Maybe it’s Thanksgiving break. Maybe it’s pre-season marketing. Maybe it is the Forest Service permitting system for ski resorts. Maybe it’s the insatiable human psyche to move on to the next thing. Whatever it is, for some reason most skiers and snowboarders don’t ride when the snow is at its best.
I’m not talking about ski bums who live to ski, and chase the last scraps of snow in the springtime before going to the southern hemisphere for the southern winter. I'm not talking about backcountry skiers who wait all year for the big alpine descents to come into condition in the springtime. I’m not talking about the CMH Heli-Skiing guests who plan their dream ski trip a year in advance.
I’m talking about the skiers and snowboarders who are chomping at the bit to make some turns in October and November and risk their knees and teeth riding thin snow when there are still elk grazing on the ski runs. I’m talking about the ski areas that blast artificial snow all over the hills in November, but then close in early April when snowpacks are at their deepest.
This year in Colorado was an exceptional demonstration of this phenomenon. The skiing was marginal most of the year. Yeah, we know, Revelstoke got dumped on the entire winter and Jackson Hole and the Pacific Northwest had snowy winters. But that’s not what I’m talking about. In November, it was hardly cold enough to even make snow in Colorado but areas jousted to open first and bag the precious Thanksgiving skiers at the end of November. It was March before the backcountry was really worth skiing in much of the state.
Then in April, on almost the exact weekend that most of Colorado’s ski areas closed, it started dumping, and snowed in the high country for the next month straight. It was painful to watch. Some people were actually complaining that it was snowing because they wanted to go ride their bikes, go climbing, hiking or other warm weather activities. But aside from our calendar-based expectations, it was winter!
I drove by the ski area to take my kids backcountry skiing (photo above) in a kiddie sort of way. The lifts stood silent, base lodge buried in deep snow, trees cloaked in storm after storm of fantastic powder.
My daughter asked me, “Papa, can we go turn on the lifts and go powder skiing?”
How I wanted to. We had a blast, it was great for the kids to suffer a bit boot packing and earning our turns on a little hill, but even the 6-year-olds saw the irony in it.
This year in Colorado was unusual, but not unusual to the extreme. We quite often have our best snow after the ski areas have closed. The best skiing in Colorado is typically from March through May, but most ski areas have limited permits from the National Forest Service; however, I don’t think that’s the biggest reason ski areas close when the skiing gets good.
I think the biggest reason is that like any business, ski areas are beholden to the whims of their customers. Snow doesn’t matter nearly as much as people buying lift tickets and booking ski holidays. I think we cause the problem ourselves by jones-ing for the winter long before winter even gets going, and then being over it before winter even ends; for taking our families on ski trips at Christmas when really we should be taking our ski holiday during spring break; for even buying lift tickets in November when some years there is not a single natural snowflake to be found anywhere south of the Canadian border. Ok, maybe it's not that bad, but you get my point.
If we all just stopped visiting ski resorts before Christmas unless the snow was great, and then packed the ski areas in April, maybe we could change the ski season to match the snow season. What do you think?
Q: How do you get a smart and critical 16-year-old to believe in Santa again?
A: CMH Heli-Skiing’s Family Christmas.
“I even got caught up in the Christmas Spirit,” explained Pete Harvey, a CMH Ski Guide who spent last Christmas Heli-Skiing with some lucky families in the Bugaboos. “I don’t have kids, so it’s easy to lose the Christmas Spirit, but when Santa showed up at the Bugaboos everyone was pretty wide-eyed. You could tell even the big kids were questioning their doubts.”
For 12 to17 year olds, it’s hard to imagine a more exciting, memorable family Christmas than one spent with CMH, Heli-Skiing with Mom and Dad during the day, and hanging out with other ski-minded kids at night.
Like so many aspects of Heli-Skiing, CMH has refined the Family Christmas to be the most fun, relaxing and perfect ski vacation possible for both parents and kids. For family weeks, CMH employs extra guides, professional childcare supervisors, and chefs who know just what kids (and their parents) like to eat.
Kids and parents begin each day skiing together, but if the younger legs get tired, they can return to the lodge to participate in various indoor and outdoor activities near the lodge under the supervision of childcare professionals.
In the evening, the kids sit with the other kids and are served up just the kind of meal a group of hard-skiing teenagers would want to eat. A little later, the parents eat together and enjoy an entirely different atmosphere and cuisine; just the kind of dining a group of parents would enjoy after a day spent living their dreams with their family.
As a parent, I had the same questions that many parents would have when considering taking their kids on a wilderness ski vacation: “How do you take care of my kids while skiing?”
Pete explained, “We manage everything with a higher level of concern for the micro-terrain. Where an adult could muscle through tricky stuff, we keep the kids on the more friendly terrain where we can keep an eye on everyone at all times.”
Then I asked Pete, “How did the kids do at handling the deep snow and big terrain of Heli-Skiing?”
His answer was simple: “Brilliantly!”
Finally, I wanted to know how well the kids paid attention to directions, to which Pete replied, “The kids did a great job of listening, better than you'd think. You could sort of see this realization come over them that some rules were important to follow - and that grown ups have to follow those rules too.”
CMH Heli-Skiing runs family Heli-Ski programs through Christmas and New Year’s to fit with school holidays, and is priced to be easy on the family budget with the kids paying about half of the regular rate. See photos from last year's Christmas conditions in the Bugaboos on Smugmug, and for further questions call CMH Reservations at 1 (800) 661-0252.
After all, can you think of anything better under the Christmas Tree than a Bell 212 helicopter and a mountain covered in deep powder?
Christmas is less than a month away. If you are in the USA hopefully you stayed away from any shopping that involved other shoppers wielding pepper-spray...but I digress.
The snow is piling up in the interior of British Columbia. The early season reports and pictures look fantastic. I suggest this would be a good time to crawl up on Santa's lap and ask for a heli-skiing trip with CMH this year.
In case you are looking for Christmas ideas for the heli-skier in your life, I have put together some ideas that I think would make their (your?) heli-ski trip all that much better.
The Trip to the Lodge:
You have your ipad loaded up with the 5 best ski movies of all time. Now you just need some cool headphones. I suggest the wireless Beats by Dr. Dre. I have the wired version of these headphones and I love them. Plane ride, bus rides, chillin' in the lodge...these headphones will make your movies and music a whole lot better.
While out Skiing:
I never used to wear a helmet backcountry skiing or heli-skiing. Why? For backcountry skiing it was always a weight thing (one less thing to carry while skinning) and for heli-skiing it was about not being able to wear my hearing protection. Those two objections have been taken care of. Check out the Smith Maze Helmet. I have been wearing this helmet for a year and it is fantastic. Super light and minimal.
I like to wear hearing protection around the helicopter. I like the full over the ear kind from Peltor that we sell in the shop. With a helmet on I really could not wear them. Problem solved. I took the ear pads out of my Smith Maze helmet and I wear a hat underneath my helmet (added benefit, my head stays warm when I take my helmet off at lunch). Throw on a pair of Peltor behind the head Ear Muff and you are good to go. Head safe, ears safe...give the gift of safety.
Photos, Photos, Photos
The iPhone 4s takes amazing pictures...but leave it in the lodge. Here's why: One, it is easy to drop and never be seen again. I was there when a certain multi-million footer dropped his in the Monashees and was not able to find it.
Two, in order to get out the iphone and use the camera quickly, you need to have the phone on.
Even if the phone is in airplane mode, I don't like having electronics that close to my avalanche beacon and risk interfering with the beacon's signal...bad risk/reward equation.
My suggestion: Here are three cameras that will take amazing pictures (and HD video), fit nicely in your pocket and turn on in no time (but still, make sure your camera is away from your beacon). Check out the Nikon Coolpix, the always classic Leicia D-Lux 5 and for a full featured camera with inter-changable lens in a small package check out the Panasonic GF2.
Finally, don't let the heli-skier in your life show up at the heli-pad in loafers. The venerable Canadian brand Sorel is making some super cool boots for men, ladies and kids. Here are two cool styles that will keep your feet warm and look good too, The Liftline for women andthe Men's Mad Boot Lace.
So there you have it. Some holiday gift ideas for the heli-skier in your life that will make their CMH Heli-Skiing trip even better. Have a fantastic holiday season!
Did we miss anything on this list? Tell us what's on your wish list.