First of all, I’ll start with an apology. This is a bit like reporting on a great vintage a year early, before even a single person gets to pop a cork. So I’m sorry to do this to you. Believe me, I'm suffering for it too.
But the snow at CMH Bugaboos is already incredible. Dave Cochrane, the CMH Bugaboo Lodge area manager is always keen to share what he sees out there and this is what he sent in yesterday:
“We were out today hiking in Septet Creek, that is where you find the ski runs Groovy West, Groovy East and Groovy Ass.
The landings are at 2550m and we picked up at 2130m. We found snow up to 130-140 cm. (That’s four feet deep!) below the ridge line and at the pickup an honest 50cm of fairly well settled snow and an average on the run of 80-120 cm.
The snow cover on those runs is really good and settled enough it would make for really great skiing. I definitely could run a ski program at the moment in the Groovy area.”
The day before yesterday, the Bugaboos team sent in these photos.
Last summer I was talking to one of the CMH ski guides and I asked him if he’d noticed any big changes in the skiing conditions in recent years. With the huge drought last season in the States, I was wondering what might be happening to our beloved snow.
He replied, “Compared to historical records, our snowfall in recent years is spot on.”
Last season's snowfall in the Revelstoke region, where all the CMH Heli-Ski areas are located, would certainly support this. Excellent skiing all winter. The 2010-2011 season in the Revelstoke region? Excellent skiing all winter. The 2009-2010 winter in the Revelstoke region? Great early season skiing, spotty in places during high season, and great late season skiing. It's not called the world's greatest skiing because of the region's grooming capability...
I also spoke with Dave Cochrane last summer. In fact, I was poking a bit of fun at him because he’s a huge fan of corn skiing and I knew it had dumped all spring in the Columbia Mountains leaving little time for the sunshine to form the velvety springtime corn snow.
I asked, “Dave, did you miss corn skiing last year?”
His reply: “Nope. The spring powder skiing has been so good the last few years that I haven’t really missed corn skiing at all. In the spring it’s just kept dumping and we’ve been skiing powder right up to the end of the season.”
So much for making a ski guide miss corn snow.
The big question is: what does all this mean for this year?
Dave concluded his letter to the CMH Heli-Skiing office in Banff: “So,,,,it’s only the third week in October and anything can happen but it is looking very promising so far.”
My read? It dumped four feet in the Bugs and Dave wants to go skiing.
The effect his report has on me? It dumped four feet in the Bugs and now I want to go skiing too.
Looking at the photos I can’t help but see the snow being whirled into the sky from the rotor wash, the rippled ridges of deep powder already taking on the seductive lines of winter drifts. I can’t help but daydream of the feel of snowflakes on my face, the giddy roller coaster-feel of arcing through bottomless powder, and the winter vistas changing with every breath.
Dave, do us all a favor and stop sending in these brutal reports - it isn’t ski season yet!
Or is it?
Photographer and writer Andrea Johnson got to live her dreams in the Bugaboos last winter. Here's what she had to say about the realization:
I’ve dreamt of the complete freedom and incomparable adrenalin rush of helicopter skiing & snowboarding for the past twenty years. My expectations were high, yet these visions were exceeded by my CMH Heli-Skiing experience in the most surprising ways.
I learned to ski at the age of 9 from my grandfather, Andy Hennig, who was an Austrian Ski instructor at Sun Valley, Idaho until the age of 77. He was a legend in his own right teaching the Hemingway family and countless celebrities while working with Warren Miller in the early days of the adventure ski films. This lifestyle made an unforgettable impression, so in my mid 20’s I took a job at a snowboard company, hired photographers for marketing campaigns, and watched endless ski and snowboard films to fuel the fire.
Fast forward 15 years and my dream had nearly slipped away. I used the same excuses of lacking time, money, and fitness that most of us justify in delaying such adventures. Additionally last summer I lost my snowboarding partner of 15 years, Dale Johnson, who died in a tragic accident before he had the chance to heli snowboard – #1 on his bucket list. As life teaches us through unexpected circumstances, I found my dream reignited through the inspiration of Fred Noble.
Fred has heli-skied over 7 million vertical feet with CMH as their North American Agent, choosing to use his commissions in trade for heli-ski time during the past 38 years. This trip was his most challenging yet – 18 months ago Fred was diagnosed with ALS and he has lost all mobility in his legs. He was determined to celebrate his 75th birthday at the Bugaboos with the first descent on a sit ski, and I was there to help capture the event for a documentary film on his life (see next blog entry for this story). The experience was bittersweet, his unquenchable spirit contagious, and by watching Fred overcome obstacles of this magnitude I realized my excuses were miniscule in comparison.
In reality all of my concerns vanished the minute the helicopter dropped us off besides the magnificent Bugaboo Spires. CMH invented heli-skiing at the Bugaboos over 45 years ago and they’ve perfected the experience. The first day our group of 10 women, one man, and two guides had countless fresh tracks on a perfect bluebird day offering unlimited access to the high alpine glaciers.
On the second afternoon when many guests opted for a rest I had the chance to join a group of guides, staff, and several skiers with over a million vertical feet at CMH. At first I was intimidated, but soon found that my level of riding rose to the occasion. Cannon Barrel run was in perfect condition to rip with unrestrained speed: In a few minutes our group traveled over 2,000 vertical feet, stopping only once for a brief rest. I can still hear the hoots and hollers of my fellow skiers, tele-markers, and riders – we made three epic runs that are seared in my mind as my most unforgettable riding experience.
My fellow skiers were fun and relaxed, and our camaraderie was always high. Though we had both expert and virgin heli-skiers, we were a very compatible and tight knit group. I enjoyed not having to fight for my turn to go first and the shouts of encouragement as everyone continued to gain confidence and improve. As a tomboy, I’ve been accustomed to fighting alpha males for position in adventure sports. I had honestly never considered the fact that I could have more fun joining a group of women who would push my limits – but in a joyful, non-competitive way.
Mid week a series of storms dumped 1-2 feet of fresh snow each day. These conditions were ideal for extensive tree runs with the lightest deepest powder I’ve ever encountered. One morning I rode with the chef, another snowboarder, enjoying the long easy lines through the trees. Each of us paired up with a buddy and made our own unique call to each other as we traveled; I can still hear the yodel of Seth, our Austrian guide, echoing through the forest.
Everything at CMH is world class, and after a long day on the mountain nothing beats a soak in the hot tub. This was my daily ritual, and on the days when my body gave out I indulged in a 45-minute deep tissue massage expertly applied to the areas most in need of recovery.
It’s tradition on the last evening of the week to dress up in costume, share stories and skits from the most entertaining parts of the trip, and join a dance party after dinner. My only regret from my experience was not conditioning better in advance – next time I’ll be prepared for the endless activity!
This trip broke nearly every stereotype and concern I had of heli-skiing. Groups ranged in age from 30 to 75 years old and from expert to first time heli-skiers of varying fitness levels and expertise. Over half our group were women, and though I was the lone snowboarder much of the time, the guides were careful to take me on alternative routes to avoid flats or let the group break the trail when traverses were unavoidable. The one thing we all shared was an unquenchable thirst for skiing or snowboarding; sharing the week with like-minded, passionate adventurers is an incredible experience I’m now addicted to relive as often as possible.
Photos and story by Andrea Johnson.
Since the early 70s, the reliable twin-engine Bell 212 has been the steadfast workhorse of CMH Heli-Skiing. The smaller but powerful and fast Bell 407 is used for private heli-skiing and small group heli-skiing, and the lighter and efficient Bell 206 “Long Ranger” is used as a support helicopter alongside the 212 for our Signature Heliskiing programs.
With the same helicopter designs powering skiers for over 40 years, a common question our guests ask our skilled team of pilots from Alpine Helicopters, is “Are there new helicopter designs in the works that would be good for heliskiing?”
The pilots all seem to give a similar answer - so far, there isn’t a good replacement, especially for the Bell 212. The combination of the reliability, lifting capacity, and suitability for mountain flying make the 212 an ideal machine for most of CMH Heli-skiing’s regular operations.
Then, the other day I came across a BBC article about new designs for a helicopter that included the Large Civil Tilt Rotor (LCTR). The LCTR looks more like an airplane than a helicopter, but the oversized propellers rotate, allowing the aircraft to take off and land like a helicopter, but then rotate to fly like a propeller plane once airborne. The LCTR would fly much faster than a traditional helicopter, hitting 300 knots cruising speed.
Another design by Sikorsky called the X2 has a more traditional helicopter-like shape, but can hit speeds of 250 knots and is a more suitable size for heliskiing than the LCTR. The X2 uses two main rotors that spin in opposite directions, and a tail rotor that points backwards. The design allows much faster speeds by eliminating a helicopter specific flight phenomenon called “retreating blade stall” where the rotor moving forward is traveling faster than the rotor on the other side of the aircraft that is traveling backwards.
Retreating blade stall creates a situation where the two rotors do not provide the same lift. This is not a problem at slow speeds, as the rotors are designed to shift with each rotation, tilting at a slightly different angle when the blade is moving forward than it is when moving backward. At higher speeds, beyond about 200 knots, these changes of rotor angle are not adequate to compensate for the difference in lift by either rotor.
The X2 allows for not only greater speeds, but also a quieter ride and better fuel efficiency. However, before all you footage-fiends out there, who love nothing more than a 15,000+ metre day of heli-skiing, go jump on your Stairmasters to get ready for even bigger, epic-er days with faster helicopters, there’s a catch.
I tracked down Matt Conant, the legendary Galena pilot and rippin’ skier, and asked him what he thought of these new designs. Here’s what he had to say:
“Perhaps your blog should start, ‘No school like the old school.’ There are very few aircraft new or old that can effectively replace the Bell 212. Most new helicopters are geared toward the corporate or air ambulance market. As a heliski pilot I have no use for a aircraft that will cruise at 250 knots. I spent most of my flying day climbing at 60 knots. Although a more efficient, equally safe and more environmentally friendly way of ‘getting to the top’ would be welcome, For now we're happily stuck with the ‘old school.’
Photos of Matt's Bell 212 on the left, and the Bell 206 support helicopter on the right, at CMH Galena during an epic storm cycle by Topher Donahue.
It must be summertime. I dreamt of skiing last night, which for some reason doesn't happen in the winter. A couple of days ago my daughter asked me when we could go skiing again. My wife came into my office this morning while I was looking through winter photos from Revelstoke. She stopped and stared. Then said wistfully, “I’m already sick of summer.”
It's clear that I'm not the only one beginning to dream about frosty mornings, cold face shots, blinding white alpine vistas, and the exhilarating rush of downhill speed in deep snow.
So I went through my collection and put together these 5 dream-like ski photos to help us all through the longest days of the year.
Just a cool December lift ride, like here at the Sunshine ski resort near Banff, at minus 30C sounds refreshing right now:
But full-body powder immersion like this snowboarder at CMH Galena sounds even better:
Here’s the shot that sent my wife into fits of wintersickness, a lone ski track in the Revelstoke high country:
Dreamtime in the Bugaboos - where heliskiing began:
And finally, a dreamscape at CMH Monashees, one of several CMH areas known worldwide for the most exciting tree skiing on the planet:
If these photos are too painful to look at right now, my apologies. If these photos get you inspired for a bike ride to keep the legs in shape, or to plan a ski trip, you’re welcome.
Photos by Topher Donahue.
Calling this a review isn’t quite right. Perhaps a rave is a better word for it.
Dave Mossop and Eric Crossland, of The Sherpas Cinema, directed All.I.Can, a spellbinding work of art that defies categorization as merely a ski film. It’s been called the most incredible ski movie ever produced, and based purely on the pile of awards the film has received, it just might be.
While All.I.Can includes a plethora of mind-bending ski sequences, including futuristic footage of Kai Peterson catastrophically botching (as well as impossibly sticking) new-school tricks in the midst of horrifying alpine faces, the heart of the film is a powerful discussion on the environment.
When a heli-skiing sequence ends with one skier joking around with a gas pump, pretending to shove it in another’s eye, I went from being a spectator to being a fan; we all have impact, so it’s what we do about it that matters.
Slow-motion, time-lapse and digital animation created with high-end technology are all used heavily, but tastefully, to give a strong sense of the passing of time and to illustrate change in the natural world. The film also unflinchingly delves into the relationships between international travel, mechanized skiing, and environmental impact. It takes the new approach that environmentalism isn’t about being against things - instead it is about changing our perspective on our relationship to the environment, and then changing how we live accordingly.
The modern free-skiing visionary, JP Auclair, (whose street skiing segment in the film was viewed 124,000 times on its first day online) summed it up nicely: “People are always saying ‘do less of this, do less of that’ but I don’t think it’s about doing less of anything - it’s about doing more...”
The film’s example of large-scale environmental balancing in the ski industry is the Whistler-Blackcomb ski area installing a micro-hydro plant in one of the mountain’s creeks that offsets the entire energy usage of the ski area.
Having just posted a blog about the CMH Galena micro-hydro reaching financial payoff and saving a thousand tonnes of CO2 emissions after seven years of operation, I realized the visionary drivers of the ski industry are all coming to a similar conclusion - we can’t run ski lifts of any sort without burning energy, so let’s do more, lots more, to balance our impacts with contributions.
Several skiers interviewed in the film discussed the unique place skiers and mountaineers have in the environmental project:
One said, “Skier’s connection with nature and the mountains is incredible, and it puts us at the forefront of what is going on with the environment.”
And another pointed out, “You have a constituency on the hill who, by virtue of what they do, every one of them is an environmentalist.”
It’s not just the cinematography that speaks to the passing of time and the acceleration of change. The youngest skier in the film is about three years old, the oldest, 75. “We used to have more snow” said one of the older skiers.
Even the topic of ski technology is brought back to the philosophy of embracing change. One skier mentions how, with the drastic changes in the shape of skis, “the average skier now is not fearing change, they’re expecting change, and that’s pretty cool.”
As the credits rolled, I sat back and wondered if I had anything negative to say about the film. One thing came to mind: we are just learning how to talk about these things, and it seems that All.I.Can is like the first few awkward - albeit beautiful, scary and inspiring - words in a difficult conversation about our world and its immediate future.
Partway through the credits, the film’s carbon footprint is shown, including what they’ve done to offset 100% of the making the film.
It made me realize just how visionary CMH Heli-Skiing’s sustainability report was when first published eight years ago in 2004, by neither pretending to be low impact, nor hiding its metaphorical head in the sands of progress - and instead being clear about environmental impact, initiatives, and the balance of providing carefully considered access to the world’s greatest skiing.
Photo of this blog writer/skier's house being equipped with solar power in Colorado - just one of many skier's houses powered by solar in the area. I talked with a CMH million-footer who was putting geothermal heating into his home to help offset his impact.
What are you doing to offset yours?
The first day of spring rolled around this week, and if you were stuck at a CMH lodge without a calendar, you would have no idea!
Here are a couple of awesome pictures from right around the official "change of seasons" - But they might as well be from mid-January!
Allan from the Monashees is really enjoying guiding this spring:
Sure, this picture has some sun... But the snow is still mid-January like:
The K2 Demo Days were a little earlier in March at CMH Kootenay- This was the begining of the snowy spring:
The Bobbie Burns is "sinking" that this spring snow is deep!:
At Mcbride, you can get private spring heli-skiing. Because there isn't enough snow to share... Yeah right!:
Spring means longer days, more vertical, and LOTS of snow! Come and get it!
Lounging on the beach for spring break is an institution; heli-skiing for spring break is an inspiration.
The trouble with the beach holiday is that it sounds so good from home, but then you get there and there and it's surprisingly boring. One year, during my family's quintessential beach spring break, my sister got so bored that she decided to write her boyfriend’s name on her bum with sunscreen every day. It was all well and good until the toasted skin around the name began to peel - that, and the sunburn lasted longer than the boyfriend.
Then there are the pleasures of visiting the most popular spring break destinations during one of the most popular travel times of the year. First there are the crowds, the over-the-top parties just outside your hotel window, the waiting lines at restaurants and the traffic - all compounded by your kids high expectations. You know how it goes. When you get home and you feel like you need a vacation.
Or you can take your family heliskiing and blow their expectations out of the galaxy. Everyone expects you to come back from spring break with tan lines; nobody expects you and your family to show up Monday morning after spring break with ear-to-ear grins and that far away look in your eyes that says, “I just had the best family spring break of my entire life!”
With the growing popularity of parents heliskiing with their children, CMH Heli-Skiing has designed the Next Generation heliski program to fit the ski endurance of younger skiers - and the pocketbooks of their parents.
The bottom line is that Next Generation Heli-Skiing trips are half price for the younger skiers. The trip is open to any skier but if you have someone between the ages of 12-25 who wants to join you, they get the trip for half price, and that includes half the guaranteed vertical and the entire week's world-class CMH hospitality and accomodation.
Over the next few weeks, CMH Lodges will be welcoming a number of families who have decided to skip the sandy toes and sunburned shoulders in favor of snowboards, powder skis, face shots and rosy cheeks.
And the big news: there are still a few spaces left on the in CMH Monashees March 10-17 and March 17-24 for this season, and next year as well if you’re already committed to the bikini option this time around.
Even if the Columbia Mountains surrounding Revelstoke, British Columbia, in Western Canada didn’t get dumped on to the tune of around 20 metres of snow each winter, the terrain alone would make it a world class ski destination.
The best I can explain the Columbia Mountains is that they are like two mountain ranges - a high alpine range and a steep forested range - sitting on top of each other.
Quite frequently a storm rolls in and obscures the high peaks for days on end. In these conditions, heliskiing would be impossible in mountain ranges without trees. The trees give the helicopter pilots enough visual contrast to allow them to fly in all but the heaviest snow, lowest visibility, and strongest winds. It is during these storms that heli-skiing near Revelstoke really comes into its own. The deepest powder clings to the steepest faces, and the same trees that give the helicopter pilots enough visibility to fly, also give the skiers and snowboarders enough visibility to shred.
Some of the forests have been logged, and the regrowth is often thick and difficult to ski through, but many ski runs pass though old growth forests with ancient cedar trees the diameter of an automobile. While the alpine terrain is what drew heliskiers to the Columbias in the first place, it is the tree skiing that made the Revelstoke area a heavyweight contender for the world’s greatest skiing.
Then, when the storm clears above the forests, the sublime alpine peaks of the Columbias reveal themselves. A few lucky skiers have learned to ski here from day one, learning to turn on low-angled glaciers where there is nothing to hit for a kilometre in every direction. Many lucky skiers and snowboarders have ripped steep lines off the pointy summits and through the varied forests of the Cariboos, Selkirks, Monashees, and the Purcells - the subranges of the Columbias.
Ski film makers have been shooting the more popular areas in the Columbia Mountains for years now but, in my opinion, the most spectacular ski lines in the Columbia Mountains have yet to be shown on the big screen. There are thin couloirs dropping into glades filled with over-the-head powder, steep faces that rival the wildest Alaskan terrain, mellow meadows where even beginners feel comfortable, and everything in between.
There are some places where the hype is greater than the real thing. In this case, no amount of hype could really do justice to the skiing in the Columbia Mountains of Interior British Columbia. If you’re a skier or snowboarder, and you haven’t yet visited Revelstoke or the Columbia Mountains, do it. Soon. Heli-ski. Tour. Fusion. Ride lifts. The method doesn’t matter. Just make it happen.
Columbia Mountains ski terrain photos by Topher Donahue.
David Copperfield, the famous magician, rents his resort on Musha Cay in the Bahamas for $325,000 per week.
The Presidential Suite in the Hotel Cala di Volpe in Sardinia costs $34,000 per night - and you’re charged extra for using the internet!
These rates, for experiences far less life-affirming and memorable than a week of heli-skiing or heli-boarding, make just the aprés ski at a CMH Lodge seem worth the cost of the entire trip. In fact, after looking at the kinds of things people spend bank-loads of money on, it seems to me that CMH Heli-Skiing is charging just for the aprés ski, and taking people heli-skiing for free just to get them ready for the main event!
Ok, I’m exaggerating, but not that much. To me, these other top-dollar experiences pale in comparison to a well orchestrated mountain adventure, and the aprés ski with CMH is an unforgettable experience.
There are moments of the CMH aprés ski that will stay with a person forever - one part isolation, one part the afterglow of a day in the mountains, and one part CMH Heli-Skiing’s incredible staff that always seems to take hospitality to another level. Three of my favourites are:
Bugaboos, 2005 - Coming in from a day of full-throttle skiing - on huge runs through some of the most spectacular alpine terrain on the planet with powder on the north faces and corn on the south faces - to a private cocktail party in the sunshine below the famous Bugaboo Spires. Bugaboos Manager Dave Cochrane, mountain host extraordinaire, chatted with everyone and discussed the finer points of spring skiing - while riding a unicycle.
Adamants, 2009 - We’d skied so much vertical that even a granola bar would have tasted great, but we were greeted with a sushi buffet served on a snowboard.
Galena, 2012 - It had been snowing for weeks. Everyone’s cheeks were tingling with a thousand face shots. The last night of our week in ski paradise, the staff built a bonfire on a hill above the lodge. The orange flames painted the surrounding winter wonderland in dancing, stark contrasts of shadows and light. Some people joined the party for a few minutes between enjoying the spa and a massage, but many stayed for hours, savoring both the warmth of the fire and the chill of the winter air, the cold beers in the snow pillow, and wishing the moment might never end.
Any CMH Heli-Skiing veterans out there with favourite CMH aprés ski stories?
Aprés ski photos by Topher Donahue.
I talked to a professional snowboarder last week who said that the conditions in the Columbia Mountains were creating the deepest snow he had ever ridden - then it snowed for the next week straight...
Over the last 2 weeks, the Columbia Mountains’ snow machine has dumped nearly two metres of low-density snow at treeline in the CMH Heli-Skiing tenures.
Shooting photos in these conditions resulted in some exceptional images of the deep powder heliskiing experience, some of which I shared last week, but some of the best face shot photos have yet to see the light of day. It seems only fitting that the loyal readers of the Heli-Ski Blog should see them first.
This first shot shows CMH Galena guide Bernie Wiatzka, the ski guide with by far the most experience at the tree skiing paradise of Galena, doing what he does best - disappearing in a cloud of cold, white smoke.
It snowed between 10cm and 30cm every night, and the CMH Galena Lodge was as fascinating in these conditions as the skiing itself:
While much of the time, the snow was so deep that it was impossible to tell if the CMH Heli-Skiing guests were on skis or snowboards, occasionally everything would ride to the surface and the deep powder travel tool of choice would be revealed:
Conditions were ideal for big air, and the CMH guides were in good form suggesting the best pillow drops, not to mention the mandatory air on some of the runs. Here, the co-owner of The Source snowboard shop demonstrates one method of choking on a mushroom:
The CMH Ski Guides wear bright orange jackets to make them easier to follow, but in these conditions much of the time they were nearly invisible in a cloud of snow. Luckily, CMH Ski Guides, one shown here up to his earlobes in low-density powder, are exceptionally good at giving directions and nobody had any issues following them down run after run of the deepest snow imaginable:
Even the Bell 212 helicopter, known to be the safest helicopter ever made, seemed to enjoy the mind-blowing storm cycle:
Yesterday, the CMH Heli-Skiing area's snow reports showed up to half a metre of new snow over the last 24 hours - on top of what you see here. If you haven't booked a heli-ski trip yet this year, call your boss, your partner, and CMH Reservations at 1 (800) 661-0252. Not necessarily in that order!