For the first 47 years of heli-skiing, it was all about how much deep powder could be shredded using a helicopter for a ski lift. Maybe we’re slow learners, or maybe deep powder is just so much fun that it took this long to see the forest through the snow-cloaked trees, but enter CMH Heli-Skiing 2012 and we’re finally starting to realize that there is more to heli-skiing than just insane amounts of vertical in the most sublime snow imaginable.
Along with a handful of exciting alternative heli-skiing programs now being offered by CMH Heli-Skiing, Steep Shots and Pillow Drops is 5 days of skiing designed around finding the most exciting and technical lines possible within the bounds of safety and professional ski guiding oversight. The idea is the brain child of Pat Baird, a ski guide at CMH Kootenay, who got tired of looking at gobsmacking lines, but not having the time to ski them within the traditional maximum-vertical oriented heli-ski program.
“I gotta admit, the inspiration was partly selfish,” Pat told me last night. “It was partly the agony of seeing all these great lines that either half the group couldn’t ski, or the constraints of the heli-ski program wouldn’t allow.”
CMH Kootenay is located at the southern edge of the CMH ski paradise, and the mountains are unique. In Bugaboo Dreams, the book that chronicles the invention of help-skiing, I wrote this about CMH Kootenay:
“The Kootenay region is a maze of ridges with few taller peaks reminiscent of Utah’s Wasatch Range - on steroids. Hundreds of pointed summits dot the horizon with steep faces on all sides. Daniel Zimmerman, a guide from Switzerland, describes the Kootenay Selkirks as, ‘the kind of mountains shaped like children would draw.’
“In my opinion,” says Pat, an 18 year veteran ski guide, “there is no CMH area that has as much available ski terrain - virtually everything you look at is skiable.”
Steep Shots and Pillow Drops is a program Pat designed to take advantage of this remarkable area. “The focus is not to do huge airs, but to do more technical lines that take a little longer to ski.” explains Pat. “Sure, if we have a guy capable of big air who wants to do it, we’ll accommodate it, but Steep Shots and Pillow Drops is more about technical skiing.”
While an average day at CMH Kootenay may include 10 to 14 runs, Pat anticipates a Steep Shots and Pillow Drops day might have eight or nine runs. “We want to be able to do an extra flight here and there, and skip a flight sometimes. This way we can ski a run once, and say ‘I missed that hit to the left of my tracks - lets go back and ski that again!’”
According to Pat, the program should offer a special treat to families with teenagers and young adults. “There are a lot of parents with kids who rip,” explained Pat. “In this program, the parents could ski an easier line, and then get to watch their kids rip the pillow drops.”
Part of the guide’s approach to Steep Shots and Pillow Drops is to video the more technical lines, partly for the educational value, and partly so the skiers and snowboarders can see footage of themselves ripping such incredible lines in blower pow.
Perhaps the most exciting thing is that this program has yet to be tried. In late February, a group of Norwegians, reputedly including a professional free skier who might just blow the lid off the program, will join Pat and the CMH Kootenay guides for the inaugural week of Steep Shots and Pillow Drops.
Following a long tradition of CMH guests getting to both participate in, as well as help design, the heli-skiing experience, Pat foresees guests getting to name technical lines and help build a photographic album of wild lines that can then be passed around the fire for inspiration and planning on future trips.
Steep Shots and Pillow Drops is part of the new Powder University at CMH, a smorgasbord of self-explanatory offerings from CMH that give everyone who can ski an ideal program where they can push their own limits, learn the skills they need to have more fun, and feel comfortable enjoying the world’s greatest skiing.
This season, Steep Shots and Pillow Drops is offered in CMH Kootenay as well as CMH Revelstoke. The Kootenay trip sold out immediately, but there is still space in Revelstoke. Contact CMH Reservations at 1 (800) 661-0252.
Photo of CMH Kootenay anticipation and ski terrain by Topher Donahue.
Just to the east of the small town of Revelstoke, at the edge of Glacier National Park in Interior British Columbia, is a peak called Mt. Fidelity. On that peak is a weather station - the snowiest weather station in Canada. It records an average of 1471 cm (48 feet) of snow each year. The Mt. Fidelity weather station also receives more days of snow than anywhere else in the country, averaging 144 days of snowfall each year.
It’s no wonder Revelstoke and the surrounding Columbia Mountains have become known as the ultimate destination for powder skiing on planet earth. It’s about time.
The opening of Revelstoke Mountain Resort in 2007 opened the eyes of the world to the skiing and snowboarding potential in the area, but heliskiers and backcountry skiers had been shredding Canada’s deepest snow for many years before recent ski films like "Attack of La Niña" and "Rev" revealed the deep powder fantasy land that is Revelstoke.
For nearly half a century, CMH Heli-Skiing has had the lion’s share of the heli-ski terrain in the Revelstoke area, and it has been really fun watching the ski and snowboard world realize that our slogan, "The World’s Greatest Skiing," is no hype.
In the mid 60s, mountain guides Hans Gmoser and Leo Grillmair were looking for the right place to try using a helicopter for a ski lift. With no small amount of luck and vision, the two friends stumbled into ski paradise in the Columbia Mountains surrounding Revelstoke and started CMH Heli-Skiing, the world’s first heli-ski business.
At that time, Hans and Leo had their pick of which areas to use for helicopter skiing, but by the 70s other helicopter skiing operations opened doors and a sort of white gold rush began. Over the next 20 years, CMH was able to secure 11 different tenures for a staggering total of 15,000 square kilometres, giving CMH guests exclusive helicopter skiing access to more of the Revelstoke area than any other skiing service.
While writing Bugaboo Dreams, a book on the invention and state-of-the-art of heliskiing, I made this observation: Historically, every two decades another recreational user group discovers Revelstoke. Backcountry skiers in the 50s, heli-skiers in the 70s, sledders (or snowmobilers) in the 90s, and now, with the ski resort opening, Revelstoke is quickly gaining international recognition as perhaps the best, most consistently high quality powder skiing in the world.
In many ways, even though our administrative offices are in Banff, Revelstoke is the beating heart of the vast ski and snowboard playground that makes up CMH Heli-Skiing. From the northern CMH areas of the Cariboos and Mcbride, to the southern areas of Kootenay and the Bugaboos, Revelstoke forms both a geographical and spiritual hub of CMH Heli-Skiing.
In some ways it feels like our baby has finally grown up, and the rest of the world is realizing just how sweet it is skiing and snowboarding in the mountains around Revelstoke. If you’re like most of the skiing world, and just now figuring this out, buy some fatty powder boards, book a trip to Revelstoke, and hold on - you’re in for a wild ride!
Photos of the world's greatest skiing by Topher Donahue.
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.
The snow is piling up in the legendary ski paradise of the Columbia Mountains - another La Niña winter in the making.
Last winter I was fortunate enough to sample three different CMH areas during photography projects. It was also the best winter anyone could remember since the 70s; a La Niña winter - the same climate phenomenon meteorologists are predicting for this coming winter.
I know it is almost cruel and unusual punishment to post these photos right now, when most of us haven’t yet even buckled a ski boot, but I couldn’t resist. Not only do these photos illustrate a La Niña winter of heliskiing in Canada, they also reveal the quality of the snow that brings skiers from all over the planet to taste the world’s greatest skiing.
February 28, 2011, CMH Cariboos:
A short break between storms in the Cariboos had left a carve-able surface on solar aspects, but then another 30cm of low-density snow fell on the crust. Combined with -20C temperatures, the result was fast skiing and a swirling powder cloud that would twist and dance hypnotically after the skier had passed. I tried a few shots from below, but this one, looking down at the skier, best revealed the snow dance.
March 7, 2011, CMH Gothics:
Then it snowed for another week. Our first day in the Gothics dawned crystal clear. Even the most veteran guides and skiers were giddy at the breakfast table. Good stability, deep snow, and the massive Gothics terrain in the southern Monashees awaited. The day was like a dream. Not only did we ski CMH’s longest run, Thierry’s Journey, we skied it three times. After weeks of low visibility flying, the pilot was having a blast too. He dropped us off on tiny summits, plucked us from the deepest valleys, and was grinning as widely as anyone on the mountain. Here, the Gothics chef gets a few hours of dreamtime before going back to the lodge to prepare a gourmet dinner to give the rest of us the perfect ending to a perfect day.
April 12, 2011, CMH Adamants:
An assignment from Skiing Magazine, to tell the story of the the unprecedented CMH Heli-Assisted Ski Touring program, gave me another week in ski-topia. While we all anticipated spring conditions and corn snow, it was not to be. Instead, La Niña delivered deep powder conditions until well after the last week of the CMH season. I didn’t hear anyone in the group whining about skiiing in the Adamants during the winter that wouldn’t end.
At CMH Revelstoke, there is already a skiable base in the backcountry, and check out today’s 5-day Revelstoke weather forecast! S-N-O-W!