Earlier this winter, Forbes.com ran an article titled “Why You Need To Try Heli-Skiing This Winter” that inspired me to compile this list of things that Heli-Skiing, at least with CMH Heli-Skiing in Western Canada, is most definitely not.
It isn’t that there is anything wrong with the article. The author, Larry Olmstead, is a genuine fan of skiing who is in the Guinness Book of World Records for the Most Trails Skied in 8 Hours (a record he explains, humbly, is “begging to be broken”) after skiing 64 different runs in 8 hours at Crested Butte in Colorado.
What inspired me to do a little myth-busting is that the first photo in the article is perhaps the most misleading photo ever published in an article about Heli-Skiing. It shows a group of guys braced against the wind on a dirt ridge next to a helicopter. There is no ski terrain, not even a pair of skis, and hardly any snow in sight. I’m sure they went on to have a great run, but the photo hardly does justice to one of the most exciting forms of recreation ever invented.
So here’s my short list of what Heli-Skiing is not:
I know there are a lot of other experienced Heli-Skiers reading this. What else is Heli-Skiing not?
- Heli-Skiing is not about groveling on dirty ridges while the helicopter spits gravel in your face. Most of the time, the helicopter lands in the snow with flags placed to mark the landing spot amidst a winter wonderland of alpine peaks or snow-cloaked old-growth forest.
- Heli-Skiing is not about jumping out of the helicopter. Last month I was interviewed by a journalist from Yahoo Travel who wrote a fantastic article titled “Take the kids Heli-Skiing”. The author, Deborah Hopewell, is a skilled journalist and she asked the kind of questions people are curious about - including whether or not Heli-Skiing involves jumping out of helicopters. Anyone who has used a helicopter for a ski lift knows the reality couldn’t be farther from the truth. The helicopter lands and everyone gets out with no rush (and without wearing skis). When the helicopter leaves, we put on our skis and snowboards. Heli-Skiers are about as likely to jump out of the helicopter as we are to jump out of a commercial jet.
- Heli-Skiing is not only for super-fit, expert skiers. Families with children as young as 12, intermediate skiers, older skiers, skiers with average fitness and skiers who live nowhere near a ski area all have a great time with CMH Heli-Skiing. Sure, some of our areas, like the Monashees and Galena, are famous for challenging terrain, but anyone who can ski a blue run with confidence can enjoy Heli-Skiing with CMH. In fact, our Powder 101 program was designed by a Level 4 Austrian ski instructor with specific curriculum for intermediate skiers who want to learn to ski powder.
- Heli-Skiing in Canada is not limited to low-angled glaciers. There is a persistent myth in Heli-Skiing that Canadian Heli-Skiing all happens on low angled, glaciated terrain. Sure, there are a lot of great low-angle glaciers to ski, which are perfect for learning to ski powder, but we also have a wonderland of steep skiing, both in the trees and in the alpine – and we get after it.
- Heli-Skiing is not for people who like ski touring. In fact, CMH Heli-Skiing’s first guests, 48 years ago, were ski touring guests of Hans Gmoser, the founder of Canadian Mountain Holidays. And recently, the CMH Heli-Assisted Ski Touring program has become one of our most popular programs, selling out every season. Form many people, the recipe is the best of both the Heli-Skiing and ski touring worlds: stay in a comfortable CMH Lodge, take a flight each morning to the ideal touring location, tour all day using skins for uphill travel and skiing down runs that sometimes even Heli-Skiers can’t reach, and then catch a return flight to the lodge for après ski massage, dining and CMH camaraderie.
Photos of steep tree skiing at CMH Galena and a Heli-Ski pickup, Powder 101 terrain and Steep Week terrain at CMH Cariboos by Topher Donahue.
It must be summertime. I dreamt of skiing last night, which for some reason doesn't happen in the winter. A couple of days ago my daughter asked me when we could go skiing again. My wife came into my office this morning while I was looking through winter photos from Revelstoke. She stopped and stared. Then said wistfully, “I’m already sick of summer.”
It's clear that I'm not the only one beginning to dream about frosty mornings, cold face shots, blinding white alpine vistas, and the exhilarating rush of downhill speed in deep snow.
So I went through my collection and put together these 5 dream-like ski photos to help us all through the longest days of the year.
Just a cool December lift ride, like here at the Sunshine ski resort near Banff, at minus 30C sounds refreshing right now:
But full-body powder immersion like this snowboarder at CMH Galena sounds even better:
Here’s the shot that sent my wife into fits of wintersickness, a lone ski track in the Revelstoke high country:
Dreamtime in the Bugaboos - where heliskiing began:
And finally, a dreamscape at CMH Monashees, one of several CMH areas known worldwide for the most exciting tree skiing on the planet:
If these photos are too painful to look at right now, my apologies. If these photos get you inspired for a bike ride to keep the legs in shape, or to plan a ski trip, you’re welcome.
Photos by Topher Donahue.
The greatest thing about skiing is that when we’re doing it, we all feel like superstars, and that’s all that really matters. It follows that we’d all like to look as good in photos as it feels to shred a line of deep powder on the world’s best ski mountains, but unfortunately the camera is a brutal critic; while on the inside we’re ripping the raddest line of the season in perfect form - a 1/800th of a second snapshot of the action can reveal quite a different story.
In eight seasons of photographing CMH heli-skiers, I’ve found these following tendencies make photos look less than desirable, even when the skier is generally doing great. The identities of the skiers shown here are hidden (except one where I know the individual would enjoy the notoriety) - and all the skiers in these photos are good skiers that also made some great turns that resulted in great photos. Of course as a photographer I make more photography mistakes than anyone, but these are some of the things that you can do (or not do) as a skier to help anyone, professional or amateur, get a better photo of you having the time of your life.
- Riding rockered skis in the back seat. If you can’t keep those tips down, the photos are going to look like you’re not in control. (You’ll also have a lot more fun and reduce strain on your knees if you can move forward to the driver's seat.)
- Skiing too close to other skiers. If you want a hero shot of you and somebody else, I guess you could risk skiing right next to each other, but if you want a hero shot of you, give each other a few seconds of space. (You’ll also reduce your chances of collision by spreading out more, and it’s more fun to ski powder in your own track rather than someone elses...)
- Skiing too fast. If you can make the speed work for you, by all means let it rip, but what I see through the camera is that most people go too fast, lose penetration in the snow, and end up looking like they are skimming along the surface at the edge of control rather than converting the power and control from one turn into power and control in the next. These two photos were taken on the same slope. The skier on the left is going too fast for his ability and makes the snow look 5cm deep. The skier on the right is digging into each turn and getting the full waist deep powder effect. Fat skis exacerbate this issue.
- Raising your arms when you catch air. While this is the natural reaction to having the ground drop out from under your feet, the key to jumping in control, and looking good in the ensuing photo, is to maintain good position. Tighten your stomach, keep your arms down, and ride it out as if you were just making another turn on the corduroy.
- Skiing the line even when the guide tells you not to. Following the guides instructions is essential. In this case, it wasn’t a matter of safety, but on either side of this alder thicket were spectacular Monashees pillow lines. In the quest for skiing far from any other tracks, this skier opted to ski the alders when the guide was waving for them to ski either left or right. (Even if it is not a matter of safety, the guides are really good at pointing out the best ski lines.)
- Cranking that one extra turn. That’s when we all tend to fall in the tree well, crash into other skiers, or just generally yard sale. Instead, the best photos seem to happen when you’re skiing without showing off, smoothly but powerfully, aggressively yet carefully, with space to spare, and well within your margin for error and control.
- Taking too much time to set up a shot. Sure, if you're on assignment for the next centerfold for K2 Skis, you'll spend half a day setting up the right shot. When you're on a deep powder ski vacation with CMH Heli-Skiing, nobody wants to stand around waiting for you to be a hero. It only takes 1/800 of a second for a good ski photo - rip the line and get on with your holiday.
For the last 4 days I’ve been documenting the CMH Nomads from their base at the almost mythical Halcyon Hot Springs resort just south of the powder skiing epicentre of Revelstoke, BC. Getting a glimpse of the newest genre of the world’s greatest skiing while the deep powder season in Western Canada is in banner form has been eye opening to say the least. Here’s a photographic tour of the exciting new CMH Heli-Skiing program:
The Nomads South program owes part of its charm to the base area, the Halcyon Hot Springs where the healing waters are just the right medicine to get tired legs ready for another day of riding in the deep.
The first day we spent in the big timber of the northern CMH Kootenay tenure in snow that both guides and hard core skiers have been saying is “as good as it gets.”
A view from the copilot’s seat of that as-good-as-snow-gets kind of fluff.
The second day we explored the southern Revelstoke terrain. Even the most experienced guides were talking about how magical it is to explore such amazing mountains with the freedom and power offered by heliskiing.
Then yesterday we crossed the Great Arrow Lake into the Southern Monashees and skied long tree runs between the dark waters of the Columbia River below and huge granite walls of the Gold Range above.
CMH Nomads concierge Sarah Watts joined us for both some blower powder skiing and a Nomads-style lunch buffet.
Then today we schralped Galena's southern area and flew over more spectacular ski terrain than I've ever seen in a single day. One more day, and it's supposed to dump tonight! For more details on the CMH Nomads heliski program, check out the interview with CMH Nomads Manager Jeff Bodnarchuck.
CMH Heli-Skiing Guides took to the mountains at the Monashee Lodge just north of Revelstoke, BC on Friday, November 25. According to Thia and the team there, snow conditions are "excellent with 260cm of settled snowpack at treeline and 160cm at the pick ups at 1000m". Late January conditions in late November? La Nina, we love you. Sorry Colorado, sorry Europe, but the weather report for the Monashees shows more snow coming in the next 48 hrs. Even local Banff ski areas are happy with the resort snowpack: 108 cm at Sunshine Village and 113cm at Lake Louise where the World Cup race was held over the weekend. Revelstoke Mountain Resort is reporting a base of 142cm and will be open for skiing and riding this weekend.
But back to the Monashees where Thia and Paul are grinning ear to ear. After a great day of skiing in Soards Creek on Saturday, the guides sent in a handful of photos. Here are a few to get you going:
To see more photos from this past weekend, check out CMH's online photo gallery.
As the CMH Heli-Skiing areas gear up for the season we promise to provide you with more and more reasons to ski in Revelstoke this winter.
Have you been out skiing yet? Share your pics with CMH on Facebook or Twitter for #SkiFotos and your stories here in the comments.
There is no better way to put the World’s Greatest Skiing in perspective than through the eyes and words of the world’s greatest ski and snowboard athletes. Recently, Gretchen Bleiler, one of the world’s most accomplished snowboarders, and Tyler Ceccanti, a ski star in the most recent Warren Miller film, “Like There’s No Tomorrow” both tasted CMH Heli-Skiing and, like many of us, rank heliskiing in Canada with CMH among their favourite moments in the snow.
Tyler was interviewed by Stephanie Stricklen of KGW Portland and, between clips of him ripping jaw-dropping pillow lines at CMH Monashees, he had this to say about heli-skiing with CMH: “The best ski runs I’ve ever had in my life.”
Gretchen was interviewed by National Geographic for their “Ultimate Adventure Bucket List 2012.” She chose CMH Galena as her "must-do" experience, and summarized heli-skiing in Canada with CMH simply: “Amazing terrain, amazing snow, and totally experienced, safe and fun guides and staff. And the food is delicious - need I say more?”
Great athletes have been part of the fabric of CMH ever since CMH invented heli-skiing in the 60s. Jim McConkey, the father of legendary extreme skier Shane McConkey, was on some of the original exploratory ski missions into the Columbia Mountains with Hans Gmoser in the early 60s that inspired the birth of heliskiing.
Ever since then, a long line of ski and snowboard superstars have visited CMH. Sometimes, it is it in the line of duty during a film project, but more often a visit to CMH for the world’s ski elite is not so different from the reasons the rest of us go to CMH: for a week in ski paradise far from the pressures of the rest of our lives.
And amongst the super-athletes, it’s not just the skiers and snowboarders who find CMH Heli-Skiing to be an incomparable experience. Martina Navratilova, the tennis superstar, went heli-skiing at CMH Galena, and at the end of one particularly spectacular run she turned to her guide and said: “I’d have given up tennis ten years earlier if I had known about this!”
Booking day for the 2013 Heli-Ski Season at CMH is November 17. To assure yourself a spot on the prime weeks, call 1.800.661.0252
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?
I am not 100% sure on this...but I think this is the first, if not one of the first, snowboard segments caught on film.
This is a segment from the Dick Barrymore movie Canadian Mountain Odyssey that Dick shot for Hans in the early 80's. It features Dick's son Blake, AKA Ted Shred, on a very early Burton Snowboard.
From an interview Dick Barrymore did in 2000: "They brought a collection of snow props to the Monashees in British Columbia and Blake decided to try a new Burton snowboard they had bought at an instructor's discount of $40.
The Burton board had little fins on the back. It's nothing like a snowboard today. It had a rope on the front that you held onto with a handle on it," Barrymore explains. Blake took out his Sorels, jumped on that board and took off. "He never had a bad turn on it," says Barrymore.
There is a lot of history in this segment but two things stand out for me.
One, you can see how the snowboard, even this early version, allowed the rider completely different experience from the skiers. I am a skier. I have snowboarded three times in my life. It was fun but I like skiing a lot more. That said, I am thankful for the push that snowboarding gave to skiing. I think about the line-up of K2 Skis we have now and I can see the progression from this early segment to today.
The second thing that sticks out- you can already see the snowboarding vs.skiing thing beginning. Check out Ted flying down through the tracks and blowing right by the skiers. For the most part this rivalry has been put to rest...although I see it flare occasionally at a lodge. If you are now in your 40's you have pretty much been around snowboarding most of your skiing life so it really is not an issue. Plus, per the first point above, skis have progressed so much they are now as good, if not better (especially if there is a traverse involved), tool in the hel-ski world.
Hope you enjoy a little history.
You may have heard the rumour. We're sweetening our 2012 offerings here at CMH Heli-Skiing. This post is one in a series of five over the next few days announcing some changes to the trips that we'll be offering in 2012.
First up: More Small-Group Heli-Skiing options for you to choose from.
ADAMANT LODGE Just you and a few close, personal friends.
It's been over 20 years since we hosted our first small-group heli-skiing program at CMH Valemount. Back then it was viewed as supreme luxury. This was the heli-skier's version of tooling around in a chauffeur-driven limousine. Our small-group trips have continued to grow in popularity, and nowadays you can enjoy them at Valemount, McBride, Monashees, Revelstoke and via the Nomads multi-area program.
But it's getting better!
We're delighted to announce the first CMH area devoted exclusively to small-group, small-helicopter skiing. For the entire 2011-12 season, CMH Adamant Lodge will be small group, powder paradise. We'll use two Bell 407s, each will handle three groups of five skiers plus your guide. The nimble little 407 offers supreme flexibility, and can easily handle the pace of the hardest-charging heli-skiers and heli-boarders. Meanwhile, if you don't have four friends who are as powder hungry as you, no sweat. Join soon-to-be best buddies as a single or couple. With two helicopters, six groups and six guides, Konrad and the other heliskiing guides at the Adamants will be able to offer a terrific range of terrain choices and group types – enough to suit any Heli-Skier on the planet!
2012 Trips = 2010 prices! Believe it or not, 2012 Adamant small-group parties will pay the same high-season pricing as 2010 — enjoy private nirvana starting at $8750 for 7 days!
MONASHEE LODGE Late season means more room to move and smaller groups, too!
Those of you serious about powder skiing already know about the legendary reputation of CMH Monashees. It is, quite simply, the planet's finest location for skiing steep, 1500 vertical-metre runs in bottomless snow, through towering trees.
At the Monashees we typically offer our Signature Heli-Skiing model: four groups per Bell 212. And that works fine when the bulk of our skiing is very close to the lodge, allowing for an average of well over 46,000 metres of skiing per week for each guest. But as the season progresses and the days get longer, we are able to wander the vast tenure, skiing superb drainages that are further from the lodge. Therefore, to make the skiing program work at maximum effectiveness and flexibility, as of February 18, 2012, we will reduce regular groups to 33 skiers and add two groups of five skiers/ riders for small-group skiing in a Bell 407. The net result: you ski big days on big slopes.
Prices start at $10,990 per person for small group skiing and $7820 in the regular groups.
Curious? To learn more, contact the Heli-Skiing Experts at CMH Reservations: 1.800.661.0252. Once word gets out, spaces won't last long.
And don't forget: Book your 2012 Heli-Skiing space by April 30 to qualify for CMH Heli-Skiing's Early Booking Incentive.
Photos: Small Group Heli-Skiing in the Adamants by Craig McGee / Heli-Skiing in the Monashees by Fred Huser.
The most falls I've ever seen heli-skiing happened when we were all tired from a day of great skiing, but one of the guests was chasing some number of vertical feet and needed one more run. The guide judged it safe, with plenty of daylight, to do another run and soon we found ourselves in a spectacular couloir. The problem was that an old avalanche had left the couloir dotted with icy blobs frozen to the surface under a blanket of powder. Even the guide didn't know they were there. It was impossible to see the ice blobs, but when you ran into one it was as if somebody had just hit your skis with a sledgehammer. Everyone took spectacular tumbles on that run and thankfully nobody was hurt.
Skiing oodles of vertical is great, but nobody wants to get hurt helping you to reach a milestone of vertical. For some dos and don'ts of going big, I asked Andy Epstein, a veteran of 14 million vertical feet with CMH and one of the biggest fans of chasing vertical you'll ever meet. I caught up with Andy as he packed for a trip to CMH Monashees.
TD: Do you do train for skiing so that you are ready for 60,000 meter weeks (double the CMH guarantee of 30,000 meters) in the early season?
AE: All of us keep in shape over the summer, however, the best exercise for heli-skiing is skiing, preferably powder skiing. Cardio training is great, and can prevent one from getting winded, but there is nothing like skiing to get those leg muscles in shape.
TD: What are the factors that have to line up to allow you to have a week of huge vertical?
- First of all you have to get out (of the lodge) on time. To get out at 9am, you need to shoot for 8:30.
- You need to fly every day - sometimes fog or wind prevents that.
- You need long runs. The longer the runs, the more vertical you will have. It takes time to put your skis on and off plus loading and unloading. We can do about two 900-meter runs per hour for 1800 meters per hour. We can also do three 1500-meter runs in 2 hours. So that's 2250 versus 1800 meters per hour. (Most skiers prefer good snow to big vertical, so in some conditions CMH guides will shorten runs to give skiers the best and safest skiing conditions.)
- Fast and strong skiers are a must, and they need to follow directions. (With 3 or 4 groups skiing on different schedules from a single lodge, CMH can cater to a wide range of skier preferences and abilities, but skiers like Andy often prefer small private group heli-skiing where one group has exclusive use of a single helicopter.)
- Finally, you must have excellent conditions. In poor snow or poor flying conditions, getting big vertical is impossible.
TD: How much is it acceptable to pressure the guides and pilots to go for more vertical after they are ending the ski program for the day due to hazardous conditions?
AE: Not acceptable at all.
TD: Other tips or no-nos for heli-skiing big vertical?
AE: When the guides are comfortable with the group, and they see everyone can ski that kind of vertical, they are more likely to go for it.
- They will do it when the skiing is really good and when they see that all the skiers are strong.
- Communication is also important. If you fall, and lose a ski or get lost, by radioing the guide he can rest assured that you are ok.
- You also have to respect the guide's wishes regarding keeping the tracks tight when he asks and by not going where he tells you to not go.
TD: In general, I find going back to the same places in the mountains deepens my appreciation for every element. Can you explain how your appreciation has changed over the years?
AE: All I can say is that my love for the sport has not waned a bit over 32 years. I still enjoy it as much as I did the first time.
TD: Anything you’d like to add?
AE: You never know who is going to become a die-hard heli skier. I have brought people from home and most of them enjoy the experience, but very few get hooked the way I did. I have found that the people I have met up there who feel the same way I do are the ones I enjoy skiing with the most, and who I trust the most. The group I am skiing with now has, for the most part, been skiing together for over 10 years and if they were a baseball team, they'd be the Yankees!
Springtime offers the most consistent conditions for weeks of big vertical. Long days, good conditions top to bottom on the longest runs, perfect snow for easy skiing. And there are a few months of resort skiing beforehand give you a chance to get those legs in shape. Check out our heli-ski space availablity for heli-ski opportunies this season - and read Delia Robert's fit tip post on training advice for heli-skiing.