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Heli-Ski Happiness

  
  
  

“I’ve got nothing to do today but smile.”
-Paul Simon

With over 40,000 photographs of CMH Heli-Skiing taken over the last decade in my archive, I find the ones that stand out most are not necessarily the images of face-shot powder, steep lines, and endless mountain vistas, but rather the ones that show the unabashed happiness of people getting to experience one of life’s ultimate pleasures.

With a year coming to a close, and a new one on deck, I thought it a good time to share some of those moments:

lindsay ski guidesnow beardsnow smileadamants happinesshappy ridersfamily heliskiing

Like the look of this kind of happiness, but have never been Heli-Skiing? CMH is the best place to try Heli-Skiing for the first time. In fact, CMH has probably hosted more first time Heli-Skiers than the rest of the Heli-Ski industry combined. From our Powder 101 program, to our guides who are experts in taking riders into the deep powder for the first time, to our vast terrain with endless options for beginners and experts alike. Make 2014 your year to try Heli-Skiing!

Ex-racer, newbie Heli-Skier, joins CMH to share the stoke

  
  
  

CMH Heli-Skiing is a team and family that includes the guests and guides, staff and support, first timers and veterans. Liz Richardson, the Guest Services Coordinator at CMH Revelstoke and a newcomer to the CMH family has been learning what CMH is all about. She shared her perspective on Heli-Skiing after spending a day out with the guides during the making of the early season Revelstoke video. With a wide-open beginner’s mind (although she’s no beginner on skis) she has an incredible perspective on snow riding, the powder paradise of Revelstoke, and CMH Heli-Skiing.

TD: I hear you’ve spent some time running gates and skiing around the world. Can you fill me in on your ski career?

LR: Yes, I was a ski racer, way back now. I grew up skiing and racing in Panorama BC, which is well-known for long groomers and generally hard icy snow.  A great place to become a well-established racer but a long way from the deep powder Revelstoke is known for. I competed up until 2002 with the BC Team and the Canadian National Team.

After ending my race career and finishing my degree, I drove from B.C. to Panama and fell in love with surfing, eventually spending six years in New Zealand where I surfed everyday there was a wave. The Deep South of NZ captivated me. The cold, raw surfing was one of the only challenges in my life that rivaled skiing; it filled the void for a continuous challenge and adrenaline that was left when I quit ski racing. I moved to Revelstoke for friends and family – and because the skiing is amazing. Things naturally fell into place, and I ended up as the Guest Services Coordinator with CMH Revelstoke.

TD: Can you share a little on your philosophy on life and skiing after so much racing and travel?

LR: My philosophy is to take time to do what you love with who you love.  To fully embrace life you must embrace every bit of it.  Ups and downs all have their place, feel it all and roll with the terrain, trust your instincts and act on those instincts.

TD: What was it like, your first time out with the CMH guides?

LR: Within my first month back in Canada, after 7 years away from skiing, I find myself heli-skiing with three CMH guides and a cinematographer....it was surreal. (Read more on the day with the cinematographer.) They took me through the beacon safety training, etc., but it wasn't until I was sitting down and the helicopter fired up that I became overwhelmed with excitement. I was rubbing my hands together like a greedy thief who had just come across a stash of gold. Although I felt a bit of trepidation about how my legs would hold out and where we were going, the guides immediately made me feel at home and well taken care of. 

first time heliskier

The guides are such a great gang to hang out with, always up for a laugh and each and everyone is a genuine character.  Then you witness them out in the field and they become so focused.  The level of comfort and knowledge they have is exceptional and it was privilege to see them in action setting up for the season.

TD: Did you quickly feel like part of the team, or does it take more time to fit in with such a group?

LR: One thing that is so unique about the CMH Heli-Skiing experience is how quickly a bond of trust and friendship is formed with the guides and group you are skiing with. I think it is rare to form this sort of relationship so quickly with people. Even though this is daily life for the guides they were genuinely stoked to get me up in the mountains and share that experience. This bond is something that our long time CMH guests understand and a big reason why they return. This bond is something new guests are not expecting and something that cannot be fully understood without coming here.

TD: How did your first day of Heli-Skiing change your view of what CMH is all about?

LR: One thing that I was well aware of before coming to work with CMH is their history and reputation of being one of the biggest and best heli-ski companies in the world. My view of CMH has not changed but has been confirmed and strengthened. This is one of the most comprehensive, safety-focused and passionate companies in the business. And it is obvious.  A prominent theme among the CMH guides is their loyalty to their guests. I have heard so many great things about the CMH guests in the pre-season meetings and set ups that I can't wait to meet them. It is obvious that the guests are the key reason why CMH takes so much pride in the business and why CMH employees are so dedicated to the CMH experience.

TD: How do you think the riding around Revelstoke compares to other places you've been?

LR: I grew up on ski hills around the Kootenays. To me the epic snow, mountain atmosphere and endless terrain is just normal.  It wasn't until I travelled around the world with ski racing and my other travels that I realized what we have here in the Kootenays. Revelstoke has developed into the symbolic heart of this culture. My brother, from nearby Nelson, reassured me that I would meet so many solid people and wouldn't regret the decision of moving here (I may have been a bit hesitant to leave the waves so needed some encouragement). My brother was bang on. 

In regards to the skiing, Revelstoke really has it all.  It is accessible, abundant and diverse. As one of my good friends quoted my first day skiing, "Revelstoke is not a lazy man's mountain" and she was right.  The Revelstoke terrain in general is steep, deep and makes you work. The skiing here can be as challenging as you make it, which is why I think you find such a concentration of accomplished riders here. It allows these skiers to take on the next challenge with a network of people around them who they can trust.

TD: As Guest Services Coordinator, what is your goal for this winter?

LR: I am so excited to be taking on the GSC position with CMH Revelstoke! I can't wait to meet our guests! I have several main goals for this winter:

First, listen and learn.

Second, assist the guests and CMH team with anything they may require. Erin Fiddick, the last RE Guest Services Coordinator, is a real gem.  She formed strong relationships with many CMH guests and put her heart into the position. I intend to do her justice by working to strengthen these relationships and continue her momentum.

Third, I hope to enhance the Revelstoke guest experience by providing them a direct link between CMH, their travels and other external factors. Our guests come from near and far to reach us here in Revelstoke. There are many unexpected things that can pop up. My job is to identify and manage these things so our guests can focus on what they came to do: ride.

Finally, I hope to take a page out of our guest’s book: have tons of fun, ski and enjoy life in Revelstoke and with CMH!

Meet Liz in Revelstoke and join the CMH family this winter by calling 1-(800) 661-0252 and find out why CMH is the first choice among veteran and first time Heli-Skiers.

Photo of Liz Richardson ripping it up on her first day Heli-Skiing by CMH guide Kevin Boekholt.

A filmmaker's take on working with CMH Revelstoke Guides

  
  
  

When CMH Heli-Skiiing wanted to capture the excitement of the Revelstoke ski guide’s first foray into their Heli-Ski terrain this season, they hired Adam Greenberg, a backcountry skier and filmmaker based in Canmore, Alberta to create this short on the excitement of early season Heli-Skiing:

After watching his short (which I must say cranked up my psyche for winter!) I caught up with Adam to learn about his experience working with the CMH guides and shooting CMH Heli-Skiing for his first time Heli-Skiing. Here’s what he had to say:

TD: How was it being out with the CMH guides?

AG: I have previously made films about the slowness and beauty of ski touring, and I was a little apprehensive about what I perceived to be a somewhat less intimate way to experience the backcountry. I couldn't have been more wrong about that point; the guide’s knowledge of the terrain is incredible, and it's clear they have a strong relationship with the landscape. Their comfort and total happiness moving through the terrain was contagious, and gave me a chance to relax and appreciate it.

TD: As a filmmaker, what inspired the story you tell in this short film?

AG: What I admire most about the staff and guides at CMH is their ability to share those emotions and make you feel truly among friends. This quality helped transform my workday into a day out shredding with my buddies; though of course skiing with a big pack filled with camera gear always feels like work to some degree. As I saw it more and more, the guide’s honest elation at being out in the mountains and total love of the work they do became the focal point of my filming, and formed the visual story of the short.

TD: Can you tell me about any of the unique challenges of shooting in that environment?

AG: One of the biggest challenges of shooting in the mountain environment in the winter is managing moisture. A wet snowy day paired with sensitive electronics can be an absolute nightmare. Thankfully, we had a beautiful day to shoot, and the combination of sun and cold temperatures sucked all the moisture out of the snow (Not bad for ski quality either!). After several years hauling all my gear up peaks on my back, having the helicopter was a welcome change that let me focus on composing shots instead of wondering how long my knees will last.

Earlier, Adam made a compelling visual tour of CMH behind-the scenes during lodge setup for the winter season. Check out Adam’s website for more if his diverse work, and contact CMH Heli-Skiing at 1 (800) 661-0252 to spend some time with the inspired guides of CMH Heli-Skiing.

The ACMG, CMH and 50 years of Canadian guiding

  
  
  

In July of 1913, exactly 100 years ago this past July, Conrad Kain guided two guests, Albert McCarthy and William Foster, on the first ascent of Mt. Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies.

Kain wrote in his book, Where the Clouds Can Go, in his typically dry prose, an account of the ascent. In describing their summit push, he reveals much about the profession of guiding - the effort, the judgment, the human element, and about safely venturing into the unknown:

“About 3:45 I lit a fire, cooked breakfast, and at 4:30 we set out, reaching the summit of Mt. Robson ‘King of the Rockies’ about 5:30 p.m. I was half snowblind. I cut 500-600 steps in sheer ice, often breaking in above the knees in soft fresh snow. It was a hard day for me, but I reached the goal and made the real first ascent.”

Later, Kain describes his decision-making:

“The descent was very dangerous, and I would not undertake to follow the route of ascent going down. So we descended to the southwest side."

Today, Kain's ascent of Mt. Robson is revered worldwide by mountain guides aspiring to lead their guests safely through the ultimate mountain experience.

50 years after Kain's ground-breaking ascent, another phenomenon of mountain adventure was underway. This time it was not a singular summit, but rather an awakening; the realization of the quality of skiing to be found in Western Canada.

An Austrian guide named Hans Gmoser, who had immigrated to Canada to escape the deprivation of post-war Europe, was leading ski tours each spring and shooting films of the cozy huts, deep snow, long runs and camaraderie of backcountry skiing. During the off season, he took his films on tour through Europe and the United States, opening the eyes of skiers across the globe to the wonders of Canadian skiing.

Skiers by the dozens joined Hans, and the combination of Hans’ personality and the mountains and snow where they skied, proved irresistible.  One guest summed it up perfectly:

“Hans, when I skied with you, I not only learned how to ski powder, I learned to live. It was a precious gift; I have treasured it constantly since. Thank you, thank you more than I can express.”

The growing popularity of mountain sport, partly fueled by Gmoser’s inspiration, demanded that guiding standards were developed. So, in 1963, the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides (ACMG) was formed in collaboration with Parks Canada, with Gmoser as the ACMG’s first technical director.

The same year, Hans began experimenting with Heli-Skiing, and by 1965 had taken the concept into the promised land of helicopter-accessed snow riding, the Columbia Mountains, and founded CMH Heli-Skiing. The remote peaks, deep snow, and ideal ski terrain afforded meteoric rise to the popularity of Heli-Skiing. By the late 60s, without enough Canadian guides to handle the burgeoning popularity of the sport, Hans was actively recruiting European guides to work with him Heli-Skiing in Canada. There was no program for teaching Canadians the skills needed for mountain guiding, so in 1966 the ACMG ran their first guide training, with Hans as the instructor.

Two Swiss guides who worked with Hans, Rudi Gertsch and Hans Peter “HP” Stettler, began laying the groundwork to include Canada in the International Federation of Mountain Guide Associations (IFMGA).

50 years of the ACMG

Photo of some of Canada's guiding forefathers in the Bugaboos in 2005 to celebrate 40 years of CMH Heli-Skiing. From left: Rudi Gertsch, Hans Gmoser, Hans Peter "HP" Stettler, Kobi Wyss, Peter Schlunegger, Hermann Frank, Lloyd "Kiwi" Gallagher, Sepp Renner, Ernst Buehler, Leo Grillmair and Bob Geber. Photo by Topher Donahue.

In Seizing the Sharp End: 50 years of the ACMG, the 17th edition of The Summit Series books written by Lynn Martel and published by the Alpine Club of Canada, Stettler is quoted saying: “Canada was always very well accepted. We had something to offer that nobody else had, which was Heli-Skiing. It was a lot of work, but I always felt that Canada was important enough of a mountain country with a mountain guiding fraternity to be part of that (IFMGA).”

In the book's introduction, Peter Tucker, the Executive Director of the ACMG, sums up the philosophy of Canadian mountain guides: "But above all, the story of the ACMG is about its relationship with the public and the unrelenting commitment of its members to keeping (guests) safe while providing them with the adventure of their lives, a commitment that is carried out with an impossible-to-describe balance of bravura, humility and wisdom. A promise that is, indeed, the keystone thread throughout the tapestry of this organization."

In 1974, Canada officially became the first non-European country to be accepted into the IFMGA, setting the stage for other countries across the globe to become part of the organization.

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the ACMG, and nearly half a century of the world’s greatest skiing, and celebrations include an exhibition at Banff's Whyte Museum titled Pinnacle Perspectives: Celebrating the ACMG 50th Anniversary. One of the biggest reasons to celebrate this anniversary is in recognition of how the IFMGA and its affiliated associations, including the ACMG, have built the guiding profession to exemplify international cooperation and trust in a way that very few professions have ever achieved.

Roko Koell, a long-time CMH Heli-Skiing guide told me once that he thought Hans Gmoser deserved a Nobel Peace Prize for the way he helped the guides and guests from different cultures enjoy the mountains together in seamless harmony. Hans however, whose warm humility in his later years would have never wanted exclusive recognition, would likely suggest that the deserving party for a Nobel Peace Prize would be the IFMGA.

So tonight, when you’re daydreaming about enjoying the deep snow in the Columbias with the security of a mountain guide on your team, pour a toast to Hans, 50 years of the ACMG and the international cooperation of the guiding profession.

ShredFX: The forecast for Canadian powder

  
  
  

Starting this winter, Western Canada has a weather forecasting website designed specifically for skiers and snowboarders. It is called ShredFX, and it delivers snow and weather forecasts for the region’s ski areas – forecasts that take into consideration the unique weather patterns of individual ski areas and the idiosyncrasies of the mountains themselves.

We can now make a call as to where to ride if we’re looking for pow with just a quick glance at ShredFX. Even the colour legend suggests it was built from the ground up with powder hounds in mind:

  • Lots of Rain
  • Lots of Rain and Snow Mixed
  • Some Snow
  • Oodles of Snow
  • Champagne (I don’t think they’re talking about the bubbly drink.)
  • Oodles of Champagne

A partial screenshot from ShredFX looks something like this:

describe the image

Looking more closely, ShredFX gives us forecasted precipitation amounts for each of 27 different ski resorts over the next four days. Why only four days? Because mountain weather is so difficult to predict that four days is about as far in the future as a mountain weather can be forecasted. For that matter, 2 days is about as far ahead as we can expect highly accurate mountain forecasts.

Yup, I think ShredFX was designed by people who play in the snow. Indeed, it is a service provided by the Mountain Weather Services, the same resource that provides avalanche professionals (including CMH Heli-Skiing), heli and cat skiing guides, and the movie industry with subscription-based weather forecasts designed for professional users.

With a tagline of “only the gods know better” ShredFX must be pretty sure they are providing an entirely new forecasting product, and I'd agree. A CMH Ski Guide once told me that the Mountain Weather Services forecasts were the first forecasts to have any real usefulness for ski guides in Canada – and up until now these pinpoint mountain forecasts were the exclusive domain of snow professionals.

powder snow

The ShredFX forecasts are broken down the 3 main regions of western Canada - the Coast, Interior, and the Rockies. Along with the precipitation forecasts are two weather maps: a satellite view of precipitation and an atmospheric pressure map.

While the mountain weather forecasting has gotten better every year, until very recently there has been little done specifically for skiers and snowboarders aside from truly excellent avalanche forecasting services - and avalanche forecasting has a fundamentally different mission than powder forecasting. A few years ago, Joel Gratz, a meteorologist from Colorado started the Colorado Powder Forecast, combining the automated weather forecasts with location-specific climate and terrain knowledge as well as powder-centric weather pattern modeling. The snow riding community was ravenous for such a resource, and Gratz went national, changing the name to Open Snow which now has over 15 million monthly hits.

The significance of sites like ShredFX and Open Snow is enormous. What it means is that the information that was once only available to professional groups with paid subscriptions - and vast experience in intrepreting weather data - is now being made available for free to the public.

It means that recreational users of the backcountry now have one more tool in their toolbag for making decisions, but as with other decision-making tools, we can use them to make good decisions as well as bad decisions. It is for this reason that the Mountin Weather Services backcountry forecasts remain the domain of professionals and are not made public by ShredFX. There is a lot of wisdom in their explanation of why they don’t publish backcountry forecasts:

“The ShredFX, like all public and freely available forecasts, is not suited for applications where adverse weather can get you into trouble. MWS does not encourage backcountry winter travel without thorough and detailed knowledge of avalanche and weather conditions that go well beyond the information contained in the ShredFX. Professional guides certified by organizations like the ACMG, IFMGA and CAA have the knowledge to interpret weather information on a professional level and often retain services by professional meteorologists (like MWS) to keep you safe in the backcountry. Your best bet is to stick with those professionals or a ski resort.”

Here’s another way to put it: Knowing which ski area is likely to get the most snow is great for maxing out the fun, but incorrectly interpreting a forecast calling for oodles of fresh snow in one valley in the backcountry can be dangerous and not fun at all.

The bottom line is that ShredFX is obviously designed as a resource for snow riders looking to have fun. We now have more information at our fingertips that will help us enjoy the wonders of winter to the fullest. Thank you ShredFX!

Ice crystal photo by Topher Donahue.

Going where the helicopter cannot: Heli-Assisted Ski Touring

  
  
  

Of all the questions that heli-skiers are asked about the sport of heli-skiing, they are never more inquisitive than when we talk about Heli-Assisted Ski Touring.

At first, Heli-Assisted Ski Touring seems like a contradiction in terms, and my friends give me the most confused look when I mention the idea. But the expression on their faces is priceless as they begin to visualize the potential.

It goes something like this:

Start the day with a helicopter flight out of the warmth and friendly comfort of a CMH Lodge to a lofty summit above a glorious morning ski run:

helicopter ski touring drop off

Begin the day with a frolicsome ride:

heli assisted ski touring

At the bottom of the run, click into touring mode, put climbing skins on your skis for uphill traction, and let your skilled guide take you on the tour of a lifetime.

ski touring uphill

Snowboarders with spliboards do just as well (and smile just as much) as skiers with backcountry gear:

heli snowboard touring with splitboard

By not having to deal with approach bushwhacking, camping, or making it to the car at the end of the day, we are able to spend the entire day in the kind of terrain that dreams are made of:

heli ski touring terrain

Between the healthful uphill exercise and the epic downhill fun, the ski touring buzz is one part endorphins and one part meditation. The smiles tell the story best:

ski touring smiles

At the end of the day, the helicopter returns and like magic lands us back at the lodge for massages, spa therapy on the tired legs, and an evening of that one-of-a-kind CMH alpine hospitality:

alpine lodge hospitality

The next day? Do it all over again.

One of the best parts of Heli-Assisted Ski Touring is that it is equally appropriate for experienced backcountry skiers as well as for newcomers to the backcountry scene. Groups often split into smaller groups (each group with its own guide) to seek out the right challenge and experience for the skiers and snowboarders.

With backcountry skiing being the fastest growing outdoor sport, Heli-Assisted Ski Touring is quickly gaining popularity. And for good reason: by using the helicopter and CMH know-how, we can ski and snowboard where backcountry touring groups never go; and by using ski touring gear we are able to go where Heli-Skiers cannot go.

ski touring bugaboos

This coming winter, CMH Heli-Assisted Ski Touring weeks are planned for the Admants, Cariboos and Bugaboos. In recent years, CMH has hosted Heli-Assisted Ski Touring groups in Galena, Revelstoke, Bobbie Burns, Bugaboos Adamants and the Monashees. While the scheduled weeks are great for individuals and small groups, CMH also hosts custom Heli-Assisted Ski Touring trips to any CMH area at any time provided that lodging space and guide availability can accommodate the trip.

Contact CMH Reservations at (800) 661-0252 to learn more about Heli-Assisted Ski Touring.

Photos courtesy CMH Ski Guides and archives.

Ski guide tips for using a GoPro

  
  
  

Be a Hero - or so says the tagline for GoPro’s wildly successful camera.  The little cameras have forever changed the world of adventure filmmaking, and added one more must-have item to the list for adventure traveller video buffs.

go pro technique

At CMH Heli-Skiing, we see the numbers of our guests using GoPros growing exponentially every year. It’s fantastic to see skiers and snowboarders leaving with their own footage of their Heli-Ski dream trip. Some CMH Ski Guides are also using GoPros, and a few have gotten really good at it. The CMH Revelstoke crew has been capturing GoPro footage and editing it into some fun clips (like the one below). So for a few tips on how to integrate the GoPro into your Heli-Ski trip, I tracked down ski guides Steve Chambers and Jeff Bellis from CMH Revelstoke.

Big Friday from Global Powder Guides on Vimeo.

 

Steve’s GoPro tips:

  • Consider your final product/video when shooting. Have a 'shot list' in your mind as to what you want to capture and how you can use these clips to compose your video. Think of it as a story you want to tell versus random footage you cram together in a lengthy piece. Which brings me to my next point...
  • Keep it short. Think of short segments linked together that might make a great 2-3 minute long film. Any longer than that and you'll lose your audience.
  • Mix up your POV. If all you shoot is footage from a helmet or chest harness perspective, it will get 'old' quick. Get shots from all kinds of angles and vantage points. Consider having your subjects ski by you as opposed to only having moving footage of yourself. The pole cam angle is a great one to mix into your repertoire.
  • Keep your subjects close. With the wide angle nature of GoPro shots, if your subject is not right there with you (front, side, back) or coming right at you, they'll just be a dark spot moving through the frame. I tell people to come right at me close (carefully of course!) to get the best shot.
  • Brighter is better! If your subjects are dressed in darker colors, forget about it - you might as well not shoot at all. The brighter the clothing the better considering the various POV's and wide angle nature of most of the cameras on the market today. Reds, yellows, oranges and light blues are great.
  • Consider the music you might use with your final video. Putting your footage together with a great soundtrack will make a world of difference. I've always had some piece of music in mind when I've started every short project.
  • Happy film making!

Jeff’s GoPro tips:

  • Be creative: You can put a GoPro just about anywhere. Try out any crazy idea you have for a shot, you never know how its going to work out.
  • Keep the GoPro easily accessible: I have often just captured a really cool shot because my GoPro is always ready. 
  • Try to capture video other than skiing: Flying, scenery, lodge life, and travel to CMH all make great footage to mix in to a short video. 
  • Take short clips: Don't leave your GoPro running for an entire run. It will be horribly boring to watch, it will take forever to download onto your computer, and it will drain your battery quickly. Try to look at the terrain ahead in the run and figure out if there is anything worth shooting. Not all ski runs look good on video.
  • Share your footage: A typical heli ski group in Revelstoke will have at least 5 GoPros (The Dutch Air Squad who shot the video below had over 20 in their group this year). If you are taking short clips its easy to share your footage with others in the group. Everyone appreciates some video of themselves and more footage makes it easier for you to get different shots into your video. 
  • Know your GoPro before you go: Every week it seems I am giving a GoPro 101 class. You will get more cool footage if you learn how to use your camera before you get to CMH. 
  • Change speeds: When you are editing your video mix up the speeds of the footage. If you have a really great sequence that is a little long, speed it up. If you have captured an amazing face shot, slow it down.
  • Don't focus on your GoPro all day: If you are on a CMH ski trip you are here to ski. Don't spend your entire trip fussing with your GoPro. Shoot when it’s going to look good or your friends are into it. 
  • Charge the Battery! Every Night!

Ski Paradise from Jan Willem Metz on Vimeo.

Last but not least, the most important GoPro tip comes from the mountains themselves. The tagline “Be a Hero” only applies to the camera’s capabilities – not your own behaviour in the mountains.  This most important of all GoPro tips for skiing and snowboarding has been an integral part of mountain wisdom for decades before GoPros were ever invented, still holds true today, and is ironically: Don’t be a hero.

Videos courtesy CMH Revelstoke and Johnny GoPro of the Dutch Air Squad. Still photo from CMH Cariboos by Topher Donahue.

CMH wraps up a stellar 48th Heli-Ski season

  
  
  

Last weekend, CMH Heli-Skiing wrapped up the Heli-Ski season in style. On Saturday, Dave Cochrane, the Bugaboos Area Manager, sent our Banff Office this letter that nicely sums up not only Dave’s perspective on the world’s greatest skiing, but also the entire company’s focus on safety and attention to our guests:

Good morning everyone,
Our last guests just got on the bus about 20 minutes ago.

We have had a truly outstanding last week of skiing with good weather, and every kind of good condition you can imagine, from deep silky powder to the best corn you could possibly have or dream about and also a little sticky gluey snow here and there, with very little or no transition from powder to corn.

We had a really fantastic season, with a lot of deep powder through the first half and then smaller storms after that. I can’t recall any bad skiing at all, although I am more than heavily biased for all the good memories. We had a couple of rainy days and didn’t ski, but it literally was seen by all of us simply as a huge opportunity for new snow and we remained positive. As it turned out the rain healed everything with lots of new snow at the ends of the rainy periods as the weather cooled down.

Our staff were really incredible and were instrumental in keeping everything safe and fun for everyone. I am privileged to be able to work with the remarkable people here at the lodge.

I would like to thank you all again for the tremendous hard work to keep us well supplied, safe and running smoothly. Your collective dedication to high quality professional management of all aspects of the support you provide us is really the best and makes running the show up here very easy indeed!

For so many of us it’s a job, but we are fortunate to work with incredible people and like I said before you should all be proud for a job very well done!

Thanks and to many more safe and happy mountain adventures!

-Dave Cochrane

heli ski season

Every skier and snowboarder who joined CMH for a trip, from some of the sport’s visionary superstars to first timers who are intermediate skiers, gave us rave reviews. The common story across the range of skill levels and experiences is how the combination of the staff hospitality, comfortable lodging, careful and personable guides - and of course the epic snow riding -make for one of the finest experiences this world has to offer.

Thanks Dave! Here’s to a fine conclusion to the 48th winter of CMH Heli-Skiing!  

Liliane Lambert: Heli-Ski guide and mother tells all. Almost.

  
  
  

When we spend a day with a CMH Heli-Skiing Guide, it is impossible not to be in awe of their profession. It appears that every waking hour they are committed to the safety and quality experience of their skiing and snowboarding guests.

But every single one of them has a life outside of guiding.

A couple of years ago I went Heli-Skiing with Liliane Lambert in the epic tree runs and scenic alpine terrain of CMH Revelstoke. At that time she had a toddling daughter at home and a son on the horizon.

female heli ski guide

Liliane’s blossoming home life and commitment to her profession begs the simple question: How does she do it?

So I tracked her down between guiding ecstatic guests through the epic storm cycles of the 2012-2013 winter to find out.

TD: How old are your kids now?

LL: Thomas is almost two and Emilie is four.

TD: How did you meet your partner?

LL: I have a great husband (Dominic). I met Dominic in the Bugaboos during the spring of 2002! He was the chef. Three months later we moved to Revelstoke and bought a house.

TD: What do your little ones do while you are working?

LL: They are with Dominic. Dominic takes them skiing (alpine and x-country), swimming, skating, Strong Start (a drop in no-charge preschool for kids in British Columbia), Mother Goose (a story telling program), the train museum, long hikes with the dog (Texas), and riding bikes (when the snow is not too deep). They go to day care twice a week so they get their social time and Dominic can go ski touring. During the four month winter season Dominic does not work to be with the kids, and during the 8 month summer season Dominic goes to work and I stay home with the kids. Dominic is the owner of Indigo Landscaping in Revelstoke.

TD: Have you taken Emilie Heli-Skiing yet?

LL: Yes and no. I was guiding until I was 5.5 month pregnant with Emilie. She has been on 6 helicopter flights. When she was 4 months old we took her to a backcountry lodge. I was guiding and Dominic was the chef and Emilie came along. Dominic was cooking and taking care of her during the day. I am planning to take her out Heli-Skiing in the spring during the staff day.

TD: Has having kids changed your approach to managing risk in the mountains?

LL: My approach to managing risk has not changed that much. I would say that I think twice when I make a decision about managing risk.

TD: Does CMH Heli-Skiing do anything differently from the old days (when guides worked for a month or more straight) to make it easier for parents who are guides to be with their kids?

LL: The schedule is 2 weeks on, 1 week off. CMH has been really good about accommodating time off so we can spend more time with the kids.

TD: How does winter season affect Dominic's relationship with the kids?

LL: They spend a lots of time together so their bond is getting stronger. Dominic is extremely comfortable spending all day with the kids, keeping them busy and entertained - and he has fun has well.

TD: During the winter, what does your workday look like?

LL: I leave the house at 4:45am to get a bit of a work out. The guide’s meeting is at 6:00am until 7:00am, then breakfast and go skiing from 8:00am until 4:00pm. Between 4:30pm and 5:00pm I go home to see how Dom and the kids are doing. Them I’m back at the guide's office from 5:00pm till 6:00pm for guides meeting. I go back home from 6:00pm till 6:30pm and then go back to be with the CMH guests from 6:45pm until 9:15pm. I’m in bed buy 9:30pm.

TD: How long have you been guiding and how old are you?

LL: I have been guiding since 2000 and am 41 year old. I was born in Rimouski , Quebec and I never lost my accent...

TD: How did you get into the mountain sports?

LL: My family was into skiing. My Mom put me on skis at 2 years old. I grew up in Rimouski (near the Val Neigette ski area), ski racing and teaching skiing and telemark ski racing. At 16 I started ski touring in the Chic Choc in Gaspe (1.5 hours from Rimouski). In my early 20's I moved to Banff to go skiing. Then I really got involved in telemark ski racing on the Canadian National Team as well as ski touring and mountaineering. I did my ACMG Assistant Ski Guide Training in 2000 then got hired at CMH for the winter 2000-2001.

TD: On the scale of 1-10, how happy are you with the life of a guide and parent?

LL: 9 out of 10. I am super happy. The minus 1 point is because I get tired.  I get tired from not sleeping all night (kids waking up!!). I feel very lucky to have a great partner, 2 great kids and to be able to guide. Life is good.

TD: How do you reconnect with your kids after working such long days?

LL: Emilie and Thomas are use to having one of us away. When I get back I make sure that I spent time a lots of time playing hide and seek and then doing puzzles to get back in the groove. It seems that if I play a game that both them can be involved it seems to be the trick.

Every CMH ski guide has a story like Liliane's, so next time you’re out with them in the snow-laden woods, in awe of their professionalism and mountain savvy, remember to ask them what they do when they’re not guiding. It’s always a great conversation that follows.

Photo of Liliane Lambert in her big office, the Selkirk Range of CMH Revelstoke, by Topher Donahue.

400km, 3 degrees lattitude, a million dollars - CMH Communications

  
  
  

One of the first things any CMH Heli-Skier learns is that, as part of CMH Heli-Skiing’s endless quest to make Heli-Skiing as pleasant and safe as possible, each guest is assigned their own radio and is trained in how to use it. From a user’s perspective, it’s easy, but behind the scenes, CMH communications are a marvel of modern technology covering almost three degrees of latitude and costing over a million dollars.

For an insiders view of the CMH Heli-Skiing communication system, I tracked down Bob Lutz, the Manager of Infrastructure at CMH:

ski guide radioTD: How does repeater communication differ from direct radio communication?

BL: Every radio has a receive frequency, Rx, and a transmit frequency, Tx.  When your radio is operating in what we call Direct Mode, the Tx and Rx frequencies are the same so you transmit on the same frequency that everyone’s radio is receiving on.  This works great if you want to talk to someone nearby, like your guide or other members of your group, but the small battery and antenna on a handheld radio can only transmit so far and certainly not through mountains to reach a group in another valley. This is where our VHF repeaters come in.

When you change your radio to Repeater Mode, only the Tx frequency changes so that you can still hear radios sending on direct, but you broadcast on a different frequency that only the repeater is listening for.  The repeaters have a much larger antenna, plus they are positioned up high to be able to cover a much larger area.  The repeater also has four to eight batteries similar to the ones in your car for power so it can re-broadcast your transmission much longer distances on the Rx frequency that everyone’s radios (including yours) are listening for.

This leads to the natural question of, why don’t we set the radio to Repeater Mode all the time?  For most of the communications between you and your guide the direct mode works well and there is the possibility you might be too far or too low to reach the repeater that might be 10km away when your guide is just 200m below you.  Secondly, the repeaters are in low power standby state most of the day but when they kick into gear to re-broadcast someone’s message they use a lot of power to reach as far as possible.  If they were running all the time the batteries would run out faster than our solar panels can recharge them.

Rocky in rime

TD: How do the repeaters support the remote internet at the lodges?

BL: Well, our remote lodges are too far from towns to make running phones lines or fibre optic cables feasible especially when you look at all of the avalanche paths we would have to cross along the way.  So for each lodge we had to find a location in a neighbouring valley where we could get telephone service and an Internet connection fast enough to support a lodge full of guests and staff.  Then we had to find sites with a direct line of sight to the lodge and that site.  The shortest leg is 6km and the longest is 31km.  The Bobbie Burns connects to phone lines and a fibre optic cable that are 73km away by the time you add all three legs together.

The phones and people’s web browsing use the same link, the trick is that there is device at the lodge that converts your voice into data packets to join the flow of Internet traffic, but when they reach civilization we convert the data back into an electric signal that we transmit down the phone line.

TD: What is the value of the complete CMH repeater system?

BL: Hmm... a lot of maintenance and upgrades have occurred over the decades and it would be hard to add all of that up.  If you had to rebuild everything from scratch, it would cost roughly $50K-60K per site so a little over $1,000,000 to manage our safety communications, coordinate the ski program, and let people connect to friends and family when they get back to the lodge at the end of the day.

TD: Where is the southernmost CMH repeater?

BL: CMH K2’s Kuskanax repeater at 50°23'54"N

TD: Where is the northernmost CMH repeater?

BL: McBride’s Mt Halverson Repeater at 53°15'30"N

TD: How much maintenance do they require?

BL: Most repeaters require one inspection visit during the off season but during the winter some of them need to be visited regularly to remove rime (ice) from the solar panels to allow the batteries to recharge.  With the Internet repeaters faster radios are coming out every few years so this summer we also went out to upgrade all of the radios that link the Bobbie Burns and Bugaboos to the Internet at Brisco.

BU   Kain Ridge Phone rptr

TD: How does the power system for the repeaters work?

BL: The VHF and UHF repeaters are all solar powered with several batteries similar to the ones in your car.  The Internet repeaters use solar power over 97% of the time but they also have propane Thermal Electric Generators, TEGs, as a backup in case the panels are covered in ice and for those weeks where it snows a lot during the day and they don’t see any direct sunlight through the clouds.  The TEGs rely on a principal where a small electrical current can be created between two different types of metal if there is enough of a heat difference between the two metals.  One side is heated by the propane flame while the other is exposed to the cool mountain air.  The Bobbie Burns system ran on propane for 961 hours last winter during the dark stormy days of December and January.

TD: When did CMH start using the repeaters for internet as well as radio?

BL: Our first attempts were in the summer of 2006 to try and connect Valemount and later the Cariboos to a farm house that was close enough to the Town of Valemount to get ADSL service from Telus.  Our Valemount lodge is farther than the 4.2km limit for ADSL service from the phone company’s central office in town.  In 2009 we realized that we could no longer find parts for our old telephone repeaters for five of the areas so we spent most of the summer of 2010 combining the phone and Internet repeaters into a single site that brought both services to the lodge much more reliably than our early experiments.

BB Dogtooth Phone and Internet Rptr

TD: Are the internet telephone repeaters and the radio repeaters always in the same locations?

BL: No, we position the radio repeaters to provide good coverage to our ski tenures.  This often means putting them up very high near the middle of the tenure.  The Internet/telephone repeaters are placed wherever we can get a line of sight to the lodge and a location with good Internet and telephone service.  We try to keep the Internet repeater sites as low as possible to reduce the electronics’ exposure to harsh mountain weather.

TD: How many repeaters does each area have?

BL: It varies from one to four.

TD: Anything else you'd like to add?

BL: We have three kinds of repeaters, VHF, UHF, and microwave.  The VHF repeaters are the ones most familiar to our guests that allow the lodge to talk to the guides in the field when they are skiing in the outer reaches of our terrain.  Most of our VHF repeaters have a set of UHF radios to allow one area to connect to a neighbouring lodge’s repeater to share information.  If you activate all of the UHF repeaters together it forms a radio link over 400km long, the guides in the Cariboo Range up north can talk to guides as far south as CMH K2 and the Bugaboos

Up until a few years ago, when we switched to telephone conference calls, this is how the guides in the different CMH Areas exchanged observations made in the field to give everyone as much information as possible about the snowpack.

The microwave repeaters are in separate locations and are used to connect our lodges to phone lines and the Internet at the fastest speeds possible regardless of how hard it is snowing.

CMH Heli-Skiing’s vast communication network is one of the many reasons that 70% of our skiers are return guests. For more information, contact CMH Reservations at 1 (800) 661-0252.

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