Being a guest of CMH inspires great stories. Today, with Thanksgiving coming in my neck of the woods, I was skiing with my kids and thinking about how thankful I am to have had a chance to work and play at CMH.
My story is by no means the best CMH story, but after contributing to the Heli-Ski Blog for the last 4 years, and working with CMH for the last decade, I thought it worth sharing.
In 2003 an assignment from Climbing Magazine gave me the chance to visit CMH Adamants, in the summer, to experiment with heli-climbing and write an article about it. I’d been to the Bugaboos before, but seeing the Admants opened my eyes to the vastness of the Columbia Mountains. For six days we bagged first ascents on the vertical walls of the Adamants.
After seeing my photos, Jane Carswell in the CMH Marketing department, invited me back the next summer for a photo shoot in the Cariboos. There, I was lucky enough to share the trip with none other than CMH founder Hans Gmoser, his wife Margaret, and their two grandkids.
Like most journalists, I had to ask Hans a few questions. Also, my father was a mountain guide, so I was curious about another family that made a life in the mountains. In the ensuing conversation, Hans told me about the upcoming celebration at the Bugaboos to celebrate 40 years of Heli-Skiing. I remember saying, “I’d love to be a fly on the wall at that party!”
Hans replied, “You should come.”
Who would turn down that invitation? When I got home, I contacted Powder Magazine to get an assignment that would make it worth my place at the party. And what a party it was; many of the original guests and guides, their families, and other friends of the business expressing their appreciation for being part of the invention of Heli-Skiing and 40 years of friendship.
After skiing, the wine and stories would flow and I took notes and recorded presentations. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the story of CMH is much more than a magazine article. At one point I asked one of the guides, “Hey, I’d be happy to contribute the material I’m getting here to whoever is writing the book.”
He looked at me and said, “Nobody’s writing the book.”
I was stunned. CMH seemed like the best story I’d come across in a lifetime spent living in, writing about, and photographing the mountain culture. After a few long conversations, I found myself with the dream assignment: write the story of CMH Heli-Skiing.
In 2006 and 2007 I visited every CMH area, filled several notebooks with interview material with some of the most incredible individuals I’ve ever had the honour of meeting, and in 2008 Rocky Mountain Books published the result: Bugaboo Dreams, A story of Skiers, Helicopters and Mountains.
Since then I’ve helped CMH with creative content of various kinds, becoming friends with the hard-working staff, guides, and guests and feasting on some of the most delicious snow I’ve ever tasted. And like so many long-time guests, staff and guides have told me: at first we think the CMH experience is all about the skiing, but then we realize it is so much more.
- It is the intimacy of the remote lodges and the great people.
- It is returning to a place that is so wild and pristine yet feels like home.
- It is living a lifetime in a week.
- It is getting to be where you’d rather be no place else on earth with a group of people who feel the same way.
The people I met while working on Bugaboo Dreams, and my relationship with the guides, staff and guests of CMH - and of course the skiing - have made working with CMH a dream project. Thank you CMH!
“The helicopter permitted the age-old emptiness of the wilderness to remain intact, free from the commercial hardware and gingerbread that a network of lifts would have imposed upon it.”
-Hans Gmoser, from Lynn Grillmair’s Bugaboos cookbook, Gourmet in Paradise
While we’re extremely proud to be the company that invented Heli-Skiing nearly 50 years ago, we realize the concept was obvious, and that if we hadn’t been the first, someone else would have done it. Let's see - use a helicopter to get to the top of the mountain, then ride down in blower powder - no brainer.
The execution however, turned out to be a bit more complicated, and that’s where being the oldest company in Heli-Skiing has its advantages. The helicopter technology and our understanding of mountain safety developed in parallel, as well as our relationship with our sister company, Alpine Helicopters.
Today, helicopter technology for Heli-Skiing is on a happy plateau. The machines are extremely reliable and their power and payload are perfectly suited for mountain flying at the moderate altitudes of CMH Heli-Skiing. But it wasn’t always that way. Here’s the evolution of the heli-ski machine in image:
Bell 47 G3B-1: The first Heli-Ski helicopter. Flown by Jim Davies, the original Heli-Ski pilot, the B-1 held two passengers, was underpowered, and hard to start, but it got Heli-Skiing off the ground:
Alouette II: Although slightly bigger and more powerful than the B-1, the Alouette II didn’t last long in Heli-Ski service before larger helicopters became available:
Alouette III: The Alouette III was well-tested in the Alps as a rescue and service helicopter, and with a 6-passenger payload it allowed a full group of skiers to be transported to the top in just two flights. Up until this point, skiers carried their skis over their shoulders like you see in resorts. Then someone shoved their skis through the rotors of an Alouette III, shutting down the “ski lift” until repairs could be made. That’s why Heli-Skiers now carry their skis below waist level:
Bell 204: One day the Alouette III was in the shop for maintenance, and a Bell 204 was brought out as a temporary replacement. Jim Davies remembers that when he flew the 204 the performance was so superior to the Alouette III that he told the helicopter company, “You’ll have to leave that (Bell 204) right here.”:
Bell 212: In 1970, just in time for the opening of CMH Cariboos, the Bell 212 entered the picture. Hans Gmoser, the founder of CMH, called the twin engine machine the single biggest factor in the success of Heli-Skiing. “It was the helicopter capacity. Once we had the 212 we had a business that could really work." Here's to the Bell 212:
Bell 407: The 407 is the race car of Heli-Ski helicopters. It was certified by Transport Canada in 1996 and has become a staple of small-group heli-skiing, holding 5 guests, the guide and the pilot:
Bell 206: The 206, also called the Long Ranger, is our support machine. With excellent fuel efficiency, we use the 206 alongside the 212 to make our Heli-Ski program more economical during those flights (such as when a tired skier needs to return to the lodge) when the payload of the 212 is not necessary:
“It’s a thing of beauty.” Said Dave Cochrane, the manager of CMH Bugaboos, when I asked him what he thought about the new ski baskets that were installed on Alpine Helicopter’s fleet of Bell 212 helicopters in the last few years.
It may be hard to believe that something as dialed as the CMH Heli-Skiing system would need to change something as simple as the ski basket, but the story of the ski basket, like much of the Heli-Skiing story, is long and colorful. The heli-ski ski basket has gone through an evolution every bit as significant than the evolution in snowboard, ski and snow safety technology.
To begin with, the ever innovative ski guides and pilot Jim Davies attached to the skids a simple ski rack designed for an automobile, and strapped the the skis and poles to the rack with bungie cords. (Photo at right. Note the extra gas can strapped to the side of the helicopter - there were no fuel caches in those days.) While this method would never fly (so to speak) in the modern world of safety-obsessed Heli-Ski companies and oversight from Transport Canada that has to approve every detail of air transport, it was a workable solution in 1965.
After the car ski rack was retired, the first real ski basket turned out to have a serious safety flaw. They began using a basket built to fit the helicopter - but the basket had no lid. Jim Davies explained that they figured it would work fine because when they were lifting the group to the top, the airspeed and rotor wash would tend to pin the skis in the basket, and in those days nobody ever flew back to the lodge. Instead, they always skied to the bottom of the valley or to the lodge at the end of the day, so there were never skis in the basket while the helicopter was flying downwards.
Then one day a tired skier wanted to go in early. As the helicopter quickly lost eleveation, the skis were lifted out of the basket by the airflow, and flew through the rotor. The skis were chopped in half like a carrot hit by a machete, and the skis carved a dinner plate-sized chunk out of the rotor. The pilot, none other than the original Heli-Ski pilot Jim Davies, mustered his considerable skills and managed to land the wobbly and aerodynamically compromised machine safely at the lodge.
The next basket was built to handle the speed, power and safety of modern Heli-Skiing, and it served the industry well for decades - until we changed the dimensions of the tools we use to ride the pow.
Fat skis and snowboards came along, pushing the well-designed little basket to overflowing, and requiring the most recent basket design change (above) which accommodates our larger boards without sacrificing aerodynamics and weight. The new basket required years of design innovation and approval from Transport Canada, and each one costs upwards of $15,000. But it seems the new ski basket can handle the high standards of safety, equipment and efficiency that we’ve all come to expect from the modern world of CMH Heli-Skiing.
In 1963 - 50 years ago this year - CMH began experimenting with what would become known as Heli-Skiing, and took the word’s first commercial Heli-Ski guests up a mountain with a helicopter for a ski lift. At the time, the best machine for the job was a Bell 47 B-1. The pioneers of Heli-Skiing strapped their skis to the skids with bungie cords and shuttled the group to the top, two passengers pusing the payload capacity of the reliable little helicopter to the limit.
The Bell 47 line were technological marvels for the time, setting helicopter records for distance and elevation.
- In 1949 it made highest altitude flight to 5,650 metres (18,550 feet).
- In 1950 it became the first helicopter to fly over the Alps.
- In 1952 it set a distance record of 1,959 kilometres (1,217 miles).
- In 1958 it became the first helicopter to be used for television news camerawork.
Its 178 horsepower engine had about the same power as a small car, but at the time there was nothing better for mountain flying than the Bell 47 B-1.
When Hans Gmoser, the founder of Heli-Skiing, was first approached by a couple of different skiers about the possibility of using a helicopter for a ski lift, he didn't immediatley jump on the possibility, but he didn’t forget the concept. Hans brought up the idea with Jim Davies, a skilled mountain pilot who had helped Hans with ski exploration in the Cariboo and Rocky Mountains using a fixed wing.
According to Hans, he asked Jim, “Do you think you could use a helicopter to take skiers up a mountain?"
And Jim replied, “I know I could.”
That’s how it began. But there were a couple of false starts including a trip in 1963 to the Goat Glacier near Canmore, Alberta where the helicopter worked great but the snow was hideous breakable crust, and a trip in 1964 out of Golden, British Columbia where windy conditions blew the little helicopter far from their destination, clear into the next province of Alberta, before they found a place to safely land and ski.
In 1965 Hans decided to try Heli-Skiing in a place called the Bugaboos, where a remote sawmill camp provided lodging, the endless mountain range of the Columbia Mountains provided the terrain, the now-legendary storm cycles of Interior British Columbia provided the powder – and the Bell 47 B-1 provided the power. The third try was, as they say, a charm; the snow was dreamy, the guests were ecstatic and wanted to go again the following year, and Heli-Skiing was born.
Helicopter technology changed dramatically in the late 60s and early 70s, so the Bell 47 was soon exchanged for larger, more powerful machines, but these pictures of the little helicopter servicing the very first commercial Heli-Skiers will forever speak to the world's greatest skiing and the unprecedented adventure of learning to use a helicopter for a ski lift half a century ago.
Photos courtesy CMH Archives.
In 2005 I received an assignment from Powder Magazine to document a Heli-Ski party in the Bugaboos to celebrate 40 years of Heli-Skiing. The story was far more than a magazine article, and from the magazine assignment the project transformed into a 293-page book called Bugaboo Dreams: A Story of Skiers, Helicopters and Mountains.
For two years I interviewed the characters involved in those 40 years of innovation and adventure, and in the process came across some wild stories. In the early days of Heli-Skiing, there were no radios, no avalanche transceivers, no mountain weather forecasts, no collaborative safety program between guides - and a bottle of wine was shared at lunch time.
Of all the stories I heard, this is one of the wildest; told by Bob Geber, a guide who retired from guiding just two years ago:
“The pilot had a southern accent and no mountain flying experience. As we were landing I looked down to enter flight time in my book – when I looked up all I could see was snow.”
The pilot reacted at the last second and pulled up just before hitting the slope so the helicopter crashed with much of the force on its skids. As the machine rolled backwards, a skid stuck in the snow crust, preventing a probably fatal tumble. When things stopped moving, Geber had one thought: “!#&$, I’m still alive!”
During the crash, he slammed his head into something in the fuselage, and blood from the wound pooled in his eyes. His second thought was: “!#&$, I’m blind!”
He could smell fuel, so he kicked down the door and started running away. After a few steps he had a third thought: “!#&$, I’m the guide!”
Wiping the blood out of his eyes was a relief, as he realized he still could see. He turned around and helped everyone else out of the helicopter. No one was hurt, and there was wine in the lunch, so they grabbed the lunch and moved away from the helicopter to wait for a rescue. There was no long-range radio in those days, so Geber hoped someone would realize the helicopter hadn’t returned and send out a second ship.
They drank the wine and ate the lunch, and still no rescue was forthcoming. The short winter day was half over, so Geber decided they’d better try to get out under their own power before darkness fell. While the helicopter was bent, with pieces scattered everywhere, the basket miraculously protected the skis during the crash. Everyone grabbed their skis and did what they knew how to do – ski. The only problem was the pilot. He had no skis and wouldn’t have known what to do with them if he did.
The snow was too soft to walk without debilitating effort, so Geber had the idea to make a sled using a disk-like cover that fits around the base of the helicopter’s rotor assembly on the very top of the fuselage. There was enough room for the pilot to sit in it, like a child on a saucer, and the disk slid easily on the downhill. They left the wreck and headed down the mountain, eleven skiers easily cruising along, and the pilot sledding behind on a piece of his mangled helicopter. When the terrain was less steep, they attached a rope to the makeshift sled and pulled the pilot along, but when they hit a flat section, with deep, soft snow, it became impossible to pull. He tried to walk, but ended up wallowing.
To make forward progress, Geber and one of the stronger skiers each gave up one ski so the pilot, with zero ski experience, could use two. Gently rolling terrain was perfect for the new system and they made good time, the pilot even started enjoying the idea of skiing with the exhilaration of sliding easily down a few small hills. Soon they crested a bigger hill, and Geber was ready to change back to the sledding system, but the pilot asked, “Hey Bob, do you think I could ski by myself down this one?”
Geber thought there wasn’t much of a hill, so he let the pilot go ahead. Geber remembers, shaking his head, “He went about 50 feet, fell over, and started squealing like a pig. We couldn’t figure out what he could have done to himself in such a short distance and insignificant fall, but I skied up to him and he was holding his leg. Immediately I could see he had somehow gotten a compound fracture. The bone was obvious sticking out against his pants.”
By now the day was well the way to a guide’s worst nightmare, in fact nightmare on top of nightmare. With a crashed helicopter and a pilot with a broken leg, Geber was in no mood to listen to the pilot’s screaming. “I shoved 200mg of Demoral up his #$$, and pretty soon he was grinning stupidly, happy as a baby.”
By this point a rescue helicopter found the beleaguered skiers. The other guide was so happy to see the entire team alive and well, he got out of the helicopter and started running towards Geber – directly into the path of the rotor. To end the day, Geber ran at his fellow guide and dove at his legs with a football tackle, effectively knocking the other guide over before he decapitated himself on the blade.
Yup, more than a few things have changed in Heli-Skiing.
Photo courtesy CMH Archives.
Interviewing CMH Bobbie Burns guide Marty Schaffer would probably be best done on a pair of skis with a recorder taped to a ski pole – Marty was skiing in his mother’s womb before he was born, and hasn’t stopped since. In fact, the only reason I caught him on a down day was because he was at his 62-year-old mother’s house helping her recover from an injury that she sustained after a jump went awry while powder skiing.
You read that right - Marty's 62-year-old mother is still going big.
I’d heard about Marty, equally comfortable on a pair of skis, a splitboard or a snowboard, and already a legend and a full ski guide at 26 years old. He was profiled on the spirited website, GetRadRevelstoke.com, where the stories of him growing up with parents who ran a backcountry lodge convinced me I had to track him down for a few more tales.
And tales he had to share. When he was 3 years old, his parents were digging out the door to the Blanket Glacier Chalet while Marty played in the snow nearby. After digging for a while, his mom suddenly asked, “Where’s Marty?”
A minute of panic ensued while they looked frantically for their son – and for good reason. They found him deep in a nearby tree well! They got him out without incident, but a treewell is the kind of trap that can kill even a strong adult without help.
With childhood imprints like treewells and backcountry lodges, it’s no wonder Marty pursues the twin pillars of mountain life, fun and safety, with almost religious fervor. “I was sort of tricked into becoming a guide,” explains Marty between chuckles. “When I was 13 or so, my dad would be guiding a ski tour with a few faster skiers, and I would take the faster guys and ski laps around the rest of the group. I didn’t even realize I was guiding. We were just skiing and having fun. I was just showing my friends the good stashes.”
Coming from such a rich background in the ski world, I had to ask Marty about the changes he’d seen. His first answer was the same one everyone gives: ski technology. Ski technology has made everything more fun.
His second answer was more surprising: “The average weekend warrior is skiing things the pros were skiing 10 years ago. Backcountry education is cool now. It’s cool to be prepared.”
Marty adds a cautionary tale at this point. During a recent freeride camp organized by Marty’s private guiding service, CAPOW!, Canadian Powder Guiding, he took a group skiing with ski pro Chris Rubens. They were skiing on mellow terrain on Rogers Pass, looking up at tantalizing extreme terrain, when Chris turned to the group, “If it were just Marty and me skiing here today, we’d be skiing exactly this same terrain. Conditions have to be perfect to ski that stuff.”
The moral of the story is that while average backcountry skiers push into more serious terrain, the ski pros don’t always ski more aggressively. “My ski pro friends are some of the most conservative skiers I know,” explained Marty.
The Blanket Glacier Chalet works in the same area as the CMH Revelstoke Heli-Ski operation. Marty remembers slogging up a skin track with his dad and seeing the Heli-Ski helicopter fly overhead. He remembers saying, “Dad, when I grow up I’m going to do that!”
He did just that. And working with CMH Heli-Skiing has proven to be more than he could have even imagined: “I still have to pinch myself sometimes to make sure it’s real! There’s a great mentorship program at CMH. Even as a full ski guide I learn stuff every week.”
Talking with Marty was entertaining, and revealing of the cutting edge of both recreational and professional skiing, but as it should be, talking with Marty mostly just made me want to go skiing.
Showing wisdom beyond his years, Marty concluded: “I’d like to think things haven’t changed too much. It’s all about fun and safety, the same as it was when Hans (Gmoser, the founder of CMH Heli-Skiing) was taking people ski touring in these mountains all those years ago. It’s not just about powder snow – it’s the whole thing.”
It was a painful interview for Marty. He could scarcely contain his enthusiasm. “It’s totally bluebird in Revelstoke and the stability is great! I can’t believe I’m inside!”
Photos: Marty checking the air for the pilot in CMH Bobbie Burns by Carl Trescher, Marty dressed up as a mountain guide with his dad's old gear for Halloween from the Schaffer family archives, and waiting in the lift line at CMH Bobbie Burns by Ryan Bavin.
The 2012 Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival will kick off tomorrow. While the festival has become a prestigious global showcase for the greatest creative minds in outdoor adventure, we’re proud to announce that the featured lineup opens with a film honouring Banff local, the great historian of Canadian mountaineering and skiing, Chic Scott.
In the opening film at the festival, The Gift, mountaineer and photojournalist Andrew Querner has created a moving discussion on the fragility and importance of history and community. Chic’s perspective as a historian of mountain sport is powerful, and Andrew’s experience as a mountaineer and photographer helps to convey the rich history of mountain sport.
We’re especially excited to see Chic featured in a film. In 2009, Chic completed Deep Powder and Steep Rock, the Life of Mountain Guide Hans Gmoser. The book is the biography of Hans Gmoser, who passed away in 2006. Hans was the founder, and to this day remains the spiritual leader, of Canadian Mountain Holidays.
The Gift was filmed at the Alpine Club of Canada’s Wheeler Hut, BC in January of 2012. Near Rogers Pass, just east of Revelstoke in the heart of Canada’s snowiest mountains, the hut is a fitting place to meditate on the culture and community of mountaineering.
With flickering of firelight in the hut reflecting in his eyes, Chic explains his passion for history, “Mountain climbing is an interesting sport because if you ask the man in the street, ‘Who are the great climbers?’ and then you ask the hard core climbers, ‘Who are the great climbers?‘ you’ll get two totally different answers; whereas, if you ask the man in the street and the professional hockey players, ‘Who are the great hockey players of all time?’, you would get the same answer.”
He further explains his motivations for writing the history of his sport: “Everybody knows the guys and gals who get up Everest, but the climbers out there who have practiced their passion for decades, the best of them are largely unknown.”
The Gift from Andrew Querner on Vimeo.
Chic was a member of the first Great Divide Ski Traverse in 1967, the epic traverse from Banff to Jasper along the icefields and glaciers that cover the continental divide as it winds through the Canadian Rockies. The traverse was completed with wool and cotton clothing and a cotton tent, the best equipment available at the time, but some things haven’t changed since then. Chic’s musings on “mountain time” still ring true. How, after being in the mountains, the worries of life tend to lose importance and life happens in the present, not in the future and not in the past. “You have a simple purpose. Life becomes simple in the mountains.”
Decades later, motivated by a French book on world mountaineering that short-changed Canada by only dedicating one paragraph to his mountainous country, Chic embarked on the biggest project in his career. “Canada probably has more mountains than any nation on Earth, and yet (in that book) there’s one paragraph on Canada. So, I wanted to set the record right.”
The result, Pushing the Limits, The Story of Canadian Mountaineering, took Chic six years of full-time work during which he conducted 95 interviews with leading mountaineers across Canada and completed one of the most comprehensive and artistic histories of mountain sport ever written.
Chic concludes The Gift with an unusual and insightful perspective on history:
“People don’t realize that yesterday is history. History is right behind us."
Image of Chic Scott in front of the Wheeler Hut from the film, The Gift, by Andrew Querner.
In 2009 Chic Scott penned Deep Powder and Steep Rock, The Life of Mountain Guide Hans Gmoser. The biography is a must read for any ski buff or adventure enthusiast, and included with each copy of the book is “Hans Gmoser, Filmmaker”, a DVD compilation of Hans Gmoser’s films.
In many ways, Hans was a pioneer of documentary filmmaking, but his contribution to film has been overshadowed by his legendary invention: heliskiing. He carried his camera with him everywhere, skiing with it, climbing with it, living with it - and then sharing his films with audiences all over North America and Europe. (Shown below with his camera on the first ascent of Denali's Wickersham Wall.)
The first film in the trilogy included on the DVD is from 1966, a film called “The High Road to Skiing” and chronicles a group of ski instructors on holiday in late April in the Bugaboos (the second season of CMH Heli-Skiing) after several feet of new snow. 1960s era knit ski sweaters, nonchalantly triggering an avalanche (before avalanche transceivers were invented) set the scene perfectly. As usual, Hans’ narration is priceless:
“Have you ever heard your ski instructor tell you you should keep your knees so close together that you can pinch a ten dollar bill between them? I think the only way Rod (one of the skiers using a slightly wider stance) could hold a ten dollar bill between his knees, is if he had a whole stack of them.”
“The snow is so light, once you kick it up it seems to hang in the air forever.”
“It’s almost like a dream, flying through this world of clouds, mountaintops and beautiful powder snow.”
And about the sawmill camp where heliskiing was born he had this to say:
“Even though this camp is rough and frugal, the people don’t mind it, because the skiing is the ultimate - and this is what they came for.”
The second clip is from 1959, a film called “Vagabonds of the Mountains” which tells the outrageous story of Hans and a team of six friends making the first Canadian ascent of Mt. Logan.
The adventure turns out to be one of the more epic adventures in North American mountaineering history: combining a fast ascent of the second highest peak on the continent with a previously untouched ski traverse and culminating with a disastrous whitewater finish where their makeshift rafts are lost along with 1300 photographs and all their gear. Luckily, the team escapes unharmed, and Hans’ films survived, as he kept them on his person, and saved this exceptional documentary for perpetuity.
“What we really treasure is those memories which we have brought back; and I’m sure those memories will let us remain calm and confident when we encounter all the pressures and difficulties of our future lives.”
The final clip on the DVD is from Hans’ 1958 film, Ski Trails, which he shot to promote his ski touring program in Yoho National Park near Banff.
Hans’ poetic narration accompanies his footage of ski touring where he utilizes creative camera techniques that would be impressive even today - shooting into the sun, playing with low angles on the skiers, and following shadows of skiers on the snow. The film is a testament to Hans’ incredible communication skills in an array of mediums - all the more impressive when you think that merely seven years earlier, Hans emigrated from Austria with very little english.
“Out of a deep, dark valley, leads a ski trail, winding along a creekbed through the early morning forest. Then, all of a sudden (with added excitement in his voice) it opens onto the first sunlight which you can see on the highest peaks through the morning mist. You, yourself, are still in the deep shadow. It is a cold, clear morning.
“On such a morning you have a tremendous desire to climb up there, into the sun, and to look out over this beautiful country. With each step you take, the horizon widens and more and more of the peaks glisten in the morning sun, casting dark shadows into the deep valleys.
“Then at last, you too step out into the light and your shadow moves across the clean snow.”
With footage of breaking trail up a steep hill in deep, fresh snow, Hans continues:
“Perhaps it is difficult for you to imagine that one’s desire could be to plod through the deep snow. But let’s be frank, in spite of all the arguments against it, don’t we all have a desire to do something difficult and thereby lift ourselves above the dull everyday?”
“Climbing up every morning, it becomes, actually, every bit as enjoyable as the ski down - in a very different way though. Everything is quiet around you, and as you push your skis through the soft, new snow, you are once more in perfect harmony with the beautiful land in which we live. Every morning you feel as if all this had been created the night before - all is fresh and new."
On one section, where it was too steep to continue upward on skis, Hans shows footage of a skier carrying his skis up an extremely exposed looking section: Hans says, in his light-hearted and honest form of humor, “This is quite awkward, particularly if you tilt the camera a little bit.”
This collage of three of Hans Gmoser’s classic films was produced by Guy Clarkson, a mountain guide and filmmaker, in cooperation with The Banff Centre, Canadian Mountain Holidays, and the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies. Chic Scott’s book can be ordered here, and includes the historic DVD collection.
I just finished reading Chic Scott’s “Deep Powder and Steep Rock, The Life of Mountain Guide Hans Gmoser.” The book holds a particular fascination for me because the events surrounding the last years of Hans’ life had drawn me into the web of his life and his legacy as the inventor of heli-skiing and perhaps the most influential figure in the history North American mountain guiding.
At the time of Hans’ death in 2006, I was working on a book, with Hans as my advisor, telling the story of Canadian Mountain Holidays and the invention of helicopter skiing. Hans agreed to support my writing of the book largely, I suspect, because I wanted to combine the stories of the other people involved in the project into a version of the story that would give voice to people besides Hans in the exciting evolution he and his friends had pioneered in the sport of skiing.
When Hans passed away, for a time I felt that the entire weight of telling the story of his incredible life had suddenly fallen on my shoulders. A short time later, Hans’ widow, Margaret, asked Chic Scott to pen Hans’ biography. The news was a relief to me because now I could focus on the story Hans had wanted me to tell, while Chic, a seasoned historian, was the perfect man for the job of writing Hans' biography.
In the aftermath of Hans’ death, Chic and I sat down for dinner and made a plan. Rather than competitors, I had the strong feeling that we were collaborators in sharing Hans’ story with the world. Chic told me that he planned to focus 90% of his book on Hans’ life outside of CMH, and 10% on the heliskiing aspect of his story, and my plan was to focus 90% of my book (Bugaboo Dreams) on the heliskiing story and 10% on the rest of Hans’ life.
Chic’s book, Deep Powder and Steep Rock, digs into the earliest days of Hans escaping to the mountains of Austria for reprieve from the dark days of WWII, his emmigration to Canada, and his rise as one of the most influential mountain guides in history. The book also offers a compelling look at the development of the outdoor industry over the last 60 years.
Written as a classical biography, Deep Powder and Steep Rock chronicles Hans’ life in an accurate and matter-of-fact prose that reveals much of the complex character of Hans Gmoser. Even Hans’ closest friends will find Chic’s book delves into little-known aspects of Hans’ life.
For aficionados of mountain heroes and heli-skiing, Deep Powder and Steep Rock is a must read and includes three of Hans Gmoser's original films in DVD format.
If there is any critique to be leveled at the book, it is similar to the critique I would level at my own book, Bugaboo Dreams: Neither book brings together the entirety of Hans’ life. Bugaboo Dreams leaves much to be desired in revealing the life of Hans Gmoser, while Deep Powder and Steep Rock covers the colourful world of Han’s most dramatic contribution, heli-skiing, with academic simplicity. A great project for a future writer?
The CMH Facebook page has always been a source for the newest CMH pictures, videos, stories, and updates. And now, it has received a massive face lift.
If you are a fan of CMH on Facebook, you may have noticed that we have switched over to the new "Timeline" format. From the top you will still get the same photos, videos, updates, snow reports, and fun stuff as always, but we have backfilled our timeline with many of the dates and stories that were key in the evolution of CMH. You can now go back and see events such as the first heli-ski trip in the Bugaboos- April 4, 1965. The opening if each lodge is highlighted by a section from Topher Donahue's "Bugaboo Dreams". You can see, and scroll through, all of the major dates to the right-hand side of the timeline- Right back to the beginning of CMH! Stay tuned as we will be adding more and more!
Do you have any historical CMH photos or stories you would like to see on our timeline? Feel free to send them our way at firstname.lastname@example.org.