboos glaciers

4. Gothics Clouds. Perhaps it is the Gothics location at the junction of several immense mountain valleys in the Northern Selkirks and the Monashees that holds the clouds so well, but for some reason a classic day in the Gothics involves skiing the alpine above the clouds in the morning, then dropping into the steeper trees as the clouds burn off in the afternoon. 

gothics clouds

5. Monashees Trees: Just saying the words, “Monashees Trees” gives me a little shot of adrenaline. The Monashees has incredible peaks to look at as well, but this is the usual backdrop to a day of steep and deep in the Monashees – if you take the time to emerge from the countless face shots for long enough to take a look around.

monashees trees

6. Revelstoke Peaks: With it’s location in the epicentre of powder skiing, the mountains around Revelstoke create a spectacular canvas against which to ride. Revelstoke Mountain Resort is one of the world’s most impressive ski resorts, but it is possible to ski the backcountry around Revelstoke and never even see RMR because the rest of the terrain is so vast and rugged.

revelstoke peaks

7. Adamants Cathedrals: In spending a good part of my life wandering the world's crags, summits and spires, I don't think I've ever seen a more impressive display of nature's architecture than the namesake peaks of the Adamants. Skiing below them is an unforgettable experience.

adamants spires

Photos by Topher Donahue.

5 top ski and snowboard training websites

  
  
  

The season’s first snows have dusted the summits of the Rockies. Summer activities are losing their appeal. Days are growing shorter at a rapid rate. We all know what that means. For some of us, it also means it is time to wonder what we can do to get in shape for winter.

ski and snowboard fitness

Perhaps you’re the kind of snowrider who likes to just get out there and let fitness come as the winter goes, but if your planning a dream snowriding trip this winter, or you want to take your game to the next level, a bit of focused work in the preseason will go far in both improving your abilities and preventing injury. Even a simple approach like “I’m going to ride my bike a couple days a week” is better than nothing, but if you want to feel dramatic improvement, check out these websites and consider a more systematic approach.

To pick these sites, I looked for places with a little different approach to ski and snowboard fitness rather than just another training program. Here are my top 5:

  1. National Ski Patrol: The National Ski Patrol is an organization that represents one of the hardest working groups in the world of skiing. Their preconditioning page on their website shares the wisdom of Dave Merriam, the head coach of the PSIA and the AASI demonstration teams. Here’s a glimpse into his understanding of snowsport fitness:  "In most snowsports, it's important to build a strong base of aerobic fitness, because that's what's going to allow you to be on the hill longer and reduce your chance of injury due to fatigue. At the same time, skiing and snowboarding are anaerobic activities, which means that they require short, intense bursts of energy interspersed with rest periods."
  2. Bodybuilding: At CMH Heli-Skiing, we tend to think of snowboarding and skiing as two equally wonderful ways to do the same thing – rip deep powder on spectacular mountains – but the specific demands of snowboarding are very different than skiing.  This article gives specific exercises as well as a potential training schedule to ride your best this winter.
  3. Orthopedic Specialists of Seattle: There may be no group of professionals who have a more intimate perspective on skiing injuries than orthopedic surgeons. This website caught my eye, not so much because of their specific training suggestions for preventing injury, but because of their overall way of presenting both training and injury prevention. They give a smorgasbord of potential activities for you to choose from, and a suggested a conditioning program to go with your activity of choice.
  4. Adventure Sports Online: If you’re like me, the thought of following a specific training program is about as appealing as going on a raw food diet. To each their own, and for some a training program is the ticket to both health and inspiration. Of all the websites I’ve seen that were most in line with my approach to fitness, this one is prefaced with, “Perceptions of preseason conditioning stem from Hollywood's depiction of Rocky's training regime.” And goes on to say how “What we all really want to know is how can we get back into skiing shape with as little trouble as possible.” This article by Chris Fellows is both highly entertaining (this is important) and also suggests enrollment in the North American Ski Training Center program for skiers and snowboarders who want to receive professional coaching and training without being a professional athlete.
  5. Ski and Snowboard Inspiration: Lastly, my favourite website for snowriding fitness training is this one. Why? Because the inspiration to stay healthy and chase your skiing and snowboarding dreams is the most important training element of all.

Photo of a group of Heli-Skiers about to put their pre-season training to the test at CMH Cariboos by Topher Donahue.

Photos: the world's greatest apres ski

  
  
  

For decades, the CMH Heli-Skiing tagline has been the world’s greatest skiing. Of course such a statement begs to be refuted, but once people have skied with CMH, they quite often tend to agree.

One thing, however, that nobody argues with, is that CMH Lodges throw down the world’s greatest après ski!

It’s hard to put a finger on exactly why; indeed, the perfect après ski is a little different for each person.  But somehow, CMH gets it just right for virtually everyone.

Perhaps it is the number of fellow powder hounds – enough to have diversity but few enough to have intimacy.

Perhaps it is CMH Heli-Skiing’s special flavor of hüttenzauber, or alpine hut magic, that has remained a part of the CMH experience for nearly 50 years.

Perhaps it is the combination of remote locations and exquisite comfort.

Or perhaps it is the snow riding that makes the CMH après ski so enjoyable.

Most likely it is a combination of all of the above, distilled photographically into the following five photos.

Springtime in the Bugaboos, with après ski on the deck overlooking in the Bugaboo Spires:
apres ski canada
A mid-winter dirty martini sitting atop the 3-D ski area table of the Adamants in the commons area of the Adamants Lodge:heliski martini
Après ski with the Nomads South at the Halcyon Hot Springs pools overlooking the Arrow Lake after a world-class day of riding both Galena and Revelstoke terrain:hot springs heliskiing
Getting the giggle on after hitting the shot ski – anywhere CMH:shot ski
Digging into a sushi après ski served up on a Burton snowboard. I doubt Jake ever dreamed we’d be eating sushi off his invention in a Heli-Ski lodge deep in Interior British Columbia:heliski sushi
Any of you million-footers out there have any great memories of CMH aprés ski that you'd like to share?

5 big photos – one millionth of the CMH terrain

  
  
  

A staggering amount of the 15,000 square kilometres that makes up CMH Heli-Skiing is ski and snowboard terrain. However, thick forests, massive cliffs, broken icefalls, and summits guarded by all forms of alpine barriers keep us from carving turns down some of it.

But every millimetre of those 15,000 square kilometres makes for a great view. For me, as a photographer, the incredible visuals provided by the CMH terrain are as fascinating, thrilling, and memorable as the deep powder itself. 

Surprisingly, however, it is hard to capture that vastness and diversity of terrain with a photograph. Only a few photos manage to bring home a little taste of that crisp alpine air, those deep valleys, the tenacious clouds, and the enormous snow riding potential and limitless beauty of CMH terrain. 

These photos are five of my best efforts at turning this wilderness the size of a small country into a postcard-sized matrix of pixels.

CMH Adamants is named after this collection of summits; summits so rugged and remote that mountaineers have only recently begun to explore the steepest faces. Even fewer professional skiers have visited the areas steep couloirs and plunging faces:

adamants scenery

The Bugaboos was the first, and is the most famous of the CMH Heli-Skiing areas, yet it remains one of the least-known of North America’s natural wonders. Here, the prisitine wilderness of East Ereek dances with mists during a CMH Summer Adventure:

canadian wilderness

Many people have said that the Cariboos are made for skiing, and metre by metre, the Cariboos may be the most versatile ski mountains in North America. In this photo, the steep couloirs that lace the range’s biggest peaks are begging to be ripped:

cariboos steep ski lines

Even ski guides call the Monashees, when conditions are right, the best skiing in the universe. Thousand-metre slots through the trees can be found by the hundreds dropping into the range’s deep valleys and many of the area’s hard-core Heli-Ski fans have decide there is nowhere else they’d rather ride:

monashees tree skiing terrain

The Gothics, just north of the now famous powder epicenter of Revelstoke, is one of those areas where you can ride 2000-metre alpine runs one day, and steep trees the next. The views into the Monashee and Selkirk mountains are stunning enough to give pause to even the most agro powder hounds:

skiing above the clouds gothics

5 wilderness adventure lodge photos

  
  
  

The wintertime snow riding is often called the world’s greatest skiing, and the award-winning summertime adventures are the kind of experiences that imprint a person’s heart and soul with beauty, so it’s easy for the lodges of CMH Heli-Skiing and Summer Adventures to blend in with the scenery.

However, the location and the alpine hospitality delivered at the CMH lodges are so authentic and spectacular, that sometimes I wonder if CMH would become even more famous if the lodges were marketed as remote lodging destinations rather than base areas for world-class mountain experiences as they are today.

For those of us who enjoy the warm personality and dream-like mountain environment of the CMH experience, the lodge is just one aspect the comfortable outdoor immersion that the CMH winter and summer programs provide. Yet we all know that the charismatic lodges of CMH are a huge part of what makes a vacation at CMH so refreshing, memorable and enjoyable.

Looking back at my photo collection from a decade of pointing my cameras at CMH Heli-Skiing and Summer Adventures, the following 5 photos stand out as capturing the personality of the CMH Lodges.

Galena Lodge in January. 5cm/hour snowfall:galena lodge

Bugaboo Lodge in August. The view from the helicopter on the way to dreamland:bugaboo lodge

Cariboo Lodge in February. The only civilization for farther than the eye can see – even from the summits of the biggest peaks:cariboo lodge

Bobbie Burns Lodge in July. The most diverse and accessible smorgasbord of remote adventure options on planet earth:bobbie burns lodge

Gothics Lodge in March. The Germans call it hüttenzauber or, loosely translated, “alpine hut magic”:gothics lodge

These are lodges where world-class ski and snowboard athletes celebrate some of the most fun adventures they’ve ever had in the mountains; lodges where 90-year-old great-grandparents breathe the fresh alpine air and hike in the tundra; lodges where adventure travellers live their most memorable experiences; lodges where thousands of people from all over the world have spent the kind of days that make them feel most alive.

Photos by Topher Donahue.

Goggles vs glasses for backcountry skiing

  
  
  

With the prevalence of helmets, the most popular eyewear for skiing has quickly become goggles. The most common approach these days is to just leave them on the helmet, and just wear them no matter what the weather is like.  But is this always the best option?  Not necessarily.

To decide which is best, I watched the group of people I know who spend the most time in the deep snow, bright sun, and variable conditions of mountain weather: The Ski Guides of CMH.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Some guides wear goggles almost all the time while skiing, but carry sunglasses for the brightest days, lunch, and relaxing.
  • Some guides carry goggles as well as two pairs of glasses, one with dark lenses for bright conditions and one with yellow lenses for flat light conditions - skiing first in flat light is one of the big challenges of guiding, and the right eyewear makes a huge difference.
  • And some guides, like CMH Cariboos Manager, John Mellis, love their glasses. I can’t blame him.  Glasses just feel better, allow better peripheral vision, and give more sensitivity to the lovely mountain world.  
  • Johnny wears glasses when the face shots approach neck deep:sunglasses for skiing
  • Then leaves them on when the face shots start wrapping around his head:sunglasses for powder skiing
  • And even when the face shots reach meaty double-overhead levels, Johnny still rips in his glasses:sunglasses vs goggles
  • But sometimes, when it’s snowing really hard, Johnny finally breaks out the goggles:goggle day

Here are the problems with goggles:

  • If you tend to overheat, even the best-designed goggles will fog up.
  • Goggles don’t handle bright conditions as well as glasses.
  • Goggles are not as comfortable as glasses.
  • Goggles tend to restrict your vision more.
  • Goggle lenses are not as versatile as glasses.
  • For uphill ski touring or boot packing, goggles are too warm.

Here are the problems with glasses:

  • Glasses don’t shed the face shots as readily.
  • Not all helmets fit well with glasses.
  • Glasses don’t keep your face warm.
  • Glasses fall off easier when you fall.
  • Glasses don't protect your face as well.

If you are going to carry extra eyewear while Heli-Skiing or anywhere in the backcountry, be sure to time your changes without causing other skiers to wait (or worry) for you, and without filling your glasses and goggles with snow in the process.  If you would rather keep it simple while Heli-Skiing, just wear goggles and choose a lens in the middle of the hue spectrum - not too dark and not too bright.

Like so many questions about the mountains, the right answer is: It depends on conditions.

Fat ski technique for Heli-Skiing

  
  
  

Ski technology is red hot. It allows the pros to ski big mountain lines like tow in surfing helps surfers to charge the biggest waves. It gives old-timers (and their knees) an extra ten years of skiing. It made skiing a sexy game in the terrain park and turned skiing cool again.

But in the world of deep powder heli-skiing, is the modern ski technology always better? And are there ways to ski better and safer on the fat, rockered skis that are so much fun, but tend to go so fast?

fat ski riding

To find out, I tracked down Dave Gauley, the Assistant Manager at CMH Cariboos and a former ski pro famous for making smooth, casual turns on outrageously steep lines. Here’s what he had to say:

“Fat skis are a bit of a double edged sword, especially for the beginner to intermediate skier. They make it easier to float through almost all snow conditions  - except for a few. Most notably in Heli-Skiing is the snow you run into when several lines converge to a shared pickup. Hard packed,  bumps, chopped up snow, etc. You are cruising along easily in the pow... then whabam! It's suddenly a bit of an epic to control those big skis in the chop. Strained knees, back etc. are possible if you’re not ready for it.

“This kind of snow on fat skis requires a different approach. What I do is when I see a section like that coming up, is to realize the run is over and I just eat up the vertical by skiing slow with big round turns.

"The other problem with fat skis is the increased speed they generate. Skinnier skis sink more, so the snow pushing off your body slows you down. Not so with the fats.

“For beginner powder skiers, you need to vary the shape of your turn to keep your speed managable. To slow down, let your skis come around a bit more in the turns and come up with a way to dump speed if need be. I use a scrub technique of a quickly throwing the skis sideways like a partial hockey stop to loose a lot of speed quickly - not always easy in the trees. Try to anticipate, and always looking ahead will really help out. Many times in the trees I will straight line sections to get to an open area where i can then dump some speed.

"Another consideration is the weight of these new skis. A pair of K2 Pontoons is pretty darn heavy, probably almost twice the weight of a pair of the Heli Daddy's we were using ten years ago. Combine that with the increased speed, you have quite a bit of potential torque on the knees.

"Overall, you can't just saddle up and rock a pair of fatties. A completely different approach, and set of eyes for the terrain is required to do it effectively."

fat ski technique

For another perspective on the double-edged sword of fat skis, I talked with Lyle Grisedale, the shop tech at CMH Revelstoke. Lyle had this to add:

Fat Skis - I have mixed views on the really big fat skis especially for weaker skiers. They are an asset for weaker skiers in that they are not as deep in the snow and can be turned more easily. On the other hand, when you are not so deep in the snow you also go faster - not good for a weak skier on a steep tree run. Because of the speed, these skiers have to work the ski harder in order to slow down, which is tiring.

If guests are struggling on the fat skis, I often take them off of the fat guys and put them back onto the Heli Daddys or another mid-fat, which are easy to turn and easier to control speed. On big wide open slopes and glaciers, the big fats are fun to rip on, doing fast big turns with little effort involved to turn them.

Rockered Skis - I am not a fan of rockers for weaker skiers. Sure they make skiing easier, but for weaker skiers the rocker causes them to be back on their heels, which is hard on the quads. Also, for skiers who learned to ski 20 or 30 years ago ( a majority of our guests) they where taught to use tip pressure and other skills, and it is really hard to get any tip pressure on rocker tips and this is frustrating for carvers. Technique must be adjusted to a more swivelling or smearing of the ski type of attack. This works well, but is a big adjustment for a carver.

Interestingly, when CMH moved to mid-fat skis, staff spaces decreased as the guests could stay out longer before getting tired. Last winter I found that people were getting tired because they are going too fast on the fattys and are working too hard to control speed and to turn using techniques that are not the same as the techniques that they use on groomed runs.

The people who most enjoy the big fats are the younger skiers who are stronger, fitter, and less fearful of going fast."

Lyle offered these tips to help enjoy the pleasures of a fat ski while minimizing the work and leg strain:

  • On steeper treed terrain, make lots of turns to keep speed comfortable.
  • Use a good athletic stance with the hips above the feet for quick reactions to changes in terrain and snow texture. 
  • Upper body should be facing down hill most of the time, but don’t over rotate your shoulders or hips or the fat skis will run away on you. 
  • Avoid the back seat, otherwise the skis can't be controlled and manoeuvred optimally. 
  • Equal weight on both skis with a little more pressure to the outside ski produces the best results.

For skiers of all abilities who want to improve and would like their CMH Heli-Ski week to include both epic amounts of powder skiing as well as customized instruction in powder skiing technique, the CMH Powder University programs offer a new-school curriculum for all types of skiers and snowboarders.

Photos of fat ski powder harvest by Topher Donahue.

Architect of CMH Lodges receives Summit of Excellence Award

  
  
  

Renowned architect and mountaineer Philippe Delesalle, the visionary behind the design of the remote CMH Heli-Skiing lodges, has been awarded the 2011 Summit of Excellence Award at this year’s Banff Mountain Festival for his architectural innovations on remote buildings in the heavy snowfall and harsh conditions of the Canadian Rockies.

Philippe emigrated from France in 1951 and took work as a lumberjack, among other jobs, before attending architecture school at McGill University in Montreal.  An interest in adventure introduced him to skiing and mountaineering, and while learning to ski and working as a lifty at Sunshine Village Ski Resort, he met Hans Gmoser, the founder of CMH Heli-Skiing.  At the time, Hans was working at the remote Mt. Assiniboine Lodge, and would use the ski lifts at Sunshine to begin his 25km ski commute to work.

In 2006 I had the honor of interviewing Philippe while researching Bugaboo Dreams, the book that chronicles the invention of heliskiing.  Philippe first met Hans while working at the Sunshine ski lift.  During my interview, with misty eyes and a warm expression, Philippe recalled meeting Hans: “This tall guy, who looked like Jesus Christ with a big pack, would come out of no man’s land, ask for a lift, and then disappear back into no man’s land.”

Philippe became one of Hans’ closest friends and adventure partners, sharing epic trips to Mt. Logan in the Yukon, pioneering long-distance ski traverses in the Rockies, and countless adventures in Little Yoho and the Bow Valley near Banff.  As Hans’ heliski invention took off, he recruited Philippe to design the remote heli-skiing lodges in the Bugaboos, Cariboos, Bobbie Burns and Adamants.

cariboos ski lodge design

Philippe describes his philosophy behind his design of the CMH Heli-Skiing lodges simply as creating a place where skiers can “live above the snow, looking out at the mountains.”

Philippe also designed the Lodge at Sunshine Village, the Sapphire Col Hut near Rogers Pass, and the original remote and exposed Alpine Club of Canada huts on the Wapta Icefield.  “The most difficult site presents opportunity for the most interesting buildings.” says Philippe.  WIth such a vision, Philippe’s architectural mastery was a cornerstone in the entire epic project of remote wilderness heliskiing in Western Canada, and he has created a lasting legacy of functionality and beauty with the design of the CMH Heli-Skiing lodges.

The CMH Heli-Skiing lodges are far more than just hotels; there are no other buildings or infrastructure near the lodges, so they must be complete life support systems that can sustain dozens of people through the most violent storms imaginable and weather many decades of Canadian winters. 

For veteran CMH heliskiers, the unique look of a CMH Heli-Skiing lodge out the helicopter window on the approach is both a warm and thrilling sight.  For skiers and snowboarders new to CMH Heli-Skiing, the lodge is different than what most people would expect.  Rather than overt luxury or imitation of famous ski destination architecture, the CMH Heli-Skiing lodges are like no other buildings anywhere, and Philippe designed them that way on purpose. 

He explained, “When Hans said, ‘Build me a lodge.’ he knew I would not give him an Austrian lodge or a French lodge, but a Canadian one.”

At first glance, the rooflines of the CMH Heli-Skiing lodges appear to be overbuilt, but in fact it is an extremely successful design that Philippe introduced to Western Canada.  The roof consists of two roofs, a snow-bearing roof and an inner roof separated by a well-ventilated crawl space.  This allows the roof to hold the entire winter’s snowpack without shoveling (other than cutting off the occasional cornice that overhangs too far over the edge) because the inner roof can breathe and behave like a roof in a dry climate without ever seeing icing, condensation, or wear and tear from the outside elements.

Now 82 years old, Philippe still skis regularly with his wife Mireille near their home of the last 50 years in Canmore, Alberta.  The Summit of Excellence Award is given annually at the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival to an individual who has made significant contribution to mountain life in the Canadian Rockies.

Photo of the CMH Cariboos lodge by Topher Donahue.

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