Last weekend, CMH Heli-Skiing wrapped up the Heli-Ski season in style. On Saturday, Dave Cochrane, the Bugaboos Area Manager, sent our Banff Office this letter that nicely sums up not only Dave’s perspective on the world’s greatest skiing, but also the entire company’s focus on safety and attention to our guests:
Good morning everyone,
Our last guests just got on the bus about 20 minutes ago.
We have had a truly outstanding last week of skiing with good weather, and every kind of good condition you can imagine, from deep silky powder to the best corn you could possibly have or dream about and also a little sticky gluey snow here and there, with very little or no transition from powder to corn.
We had a really fantastic season, with a lot of deep powder through the first half and then smaller storms after that. I can’t recall any bad skiing at all, although I am more than heavily biased for all the good memories. We had a couple of rainy days and didn’t ski, but it literally was seen by all of us simply as a huge opportunity for new snow and we remained positive. As it turned out the rain healed everything with lots of new snow at the ends of the rainy periods as the weather cooled down.
Our staff were really incredible and were instrumental in keeping everything safe and fun for everyone. I am privileged to be able to work with the remarkable people here at the lodge.
I would like to thank you all again for the tremendous hard work to keep us well supplied, safe and running smoothly. Your collective dedication to high quality professional management of all aspects of the support you provide us is really the best and makes running the show up here very easy indeed!
For so many of us it’s a job, but we are fortunate to work with incredible people and like I said before you should all be proud for a job very well done!
Thanks and to many more safe and happy mountain adventures!
Every skier and snowboarder who joined CMH for a trip, from some of the sport’s visionary superstars to first timers who are intermediate skiers, gave us rave reviews. The common story across the range of skill levels and experiences is how the combination of the staff hospitality, comfortable lodging, careful and personable guides - and of course the epic snow riding -make for one of the finest experiences this world has to offer.
Thanks Dave! Here’s to a fine conclusion to the 48th winter of CMH Heli-Skiing!
Heli-Skiing made the front-page on CNN last weekend with a story about Heli-Ski exploration in Pakistan. The plot is irresistible. Brice Lequertier, an Everest veteran who has skied from the summit, leading a team of world-class snow riders on an exploratory Heli-Skiing expedition to Pakistan’s famed Karakoram Range, home to the highest concentration of 8000-metre peaks on earth:
We’re turning even the most severe environments in the world into a playground, and I guess the only limit to what a Heli-Skier can do is the altitude limit that a helicopter can fly and land safely. The sky isn’t the limit, but it’s close.
I cued up the video excitedly, ready for a new frontier of skiing, but I must admit, it isn’t what I expected. The journalist from Walkabout Films who narrates the story is enthusiastic and attractive, the mountains are beautiful, the filming is well done, and the scale of the mountains is mind-blowing, but for some reason the piece leaves something to be desired.
To begin with, the skiing shown in the video, while inarguably hardcore at extreme altitude, is hardly inspiring. The skiers and snowboarders, who I have no doubt are great riders, make easy terrain look really difficult.
Maybe it is the unusual high altitude snow that makes the skiers appear to be having difficulty making simple turns, or maybe it's the lack of oxygen in their legs, but for whatever reason it looks like a ski video from the world’s highest bunny hill.
Maybe it's the green army helicopter they use that made it all seem a bit more like a military exercise than having fun on skis and snowboards in the mountains.
Maybe it's just bad timing for snow quality, and at other times the region could deliver great powder skiing on the world’s highest mountains with the potential for insane vertical.
Maybe they're saving the sick footage for the feature film.
Whatever the reason, the video didn’t really make me want to book my next Heli-Ski vacation to the Karakoram; but it's still fun to see Heli-Skiing make the prime time.
Interviewing CMH Bobbie Burns guide Marty Schaffer would probably be best done on a pair of skis with a recorder taped to a ski pole – Marty was skiing in his mother’s womb before he was born, and hasn’t stopped since. In fact, the only reason I caught him on a down day was because he was at his 62-year-old mother’s house helping her recover from an injury that she sustained after a jump went awry while powder skiing.
You read that right - Marty's 62-year-old mother is still going big.
I’d heard about Marty, equally comfortable on a pair of skis, a splitboard or a snowboard, and already a legend and a full ski guide at 26 years old. He was profiled on the spirited website, GetRadRevelstoke.com, where the stories of him growing up with parents who ran a backcountry lodge convinced me I had to track him down for a few more tales.
And tales he had to share. When he was 3 years old, his parents were digging out the door to the Blanket Glacier Chalet while Marty played in the snow nearby. After digging for a while, his mom suddenly asked, “Where’s Marty?”
A minute of panic ensued while they looked frantically for their son – and for good reason. They found him deep in a nearby tree well! They got him out without incident, but a treewell is the kind of trap that can kill even a strong adult without help.
With childhood imprints like treewells and backcountry lodges, it’s no wonder Marty pursues the twin pillars of mountain life, fun and safety, with almost religious fervor. “I was sort of tricked into becoming a guide,” explains Marty between chuckles. “When I was 13 or so, my dad would be guiding a ski tour with a few faster skiers, and I would take the faster guys and ski laps around the rest of the group. I didn’t even realize I was guiding. We were just skiing and having fun. I was just showing my friends the good stashes.”
Coming from such a rich background in the ski world, I had to ask Marty about the changes he’d seen. His first answer was the same one everyone gives: ski technology. Ski technology has made everything more fun.
His second answer was more surprising: “The average weekend warrior is skiing things the pros were skiing 10 years ago. Backcountry education is cool now. It’s cool to be prepared.”
Marty adds a cautionary tale at this point. During a recent freeride camp organized by Marty’s private guiding service, CAPOW!, Canadian Powder Guiding, he took a group skiing with ski pro Chris Rubens. They were skiing on mellow terrain on Rogers Pass, looking up at tantalizing extreme terrain, when Chris turned to the group, “If it were just Marty and me skiing here today, we’d be skiing exactly this same terrain. Conditions have to be perfect to ski that stuff.”
The moral of the story is that while average backcountry skiers push into more serious terrain, the ski pros don’t always ski more aggressively. “My ski pro friends are some of the most conservative skiers I know,” explained Marty.
The Blanket Glacier Chalet works in the same area as the CMH Revelstoke Heli-Ski operation. Marty remembers slogging up a skin track with his dad and seeing the Heli-Ski helicopter fly overhead. He remembers saying, “Dad, when I grow up I’m going to do that!”
He did just that. And working with CMH Heli-Skiing has proven to be more than he could have even imagined: “I still have to pinch myself sometimes to make sure it’s real! There’s a great mentorship program at CMH. Even as a full ski guide I learn stuff every week.”
Talking with Marty was entertaining, and revealing of the cutting edge of both recreational and professional skiing, but as it should be, talking with Marty mostly just made me want to go skiing.
Showing wisdom beyond his years, Marty concluded: “I’d like to think things haven’t changed too much. It’s all about fun and safety, the same as it was when Hans (Gmoser, the founder of CMH Heli-Skiing) was taking people ski touring in these mountains all those years ago. It’s not just about powder snow – it’s the whole thing.”
It was a painful interview for Marty. He could scarcely contain his enthusiasm. “It’s totally bluebird in Revelstoke and the stability is great! I can’t believe I’m inside!”
Photos: Marty checking the air for the pilot in CMH Bobbie Burns by Carl Trescher, Marty dressed up as a mountain guide with his dad's old gear for Halloween from the Schaffer family archives, and waiting in the lift line at CMH Bobbie Burns by Ryan Bavin.
A few years ago, kite boarding met surfing, and the result was the hybrid sport of kite surfing that forever changed the way we look at the water. Now, creative thrill-seekers are combining paragliding with skiing. The result? Speedflying, AKA Speed Riding.
I’m not sure what came first, speedflying or the GoPro, but they seem made for each other. GoPro footage shot while skiing is often sickeningly wobbly, while the smooth ride of the paraglider offers a silky-smooth view of dancing with the mountain world by ski and wing.
I came across these 3 videos that show the different faces of Speedflying, and demonstrate clearly that for those who have the skills and the inclination, Speedflying is one of the most beautiful, terrifying, and fascinating things that the human being has yet invented.
First, a 30 second aerial dance with an unskiable ridge in Alaska shows that sometimes speedflying can be more flying than skiing, with the skis providing a smooth takeoff and landing:
GoPro: BombSquad Alaska TV Commercial from GoPro on Vimeo.
The second clip, a first descent of a route (or flight path?) on the infamous Eiger Nordwand in Switzerland, shows the cutting-edge, mind-bending potential of speedflying. Laying down turns on snowfields in the middle of the world’s most dangerous alpine faces, slicing through the air inches from jagged rocks, and truly treating the most rugged mountain like a terrain park:
This final clip, shot on the Mt. Blanc Massif in France, is like a dream-skiing sequence. While the other videos are fascinating, this one actually makes me want to go speedflying. Touching down to carve the smooth snow, while lifting over crevasses and cliffs. Snow conditions seem entirely irrelevant. Hit a bit of crust? Just lift a few inches. Want to shred the top of that serac? Give ‘er. Then in the end, instead of carrying your skis to the bottom of the Chamonix valley, or making sure you catch the last ride on the telepherique, just soar to a quiet landing in a grassy meadow 3000 metres later:
While I don’t think I’ll be an early adopter of Speedflying, these videos made me wonder, will futuristic wings, updrafts and natural airflow one day allow the freedom, power and level of safety that the helicopter now offers Heli-Skiers?
We’ve all stood in awe, watching one-legged skiers navigate a steep run; the outrigger skis on poles carving alongside the one ski, their single ripped quad absorbing G-forces, the balance of the skier making our own bipedal battles with gravity seem trivial.
But who had the idea to try skiing with one leg in the first place?
And what is the story that led to such a fantastic pursuit for so many people?
Well, I just found out. And it’s an even better story than I’d ever imagined:
It started with a cyclist, skier and speed skater named Paul Leimkuehler. After competing in the 1936 Olympic cycling trials, he left his beloved world of sports and travelled overseas to fight in WWII.
Leimkuehler found himself in the legendary Battle of the Bulge, considered by many historians to be the greatest battle in the history of the US Military. Emerging with his life, but missing a leg, Leimkuehler returned to the United States and a different world.
With the motivation of a professional athlete, Leimkuehler committed the rest of his life to making life better for amputees. After designing his own artificial leg, he started the Leimkuehler Limb Company in 1948 and went on to develop a system that would allow him to return to the slopes.
Rather than try to ski on his artificial leg, he designed small outrigger skis to be fastened on the end of poles, so he could stand on his one leg and balance with the outriggers. This is the same method amputee skiers use today.
Leimkuehler went on to star on the lecture circuit, become part of the National Ski Hall of Fame, the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame, and the National Disabled Skier Hall of Fame.
But that’s not the biggest news.
Now, his granddaughter, Katie Leimkuehler, is working on a screenplay about her grandfather’s life. The trailer for the film, “Ski Pioneer” is an inspiring glimpse into the potential depth of the project. From footage of Leimkuehler racing on his bike, to developing his own prosthesis, to ripping difficult terrain in a ski area with his ski invention, the trailer promises great things.
“It’s about his great life accomplishments from losing his leg in World War II, to overcoming it by creating his own artificial leg, and eventually designing ski outriggers,” she said.
However, the project is yet to receive the support to take the idea from concept to reality. Katie, a journalist and creative writer by profession, has written the screenplay, but is currently looking for the resources to produce the film. Check out the captivating trailer here:
Any intersted film producers or ski history afficionados can contact Katie through her website.
This summer I ran into mountain guide Andi Kraus during a CMH Summer Adventure in the Bobbie Burns, a program that rivals the early days of heliskiing in terms of excitement and unprecedented adventure innovation. We flew on ziplines, hiked on ice, and explored the tundra. One sunny day, Andi turns to me and says, “You know, Topher, McBride is the best secret in heli-skiing.”
I had to find out a little more, so I tracked down Andi this fall. Andi knows a thing or two about skiing secrets. He was born in the German Alps, in a town where Olympic gold medalists have learned to ski. He began skiing at age three and eventually worked as director of the local ski school and coach for the racing club.
Later, mountain guiding took Andi to places far from his Bavarian home, including the Himalaya and Canada. Fifteen years ago Andi began guiding for CMH and has never really looked back. He has guided skiers in most of the CMH Heliskiing areas, but considers himself a McBride guide.
TD: What impresses you most about the mountains in McBride?
AK: I really like the roughness of the mountains in McBride - the massive alpine faces combined with long avalanche paths. There are no roads or logging - just pure nature all the way from the high alpine down to below treeline.
The Cariboo Mountain Range in general is just made for skiing. The U shape of the valley's give you endless opportunities to find routes and pickups along the way. I like the complexity of the terrain from open glaciated alpine down into awesome tree skiing below treeline. The variety in terrain and incline gives you an endless ski playground.
TD: From where you are heli-skiing on most days, how far is it to the nearest ski tracks beside your own?
AK: McBride is the biggest area within CMH and since we are a private area we only see our own tracks most of times. McBride is located in the North Columbia north of CMH Valemount and Cariboo lodges. Sometimes we hear their helicopter but we never see their tracks.
TD: How is guiding in MB different from the other CMH areas?
AK: Since we are the only group operating in this massive area, we have the possibility to pick and choose without worrying about conserving snow for other skiers on any particular day. We have great terrain knowledge like the other CMH heliskiing guide teams, but a bit more flexibility, and easy communication and understanding within the guiding team since there are only two of us and the pilot.
Also, Kevin Christakos, the McBride manager, and I work really well together. The other CMH operations have great guiding teams with great communication skills as well, but a small team makes everything simpler.
TD: For more relaxed skiers, is it hard to keep up with the pace of private groups, or is it easy for individuals to take their time on a run?
AK: It is easy to for different skill levels to fit in. This is the beauty in the private groups, you pick and choose your own pace and terrain.
TD: For aggressive skiers, do you have more latitude to play around than with typical heliski groups? Provided you stay under the guide’s watchful eye, of course.
AK: Yes, absolutely. For example, we have a group that has come to McBride many times, and they are all fast skiers, so in a week we ski between 90,000 to 100,000 meters, 24-25 runs a day. Of course weather and snow changes things, but those numbers are an average what we ski with those guys. They ski steep and deep, fast and slow - what ever they want.
TD: Anything you’d like to add?
AK: CMH McBride is a hidden gem - lots of people don't know about it or ignore it. I think McBride has a great skiing future. There is no other area in CMH where you can still establish so many new ski runs as in McBride - and this is what I love about it: looking at terrain and seeing a ski line and when conditions are right, to go and ski it.
The biggest tenure in CMH. Just one group of skiers. Private luxury lodge with a private chef. Andi might be right: private heli-skiing with CMH in McBride could be the best kept secret in heli-skiing.
Photos of CMH McBride heli-ski terrain by Andi Kraus.