I used to think that the face shot, that blissful moment of deep powder skiing when the snow pours around your head, was purely a phenomenon of snow quality. But shooting photos of CMH Heli-Skiing guides and guests has taught me that face shots can be controlled by the skier, and that some skiers have taken the face shot to an art form. These photos, taken over the last couple of weeks in the deep powder nirvana around Revelstoke, BC, where snow depths are near record levels for this time of year, reveal the art of the face shot.
Quite often I’ll get photos of two skiers descending the same pitch. One skier will disappear into the powder on every turn, while the other will seemingly never get the snow higher than his or her waist.
I spoke with a guide about the phenomenon, and he explained one of the reasons ski guides sometimes avoid the face shots is so they can maintain the best visibility when making route-finding decisions.
With today’s fat skis, the face shot has become even more voluntary. For those of us not making the route-finding decisions, getting huge face shots is a big part of the fun of deep powder skiing. John Mellis, the manager of CMH Cariboos and one of the best face shot artists I’ve skied with, explains that there are 3 parts to making face shots happen:
- You gotta make something happen to get the snow to really fly.
- Try to move your skis or snowboard like a dolphin swimming playfully - diving under and then popping out of the snow between turns.
- Get out of the back seat - when you lean back, fat skis float to the surface and you don’t get the penetration needed for a good face shot.
Any of you powder hounds out there have any other tips for the ultimate face shot?
I talked to a professional snowboarder last week who said that the conditions in the Columbia Mountains were creating the deepest snow he had ever ridden - then it snowed for the next week straight...
Over the last 2 weeks, the Columbia Mountains’ snow machine has dumped nearly two metres of low-density snow at treeline in the CMH Heli-Skiing tenures.
Shooting photos in these conditions resulted in some exceptional images of the deep powder heliskiing experience, some of which I shared last week, but some of the best face shot photos have yet to see the light of day. It seems only fitting that the loyal readers of the Heli-Ski Blog should see them first.
This first shot shows CMH Galena guide Bernie Wiatzka, the ski guide with by far the most experience at the tree skiing paradise of Galena, doing what he does best - disappearing in a cloud of cold, white smoke.
It snowed between 10cm and 30cm every night, and the CMH Galena Lodge was as fascinating in these conditions as the skiing itself:
While much of the time, the snow was so deep that it was impossible to tell if the CMH Heli-Skiing guests were on skis or snowboards, occasionally everything would ride to the surface and the deep powder travel tool of choice would be revealed:
Conditions were ideal for big air, and the CMH guides were in good form suggesting the best pillow drops, not to mention the mandatory air on some of the runs. Here, the co-owner of The Source snowboard shop demonstrates one method of choking on a mushroom:
The CMH Ski Guides wear bright orange jackets to make them easier to follow, but in these conditions much of the time they were nearly invisible in a cloud of snow. Luckily, CMH Ski Guides, one shown here up to his earlobes in low-density powder, are exceptionally good at giving directions and nobody had any issues following them down run after run of the deepest snow imaginable:
Even the Bell 212 helicopter, known to be the safest helicopter ever made, seemed to enjoy the mind-blowing storm cycle:
Yesterday, the CMH Heli-Skiing area's snow reports showed up to half a metre of new snow over the last 24 hours - on top of what you see here. If you haven't booked a heli-ski trip yet this year, call your boss, your partner, and CMH Reservations at 1 (800) 661-0252. Not necessarily in that order!
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.
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
Heliskiing. Helicopter-skiing. Heli-skiing. Heli-snowboarding. Helicopter snowboarding. Heli-boarding. I did a Google search for each of these words, and the result was different for each one. Sure, there were a few of the same sites that popped up, but most of them were entirely different.
It’s nobody’s fault, but the idiosyncrasies of the online search engine has made the differences between these different ways of saying the same thing seem greater than they really are.
Whatever you call deep snow nirvana, the commerce-based optimization of search engines changes everything. A Google search of one of the above descriptives of our sport takes you to a bunch of YouTube clips, another takes you to a list of ski guide services, and yet another takes you to definitions of the word itself.
Consider, by contrast, the real human conversations that happen around the 3-dimensional area-map tables in many of the CMH Lodges after a day of deep powder perfection:
“That was choker powder!”
I did a Google search for "choker powder" and was taken to a bunch of powder-pink necklaces.
“How about those pillow drops!”
The Google search for "pillow drops" took me to a page of padded chairs, a couple of skiing video links, and a conference centre in South Africa.
“I’ve never had so many face shots in my life!”
Entering "face shots" took me to mostly skiing links, but also a few portrait photography links and one site touting a game where you shoot people in the face. Great.
"Sweet lines" gave me a list of pickup lines to try on chicks. I knew better than to search for "deep penetration". "Big air" took me to an inflatable fun centre in Florida.
The wonderful thing is that while the descriptive of our game has changed, the lovely, fluffy, pristine, white world where we play hasn’t changed since Hans and Leo first took people skiing with a helicopter ski lift in1965.
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?
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?
Yeah, statistically there are more days of deep powder skiing in the middle of winter, but statistics don’t measure fun. If you ask me, the most FUN time of the year to go heliskiing with CMH is in the spring.
Why is that? Let my camera count the ways:
1. Surprise dumps from convective showers make the sweetest powder days. Even at times when the storm cycles are not hitting the CMH areas, the convective showers that are caused by daytime heating pumping moisture into the atmosphere will frequently dump 20 to 50 cm of snow. The above shot shows what convective showers can do for snowboarding with CMH in April.
2. Lunchtime in the spring is pure PLEASURE. In the middle of winter, lunchtime is about seeing how well you can eat a sandwich with your gloves on, and finding that delicate balance of drinking enough hot tea to keep your toes warm without spending the afternoon relieving yourself in the woods on every run. In the springtime, lunches with CMH are casual affairs with amazing people in the most spectacular places.
3. The light on the snow. Of course for some skiers, heliskiing with CMH is all about tree skiing in the darkest, deepest forests in Western Canada. And while such tree skiing is indeed epic, the light in the alpine in the springtime is a phenomenon to behold. These north facing moraines in the above photo see no sun until late March, when they light up with an almost inner glow. Add 50 cm of convective fluff to the equation and the experience is incomparable.
4. Speed. Yup, you can ride faster in the spring. Friendly snow, big alpine features, and generous runouts allow skiers and snowboarders to pull out all the stops. While the winter snow can give the sensation of speed, it doesn’t hold a candle to high speed riding in the springtime when you can open the throttle all the way and rip past some of the most scenic mountain terrain on the planet.
5. You can ride ALL of our terrain. In the winter, you are often limited to the trees, while in the spring you can frequently ski from the summits, down the big alpine, and finish the run with a long tree shot to the valley bottom.
6. Aprés ski looks better in the spring. In the winter, you enjoy the aprés ski wearing your long underwear in front of the fireplace. In the spring, you can roll up your short sleeves and step outside. The generous decks around the CMH lodges transform from chilly places where only the smokers hang out, to the most scenic, friendly, and intimate après ski venue the ski world has to offer.
April 30 is the last day of the CMH Early Booking Incentive! Book next year’s trip today and save up to $700.
After John Entwistle’s heartbreaker April Fools joke - where he lured us in with promises of the “Best Heliski Photos. Ever.” and then left us with perhaps the least inspiring collection of skiing pictures ever published - I had to balance things out and put together these five face shots from the winter of 2010/2011 in honor of just how sweet it really is riding deep powder with CMH Heliskiing.
In the process of making these five ski photos I lost and cracked lenses, filled my camera with snow a hundred times, and took a thousand lousy pictures - but I'm not complaining.
Blower Equals: 10 weeks of almost non-stop snow, and then a bluebird day in CMH Gothics.
Powder Eyes: After a hundred faceshots at -20C, this is what a smile looks like.
The Ghost Grab: The kind of helicopter snowboarding where the difference between a face shot on the ground and a face shot in the air is immaterial.
The Ghost Pole Plant: The kind of powder skiing face shot where the pole plant becomes immaterial.
The Cariboos-Flavoured Face Shot: Does life get any better than this?
Any heliskiers or snowboarders out there have a good story to share about the powder manna of the 2010/2011 CMH Ski Season? About how many face shots you got in a row? About how deep it really was?
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.