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Clothing Choices to Keep you Skiing in All Weather (Part 3)

  
  
  

By Delia Roberts

As the snow begins to fall in earnest here at CMH Heli-Skiing our thoughts turn towards fun filled days of deep powder and the best terrain on earth. But how can you stay warm and dry while skiing or boarding all day in the wilderness? This is the third of a three part article on Clothing Choices to Keep you Skiing in All Weather (see Part 1 and Part 2), brought to you by Dr. Delia Roberts, CMH and Arc’teryx. This week we will tell you about the outer-most layer, the one that provides shelter from the wind and rain. Read on to find out how to prevent the outside from getting in,- and still let the inside (heat and moisture) get out!

Layer: Outer Layer

Issue: Nothing cools you off faster than a brisk wind, or speed whilst shredding the pow as the case may be. And when that powder is dumping down from the skies it doesn’t take long for clothing to get wet, cold and uncomfortable.

Solution: The outer layer protects you from the elements creating your own personal micro climate. Shell fabric technology allows these garments to shed water and block wind while still allowing excess moisture to escape.

CMH Choice: For dry conditions, a breathable wind shell or soft shell may be all you need. Soft shells are lightweight garments that provide warmth, breathability, and wind resistance without a lot of bulk. A soft shell can replace the traditional combination of an insulating inner layer and a waterproof-breathable outer, in all but the wettest weather (but please note that they do NOT work well as a mid-layer. The close weave that makes them wind and water resistant will not allow enough moisture to escape and you will end up cold and clammy). If you expect conditions to be more severe, a waterproof breathable membrane or laminate shell will protect you from wind and precipitation, and allow water vapor to escape. Additionally, factory applied durable water repellency (DWR) surface treatment will cause water to bead and roll off. Design features such as full seam taping will also increase water proofing, and pit zippers are essential for venting.

Arc'teryx Recommendations: Arc’teryx builds a series of Gore-tex Proshell and Gore-tex Softshell jackets. Gore-tex 3 layer fabric technology offers the most durable waterproof breathable performance available while remaining light and pliable for maximum comfort.

Arc'teryx is committed to designing and constructing ergonomically-fitted garments that enhance personal performance. Check out the Arc'teryx video links to learn more about the design team and their philosophy.

About the author: Dr. Roberts is an Exercise Physiologist who has worked with Olympic medalists, CMH Heli-Ski Guides and is currently working on injury prevention for Ski Patrols and Ski and Snowboard Instructors. Send us your training and physiology, diet and performance oriented questions or contact Dr. Delia Roberts at droberts@selkirk.ca

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Clothing Choices to Keep you Skiing in All Weather (Part 2)

  
  
  

Welcome back to CMH Heli-Skiing, Dr. Delia Roberts, and Arc’teryx three part article on Clothes for All Weather, or how to dress to stay warm and dry whatever the weather and changing conditions bring your way. In our last post on Clothing Choices to Keep you Skiing in All Weather we described some of the options available in the CMH shops for the base, or next-to-skin layer. This week, as the snow begins to accumulate up in our mountains, we’ll tell you about the Mid-layer; the one you can change around to increase or decrease the amount of insulation provided. You may find that you’ll want to own several weights of mid-layer clothing, one for those really cold days and another for warmer ones.

Layer:  Mid-layer

Issue: Cold environments rob our bodies of precious heat. Significant heat loss occurs when you’re exposed to cold air or come into direct contact with cold surfaces. The greater the temperature gradient between your warm body and the cold air/ground the greater the heat loss. The addition of moisture accelerates this process. As the base layer absorbs moisture from your skin it will quickly become soaked unless the mid-layer can pull the moisture away and pass it onward and outward.


Solution: Mid layers are designed to capture warm air and hold it around your body. In order to be most effective midlayers should also continue transporting moisture away. Insulating  fibers like polyester and wool retain the warmth generated by your body because the structure of the fibers creates small air spaces that trap molecules of warm air.

CMH Choice: Wool and synthetics are well suited to retaining the warmth generated by your body. In mountain environments synthetics have the added advantage of being quick drying and maintaining their thermal properties when wet.  Modern synthetic fleeces come in many different weights and can range from a slim fitting next to skin base layer through to large heavily insulating jackets. The beauty of layering is that you can choose the right level of insulation for your needs. Mid layer garments can also be layered on top of each other to build additional warmth for those extra cold days. It is best not to have too many layers though, as this can become restrictive.
Additional features, such as arm-pit zippers and full-length front zippers, allow venting to cool you off when you are working hard or the sun comes out, and to circulate air and help get rid of the moisture coming out of your base layer.


Arc'teryx Recommendations: Arc’teryx offers two different mid-layer weights.
F10 Covert Hoody TotemFor warmer days the Covert series features a polyester sweater knit fleece. Its high loft and high air permeability make it an excellent mid-layer and when combined with an outer shell it traps large amounts of air to achieve great thermal efficiency. When you open your vents the open structure allows the air to circulate for temperature adjustment and removal of moisture.

 



F10 Atom LT Jacket CaperOn colder days Arc’teryx suggests the Atom LT. This jacket features polyester fiberfill insulation under a snow shedding stretch woven face fabric. Breathable fleece panels through the side of the jacket allow it to work well in a layering system while wind and water resistant surface mean the jacket alone can replace the mid- and outer- layers on warm days.

What have you found to be the ultimate mid-layer while out skiing? Tell us here in the comments!

About the author: Dr. Roberts is an Exercise Physiologist who has worked with Olympic medalists, Heli-Ski Guides and is currently working on injury prevention for Ski Patrols and Ski and Snowboard Instructors.  Send us your training and physiology, diet and performance oriented questions or contact Dr. Delia Roberts at droberts@selkirk.ca

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The New CMH Guest Radio System

  
  
  

D BCGO10 0506

CMH invented heliskiing, and for the past 45 years we’ve been fine-tuning the system to make it work better for the guides and pilots, to make it more fun for the skiers and snowboarders, and to make it safer for everyone involved.

For the 2010/2011 season, one big change is that there will be five radios for each group of 11 skiers.  This increase will allow guides and skiers separated by trees or obstacles to communicate easily, making the guide’s job less stressful and the skier’s job more fun.   

Veteran heliskiers will be quick to realize that this change will allow each “ski buddy” team to have a radio.  While skiing in the trees, which we do extensively, we ski in teams of two so every skier has a ski buddy to help in case of a fall, losing gear, or getting stuck in a tree well.  Now, each ski buddy team can easily communicate with the guides.  This will make skiing more fun, because there will be no specific “radio team” always forced to stay at the back of the ski group. Instead, everyone will be part of a radio team.

It will be more important than ever for ski buddies to stay together, so in case of a delay the skier with the radio can quickly tell the guide what is happening.  Colani Bezzola, CMH Safety Manager, hopes the new system will encourage skiers to be more committed to their ski buddy.  In the past, a radio team of two skiers stayed at the back and radioed ahead to the guide if there was a delay.   Now the responsibility of staying together and communicating in case of a delay or the need for help will fall squarely on each “ski buddy” team. 

Over the past few years, when some groups arrived with their own radios, the guides realized that having more radios in the group improved communications dramatically.  This may seem like an obvious improvement to the system, but the increase in radios is not without issues.  Sometimes a guest will climb into the helicopter and sit on the push-to-talk button on their radio.  This effectively shuts down all communications on the primary channel, sometimes for the entire helicopter ride.  To manage this inevitable issue, the guides have a secondary frequency they can use that can only be accessed from the guide and pilot radios.  Colani explained that guides and pilots have become accustomed to quickly switching to the second frequency when the main channel gets locked open, so the benefits of adding radios to each group now outweigh the problems. 

The CMH guest radios will all be Motorolla CP200 radios programmed so two channels are operational.  As before, the two channels will be the direct channel, used to communicate in the same valley, and the repeater channel, directed through a repeater station on a high mountaintop, that can be used to communicate with the main lodge, helicopter, or guides in a different valley.   

The final carrying system for the radios is still under consideration, but skiers can expect either a small leash to clip the radio in while it rides in a jacket pocket, or a simple chest harness to hold the radio.

As with any element of the heliski system, there will be a benefit and a responsibility that goes with it.  Guests will need to be aware that when they are using the radio, the rest of the guides, guests, and pilot will be listening and waiting to make further communications. 

This means you should feel free to inform your guide if you are delayed while looking for a lost ski, but that there is no need to use the radio to tell your friends that you just got the most epic face shot of your life!

Photo of CMH Gothics by Topher Donahue

Clothing Choices to Keep you Skiing in All Weather (Part 1)

  
  
  

This is the first article in a series of three complied by Exercise Physiologist Dr. Delia Roberts and Carl Moriarty of Arc'teryx outlining clothing solutions to challenges presented by varying weather conditions encountered while heliskiing.

Good snow generally means colder temperatures and lots of moisture, and we certainly see an abundance of powder while heliskiing with CMH. On the other hand, you’ll be working hard and generating a fair bit of heat making all those turns. Whatever weather you find, be it cold and/or stormy or bright and sunny, you can be comfortable while in our true mountain wilderness. Just choose your clothing to create your own microclimate! Layering your clothing can allow you to retain just the right amount of heat and provide just the right amount of ventilation throughout your day. Stay warm and dry, and enjoy the amazing powder and terrain!

Layer: Next-to-Skin or Base

Issue: Damp garments draw precious heat away from your body because water is a good heat conductor. Even in conditions above freezing, this rapid heat loss can cause a dangerous drop in your body temperature. Besides, cold clammy clothing doesn’t feel very good.

Solution: The inner-most layer should transport moisture away from the skin and disperse it to the air or outer layers where it can evaporate.

F10 Rho AR Top Miro BlueCMH Choice: The best base layer materials are synthetics (polypropylene and polyester), especially if it's very cold, or you perspire heavily. These materials are light in weight, thermally efficient and have excellent wicking properties, moving moisture away from your skin. They will keep you dryer than any other type of material. Merino wool can also be a good choice. It absorbs moisture but feels dry and warm to the touch. Since this is a characteristic of the fibres themselves, repeated washings do not decrease wool's ability to keep you dry. An additional benefit is that wool doesn't absorb oils from perspiration, so it won't host odor-producing bacteria. The design features of your base layer are important to avoid skin chafing. Gussets and stretch fabrics allow for ease of movement. Seamless or flat-seam garments lie flat and won't rub your skin. Fit is also important, the garment should fit snuggly without constriction. Tops should be long enough to tuck in, or not ride up when bending over.

Arc'teryx Recommendations: Arc’teryx offers a base layer choice that meet these requirements in CMH's retail shops. The Rho AR (see photo) is a  polyester knit with high levels of spandex to ensure a snug fit and unrestricted mobility.

Dr. Roberts is an Exercise Physiologist who has worked with Olympic medalists, Heli-Ski Guides and is currently working on injury prevention for Ski Patrols and Ski and Snowboard Instructors.  Send us your training and physiology, diet and performance oriented questions or contact Dr. Delia Roberts at droberts@selkirk.ca

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Rocker Ski Technology: Changing the Heli-Ski Experience

  
  
  

Rocker Technology changing heli-skiing

Aaron Ambuske, VP Global Product Development for K2 Skis, gave CMH the skinny on how adding rocker to skis has pushed skiing forward.

Rocker technology has changed the skiing experience in powder forever. 
The concept of rocker on skis was first explained to me by Shane McConkey.  In his typical passionate tone, he explained that skiing powder is more similar to traveling through fluid.  Surfboards have had rocker for years, since they are designed for water.  He continued to explain how traditional camber skis do the opposite of what a powder skier wants.  Camber pushes the tips into the snow and forces a skier to sit back to get the tips to rise out of the snow.  This all made sense to me during that first fateful conversation with Shane, and it became more apparent as we began testing prototypes with rocker over five years ago.

Through our testing and development of hundreds of skis with rocker, the benefits of rocker have become very clear to all of us at K2.  Rocker lifts the tips out of the snow, so a skier does not need to lean back to feel balanced on skis in powder.  Since the tips have a natural curvature up, the fluid snow (powder) contacts the base of the skis and forces the tips upward.  The skis want to rise out of the snow.  With the tips out of the snow and the skier in a balanced position, it is so much easier to turn the skis back and forth to reduce your speed or change directions.  Skiers make turns more by pivoting than driving the tips into the turn.  This gives a powder skier much more confidence and security on a powder slope. 

During our week of testing at CMH Monashees last year, we introduced many skiers to the benefits of rocker.  We had 35 pairs of prototype skis, and they all had rocker.  Most of our skis were wider than the traditional powder skis in the CMH fleet.  The wider widths and rocker scared away many of the traditional skiers during the first day of testing, but it was amazing to see the light bulbs go on as people witnessed the testers skiing with more ease and control in the soft and variable conditions.  By the second and third days, we were having a hard time getting everyone on the widest skis with the most rocker, since they were in such high demand.  Guides were constantly commenting that the prototypes were allowing the groups to stay out longer.  In the evening, we’d sit with the testers and debrief their skis from the day and recommend skis to test for the next day.  It was very rewarding as a ski designer to hear the positive feedback about the prototypes.  It was unanimous that the skis with rocker were easier to ski and people were gaining more confidence every day.  The guides’ feedback was also rewarding.  As everyone knows, they are amazing skiers and were elevating their skiing and speeds to higher levels with the rockered skis.

 

Aaron Ambuske, VP Global Product Development, started as a Ski Design Engineer at K2 Skis 12 years ago.  Before K2, he developed products for Life Link Int’l.  Aaron feels fortunate to be in a position where he can combine his passion for skiing with his technical background to bring innovative products to market.



Evolution of the CMH Million Foot Suit

  
  
  

by Bob Krysak, Manager, CMH Retail Services

CMH Million Foot Suit, circa 2010CMH has guests from all over the world, some that ski multiple times in a season and many who have been skiing with CMH for over 30 years. When you reach 1 million vertical feet of skiing/riding, which some have done in one season and others in 8-10, you are awarded a two piece suit made by Arcteryx (see photo to the right). There is a bottle of champagne shared by the recipients group, and there is a pin and certificate commemorating the achievement.

On average, 250-350 suits are given out each year, and there are 3,800 guests who have from 1 million to 20 million vertical feet. In some weeks in a lodge there will be 11-12 suits awarded in high season. So we make sure we are well stocked with champagne!

The idea of giving something to commemorate the million foot achievement came in early 1971-1972 from Chip Fisher who was at the time the manager of Head Ski Canada. His suggestion was an elegant blazer. We had some blazers made and awarded a few, but found that proper sizing and fit were a problem and people did not find them particularly useful.

When Andre Noel took over from Chip (1974) he suggested we do a ski jacket. This was made by HCC (Henri Charles Colsonet) from Geneva. The jacket had a “diaper” that would go under the crotch to keep the snow from coming up inside the jacket. This soon evolved into the first powder suit.

Since the early beginnings of the suit from HCC we have had suits from Far West, Ditrani (see image below), Bogner, Marmot and now Arcteryx.

Reb Forte and Paul Dubinski receive thier Million Foot suit on the same day in April 1987 at the Bobbie Burns LodgeThe suit is a badge of honor, and in many cases a conversation opener. Many times I have been in an airport or at a ski resort and have seen someone wearing the suit. It opens up the chance to ask if the skier/rider has been to CMH, and great stories and memories are shared. Today we have some guests that are in their 80’s who still come skiing with us and still have the sparkle in their eyes as they recount the many runs shared with family and friends.

 

As Hans Gmoser, founder of CMH said:

“A person should have wings to carry them where their dreams go, but sometimes a pair of skis makes a good substitute”

I hope you have a chance to realize your dreams at one of our Lodges.  And if you already have, we'd love it if you'd share your story here!

Photos:

Neos AR - the CMH Million Foot Suit jacket, circa 2010

CMH Heli-Ski guests Paul Dudzinski and Reb Forte receive their Million Foot suits together at the Bobbie Burns Lodge, April 13, 1987.  Photo by Mark Dudzinski supplied by Reb Forte.

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The Evolution of the Heli-Ski

  
  
  

by Mike Gutt, K2 Skis

CMH Heli-Skiing and K2 Skis

K2 Skis recently teamed up with CMH Heli-Skiing for a unique partnership opportunity.  CMH approached K2 about supporting a Test/Demo week at one of their most famous lodges: The Monashees.  This trip gave the CMH guests an exclusive chance to partake in K2’s testing and development process and the opportunity to ride prototypes of future products.  This was a rare opportunity for our crew too, being able to test and develop products with the consumers.

On departure day, the K2 crew threw 36 pairs of test/prototype skis and our personal gear into the back up a full sized pickup truck and headed north from Seattle.  We were all pretty stoked on the opportunity to test fat skis in ideal conditions and fortunately for us, a storm rolled in and laid down a fresh blanket of boot deep snow just before we arrived and the Monashee Lodge.  Our K2 crew arrived early and had a chance to interact with some of the guests as we were unloading and organizing skis.  Most of our test skis were wider than 100 mm under foot and all incorporated some type of rocker variations where the skis have a curvature similar to water skis that allows them to plane up on the snow. We quickly realized that our test skis looked odd in terms of width and rocker so were somewhat intimidating at first glance.  But, that was all about to change!  

We broke up in 3 groups for the first day with at least one guide and one K2 employee included in each group.  Our K2 crew took some Pontoon prototypes out for the first day of skiing in the trees and after a few runs you could almost see the light bulbs turning on in the guests heads.  The skis we were on floated, turned easily and most importantly made it look like we we having tons of fun (which we were).  At the end of the first day we decided to get people set up with demo skis for the second day (as we did on the first day) and the only skis that were in the racks when we left for day two were skis narrower than 100 mm and with minimal amounts of rocker.  What a difference a day makes.  From that point on it was a struggle to find skis that were wide enough or had enough rocker to keep the guests happy.  It became a logistical challenge on our end to make sure everyone had a chance to ski on all the different types of skis that we brought up.

For 2010-2011 K2 is going 100% rocker in our entire line of skis and this test at CMH further reinforced our decision.  We are convinced that Rocker Technology will be the next biggest innovation to revolutionize the ski industry, making skiing easier and more fun.  All of our skis incorporate a combination of rocker and camber that we call Baseline Technology. Where camber supplies edge hold, control and rebound, rocker provides a greater degree of versatility, easier turn initiation and an increased sweet spot.  Certain skis require more or less of each and focusing on a ski’s Baseline determines who it is for and where it is designed to go, making it easier to design skis for all skier ability levels and snow conditions.  So come check out the K2 rockered skis at the CMH demo shop this winter and experience for yourself how much more fun skiing can be.

CMH is excited to be a part of the development of what we believe will be the next great innovation in deep snow skiing.  We helped to pioneer the way with the early “Fat Skis” and we believe that this next wave of ski technology will be as revolutionary as the last. Book your 2011 Heli-Ski trip with CMH to get in on the action!  And remember, those who book before May 1, 2010 SAVE!

Telemark heli-skiing - What's it take?

  
  
  

Last spring, while heli-skiing at CMH Adamants, Scott Steinbrecher dropped his knee into a telemark turn for 8000-meter-day after 8000-meter-day.  We giggled and ripped down everything from effortless corn to burly powder and he nearly sunburned his teeth from grinning.  I began to wonder if the free-heel heli-tele experience was much different than the heavy metal alpine heli-skiing experience, so I asked Scott a few questions:

TD: How good do you need to be on telemark skis to keep up with the heli-ski program?
    
SS: That depends on who you want to ski with. If you plan to heli-ski with a group of friends or family, you only need to be as good as they are.  For example, I skied in the same group as my wife and my parents.  I ski with them all the time in varying conditions and know that I can keep up with them.  Obviously, telemarking in deep powder wore me out more than skiing at the resort, but it wore out my wife and parents just as much! 

If you don’t already know whom you’ll ski with, then you should think about whether you would be comfortable pushing yourself to keep up with alpine skiers in changing and often challenging conditions.  You might ask yourself whether would you accept an invitation to telemark with a group of strangers on alpine skis at a resort. 

  • If you would accept the invitation without hesitation, then you can probably telemark with CMH. 
  • If you would hesitate to accept the invitation, then you should think twice about whether you’re prepared to telemark with CMH.

TD: Are there any issues with tele equipment for heli-skiing?

SS:

  • Leashes:  Ask the head guide at your lodge whether you should use leashes.  Sometimes it might be best to use them to avoid losing a ski in the middle of nowhere.  Remember that neither the helicopter nor the shop will have a replacement for you.  Other times the guides will prefer that you don’t have your skis tied to your feet if you are caught in an avalanche.  Always defer to the resident-expert.
  • Bindings:  Because the lodge won’t have spare parts for your bindings, consider bringing them.  Most binding manufacturers now produce backcountry repair kits.  Take at least one kit with you to the lodge.  If you’re a die-hard and can’t imagine sitting out an afternoon with a broken binding, take a repair kit and tools with you skiing each day.
  • Knee pads:  You’ll praise them when your skis are banging against your knees in the deep powder and when you’re kneeling waiting for the chopper.

TD: You used both downhill and telemark equipment in the Adamants, right?  When did you choose one over the other?
    
SS: Yeah, I used alpine skis and telemark skis.  Obviously, I brought two pairs of boots—alpine and telemark.  I brought both for two reasons. 

  • First, I brought alpine boots in case I lost a telemark ski or broke a binding beyond repair.  I didn’t want to be stuck in the lodge for a week without being able to ski. 
  • Second, I wasn’t sure if I could telemark in four feet of powder for seven days straight.  I was right.
As a group, my family and I ski a lot and keep a pretty good pace.  We ended up the fast group and skied every day from the first lift until they made us go home.  During the first three days we skied about 65,000 vertical feet.  My legs were exhausted.  I skied on alpine skis on day four, telemark skis on days five and six and alpine skis again on seven.  It was the perfect balance for me.  A couple days of alpine skiing gave my legs the rest they needed.

TD: What is your telemark/downhill experience?

SS:  I grew up in Colorado and started skiing around four years old, and was racing by eight.  I raced in USSA and FIS sanctioned races through high school and raced in college.  I coached alpine ski racing for a year.  I skied at least four days a week from opening day to closing day for about a decade.  I had been to CMH twice before and skied alpine both times.

TD: That's years on skis with your heel locked down, but how much did you telemark before taking the heli-lift?

SS: I started telemarking after I moved to the city and became a desk-jockey.  I telemarked full-time for about a season and a half before I decided to telemark at CMH. 

TD: Any other suggestions for telemark skiers interested in their first time heli-skiing?

SS: Go for it!  At least one day at CMH will be the best skiing you’ll ever have!  

Photo by Topher Donahue/www.alpinecreative.com

8 tricks to keep your goggles clean while heli-skiing

  
  
  

 Just returned from the CMH Gothics (my favorite photo from the week here) where we had a bit of everything: deep powder and clouds in the trees with sun in the alpine - and I picked up a few good tricks for keeping my goggles clean.

  • Dress down to avoid overheating.  If you’re sweating like a powder pig, your goggles will fog up.  Take off your hat, unzip your jacket, take off a sweater and put it in your guest pack before you start sweating.
  • Keep your goggles on your face.  If you push them up onto your hat or helmet, the snow and moisture there combined with the temperature change will cause instant condensation on the lenses.  Often they will fog up somewhat while you are in the warmth of the helicopter, but after you get out and the helicopter takes off, the wind from the rotors will blow them clear again.  
  • If your goggles are fogged to the point you cannot see through them, or snowy from a crash, take a seat next to the window and hold them over the heater outflow ducts located near the floor behind the front seats of the helicopter.  A couple of minutes there will clean even the most ice-encrusted goggles.
  • While looking down to put on your skis or board, make sure your mouth and nose are uncovered.  If your face is in your jacket collar or a mask, looking down will direct your steamy breath directly into your goggles – fogging them instantly.  Unzip your collar for a moment, or push down your facemask while you strap on your board or step into your skis.  
  • Buy bigger goggles.  They don’t look as stylish as little streamlined rigs, but having more space between your face and the lenses prevents them from steaming up.  You’ll notice all the ski guides wear big dorky-looking goggles and never have problems with foggy lenses.  
  • Buy goggles with double lenses and without vent holes in the front lens.  The vent holes work in drier conditions, but in the deep powder and plentiful face shots of the Columbia Mountains where we heli-ski, the vent holes allow moisture to get between the lenses.  
  • If you still have fogging problems after trying all of the above tricks, goggles with a battery-powered fan will be the solution.  Like a defroster in a car, the fan will keep your goggles clean.  Skiers who wear prescription glasses under their goggles often find this is the only way to maintain clear vision.  
  • Backup glasses.  It’s easy to stick a pair of sunglasses in your pocket.  Then if you have issues with your goggles, you can just put on your sunglasses and keep skiing until you are in the helicopter and have a chance to properly clean and dry your goggles. 
Do you have any other tips for better vision or for keeping your goggles clean while skiing?  Post it here!

Staying Warm and Skiing: Wisdom from a Himalayan Veteran

  
  
  


Cold.  It’s part of the game we play.  Few sports happen in as frigid environments as skiing and mountaineering.  Sure, you can always go to your nearest outdoor store and buy a warmer jacket – until you’re out there.  Dr. John E. Sohl wrote, "Both physics and physiology determine how our body temperature varies. But, when the going gets tough, physiology loses and physics wins."

Skiers are good, but mountaineers are masters, at staying warm, so for a bit of advice on the subject I tracked down Phil Powers, Executive Director of the American Alpine Club, owner of Jackson Hole Mountain Guides, and a cold weather veteran who’s stood on frosty summits from K2 to Denali. 

Twenty years ago, while climbing in Colorado, Phil and I had a conversation about epics in the high Himalaya, like unplanned bivouacs above 7000 meters in the so-called “death-zone”.  His observation was that the older climbers often return from these epics in better condition than the youngsters because of the little things they do to stay warm.  So I finally got around to asking him what he meant.  Here’s what he had to say: 


"Most important: stay warm in the first place. It is much harder to get warm again, than it is to prevent the cold from getting to you.
 
To that end, I am ultra-reactive to changes in body temperature or energy output. If I stop moving, I put a coat or a hat or hood on immediately. In fact, it's kind of funny, I am often the one sitting around here at work with a coat on because I just can't stand even the smallest chill. People talk to me all the time about getting cold outside on trips. I hardly ever remember being cold because I always did something about it before the cold set in.

"Adjusting to energy output goes the other way too, you simply have to take clothing off, or at least unzip and vent, before you begin to sweat so that you don't have a bunch of damp clothing that chills you when you stop.  This is essential.



"Something that I don't think people realize is how much heat you lose through conduction into the snow or rock. I always pay a lot of attention to the parts of my body that touch cold surfaces. Your coat and hat keep heat from radiating away, but the snow or rock you are standing, sitting, laying or leaning on can suck the heat right out of you. I always put little pads of foam between my crampons and boots for this reason.  Whenever possible, I put a pack or rope between me and the rock or snow when I’m sitting down.



"Little things make a lot of difference. Moving slow at altitude on mountains like Denalit or K2, I remember that while I rested between steps, I made sure to take my weight completely off my uphill foot so that the blood could get in there easily. Then I'd wiggle those toes until it was time to move again. On the standing leg I often curl my toes, pulling the arch of my foot off the bottom of my boot to reduce that contact with a cold footbed on the snow. (The same advice applies to standing on skis.)



"Looser clothing, especially on the feet and hands, allows for better circulation and warmth. Don't stuff extra socks into tight boots, it just constricts and keeps the blood flow out of your foot.



"Then there is the obvious stuff: hats and neck warmers go a long way because of the amount of blood circulating to your face and brain. I am a huge fan of hoods." 

Phil concludes, "I still have all ten fingers and toes so it seemed to work for me."

CMH heli-skiers have the powerful tool of the helicopter to take them to warm food and a comfortable lodge when it gets too gnarly, but the heart of Canadian winter is nothing to take lightly, even with a Bell 212 at your service.  


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