Being a guest of CMH inspires great stories. Today, with Thanksgiving coming in my neck of the woods, I was skiing with my kids and thinking about how thankful I am to have had a chance to work and play at CMH.
My story is by no means the best CMH story, but after contributing to the Heli-Ski Blog for the last 4 years, and working with CMH for the last decade, I thought it worth sharing.
In 2003 an assignment from Climbing Magazine gave me the chance to visit CMH Adamants, in the summer, to experiment with heli-climbing and write an article about it. I’d been to the Bugaboos before, but seeing the Admants opened my eyes to the vastness of the Columbia Mountains. For six days we bagged first ascents on the vertical walls of the Adamants.
After seeing my photos, Jane Carswell in the CMH Marketing department, invited me back the next summer for a photo shoot in the Cariboos. There, I was lucky enough to share the trip with none other than CMH founder Hans Gmoser, his wife Margaret, and their two grandkids.
Like most journalists, I had to ask Hans a few questions. Also, my father was a mountain guide, so I was curious about another family that made a life in the mountains. In the ensuing conversation, Hans told me about the upcoming celebration at the Bugaboos to celebrate 40 years of Heli-Skiing. I remember saying, “I’d love to be a fly on the wall at that party!”
Hans replied, “You should come.”
Who would turn down that invitation? When I got home, I contacted Powder Magazine to get an assignment that would make it worth my place at the party. And what a party it was; many of the original guests and guides, their families, and other friends of the business expressing their appreciation for being part of the invention of Heli-Skiing and 40 years of friendship.
After skiing, the wine and stories would flow and I took notes and recorded presentations. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the story of CMH is much more than a magazine article. At one point I asked one of the guides, “Hey, I’d be happy to contribute the material I’m getting here to whoever is writing the book.”
He looked at me and said, “Nobody’s writing the book.”
I was stunned. CMH seemed like the best story I’d come across in a lifetime spent living in, writing about, and photographing the mountain culture. After a few long conversations, I found myself with the dream assignment: write the story of CMH Heli-Skiing.
In 2006 and 2007 I visited every CMH area, filled several notebooks with interview material with some of the most incredible individuals I’ve ever had the honour of meeting, and in 2008 Rocky Mountain Books published the result: Bugaboo Dreams, A story of Skiers, Helicopters and Mountains.
Since then I’ve helped CMH with creative content of various kinds, becoming friends with the hard-working staff, guides, and guests and feasting on some of the most delicious snow I’ve ever tasted. And like so many long-time guests, staff and guides have told me: at first we think the CMH experience is all about the skiing, but then we realize it is so much more.
- It is the intimacy of the remote lodges and the great people.
- It is returning to a place that is so wild and pristine yet feels like home.
- It is living a lifetime in a week.
- It is getting to be where you’d rather be no place else on earth with a group of people who feel the same way.
The people I met while working on Bugaboo Dreams, and my relationship with the guides, staff and guests of CMH - and of course the skiing - have made working with CMH a dream project. Thank you CMH!
I don’t think I’ve ever watched any video and felt my stomach in my throat as much as I did while watching this short film of a recent climb and ski descent of a variation of the Kain Route on Mt. Robson (3,954 m), the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. Shot just two weeks ago, during the first week of August, the 12-minute film features Jeff Colvin and Reiner Thoni making a rare ski descent of the peak. This is shot in HD, so give it time to load and watch it full screen for maximum effect - from a stable chair.
The film is exceptional – besides the obviously horrifying footage of scratching down green ice with skis and an ice tool above massive exposure.
The best part about the film is that it shows what modern mountain explorers are doing for a weekend of fun with their friends. It's not just about the skiing, but when they do point 'em downhill, hang on...
It’s a fantastic trend.
Up through the 1960s, mountaineers had to be good skiers as well as climbers to consider themselves experts. That’s how guiding developed to include both skiing and climbing skills in mountain guide training programs – one got you up the hill, and the other got you down.
Then in the 1970s, the mountain sports diverged and specialized. Over the next 30 years, rock climbing, ice climbing, alpine climbing, skiing, snowboarding, freestyle, racing, pipe and park, nordic and big mountain all carved out their niches, complete with followers, fans and fashion.
Most recently, however, the trend has in many ways, been back towards the all-around roots of mountain sport – with an X-Generation flair. Young mountain enthusiasts are getting good, really good, at a wide range of mountain skills, getting super fit, and then taking modern lightweight gear and an easy-going attitude into the world’s most stunning terrain.
And they’re doing it with Go Pros strapped to their helmets. It’s only just beginning…
Thanks for the inspiration Jeff and Reiner!
For more info on their descent, and insights into the complexities of such an endeavor, visit Reiner's blog.
Of all the questions that heli-skiers are asked about the sport of heli-skiing, they are never more inquisitive than when we talk about Heli-Assisted Ski Touring.
At first, Heli-Assisted Ski Touring seems like a contradiction in terms, and my friends give me the most confused look when I mention the idea. But the expression on their faces is priceless as they begin to visualize the potential.
It goes something like this:
Start the day with a helicopter flight out of the warmth and friendly comfort of a CMH Lodge to a lofty summit above a glorious morning ski run:
Begin the day with a frolicsome ride:
At the bottom of the run, click into touring mode, put climbing skins on your skis for uphill traction, and let your skilled guide take you on the tour of a lifetime.
Snowboarders with spliboards do just as well (and smile just as much) as skiers with backcountry gear:
By not having to deal with approach bushwhacking, camping, or making it to the car at the end of the day, we are able to spend the entire day in the kind of terrain that dreams are made of:
Between the healthful uphill exercise and the epic downhill fun, the ski touring buzz is one part endorphins and one part meditation. The smiles tell the story best:
At the end of the day, the helicopter returns and like magic lands us back at the lodge for massages, spa therapy on the tired legs, and an evening of that one-of-a-kind CMH alpine hospitality:
The next day? Do it all over again.
One of the best parts of Heli-Assisted Ski Touring is that it is equally appropriate for experienced backcountry skiers as well as for newcomers to the backcountry scene. Groups often split into smaller groups (each group with its own guide) to seek out the right challenge and experience for the skiers and snowboarders.
With backcountry skiing being the fastest growing outdoor sport, Heli-Assisted Ski Touring is quickly gaining popularity. And for good reason: by using the helicopter and CMH know-how, we can ski and snowboard where backcountry touring groups never go; and by using ski touring gear we are able to go where Heli-Skiers cannot go.
This coming winter, CMH Heli-Assisted Ski Touring weeks are planned for the Admants, Cariboos and Bugaboos. In recent years, CMH has hosted Heli-Assisted Ski Touring groups in Galena, Revelstoke, Bobbie Burns, Bugaboos Adamants and the Monashees. While the scheduled weeks are great for individuals and small groups, CMH also hosts custom Heli-Assisted Ski Touring trips to any CMH area at any time provided that lodging space and guide availability can accommodate the trip.
Contact CMH Reservations at (800) 661-0252 to learn more about Heli-Assisted Ski Touring.
Photos courtesy CMH Ski Guides and archives.
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.