by Jorg Wilz, CMH GuideHeli-Assisted Ski Touring
is a dream come true: Combining the snow quality, mobility and luxury that heli-skiing
offers with the beauty and serenity of backcountry ski touring. All in one trip!
At CMH, we are seeing guests sign up for heli-ski touring with two different backgrounds: Long-time heli-skiers who used to ski tour ages ago and decide they want to try it again CMH-style
. Or traditional ski tourers who love the idea of being based at a luxury lodge, being able to sample the optimal terrain on any given day and last, but not least, ski twice to three times as much downhill than ski touring conventionally.
No matter what your background is, here are five things you need to remember!
1) Get fit or drag ass
Showing up without proper conditioning for heli-ski touring is far worse than for heli-skiing. When heli-sking, if the snow is good and if you are an efficient skier with countless years of skiing under your (stretched-out) belts, you might get away with not being fit. Not so when heli-ski touring. You are bound to suffer badly if you need a breather every 5 steps going uphill, not to mention the bar tab that could be coming your way if you end up making everyone wait on those uphill regroups. On the positive side, with two guides for our groups of 10 clients, we are well set up at CMH to address split group issues when ski touring. But it’s not all that much fun if you end up being the only member of the “slow group”.
2) Dress (not smell) like an onion
Again, this is true for heli-skiing but much more so for heli-ski touring. Wear many thinner layers rather than just a few thicker ones. Adjusting layers is key! Strip down to avoid steaming while walking uphill below tree-line and add layers while pulling off the skins from your skis on a mountain top in the cold wind. For staying warm during breaks a light down vest can easily become your favourite piece of clothing!
3) Hydrate! And not on the Rocks
Well – that’s a no-brainer you may think. Crucial for staying hydrated on ski tours is the right temperature of your beverage. On a cold day, if your drink is as cold as the snow you ski, odds are you won’t drink much. The same is true for the contrary – nice to have a cool drink for those warmer days in spring (and remember that adding snow to your warm beverage decreases the concentration of minerals). Bring a thermos (or two) when it’s cold! And don’t hesitate to bring a thermos plus a non-insulated bottle on those “in-between days”.
4) Keep the noise down and the pack light
New to ski tourers are the daily helicopter rides. It’s pretty noisy, especially when huddling in a group underneath the blades during landings and takeoffs. Our “regulars” do what the guides do and wear various forms of ear protection. For Heli-Assisted ski touring, for the sake of keeping your packs light, a set of conventional ear plugs do a pretty good job.
5) Take it for what it is
If you are a heli-ski aficionado and you are drawn to heli-assisted ski touring by the lower price tag, you will quickly find that you only get what you pay for. In other words, if the uphill part of the heli-ski touring (i.e. about 80% of your day!) seems like work, don’t bother switching. But if you enjoy getting sweaty while skinning up in a serene winter-wilderness and the exhilaration of the 1500 to 3500 meters of daily descents, you are bound to have a blast heli-ski touring with CMH!
To join Jorg on a Heli-Assisted Ski Touring trip at CMH Adamants
, e-mail (email@example.com) or call one of our Reservations Sales Agents at 1.800.661.0252.
"When I’m with a group that stays together, we move at a faster pace and get to ski more great lines."
Even the most experienced mountaineers can improve and become more efficient by simply changing their attitudes and ideals about the team element of the sport. Heli-skiers are no exception. To learn about the kind of things that heliskiers and riders do that turn around to bite the team in the tail, I asked Steve Chambers, the area manager of CMH Revelstoke to tell it like it is. Here are his top 5:
'Follow the leader' We're a selfish lot - us guides - when it comes to fresh powder and we really, really love what we do. You can bet we’re looking for the BEST possible line. You don't need to wander to find something better. Sticking close to the guide's tracks and avoiding that wandering line keeps things moving along as we stick together as a group and don't end up in search mode for you. When I’m with a group that stays together, we move at a faster pace and get to ski more great lines. I don’t know how many times I’ve stood around with the group waiting for some “expert” to find their way back.
- 'Pushing for more' There has to come a point in the day when it all ends and we're heading back to the lodge after a great day of skiing. Pushing your guide to do one more run sounds like a great idea but you have to remember all of the logistics and safety considerations that are factored into their decisions: How much daylight do we have left? How is the fatigue level with everyone? How much time do we need to move our groups out of the backcountry with enough time on our side in case something goes wrong (lost ski, etc.)? Remember, we'd love to do another run as well!
- 'Love thy Neighbour' - I know, how corny is that... The point I'm trying make here is the interaction you have with other members of your group. Mountain sport is a team sport. Everyone comes from various walks of life, nationalities and experience levels. You're 20th or 30th day of heli-skiing is a lot different experience than your first time. Abilities aside, there is a learning curve for everyone in this realm of skiing. In groups where the veterans support the newcomers, the first-timers learn faster and in the end everyone skis more and has more fun. In groups where the veterans are impatient everyone waits more and skis less.
- 'Follow the Rules of the Road' - After 45 years of doing this, CMH has had some practice in refining the ins & outs of how we move through the terrain we ski. What might not make sense to you initially has a purpose - the buddy system in the trees, skiing one at a time on certain slopes, stopping above the guide and the list goes on. By ignoring the rules or not listening to the guide’s instructions you risk not only your own well-being but that of other group members. They're pretty easy to follow and after a while you get used to them and it becomes second nature. When you break these rules at the wrong time, Mother Nature opens a can of whoop-ass the likes of which you never want to experience…
- 'We can't control Mother Nature' - I know we like to think we have special powers as guides, but this one's out of our control! As good as the snow & skiing can be most days, it's not always perfect. When Mother Nature gives us a poor hand, we do the best we can. No amount of bitching or complaining by any of us is going to make that change. But the slightest positive weather trend can give us those epic powder conditions in short order. Be patient and wait for the signs...
That's it - pretty simple really. Have an open mind, stay positive, follow some basic rules and the bright suit up front and, most of all, have a great time doing it.
We are looking at a stellar start to the winter and the early season conditions are some of the best we've seen in years. Hopefully we'll see you up in our mountains this winter. Play safe and good turns to all.
To the reader: do you have anything to add that you've seen backfire while helicopter snowboarding and skiing?
"Blue-suiters who have 'been there, done that' tend to stand at the edge of the huddle and pay little attention to the helicopter."
We all know it – helicopter ski access is a mind-bending combination of ease and excitement: Powerful machines emerging from billowing snow clouds created by the rotor wash. Goggled and Gore-texed figures chased by their own snow plumes as the helicopter thunders overhead. Following a mountain guide into the best powder stashes in some of the world’s snowiest mountains. It’s so good we sometimes forget that we are part of the system, just as important as the guide or the pilot in keeping everyone safe out there. Sure, our responsibilities as skiers are fewer than those of the guide or pilot, but the result of not taking our few responsibilities seriously can be just as catastrophic. I had a conversation with Alex Holliday, the Safety Manager for Alpine Helicopters, and he clearly sees three big things skiers need to do better when heli-skiing:
Improvement Number One: “Off the top of my head, I’d say the biggest thing is people not paying attention to what's going on with the helicopter. I guess the skiing is just so good that it’s distracting.”
The Solution: Change gears from skiing to transportation when you get anywhere near the helicopter. You don’t run into a moving bus or ski straight into a moving gondola either.
Improvement Number Two: “Definitely the seat belts. The rushed entry and exit from the noisy machine leaves little attention for the seatbelt. Often folks don't take the time to ensure the belt is straight and done-up properly. A poorly installed belt does little good when needed. There was a group of skiers at the Monashees in '97 who can attest to the value of a properly done up belt. The ski-footage penalty of taking one's time during loading and unloading is zero and you risk everything with a poorly worn belt.”
The Solution: Help others fit their seatbelts. With big jackets and gloves it can be hard to see there is half a meter of extra slack in the belt. Help those around you get their belts on right. Helping them could save your life.
Improvement number three: “Probably the huddle. The huddle should be tight and low. Blue-suiters (skiers in their unmistakable million-foot suits) who have 'been there, done that' tend to stand at the edge of the huddle and pay little attention to the helicopter. Perhaps we could admonish them to set a GOOD example for the new folks by being down on one knee and watching the helicopter as it approaches and lands. The door person needs to take the lead in ensuring a good huddle.”
The Solution: Take the helicopter seriously. If you do, everyone will have more fun.
Helicopter pilots and guides take every opportunity to improve, become safer at what they do, and politely help those around them to improve as well. As skiers, we should do the same.
This article by CMH's Director of Powder Introduction Roko Koell, first appeared in the Fall 2008 issue of CMH News. We received great comments on it and felt it was timely to re-post it here as fall turns to winter and our thoughts turn to Heli-Skiing in BC.
Most of us do not have the luxury of "extra time". Family, work, computers, blackberries and the rest of the burden of other evil media, overflows our daily time schedule. There never seems available time to train or work out. This does not mean we can not get ready for skiing. Waking up and shaping the skiing muscles and increasing the aerobic volume are the things to focus on at this stage. Forget the image that you have to push weights like Schwarzenegger at his best, or train like an Olympian.
There are a of couple of exercises we can do at home, when shopping or at work. Stairs are an excellent tool. Walk them up and down at all times, maybe a few extra laps at shopping malls or other high rise buildings; this will address both strength and stamina. Also lots of walking instead of driving (20 plus minutes per day) transports valuable oxygen through your muscles and lungs, and after work or on weekends religiously run or bike or use the aerobic equipment in your gym or at home, again 20 plus minutes 2-3 times a week will do. Also walking and/or hiking on steeper and uneven ground will strengthen your muscles and ligaments in your ankles and allow you to better initiate and carve turns.
Approach it easily but steadily and increase it gradually after a few weeks. Slow and steady wins the race! Later after you established a good base, you can work more ski specific. If you are able to keep up with some of the above mentioned exercises, you will feel fit and sexy when it is time to click into the bindings and put you signature on the nordic snow.
If you are one of the lucky ones who religiously finds the time to train on an almost daily basis and you are in good shape throughout the year, and you don't know about it already, you should look into the #1 Technical Ski Conditioner in the world, the SKIERS EDGE. There is no professional ski racer out there who does not use this equipment, and it is becoming a household item for many recreational ski enthusiasts. Most modern fitness gyms are equipped with it. If you find one in your gym, ask the professional staff or trainer to introduce you to the procedures and exercises, as it is very challenging to begin with and needs coaching and support for safety. It is the closest movement to skiing and one of the only tools that allow you to best train your skiing muscles, without being on the snow. It is serious and strenuous, and trains balance, skiing movements, muscle memory, rhythm, timing, reflexes, strength and stamina at the same time. 10 minutes, 3-4 times a week can get you in incredible skiing shape.
Have fun getting ready; see you on the slopes......