There is a saying in the ski world: "A skier without skis, is simply walking". Alright... I just made that up, but seriously! The most important piece of equipment for all skiers has to be the one thing that makes the sport what it is: skis. Here at CMH, we like to make sure that you have the best possible equipment for the job while navigating your first gladed run, getting your first face shot, hitting your first million foot milestone, or shralping the gnar with Dave Gauley out at the steep camps in the Cariboos.
Ski technology is coming pretty close to providing us with the perfect ski; the one that can do it all. But in reality, at CMH we don't care about ice, hard pack, or how perfect the ridges are in the corduroy (what happens between you and your après attire is none of our business!)... We only care about what will ultimately keep you somewhat afloat in the great sea of white. We are currently working with some engineers and ski designers from Atomic to create what is going to be deemed as "the ultimate heli-ski". Though details are limited as of right now, word from our laboratory in a top secret location (The Monashees, 142Km North of Revelstoke in B.C., Canada) is that we can expect something by next year! For this year, we have a ROCKIN' lineup from K2 skis that gets us more excited than we've ever been before!
So you are excited about heli-skiing, you've booked your trip (or you better get on it!), and the snow is starting to fly. Here are some of the options you have to look forward to this winter:
K2 COOMBAck All-Terrain Rocker 135/102/121 Radius: 22m @ 174
Heli’s, cats, skinning or lifts, the Coomback is equally versatile, balancing the lightweight attributes of a Back model with the confidence and performance characterized by many side models. This is the ski you’ll see a myriad of bindings on: alpine, tele, super light touring and more descent focused touring.
Performance: 50% Powder / 50% Variable
Sizes: 167, 174, 181cm
Construction: Triaxial Braided, Cap, Fir/Aspen
K2 SideStash All-Terrain Rocker 139/108/127 Radius: 25m @ 181
Whether tracking out your secret stash in bounds or heading out the backcountry gate to harvest week-old pow, the SideStash is the perfect ski. With a longer rise for 2011/12, the All-Terrain shovel rocker provides even more floatation and predictability to flash wide-open slopes and the nimbleness required to charge tight chutes. When the snow is all tracked out, the powerful metal-laminate construction delivers a smooth, damp, and stable ride as you confidently blast through leftover crud.
Performance: 70% Powder / 30% Variable
Sizes: 167, 174, 181, 188
Construction: Metal TNC, Hybritech Sidewall, Aspen/Paulownia
K2 Pon2oon Powder Rocker 157/132/122 @ 179cm Radius: 30m @ 179
Designed with the same philosophy of slaying powder easier, faster and with less effort, the all-new 2011 / 2012 Pon2oon is rockered in the tip and tail and features a redesigned Powder tip and a non twin tip Progressive Powder tail. While the ski has similar pivot performance to it’s predecessor, it now comes with more predictable turn initiation and added breaking power in the tail. The dimensions on the Pon2oon increase as the ski gets longer in length, maxing out at a whopping 134mm underfoot in the 189cm size. Get out your snorkel!
Performance: 90% Powder / 10% Variable
Sizes: 159, 169, 179, 189
Construction: Triaxial Braided, Cap, Fir/Aspen
Women’s specific skis:
K2 GotBack All-Terrain Rocker 135/102/121 Radius: 20m @ 167
If you thought big waists weren’t sexy, think again. The GotBack packs 102 mm under her belt and is proud of every millimeter. Though no longer the biggest gal in the neighborhood, the GotBack is clearly the most versatile. Lighter and more playful, she’s just as happy going for long walks in the backcountry as she is painting smooth arcs in an open bowl or dancing through tight trees . She says it’s due to her All-Terrain shovel rocker and Bioflex wood core, but I think she’s just being modest.
Performance: 50% Powder / 50% Variable
Sizes: 153, 160, 167
Construction: Triaxial Braided, Cap, Aspen/Paulownia/Bamboo - Bioflex 2
ATOMIC Century: Powder Rocker 128.5/100/120.5 Radius: 18m @ 166cm
The Century is ATOMIC's premium powder ski for women and its extra Power Rocker 10 delivers an especially uplifting experience in powder snow. Its 100 mm waist width and Powder Rocker ensure optimum lift, while the Step Down 2L sidewall construction and tip-to-tail wood core cushion shocks and hard landings. But freeskiers can enjoy much more than just effortless powder forays: thanks to a pronounced camber in the binding area, the Century also delivers optimum edge grip and precision control on hard snow. The Century is ideal for female skiers looking for a ski which is both effortless and easy to manoeuver in powder snow.
Sizes: 156, 166
What's All This Rocker Talk About?
All-Terrain Rocker : All-Terrain Rocker features an elevated tip for variable and soft snow performance, as well as camber underfoot for power, energy, and edge-hold in firmer conditions.
Simply put, All-Terrain Rocker offers versatility and ease in all snow conditions.
Powder Rocker: This tip has the most elevation and longest measurement of Rocker and offers skiers a “surfy” feel with enhanced soft-snow performance. The camber region still exists to ensure edge-hold on firmer conditions. Simply put, Powder Rocker provides unmatched flotation in deep snow.
Even before I started writing about snow sport, I was frustrated by the fact that snowboarding and skiing have two different names. It makes the whole discussion around the two colossally worthwhile ways of playing in the snow so very awkward.
Take for example the phone conversation that begins many a day on the slopes:
You want to say, “Hey bro, wanna go skiing tomorrow?”
Immediately it’s hard to know what to say. He rides a snowboard, but you ski. What do you say?
If you say, “Do you want to go snowboarding?” when you’ll be on skis, that doesn’t sound quite right either.
Then there is the whole discussion around the sport that is unnecessarily difficult. Take for example the snow sports industry. One time I was at the SIA Tradeshow, and ended up in a conversation with a representative of a famous snowboard company. I mentioned “heli-skiing”, and he immediately held up his hand, corrected me with “heli-snowboarding” and gave me a disapproving look.
It seems like things are changing, and many powder hounds, one boarded or two, have come to the conclusion that besides the physics of the ride, experientially there is really little difference between the two. Sure, skis are better for moving around in the backcountry, and snowboards are better in crud, but both are simply bitchin’ ways to play in the snow.
It was a snowboarder who showed me the light. My friend Karl, a snowboarder, called me one day to see if I wanted to go shralp some pow. “Do you want to go skiing?” he asked. Then, throughout the day, when we scored an especially nice run, he’d say, “The skiing on the left was totally untracked, let’s ski that again.” And at the end of the day, “Killer ski day, thanks for driving!”
Later, I had a conversation about it with Karl. “Why do you call it all skiing?” I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders and replied, “It’s all the same.”
Years later, I met another group of people who felt the same way: the CMH staff. For them, it is all quite simply, fantastically, skiing. And why shouldn’t it be; when you’re going out and frolicking in bottomless fluff on some of the most spectacular ski mountains on planet earth, why get too caught up in the nomenclature.
In snow like the above photo, at CMH Cariboos, half the time you can’t even tell what someone is riding on anyway. Any of you snowboarders or skiers out there have an issue with calling it all the same thing?
Reminiscent of last winter in Interior British Columbia (epic skiing photos here), New Zealand is getting dumped on bigger than any time in memory. Near Wanaka on the South Island, heliskiers have been able to ride from the summits of peaks all the way to the valley bottoms for the first time in over 30 years.
The above shot is going deep in the Cariboos, March 2011. For globe-trotting skiers and snowboarders, With New Zealand now going off, 2011 is shaping up to be the best skiing in a generation.
The blog for Wanaka-based Harris Mountains Heli-Ski describes the unusual season much the same as the way the 2010-2011 season started at the CMH areas in Western Canada. It reads: “Mother nature held off and held off, but last week she dumped like no other season we can remember.”
At the beginning of the 2010-2011 season, CMH was forced to delay the opening of one of the lodges because of a lack of snow in Western Canada in early December. By Christmas it started snowing and never really stopped for more than a few days until after the CMH ski season ended in May.
This week is also the beginning of the World Heli Challenge in Wanaka, a two week snowsport competition and lifestyle event, and one of the only helicopter-based freeride events on the planet. As of this weekend, the forecast called for snow all the way to sea level in parts of the South Island, including Wellington which typically receives no snow.
Two weeks are scheduled for the event to allow for weather and conditions, but two days are the heart of the action. One will be a freeride competition in a natural terrain park, and the other will be a Big Mountain competition on the steepest terrain in the area.
Both events will feature 60 of the world’s best ski and snowboard athletes and, with the deep snowpack combined with the Kiwi level of risk acceptance, the Big Mountain day scheduled for the end of this week promises some of the more outrageous lines ever ridden in an organized event.
Are you skiing in New Zealand right now? What's it like out there?
When a friend emailed me a link to grass skiing news, at first I thought it was some kind of silliness from a humor segment in a Warren Miller film or a light-hearted brainchild of bored and creative ski bums to help them pass the summer months.
Then I dug a little deeper a realized it is a legitimate ski discipline sanctioned by the FIS, with a World Cup Tour, official rankings, 116 pages of rules and regulations, and Spandex body suits. I can only imagine how nice it must feel to lay down arcs on perfect corduroy or schralp some fluffy pow after a hard season on the grass circuit.
Grass skiing was invented in Germany in 1966 (just one year after CMH invented heliskiing!) with the idea being to give ski racers a method for training during the summer months. Now, with the proliferation of outdoor sports, grass skiing has caught on in places as disparate as Taiwan, Iran and Japan.
Caterpillar-like treads are used in place of skis, and the rolling contact between the skier and the slope seems to cause little damage or erosion to the grass slope. Compared to snow skiing, the ride looks like the difference between an Abrams and an Audi, but the body position is remarkably similar to ski racing and would surely give ski racers a way to hold their edge, so to speak, during the summer months.
So what will the future of grass skiing hold? Perhaps kite skiing on golf courses? Rodeo 720s in Astroturf-lined halfpipes far from any mountains? Grass snowboarding? Will there be a backcountry equivalent complete with gnarly lines, multiday traverses, sick air, and BASE jumping stunts (Grassbasing?) off the edge of some airy pasture high in the Alps?
Pampas grass grows up to 3 metres tall. Maybe ski areas will start growing Pampas on the ski slopes and open the lifts in the summer for the over the head, choker grass skiing experience? Or maybe, with climate change, in 50 years grass skiing will be all we get?
Not likely, but then again, I never would have guessed we’d see off-road skateboarding either...
Photo By Christian Jansky (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The only thing better than heliskiing with CMH would have to be heliskiing with CMH with an all-women ski group. From March 29 to April 3, 2012 CMH is going to do just that; a group of women will take over the CMH Gothics Lodge for Chicks in the Chopper, a week of deep powder skiing and unbridled fun.
The event was inspired by Victoria Reynolds who felt that women have so much fun heliskiing together that they deserve their own helicopter, guide, and slice of ski paradise. I tracked down Victoria to learn a little more about what it takes to join Chicks in the Chopper – besides the obvious.
TD: What kind of fitness is needed to join you for Chicks in the Chopper? For example, would you need to be able to ski all the way down a long black diamond run without stopping?
VR: A first time heli trip can be a bit intimidating for women, and men for that matter, but women tend to underestimate their ability where men tend to be over confident. No, you don’t need to be able to ski black diamond terrain without stopping. The guides re-group on every run so there is plenty of time to catch your breath.
TD: What kind of ski ability is needed? Do you need to be able to keep up with the fast skiers at a resort to keep up with Chicks in the Chopper?
VR: If you are an intermediate skier and can handle the back bowls of Vail, or similar moderate ski resort terrain, you are good to go. In March, CMH held a Women's Ski Day at Vail with one of the CMH ski guides, which was great fun. The skiers were varying abilities, some were past racers and other just recreational skiers, but they all were down at the bottom of the run together. Also, surprisingly, gravity and powder snow is a great equalizer, and even weaker skiers usually keep up better while heliskiing than at the resort where hardpacked terrain is conducive to strong skiers going extremely fast.
TD: What kind of connectivity is available at the lodges to stay in touch with family and work during the week?
VR: The Gothic's Lodge has wireless internet and also land line telephones to stay in touch. Because the lodge is so fantastically remote, cell phones will not pick up a signal – now that’s a vacation!
TD: What if someone doesn't want to ski all day every day? What else is there to do besides ski?
VR: No worries if you need some down time on the trip. You have opportunities to return to the lodge before lunch and the staff will have a great lunch prepared and you may have a nice glass of wine too. Though if you indulge you can't go back out and ski! You can curl up after lunch with a good book fireside or maybe indulge in a massage and a hot tub and spa session would relax the sore muscles. Cross-country skis and exercise room are always available as well.
TD: What about really good skiers? Will they be challenged?
VR: Confident and strong skiers can ski different lines with the guidance of the ski guide. We will have two groups so the guides can adjust the groups accordingly, and even within the same group the terrain is so diverse that there is ample opportunity to ski both mellow and challenging lines.
There are only a few spaces left on this one-of-a-kind women's heli-ski ski trip, so if you’re considering it, and have questions, check out our women specific FAQs or even better give us a call at (800) 661-0252.
Update (October 14, 2011): Chicks in the Chopper is currently sold out but we have just announced a Powder 101- The Intro for women only called "Girl's School". Call 1.800.661.0252 for details on this trip and other women's heli-ski trips with CMH.
The headlines make it sound pretty grim:
“Chile volcano ruins Argentina ski season”
A National Geographic photo collection shows the apocalyptic scenes following the June 5 eruption of the Puyehe volcano.
At Cerro Bayo, a ski area near Bariloche, a meter of ash was reported - ash skiing anyone?
The photos make it look pretty hopeless - grey, ash covered streets where pristine winter whiteness should be. Some ski areas have delayed opening indefinitely.
This YouTube clip shows a woman walking out of a café in Bariloche, one of the most famous ski areas in the southern hemisphere, into a blizzard of ash. She says: “I thought it was snow, but it appears to be some kind of sand storm. It’s four in the afternoon and it’s pretty much pitch black.”
The Epicski blogs hold depressing questions like: “Anybody have news on how much ash is being dumped on Las Lenas or Bariloche? I fear this season could be a bust. :( Can you ski Vancouver in July or August?“
Others are more optimistic, with skiers posting hopeful comments about the cloud-seeding effects of ash in the atmosphere and anecdotal evidence of big ski seasons following big volcanic eruptions – but nobody knows.
However, in this era of real-time on-location reporting from anyone with a camera and an internet connection, things are often worst than they appear. Las Leñas web cams show a perfectly white ski area. The slopes look a little bony in early season, but there is no sign of ash. The Cerro Catedral webcam, trained on the upper slopes of the resort above Bariloche, one of the worst ash hit areas, shows slopes that are covered with white goodness, albeit not enough to ski on just yet.
It is perhaps a stroke of luck for the Argentine ski industry that they have not yet received much snowfall this season so the ash fell on dry ground in many places rather than on the snow. Had the volcano erupted six weeks later, after the snowpack was in place, the ski season might have been truly ruined. My best guess is that new snow will fall over the ash and within a few big storms even the worst hit ski areas should be up and running.
Any CMH heliskiers on a ski trip in South America who can share more firsthand information?
While heliskiing, there are inevitably a few delays; at the pickup, when someone is looking for a lost ski, while the helicopter that has gone for fuel, or waiting for a fog bank to pass so the helicopter can fly again. To pass the time, telling jokes has become a big part of the heliski culture.
To give you committed Heliski Blog readers an edge-up on the other heliskiers next season, here are 10 ski and snowboard jokes for next season that might even make the helicopter smile:
On the first day of her vacation, a woman fell and broke her leg. As the doctor examined her, she moaned, "Why couldn't this have happened on my last day of skiing?" He looked up. "This IS your last day of skiing."
From the Sports Joke Cafe:
A woman and her husband decided to go on a skiing trip one weekend. They rode the ski lift to the top of the mountain, and were preparing to go down. The woman suddenly announced that she needed to use the restroom, and NOW. Her husband told her that since the coast was clear, she could just hide behind a tree and go. Well, the woman had her pants down around her ankles when she suddenly began going down the mountain. She hit a tree on the way down and broke her leg and her arm and had several other bumps and bruises. When she awoke at the hospital, she was surprised to see another man who was dressed in a skiing outfit and also looked as if he had been in a skiing accident. The woman was very curious about this man, so she asked him what happen. You'll never believe it, he told her. I was just skiing down the mountain, and a woman went by with her pants around her ankles, and I crashed into a bush.
Q: What's the difference between a government bond and a ski bum?
A: government bond will eventually mature and make money.
Q: A car has five snowboarders in the back seat; what do you call the driver? A: Sheriff
Q: How do you become a millionaire as a professional skier?
A: Start out a billionaire.
From Ski My Best:
Q: Why are most snowboard jokes one-liners?
A: So the skiers can understand them!
Q: What do you say to a ski instructor in a three piece suit? A: "Will the defendant please rise...."!
Q: On a date, what does a ski instructor say after the first hour? A: "That's enough talk about me; now let's talk about skiing."
This skier walks into a bar at the ski area and says "Hey, you guys wanna hear a snowboarder joke?"
The bartender says, "Well, I'm a snowboarder, the guy on your left is a snowboarder, same with the guy on your right, and a couple of folks behind you as well!"
So the skier says "Ok, I'll tell it a little more slowly then."
Q: How do you know there’s a Mountain Guide at the bar? A: Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.
Anyone out there have another one to add to the list of heliski jokes?
There are few people in the world who can truly break down the complex world of deep powder skiing into manageable concepts. One of those is Roko Koell, the mind behind the CMH Powder Intro program, an Austrian Level 4 Ski Instructor, and former coach of the Austrian Women’s Downhill Team. I asked him about the most fundamental elements of skiing well in deep snow, regardless of skiing ability.
First, Roko explains that there are two stages to deep powder skiing, the first is a strenuous method he calls 4-wheel-drive skiing where you do not turn parallel, but rather force the turn with a snowplow or up-stem ski technique. This is how we all first learn to ski in the deep powder.
The second stage is more dynamic and seemingly difficult, but once you feel it powder skiing becomes physically much easier – eventually effortless. The interaction between your skis and the snow provide the power so your legs and the rest of your body can relax and enjoy the incomparable thrill of deep powder skiing; what Roko describes as, “The sensation of slow motion speed, the full-body experience of penetration and the exhilaration of weightlessness.”
To experience this second stage, Powder Nirvana, here are the seven crucial concepts:
1. The basic skiing movements are the same as for hard pack, or on-pisté skiing. The difference in deep powder is that there is no solid platform in the snow, so you have to build one with your skis. The solid platform has to be generated due to the fact that the skis float within a soft uneven and inconsistent mass of snow (causing resistance against skis, boots and lower legs). This makes the turning of the skis more challenging, requiring more assertive and prolonged turning movements.
2. Balance on both skis. Weighting both skis more equally and performing vertical up and down movement builds a solid platform underneath the feet within the soft mass of snow. From the platform we created during the compression, we can push off upwards and free the skis of the snow’s resistance and initiate the next turn at the point of near weightlessness - like a basketball player shooting a jump shot at the weightless apex of the jump.
3. Proper skiing speed is crucial. Not excessive speed, but "proper" speed - like riding a bike - that gives you both balance and momentum. This not only improves your balance but, even more importantly in powder skiing, this causes the skis to float up towards the snow surface, freeing the skis from the snow’s grasp which makes turning easier by reducing the snow’s resistance against your legs, boots and skis.
If you are not comfortable at proper speed in deep snow, you will not be able to build a solid platform and balance will be a continuously frustrating and physical exercise. You still can make it down in powder, but you will be limited to skiing using the strenuous 4-wheel-drive skiing techniques.
4. The timing is slightly different, a bit delayed, from the abrupt transitions of skiing on hardpack. Because your skis are penetrating down into the soft mass of snow and floating within it, you must ski with more patience within each turn and prolong those skiing movements you already have within your muscle memory.
5. You do not need to physically lean back in powder. When we lean back we tend to freeze our muscles, resulting in a rigid, strenuous position rather than flowing, athletic movement. Having said that, there is an exception. In very deep or very heavy snow a “slight and sensitive” backwards transfer of the weight helps to bring and keep the ski tips up.
6. Once you gain just a little experience and adjust to more equal weighting of both skis, a springboard will appear underneath your skis and give you a more solid platform. Now you are over the hump. Suddenly balancing becomes much easier and you can ski without hesitation and with dramatically improved confidence.
7. Finally, keep turning. Continuous turning provides the up and down motion and makes control possible. Skiing a series of linked turns will put you in control of your skiing speed in any terrain no matter how steep.
What kind of powder skier are you? Take it to the next level with a one-of-a-kind CMH powder skiing program. For the skier who wants to heli-ski but is afraid of the demands of heliskiing in powder, your dreams will come to life with a CMH Powder Intro. For the agressive, strong powder skier who wants to take it to the next level, check out the CMH Steep Week.
Photo of approaching Nirvana in the CMH Monashees by Topher Donahue.
Just 12 years ago, snowboarding made its Olympic debut. I remember the debate then. The question was if snowboarding was fit for the Olympics – after all, there is no skateboarding in the Olympics (yet). Now, the tables are turned. Skiers are debating the ups and downs of having the ski halfpipe in the Olympics while Shaun White is an Olympic icon.
It's much more than a chairlift argument. The International Ski Federation (FIS) is proposing to the International Olympic Committee that the ski halfpipe be included in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Ski halfpipe is already part of the program for the Inaugural Youth Winter Olympics in Innsbruck in 2012.
A recent article in Powder Magazine blew the lid off the debate, with the dogmatic and well-spoken editor Derek Taylor ranting against the idea, and the enthusiastic Trennon Paynter, the founder and coach of the Canadian Halfpipe Ski Team, all for it.
I can see both sides of the argument.
On one hand, sports without regulation hold a special place in any outdoor enthusiast's heart - and any sport making an Olympic debut will likely see an increase in regulation and a decrease in creativity.
On the other hand, the audiences and athletes are bubbling with excitement about the thrilling possibility of seeing skiers like Tanner Hall and Sarah Burke take a new aspect of skiing into the Olympic Games. Skiing is a centerpiece of the winter Olympics, and halfpipes and terrain parks are the new frontier of in-bounds skiing.
The two sports closest to my own heart are backcountry skiing and rock climbing. I love these sports without real rules, oversight by international committees, or contrived standards. Even the idea of Rando Racing and Climbing Competitions makes part of me cringe, but the other part of me rejoices that the sports I love are growing and influencing more people in positive ways.
Rather than enter my opinion into the mix (there are plenty of those already) I’ll throw out a prediction: In the end, the athletes and spectators will win – this in itself is a good thing - and we’ll end up with the ski halfpipe in the Olympics.
I’ll hang my prediction out there a little further and say that - based on the riveting qualities of the men’s snowboard halfpipe finals in the last winter Olympics in Vancouver, even when we all knew who was going to win - ski halfpipe will become one of the most watched disciplines of the Olympics.
In the 2010 Olympics, viewers ages 12-24 were up 40% over previous Olympics, largely because of snowboarding and "extreme" sports, according to an article in USA Today. While the relative extreme-ness of halfpipe versus downhill is a tender topic for another lift ride, these are the kinds of numbers that change things. Check out this clip, and it is pretty obvious why the ski halfpipe would be a popular Olympic event:
We can always go back into the backcountry and do what we want like my friend Joe Vallone, an international mountain guide and halfpipe coach, is doing in the above photo while demonstrating some new-school ski savvy in some old-school summertime threads.
Readers of this blog, you’re all sophisticated ski enthusiasts. What do you think?
Photo by Topher Donahue