By Lyle Grisedale, Shop Manager, CMH Cariboo Lodge
Its your first time heliskiing. You're excited for certain and maybe a little worried about the skiing. Will you be able to do it? Will you be able to keep up? Will you slow down the group?
As the Aussies say “No worries mate!”
You don’t have to be a great skier to enjoy skiing deep powder but our brand of deep snow is a little different than what you usually ski at a ski resort. At a ski resort you are usually skiing on a groomed surface under the snow and it is pretty easy. In CMH’s world there is no groomed surface under the snow so you will need to make some adjustments. Here are a few tips to make your fist heliski trip a worry free and exciting experience.
Select the Right Ski
Choose a pair of Atomic Heli Daddy. These skis have a soft, easy flex, are easy to maneuver and will give you predictable ski performance in all snow conditions. After a couple days skiing you can try some of the other models we have. Its best not to select a ski with a rockered tip for your first day. Sure these skis turn easily and float well but they can also cause you to be a bit 'in the back seat' which can be hard on the thighs and will make your first day an exhausting one. After skiing a couple of days if you feel you want to get a bit more aggressive by all means take some of our other skis out for a test drive.
One of the most common things first time skiers do is have too much weight on the outside ski in the turn. That is because most resort skiers are used to skiing on harder surfaces, especially if you come from the east side of North America or Europe where icy conditions are more of the norm. In deep powder when you weight one ski more than the other the weighted ski goes deeper into the snow. Now you have two skis each on a different level in the snow, making for very difficult skiing and a lot of very hard work. Equally weighted skis will stay on the same plane and are easy to work with. Sometimes in challenging snow conditions you might have to direct more pressure to the outside ski but always keep the weight even.
Sitting back to keep the tips up; a real myth! One of the greatest challenges for first time heli skiers is not being able to see their skis. Get over it! This is the greatest skiing on earth! Your skis are just extensions of your feet, you don’t need to see them you need to see down the run the beautiful scene unfolding around you. The skis CMH provides are made for powder skiing and are soft enough that the tips will not dive, unless you get too far forward. To avoid getting too far forward keep your head up and look down the slope several turns a head of where you are. (Ever done a forward flip off a diving board? What do you do? Tuck you head into your chest and look down, the rest of your body rotates around your head and you flip. Same thing happens when you look down in deep bottomless powder.) Also sitting back is really hard on the thigh muscles. Keep your hips over your feet and let your skeleton hold you up, not your thighs. Use those muscles for steering your skis.
Face the Fall Line
Its best to ski smoothly without jerky or aggressive motions. Your skis are under the snow and have resistance all around them and if you try to force them around in a turn with a jerky or aggressive motion you create more resistance. The skis slow down but your upper body does not and you are soon digging yourself out of the snow. Be patient and get used to facing into the fall line (straight downhill). If your stance and weight are correct the skis will come around into the turn. Be smooth and subtle in you motions while in deep powder.
You also want to keep your upper body as motionless as possible. The more you move it around the more likely you are to loose your balance. Let your legs do all the steering. The same goes for your pole plant. Try to use only your wrist to bring the pole forward into position for the next turn. Using the whole arm causes your shoulders and upper body to over-rotate making it difficult to get the next turn started.
Look at the Spaces, Not the Trees
At CMH we do a lot of tree skiing on sometimes very steep terrain look at the spaces between the trees not at the trees and you’ll be fine, ski behind an experienced heli skier for your first few runs to get the idea of tree skiing and then start picking your own line as skiing in others tracks can cause you to go faster than you may want to. Plus it is all about making your own tracks!
My final tip is to smile. All the way down. Whoop and holler as much as possible! This will help you relax. Remember this is some of the GREATEST SKIING ON EARTH! Have fun.
Lyle Grisedale is a long time CMH employee who wears many hats.This winter you can find him in the Cariboo Lodge as relief Shop Manager and ski tech. Lyle taught skiing for 25 years, and ran his own ski school for 10 years, he has Level 4 certification in the Canadian Ski Instructors’ Alliance he is also a level 2 coach in the Canadian Ski Coaches Federation. He really, really likes skiing powder! In the summer, you can find Lyle guiding CMH Summer Adventures guests around the Bugaboos.
Photo: Lyle Grisedale heliskiing in Revelstoke by Jorg Wilz.
No, not that kind. I’m talking about the kind you use at the bottom of a heliski run when the helicopter is coming in to pick you up.
The pickup can feel like a stressful part of the day, especially for first time heliskiers, but it doesn’t need to be. After a couple of laps, getting ready for the helicopter is easier and less stressful than getting ready for a gondola. Here are 7 tips that will make your heliski pickups a casual, fun, safe experience.
1. Do what your guide directs you to do. This is the most important thing. Slow down and pay attention to your guide. Sometimes the helicopter is waiting and sometimes it’s not. Many different scenarios can unfold at the pickup, but they are all really easy for you as long as you are attentive you your guide.
2. As you approach the pickup, change your skiing or riding style from sport mode to careful transportation mode. The pickup is not the place to express your independence. Many pickups in CMH terrain are just above the deep hole formed by a river drainage or cliff. If you make even one extra turn past the pickup, you can find yourself wallowing in chest deep snow for long, exhausting minutes just to gain a few feet to reach the pickup - or worse.
3. Take care of your skis and poles or snowboard first. Sometimes it is important to get ready quickly, and sometimes there is lots of extra time. In either case, do first things first: take off your skis, bundle them with your poles like the guide instructs, and put them into the stack with the other skis. Snowboarders should fold down highback bindings and place them where the guide directs in a position where they can’t slide away. Once your skis and poles or board are ready, you can clean your goggles, loosen your boots, take pictures and relax knowing you’ll be ready whenever the ski lift shows up.
4. Stay with your group. If the guide stops short of the pickup, you must do the same. Sometimes when the helicopter is refueling, or making long flights into a new valley, the different ski groups end up waiting together at a landing. Suddenly there are several guides in florescent jackets and it’s easy to get confused about which group is yours and accidentally race to joint the wrong group. Slow down. It’s easy.
5. If the guide skis right onto the landing pad, do the same. Ski slowly and carefully near the other skiers, but don’t take off your skis too far from the pickup as you’ll end up sinking in the deep snow. Where the helicopter lands, the snow is often packed hard enough to make for relatively easy walking.
6. If you need help, ask for it. Bundling your skis and poles together is easy, but can be an awkward project while wearing gloves and breathing hard. There will likely be some really experienced heliskiers in your group as well as the guide. Ask for help once or twice and it will all become really simple.
7. Watch the helicopter. When the helicopter comes in to land, crouch where the guide directs, and watch the helicopter approach. You are already wearing goggles or glasses, so the blowing snow will not bother your eyes. Put your hand over your mouth and nose. It is intimidating the first few times, and wind from the rotors is strong, but it is a spectacular event and you’ll get used to it.
The helicopter is the most exciting ski lift in the world - and it will wait for you. Take it easy, do what your guide says, and enjoy your time around the powerful machines. You’ll enjoy the visuals of the whirling snow, get front row views of the accurate flying of Alpine pilots, and quickly get in tune with the logistics of the entire CMH heliski operation.
by Becca Blay
What is more intimidating than getting on a chairlift with a group of male skiers?
How about getting in a helicopter with a group of male skiers? When I arrived at Valemount Lodge, I had no idea what to expect. From first time heli-skier and a woman’s perspective, here are five helpful tips that I would like to share with you to prepare you for your trip.
I learned very quickly, that there is a huge difference between skiing in a resort on groomers and entering into the backcountry in deep powder, surrounded by pure, untamed wilderness via a helicopter. On top of being out of my comfort zone, I was with a group of 6 male “million footers,” which in Heli-skiing world, means you’re a veteran. Myself, and three of my girlfriends were entering uncharted territory, and an adventure that I will never forget.
How quickly you forget about the small stuff after the first run. The little things that seemed to cause me so much anxiety were gone. The experience was nothing like I had expected. Heli-skiing is so much bigger than anything that I had ever imagined. That said, it is not an environment that breeds competition, so it didn’t matter what gender I was. In fact, the bond that it creates is one that will last a life-time between you and those that share the experience with you.
So, from my perspective, being a woman heli-skier was nothing but positive and amazing. I will, however, share some helpful secrets that I learned along the way:
- Safety first. Ask as many questions as you need to and always designate a partner to ski with. Stay with your partner.
- Peeing in the woods. The best way to “use the ladies room” while heli-skiing is to keep your skis on, and sit back using the support of the back of your boots to keep you up. This might be hard on your knees, if so, wrap your arms around your knees for support.
- Layer. It’s simple, on the top, sports bra, thin Icebreaker base layer, lightweight Arc'teryx fleece, Arcteryx shell. Bottoms, knee high socks, Icebreaker long underwear and Arc'teryx shell pants.
- Make sure to tie your hair back so that it is out of the way. Braids and ponytails are great. Trust me; nobody cares about how you look out there.
- Make sure that you have a hood on your jacket. The snow that blows around you as the helicopter lifts offs and touches down can be a bit blustery and you want to be able to stay warm in the heli-huddle.
What about you? Do you have a few tips to share?