A recent article in National Geographic on the world’s Top 10 Ski Runs and Lodges brings to mind snow-laden luxury accommodations below mountains laced with fantastical ski lines. We’re proud that Western Canada’s very own Whistler/Blackcomb and the Fairmont Chateau Whistler tops the list, and even closer to home, Banff/Lake Louise and the Fairmont Banff Springs (though not exactly slope-side) is number five.
Interestingly, the article, while it contains “ski runs” in the title, doesn’t mention a single ski run, nor does it include heli-ski areas. The reader can only surmise that the writer intended “ski runs” in the most general sense, and not singular spectacular ski runs. Which for me, as a skier, was a bit of a disappointment. I was truly curious what the iconic National Geographic's list of the world’s top 10 ski runs would include.
Photo of the CMH Monashee Lodge and behind it the kilometre-tall ski run known as Elevator - a ski lodge and ski run that many have called the best in the world. Maybe next time National Geographic will include heli-skiing in their selection...
It's obvious why the article didn't include heli-skiing - heliskiing is so much better than resort skiing as to make comparisons seem absurd. What can compare with the CMH tenture? It is bigger than the rest of North America's ski areas combined!
Also, I can see why the writer chose to weight the article towards lodging rather than skiing. It’s much harder to give both lodging and skiing equal weight in such a selection. Even within CMH there are sometimes heated conversations, especially among the 3,921 guests who have skied over a million vertical feet with CMH, debating which is the best CMH area. Most understand that the whole discussion is subjective, and many ski at different areas every time, but each CMH area has its committed fans who have skied millions of vertical feet exclusively at their favourite CMH area.
So, if you asked CMH heli-skiers and snowboarders to pick their favourite ski run and lodge, which would they choose? The skiing is great everywhere, so some pick their favourite area based partly on the view from the lodge, and pick the Bugaboos or Adamants; others choose based entirely on the volume of steep tree skiing they can shred in a week, and might vote for Galena, Kootenay, or the Monashees; still others choose based on the variety of terrain they can encounter and might pick the Cariboos, Gothics, Bobbie Burns or Revelstoke; some like the most private luxury and mountain experience and would pick the private heli-skiing areas of McBride or Valemount.
Really, such a thing is utterly impossible to judge fairly.
But it’s fun to consider. So, just for the fun of it, what is your favourite CMH ski run and lodge?
This summer I ran into mountain guide Andi Kraus during a CMH Summer Adventure in the Bobbie Burns, a program that rivals the early days of heliskiing in terms of excitement and unprecedented adventure innovation. We flew on ziplines, hiked on ice, and explored the tundra. One sunny day, Andi turns to me and says, “You know, Topher, McBride is the best secret in heli-skiing.”
I had to find out a little more, so I tracked down Andi this fall. Andi knows a thing or two about skiing secrets. He was born in the German Alps, in a town where Olympic gold medalists have learned to ski. He began skiing at age three and eventually worked as director of the local ski school and coach for the racing club.
Later, mountain guiding took Andi to places far from his Bavarian home, including the Himalaya and Canada. Fifteen years ago Andi began guiding for CMH and has never really looked back. He has guided skiers in most of the CMH Heliskiing areas, but considers himself a McBride guide.
TD: What impresses you most about the mountains in McBride?
AK: I really like the roughness of the mountains in McBride - the massive alpine faces combined with long avalanche paths. There are no roads or logging - just pure nature all the way from the high alpine down to below treeline.
The Cariboo Mountain Range in general is just made for skiing. The U shape of the valley's give you endless opportunities to find routes and pickups along the way. I like the complexity of the terrain from open glaciated alpine down into awesome tree skiing below treeline. The variety in terrain and incline gives you an endless ski playground.
TD: From where you are heli-skiing on most days, how far is it to the nearest ski tracks beside your own?
AK: McBride is the biggest area within CMH and since we are a private area we only see our own tracks most of times. McBride is located in the North Columbia north of CMH Valemount and Cariboo lodges. Sometimes we hear their helicopter but we never see their tracks.
TD: How is guiding in MB different from the other CMH areas?
AK: Since we are the only group operating in this massive area, we have the possibility to pick and choose without worrying about conserving snow for other skiers on any particular day. We have great terrain knowledge like the other CMH heliskiing guide teams, but a bit more flexibility, and easy communication and understanding within the guiding team since there are only two of us and the pilot.
Also, Kevin Christakos, the McBride manager, and I work really well together. The other CMH operations have great guiding teams with great communication skills as well, but a small team makes everything simpler.
TD: For more relaxed skiers, is it hard to keep up with the pace of private groups, or is it easy for individuals to take their time on a run?
AK: It is easy to for different skill levels to fit in. This is the beauty in the private groups, you pick and choose your own pace and terrain.
TD: For aggressive skiers, do you have more latitude to play around than with typical heliski groups? Provided you stay under the guide’s watchful eye, of course.
AK: Yes, absolutely. For example, we have a group that has come to McBride many times, and they are all fast skiers, so in a week we ski between 90,000 to 100,000 meters, 24-25 runs a day. Of course weather and snow changes things, but those numbers are an average what we ski with those guys. They ski steep and deep, fast and slow - what ever they want.
TD: Anything you’d like to add?
AK: CMH McBride is a hidden gem - lots of people don't know about it or ignore it. I think McBride has a great skiing future. There is no other area in CMH where you can still establish so many new ski runs as in McBride - and this is what I love about it: looking at terrain and seeing a ski line and when conditions are right, to go and ski it.
The biggest tenure in CMH. Just one group of skiers. Private luxury lodge with a private chef. Andi might be right: private heli-skiing with CMH in McBride could be the best kept secret in heli-skiing.
Photos of CMH McBride heli-ski terrain by Andi Kraus.