For the last three months, the CMH Heli-Skiing staff has been competing with the squirrels for who can be better prepared for the deep snows of Western Canadian winter.
For those of us who join CMH for the world-class powder and hospitality, it seems as though the lodges are stocked and ready for us as if by magic, so this year the staff made this video to capture the precision frenzy of preparing a CMH Heli-Skiing lodge for a winter of fun and pleasure.
Get Ready to Take Flight - Winter is Coming from CMH Heli-Skiing on Vimeo.
The mastermind behind stocking the lodges is Rick Carswell, who, with a small team, carefully inventories and stocks 40,000 pounds of non-perishable food and beverages into each lodge before the roads are drifted closed for the heart of Heli-Ski season. Perishable items are brought in to the remote lodges each week using a combination of helicopter and snow machine, but the fall stock provides the lion’s share of the calories that will fuel five months of turning deep powder dreams into reality.
Then there’s the 13,000 bottles of wine that are stocked to celebrate realizing those dreams...
Meanwhile, in the Alpine Helicopter’s hangar, the fleet of helicopters used by CMH Heli-Skiing is being tuned up for ski season and converted from fire fighting and flight-seeing machines into one of the world’s largest and most well-maintained fleets of Heli-Ski helicopters.
Ski and snowboard technicians are slapping bindings on the latest quiver of powder harvesting tools from K2, Atomic and Burton, guides are testing safety equipment and the lodge staff is putting the final touches on the comfortable rooms, luxurious spas, welcoming living areas and cozy lounges that so many CMH Heli-Skiers call, quite simply, “home”.
Photo of Gothics Lodge by Topher Donahue.
The story of food at CMH goes back to the 1960s and the very beginning of Heli-Skiing. At that time the Bugaboos was the only place in the world to go Heli-Skiing, and all the food had to be brought in, mostly canned, at the beginning of the season while the road was still open. Once the snowdrifts closed the road, a crate of fruit once a week was the only fresh food resupply.
Over nearly 50 years CMH Heli-Skiing has found it necessary, in order to provide such excellent and responsible cuisine in such outrageous locations, to take the CMH story far from the mountains into the world’s most progressive fisheries, ranches, farms, vineyards, coffee roasters, cheese-makers and olive oil producers. To put it simply, not every food supplier is up for the task of providing high quality, responsibly-sourced foods to some of the planet’s most remote world-class kitchens.
Yesterday I talked to Christoph Weder, the mastermind behind Heritage Angus Beef, a conglomerate of Canadian ranchers committed to raising cattle at higher standards than even the “organic” certification requires, and the source for all the beef prepared in CMH Lodges.
You’ll never meet a more committed cowboy than Christoph. He calls himself Dr. Moo after an education, both practical and institutional, that has given him a PhD in Animal Range Science and made him the proud owner of Spirit View Ranch, a free-range cattle outfit in Northern Alberta and one of the 20 ranches that make up Heritage Angus. His efforts have garnered several national awards including the Alberta Beef Producers Environmental Stewardship Award.
“The people who buy our beef,” explained Dr. Moo, “want more than hormone and antibiotic free beef - they want ranching done with consideration for wetlands and natural habitat, and without overgrazing and inhumane treatment of the animals; they want fair trade for the ranchers and animals that spent the most possible time foraging and the least possible time in the feedlot.”
Dr. Moo’s recipe for excellent Canadian beef is working, and now Heritage Angus sells beef to Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Czech Republic, Holland and France as well as the US and Canada. Heritage Beef’s blog, The Trail, is an insight into what it takes to provide the best possible beef as a Canadian rancher - from counting herd losses due to wolves one week, to touring the finest restaurants in Europe’s most cosmopolitan cities the next.
He explains his approach, in which he distills a lifetime of education and passion into a simple philosophy: “If you’re going to raise beef, raise the good stuff. If you’re going to eat beef, eat the good stuff. If the good stuff is expensive, eat a little bit less.”
Like so much of CMH Heli-Skiing, the network of passionate individuals and complex systems that makes it tick goes largely unseen, but once you dig into the story, it makes perfect sense. Christoph “Dr. Moo” Weder’s story isn’t so different from the story of CMH. In his blog he writes:
“It’s a busy schedule running a branded beef program, being a father, husband and also running a ranch… I spend many, many hours of the week in the office 15 feet from the kitchen table talking to customers and working with the partners of Heritage Angus… sometimes more than I would like, so when the opportunity comes to get in the saddle and get out with the cows I am all over it. September is some of the prettiest times of the year to be out on the range…. its a time for reflecting back over the past summer and for seeing if all the best laid plans turned out…. I love to see how well the calves have grown how the grass held up and what the cows look like as we head towards winter. Being a real rancher and being a partner with nature is something the ranchers of Heritage Angus are all very proud of. …. Heritage Angus Beef is not a spin doctored brand… it is real ranchers and real families that are proud of being part of something good.”
Hans Gmoser, the founder of CMH Heli-Skiing, or today’s mountain guides and CMH staff, could just as easily have written something very similar about running the world’s biggest Heli-Ski operation, and the pleasure of getting “in the saddle” after a hectic day in the office or the sentiments of being partners with nature and being real families that are proud of being part of something good.
Dr. Moo ended our conversation with this: “The partnership we have with CMH is one we’re really proud of, and it’s fitting with their international guests who get to visit these far-away mountain lodges and experience some really good Canadian food.”
Photos of CMH Cariboo Lodge and well-nourished CMH guests by Topher Donahue. Spirit View Ranch photo courtesy of Christoph Weder.
“Quality.” Replied Joe Flannery, the new President of CMH Heli-Skiing and Summer Adventures, when I asked him what CMH is all about. “Quality of snow. Quality of experience. Quality of guides and staff. Quality of helicopters. Quality of lodges. Quality of the alpine ethic.”
Last month I had breakfast with Joe in Denver, Colorado where he was attending the SIA trade show. I was thinking he might give me a laundry list of the changes he was planning with CMH, but before the waiter even poured coffee, Joe made it clear that his role was not to make a laundry list of changes, but rather to get educated about the complex workings and then to ensure the future vitality of one of the world’s most established and respected mountain tourism companies.
He did explain that there were some things he saw no need to change, including CMH operations in the field. “The product doesn’t need to be reinvigorated,” he explained. “The product is the best in the world.”
And Joe knows something about quality. In the three years after he finished undergraduate studies at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, he went from a financial analyst, to a startup employee, to a product director for Nike. He then spent a decade working for Adidas in Bavaria, the mountainous region in southern Germany, where he headed Adidas’ billion-dollar sports heritage division. After returning to the United States, Joe landed a job as the Global VP of The North Face, and helped the company to grow 300% during his tenure.
During his free time in Europe, the United States, and now Canada, Joe picked up a wide range of outdoor sports including skiing, snowboarding, surfing, rock climbing, mountaineering and cycling. As he puts it, humbly: “I’m a participant in all. Expert in none.”
To lead CMH Heli-Skiing and Summer Adventures, Joe moved his wife and six-month-old child from San Francisco, California to Banff, Alberta, to be close to the heart and soul of CMH. “There is so much energy in this company,” he said, explaining his reason for immigrating to take the job, “it doesn’t make sense to be the leader and not be there.”
After a second cup of coffee, he shared a simple three-part plan for, as he put it, “making sure CMH is as successful in the future as it has been in the past.” First, learn as much as possible about the legacy, the present state, and the future potential of CMH; second, dial in the CMH business model to a contemporary, nimble form to match the company’s strong legacy as it moves into the future; and finally, bring greater awareness to the world’s greatest skiing. Joe explained, “We have such a diverse range of guests that we need to customize our voice so it is right for all of them.”
He shared an example of his own learning about the current state of CMH: At the SIA trade show he chatted with Chris Davenport, the visionary skier who has won extreme skiing competitions and skied all 54 of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks in a single year. Chris joined CMH Heli-Skiing for a week earlier this season and explained to Joe that before the trip he didn’t think skiing with CMH was his kind of thing. Chris went on to explain that the experience had exceeded even his expectations: “I was blown away. It was one of the best skiing experiences I’ve ever had in my life!”
“Even a skier as well-traveled as Chris Davenport didn’t realize what CMH was really all about,” explained Joe, “that means we need to tailor our message a bit better.”
By the time we finished breakfast, I had the strong sense of Joe Flannery’s ultimate goal as President of CMH Heli-Skiing and Summer Adventures – to tell the world what CMH is really all about.
Joe concluded with a big smile: “It’s going to be a lot of fun!”
Photo: Joe Flannery (on the right) with CMH General Manager, Rob Rohn, checking out the dreamy ski conditions of this season at CMH Galena. Photo by Mike Welch.
I’ll preface with this: I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it.
On Thursday night, upwards of 600 die-hard Heli-Ski fans descended on Battery 621 to attend the blowout CMH Heli-Skiing 2012 promotional tour.
When I arrived, the Red Bull truck was projecting ski footage on the wall of Battery 621, caterers were passing out champagne, stuffed mushrooms, crispy shrimp and Canadian beers, CMH guides and staff were regaling skiers and snowboarders with tales of epic storm cycles and enormous snow pillows. Through it all, there was a taller-than-I-ever-imagined Sasquatch roaming around causing trouble and pilfering entire trays of food from the caterers.
The event began with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock taking the stage to recognize how skiing is such a core element of Colorado’s culture - and upon finishing received a huge bear hug from Sasquatch. Yup, Sasquatch hugged the Mayor of Denver! If that doesn't show you just how cool skiing is, then I don't know what does.
After the Mayor, Joel Gratz, the now famous ski-bum-turned-meteorologist and founder of the powder forecasting website, Opensnow, gave a presentation on how to predict powder events - including a humorous tutorial on El Niño, La Niña and the lesser-known, but frequently experienced, La Nada (When nobody has a clue what the weather is gonna do).
After Joel shared his secrets, CMH Revelstoke area manager and recent Colorado resident Steve Chambers took the stage and took the audience through a visual tour of the world of CMH Heli-Skiing, from the origins of the sport of Heli-Skiing, to Powder 101, to the modern high-speed powder bonanza on K2’s cutting-edge skis.
When Steve finished sharing a few secrets of his own, which I won’t give away here for those of you who are planning to attend a CMH Heli-Skiing promo, they played the latest CMH video, titled Ascension, which features Andy Mahre and Johnny Mosley pushing their considerable limits in choker CMH pow - as well as some incredible skiing and snowboarding footage that us mortals can aspire to.
Then came the event everyone was waiting for. A drawing for K2 skis and the ultimate prize - a free CMH Heli-Ski trip.
Afterwards, everyone walked out into a warm Denver evening, with visions of deep British Columbian powder dancing in their heads.
One lady walked up to me as she was leaving and said, “I moved to Colorado to ski and I’ve done it all. I’ve jumped cornices, skied sick deep pow, and all that, but what I haven't done is pillows. Are there good pillows up there?”
Are there good pillows...I think she came to the right place.
Tap into an unforgettable evening with CMH Heli-Skiing in a city near you...
Photo of CMH Cariboos Area Manager John Mellis catching some Z's by Topher Donahue. All others coutesy The Public Works.
So, working for CMH... Sounds great, doesn't it? Well, it is great... And it sure does live up to expectations! Most of us end up here for a love of skiing, and or, the mountains. Maximizing time spent out in the mountains is why most of us are here! As far as jobs at CMH go, there are 3 main types, all which incorporate slightly different ways of getting out skiing.
1) The Office Job: Yup, just like any other company, CMH needs a full office staff to support our operations out in the mountains. Based in Banff, we get lots of skiing over the winter at our local ski hills Lake Louise, Sunshine, and Mt. Norquay.
Every Thursday, we get an email that lays out potential spaces for any lodges with available space. Reply to the email with where you want to go, and your name is in!
Once you put your name in, and you are next on the seniority list, you get the nod. Time to shred the best skiing this planet has to offer! We have several office staff who easily qualify for one of our coveted "Million Foot Suits" (Though we don't hand them over to staff).
This photo is of one of our former office staff, Mark P (one of two Mark P's that are now known as quitter 1 and quitter 2) and the line he was facing at the Gothics during his ski week this past February.
2) Lodge Staff: These are the people whomake those remote mountain lodges so much more than just shacks in the woods. Your cookers, cleaners, ski techs, massagers, etc. work hard all day and night to make the lodge such a great place to be. All of our lodge staff are extremely passionate about their work, but it all comes down to the skiing. I am not sure I have ever seen anyone move so quickly as any lodge staffer who gets the call over the radio that there is an empty seat in the helicopter. Sometimes you can have as little forewarning as 10 minutes to drop your mop and boot-up!
Here is Bugaboo Lodge manager Lianne Marquis getting deep while on a "break" from day to day activities. Lianne has perfected her pre-ski routine to maximize the turns when the call comes.
3) Guiding: This is the obvious one. And though safety is clearly on the forefront of every guide's mind, it would be a lie if you said they weren't also having fun. First tracks- all day, every day. Now that's good living!
Looking for the world's best job? Think you have one that can top these? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our Jobs page at www.canadianmountainholidays.com/about/jobs