When we spend a day with a CMH Heli-Skiing Guide, it is impossible not to be in awe of their profession. It appears that every waking hour they are committed to the safety and quality experience of their skiing and snowboarding guests.
But every single one of them has a life outside of guiding.
A couple of years ago I went Heli-Skiing with Liliane Lambert in the epic tree runs and scenic alpine terrain of CMH Revelstoke. At that time she had a toddling daughter at home and a son on the horizon.
Liliane’s blossoming home life and commitment to her profession begs the simple question: How does she do it?
So I tracked her down between guiding ecstatic guests through the epic storm cycles of the 2012-2013 winter to find out.
TD: How old are your kids now?
LL: Thomas is almost two and Emilie is four.
TD: How did you meet your partner?
LL: I have a great husband (Dominic). I met Dominic in the Bugaboos during the spring of 2002! He was the chef. Three months later we moved to Revelstoke and bought a house.
TD: What do your little ones do while you are working?
LL: They are with Dominic. Dominic takes them skiing (alpine and x-country), swimming, skating, Strong Start (a drop in no-charge preschool for kids in British Columbia), Mother Goose (a story telling program), the train museum, long hikes with the dog (Texas), and riding bikes (when the snow is not too deep). They go to day care twice a week so they get their social time and Dominic can go ski touring. During the four month winter season Dominic does not work to be with the kids, and during the 8 month summer season Dominic goes to work and I stay home with the kids. Dominic is the owner of Indigo Landscaping in Revelstoke.
TD: Have you taken Emilie Heli-Skiing yet?
LL: Yes and no. I was guiding until I was 5.5 month pregnant with Emilie. She has been on 6 helicopter flights. When she was 4 months old we took her to a backcountry lodge. I was guiding and Dominic was the chef and Emilie came along. Dominic was cooking and taking care of her during the day. I am planning to take her out Heli-Skiing in the spring during the staff day.
TD: Has having kids changed your approach to managing risk in the mountains?
LL: My approach to managing risk has not changed that much. I would say that I think twice when I make a decision about managing risk.
TD: Does CMH Heli-Skiing do anything differently from the old days (when guides worked for a month or more straight) to make it easier for parents who are guides to be with their kids?
LL: The schedule is 2 weeks on, 1 week off. CMH has been really good about accommodating time off so we can spend more time with the kids.
TD: How does winter season affect Dominic's relationship with the kids?
LL: They spend a lots of time together so their bond is getting stronger. Dominic is extremely comfortable spending all day with the kids, keeping them busy and entertained - and he has fun has well.
TD: During the winter, what does your workday look like?
LL: I leave the house at 4:45am to get a bit of a work out. The guide’s meeting is at 6:00am until 7:00am, then breakfast and go skiing from 8:00am until 4:00pm. Between 4:30pm and 5:00pm I go home to see how Dom and the kids are doing. Them I’m back at the guide's office from 5:00pm till 6:00pm for guides meeting. I go back home from 6:00pm till 6:30pm and then go back to be with the CMH guests from 6:45pm until 9:15pm. I’m in bed buy 9:30pm.
TD: How long have you been guiding and how old are you?
LL: I have been guiding since 2000 and am 41 year old. I was born in Rimouski , Quebec and I never lost my accent...
TD: How did you get into the mountain sports?
LL: My family was into skiing. My Mom put me on skis at 2 years old. I grew up in Rimouski (near the Val Neigette ski area), ski racing and teaching skiing and telemark ski racing. At 16 I started ski touring in the Chic Choc in Gaspe (1.5 hours from Rimouski). In my early 20's I moved to Banff to go skiing. Then I really got involved in telemark ski racing on the Canadian National Team as well as ski touring and mountaineering. I did my ACMG Assistant Ski Guide Training in 2000 then got hired at CMH for the winter 2000-2001.
TD: On the scale of 1-10, how happy are you with the life of a guide and parent?
LL: 9 out of 10. I am super happy. The minus 1 point is because I get tired. I get tired from not sleeping all night (kids waking up!!). I feel very lucky to have a great partner, 2 great kids and to be able to guide. Life is good.
TD: How do you reconnect with your kids after working such long days?
LL: Emilie and Thomas are use to having one of us away. When I get back I make sure that I spent time a lots of time playing hide and seek and then doing puzzles to get back in the groove. It seems that if I play a game that both them can be involved it seems to be the trick.
Every CMH ski guide has a story like Liliane's, so next time you’re out with them in the snow-laden woods, in awe of their professionalism and mountain savvy, remember to ask them what they do when they’re not guiding. It’s always a great conversation that follows.
Photo of Liliane Lambert in her big office, the Selkirk Range of CMH Revelstoke, by Topher Donahue.
Like most good things in Heli-Skiing, the need drives the innovation, and Pre Heli-Skiing, offered in Banff by Vertical Unlimited Ski Hosts is no exception. Last season, CMH veteran Kimbi Farrelly took a British family skiing near Banff before their maiden Heli-Skiing voyage in the Bugaboos. To start with, they didn’t really know which lodge they were going to. Kimbi said, “It was all neatly written up for them on their correspondence, but they obviously did not have the time or desire to read it.”
Personally, I like that British family’s approach - just sign up for the dream ski trip with CMH Heli-Skiing and get on with it. Why bother with the details, eh? But the family gave Kimbi the idea to start a program to help people get ready for their CMH Heli-Skiing trip. We all know CMH will take fantastic care of you on your dream trip, and teach you what you need to know while you’re out there, but Kimbi had discovered a valuable addition to the CMH Heli-Skiing program.
While skiing with the British family around the Banff ski areas, Kimbi found herself teaching them many of the things that would help them get the most out of their ski holiday:
- She explained the kind of terrain they would end up skiing in the Bugaboos, and how the heli-skiing program works in the various terrain.
- She went over the techniques for tree skiing, like the buddy system and leap frogging.
- She showed them how to find a lost ski in the deep powder.
- She showed them how to put on skis in difficult terrain and deep snow.
- She coached them on how to approach difficult terrain.
- She taught them how to get up after falling in deep powder.
- She gave them pointers for how to conserve energy throughout the day and week.
- She emphasized the importance of listening to the guide’s instructions.
- She explained how to dress for a day of heli-skiing in various temperatures and conditions.
- She showed them how to bundle their skis and poles together for the helicopter.
By the end of the day, Kimbi had designed the beginnings of an entirely new ski program.
After 12 years of working for CMH as a ski shop manager, in almost every CMH area, and accumulating over 8 million vertical feet of heli-fun, Kimbi knows what will help CMH guests get the most out of the vacation.
“Not only is this great for first timers,” she explains, “but it is also an add on for the returning guests that want to bring their families, or for groups of friends who want to get their ski legs underneath them; a lot of heli-skiers don’t have the time to prepare before their vacation and this is a great way to get the ski legs moving again.”
There are also some benefits that even the experienced CMH powder hounds would appreciate. Kimbi provides private shuttles from your hotel, and will take you on a tour of Banff’s “hidden stashes and secret spots that all the locals ski!” (Sign me up for that part alone...)
Besides Kimbi’s substantial fun hog credentials, she is also a certified Nordic and Alpine ski instructor. Everything Kimbi teaches will be explained by CMH guides as well, and repeated whenever needed, but joining Kimbi for a warm-up allows you to spend more of your concentration and ski energy simply enjoying the world’s greatest skiing.
For more information about Pre Heli-Skiing, visit Vertical Unlimited Ski Hosts or call CMH Heli-Skiing reservations at 1 (800) 661-0252.
For the first 47 years of heli-skiing, it was all about how much deep powder could be shredded using a helicopter for a ski lift. Maybe we’re slow learners, or maybe deep powder is just so much fun that it took this long to see the forest through the snow-cloaked trees, but enter CMH Heli-Skiing 2012 and we’re finally starting to realize that there is more to heli-skiing than just insane amounts of vertical in the most sublime snow imaginable.
Along with a handful of exciting alternative heli-skiing programs now being offered by CMH Heli-Skiing, Steep Shots and Pillow Drops is 5 days of skiing designed around finding the most exciting and technical lines possible within the bounds of safety and professional ski guiding oversight. The idea is the brain child of Pat Baird, a ski guide at CMH Kootenay, who got tired of looking at gobsmacking lines, but not having the time to ski them within the traditional maximum-vertical oriented heli-ski program.
“I gotta admit, the inspiration was partly selfish,” Pat told me last night. “It was partly the agony of seeing all these great lines that either half the group couldn’t ski, or the constraints of the heli-ski program wouldn’t allow.”
CMH Kootenay is located at the southern edge of the CMH ski paradise, and the mountains are unique. In Bugaboo Dreams, the book that chronicles the invention of help-skiing, I wrote this about CMH Kootenay:
“The Kootenay region is a maze of ridges with few taller peaks reminiscent of Utah’s Wasatch Range - on steroids. Hundreds of pointed summits dot the horizon with steep faces on all sides. Daniel Zimmerman, a guide from Switzerland, describes the Kootenay Selkirks as, ‘the kind of mountains shaped like children would draw.’
“In my opinion,” says Pat, an 18 year veteran ski guide, “there is no CMH area that has as much available ski terrain - virtually everything you look at is skiable.”
Steep Shots and Pillow Drops is a program Pat designed to take advantage of this remarkable area. “The focus is not to do huge airs, but to do more technical lines that take a little longer to ski.” explains Pat. “Sure, if we have a guy capable of big air who wants to do it, we’ll accommodate it, but Steep Shots and Pillow Drops is more about technical skiing.”
While an average day at CMH Kootenay may include 10 to 14 runs, Pat anticipates a Steep Shots and Pillow Drops day might have eight or nine runs. “We want to be able to do an extra flight here and there, and skip a flight sometimes. This way we can ski a run once, and say ‘I missed that hit to the left of my tracks - lets go back and ski that again!’”
According to Pat, the program should offer a special treat to families with teenagers and young adults. “There are a lot of parents with kids who rip,” explained Pat. “In this program, the parents could ski an easier line, and then get to watch their kids rip the pillow drops.”
Part of the guide’s approach to Steep Shots and Pillow Drops is to video the more technical lines, partly for the educational value, and partly so the skiers and snowboarders can see footage of themselves ripping such incredible lines in blower pow.
Perhaps the most exciting thing is that this program has yet to be tried. In late February, a group of Norwegians, reputedly including a professional free skier who might just blow the lid off the program, will join Pat and the CMH Kootenay guides for the inaugural week of Steep Shots and Pillow Drops.
Following a long tradition of CMH guests getting to both participate in, as well as help design, the heli-skiing experience, Pat foresees guests getting to name technical lines and help build a photographic album of wild lines that can then be passed around the fire for inspiration and planning on future trips.
Steep Shots and Pillow Drops is part of the new Powder University at CMH, a smorgasbord of self-explanatory offerings from CMH that give everyone who can ski an ideal program where they can push their own limits, learn the skills they need to have more fun, and feel comfortable enjoying the world’s greatest skiing.
This season, Steep Shots and Pillow Drops is offered in CMH Kootenay as well as CMH Revelstoke. The Kootenay trip sold out immediately, but there is still space in Revelstoke. Contact CMH Reservations at 1 (800) 661-0252.
Photo of CMH Kootenay anticipation and ski terrain by Topher Donahue.
Watching the events unfolding in Egypt recently made my own obsessions and little victories feel insignificant – but it also made me look into the nooks and crannies around me where the people’s voice is heard. The will of the human spirit is staggering. Even something as obscure and hedonistic as heliskiing was due to the adventurous spirit of North American skiers, not because some investor decided to create a heliski business.
While writing Bugaboo Dreams, the book that tells the story of Canadian Mountain Holidays and the invention of heliskiing, I was struck by a common thread throughout the now 46-year history of the sport: the skiers were the inspiration.
The first big change was in the early 60s, at MIT, when the first American Olympic ski racer, Brooks Dodge, approached CMH founder Hans Gmoser after a slideshow promoting Hans' ski touring business. Brooks was enamoured with the idea of using a helicopter for a ski lift in some remote, snowy mountains like those of Western Canada. Hans wasn’t crazy about the idea. Being a mountain guide, the complications of taking people skiing by helicopter must have been daunting.
But Brooks made Hans an offer he couldn’t refuse. Brooks would bring enough skiers to pay for the helicopter to leave the ground - and if it didn’t work out Hans could keep the money. Needless to say, it worked.
The second big change was when CMH opened the Cariboo Lodge in the early seventies. From the short sighted perspective of modern business, it would have been more profitable to expand the Bugaboo Lodge and pack more customers into the already established area – but the people wouldn’t have been as happy.
People wanted to go heliskiing because it landed them squarely in a vast expanse of wilderness with easy access to a nearly limitless supply of untouched powder snow. Hans knew that bringing more people into the Bugaboos would have reduced the quality of the experience for the people who mattered most – his guests. So instead of expanding the Bugaboos he built a lodge 300-kilometres to the north in the Cariboos.
The third big change was in the mid-eighties when a French ski guide named Ary Dedet suggested that skiing in small, private groups would be worth the additional expense. Again, if the decision had been made from a purely profit-based perspective, Ary would have been denied. Why not open another full-sized lodge to bring in more people?
Instead, the decision to try Private Group Heliskiing was based on the dreamy concept of skiing, dining and living for a week with just you and a few close friends - and a helicopter at your service – in some of the most epic ski mountains and snowpack on the planet. CMH opened Valemount and then McBride to cater to this more intimate heliskiing experience and the result remains one of the most popular CMH trips.
More recently, CMH introduced Small Group Heliskiing for the most addicted powder fiends, Powder Intro because intermediate skiers wanted to learn to ski the legendary powder of the Columbia Mountains, Nomads because skiers asked about skiing in more than one CMH area during the same trip, and Family Trips because veteran heliskiers wanted to share the magical experience with their families.
However - just like in a country where the people want change - there are the twin limitations of safety and sustainability. What the future of heliskiing holds is largely based on these two limitations balanced against the desires of the skiers and snowboarders who have shaped Canadian Mountain Holidays for nearly half a century.
Considering these all-powerful limitations of safety and sustainability, what do you want heliskiing to be like in another decade?
CMH archive photo of the birth of heliskiing, Bugaboos, April 1965. And a snowboarder ripping steep terrain in the Bobbie Burns, March 2008.
A few weeks ago I was walking to the store under cloudless summer skies with my three-year-old twins. Out of the blue, my daughter says: “Papa, I miss skiing. I want to go skiing. Can we go skiing?”
I tried to explain how we needed to wait for the snow before we could go skiing, and that winter would come soon enough. She seemed content with the answer, and I thought she’d forgotten all about winter fun, but the next morning she came down the stairs all groggy-eyed and crawled onto my lap. She looked out the window for a minute, seemingly deep in thought, and then turned to me with a disappointed look in her eye and said, “Papa, it did not snow last night. We cannot go skiing.”
Since then, my kids talk about skiing pretty much every day. As a father, it is nice to see them so excited about something I love to do; but as a skier, my kids are driving me nuts. Now I’m jonesin' for skiing too!
I tried to order the new Fritschi AT binding that promises to be the rage for riding lifts and backcountry touring, but it’s not available yet. I caught myself checking out the newest backcountry ski boots and wondering if my goggles would work for another year. I surfed to one of the CMH guide videos with the excuse of checking out a chest camera that some of the heliski guides are using.
Last week we went hiking. After perhaps a kilometer, the twins wanted to go back to the truck. First I tempted them with a snack, but they were still not inspired. Then I suggested they lead off the trail through some open woods and meadows. That worked for five minutes, and then they wanted to go back to the truck.
Rather than push them I started to turn around, and then said, “Hiking will help you ski better when it snows.”
They both looked at me for a second, and then took off up the trail, teetering around some big puddles and tiny streams without even getting their feet wet, and kept going for another half an hour before I grew worried about blisters on their little feet and turned us around.
Now, whenever the twins get tired of walking, I mention skiing and they both find a second wind. My kids’ sudden and inexplicable late-summer enthusiasm for skiing has rubbed off on me. I started going out on my road and mountain bikes, and hitting the local skatepark to practice physical balance and mental commitment - until I sprained my ankle, and then my first thought was, “I’ll be healed by ski season!”
Frosty window photo by Topher Donahue.
Are you jonesin' too? Want to just talk about powder? Give us a call. We can’t wait for that first face shot either.
Getting the chance to ski with Klaus Obermeyer during his 91st year was an opportunity not to be missed. The ski legend helped turn the eyes of the world onto Aspen, Colorado and invented double ski boots and down jackets, among a long list of contributions to our sport. When I met him in Aspen in April and he was in a good mood – he’d only missed a couple of days of skiing all winter. Over breakfast Klaus told me:
“The best thing about skiing. The very best thing about skiing - is that it is such a great family sport. An Olympian can go skiing with their kid and both can have fun.”
We had a big breakfast and then he drove, wearing his ski boots, to his VIP slope-side parking space. After getting off of the gondola, Klaus stepped quickly into his skis and accelerated away from the lift. I leaned on my ski poles to catch up, and started chasing the sturdy figure, white hair and white, form-fitting Obermeyer ski jacket turning heads left and right. As the run steepened, I caught him, but stayed behind to see how a 90-year-old skier approached a run. The best I can explain it, is that he let the run come to him, rather than him chasing the run. At the lower angled sections, he slowly opened up his speed, letting the skis run at the optimal carve and speed to make the pitch as pleasant as possible. When steep sections appeared on the horizon, he gradually slowed to conservative sweeping turns and I would find myself abruptly putting on the brakes while he smoothly adjusted his speed. Then, as the angle lessened, he would effortlessly conserve momentum from the steeps and race out into the flats, leaving me working to keep up.
He skied Aspen Mountain top to bottom without stopping or even once looking over his shoulder to see if I was with him.
“When the snow is good, can you still ski double blacks?” I asked him, once we sat down in the gondola.
“Of course.” He replied.
Back on the lift I asked him, “What’s your trick to staying so capable for so long?”
“Keep doing sports.”
After three hours of showing me around his home turf, Klaus went in for his daily swim. In the summer he switches his skis for a tennis racket, but swims year-round.
Klaus lives the mantra, “If you don’t use it, nature takes it away from you - very quickly.”
To put it all in perspective, the next day, I went skiing with my 3-year-old twin son and daughter. When a friendly loft operator asked me how old they were, I realized there was an 87-year difference in my ski partners from one day to the next.
I told the lifty they were 3, and that the day before I had skied with a 90-year-old. He replied, laughing, “Now that’s a great sport!”
Klaus and the lifty are both right.
If you agree, and have kids who are good skiers, check out CMH Family Heli-Ski Trips for an unforgettable family holiday.
I just picked up one of those books that could change the world. Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv, is a best seller of such magnitude that its implications will send ripples through families, universities, and - hopefully - our entire culture.
In it, Louv coins the term “nature deficit disorder”, and gives the reader a shocking view into the wide range of issues today’s children face and how many of the issues can be blamed –at least in part - on how little direct contact with nature they have compared to earlier generations. The book opens the floodgates of contemporary studies that are in the process of proving that our electronic, indoor, hyper-compartmentalized lifestyles are liable for issues including ADHD and obesity – and that time in the natural world has therapeutic potential to help with the very same issues.
This morning I watched my twin three-year-olds grow hyper and irritable as a spring snowstorm prevented even a short play in the garden. It seemed obvious that the time outside was crucial to their learning and happiness as I reread a few of Louv’s best lines:
“Increasingly, nature is something to watch, to consume, to wear – to ignore.”
“As far as physical fitness goes, today’s kids are the sorriest generation in the history of the United States.”
“They (researchers) say the quality of exposure to nature affects our health at an almost cellular level.”
“Pediatricians now warn that today’s children may be the first generation of Americans since World War II to die at an earlier age than their parents.”
“The CDC found that the amount of TV that children watch directly correlates with measures of their body fat.”
“A study of Finnish teenagers showed that they often went into natural settings after upsetting events; there, they could clear their minds and gain perspective and relax.”
“There is a real world, beyond the glass, for children who look, for those whose parents encourage them to truly see.”
“Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle maintains that each hour of TV watched per day by preschoolers increases by 10 percent the likelihood that they will develop concentration problems and other symptoms of attention-deficit disorders by age seven.”
“I was intrigued by the way children defined play: often, their definition did not include soccer or piano lessons. Those activities were more like work.”
“Typical Americans spend 101 minutes in their car daily, five times the amount they spend exercising.”
“Time in nature is not leisure time, it’s an essential investment in our children’s health (and also, by the way, in our own).”
“Two-thirds of American children can’t pass a basic physical: 40 percent of boys and 70 percent of girls ages six to seventeen can’t manage more than one pull-up; and 40 percent show early signs of heart and circulation problems.”
Louv reveals that even our playgrounds, parks, and arenas are not providing the experience in the natural world that has nurtured children’s development since the beginning of time. And the Internet, while a gateway to the world in so many ways, is entirely devoid of the very same sensory experiences that nature supplies in abundance: the smell of a pine tree; the deep vibration of a wave crashing into a rocky shore; the tickle of a cool breeze blowing off a snowfield.
For adventure travelers, skiers, mountaineers, hikers, farmers, gardeners, sailors, surfers, people like us in the business of providing exceptional experiences in the natural world, or anyone who finds time in nature is essential to their health, "Last Child in the Woods" puts to words something we have been feeling for a long time.
Photo by Topher Donahue