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!
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.
With a little light-hearted humor from the CMH reservations office, a little genuinely scary snowfall trauma in some parts of the world, and epic early season conditions in BC, here are today's top 3 reasons to go heliskiing in Canada:
Reason number 3: Tired of riding chair lifts.
Last month, CMH Heli-Skiing reservations received a request for information from a group of snowboarders. In the questions and comments section of our information request form, the curious party wrote: “Six experienced snowboarders - all sick of ski lifts.”
Yeah, sitting on ski lifts gets old. By comparison, while heli-skiing the ski lift is a fastidiously maintained jet helicopter and between ski runs you get the most jaw-dropping tour of some of the most inspiring ski terrain in Canada. Boring it is not.
Reason number 2: You’ve never been heli-skiing before.
If you’re a skier or snowboarder, and you’ve never been heli-skiing before, it’s the kind of thing everyone should do once in their lives. CMH provides fat skis and offers programs designed for inexperienced powder skiers to make heli-skiing fun for everyone, not just expert skiers and snowboarders.
Of course if you’re an expert, and you haven’t been heli-skiing before, we don’t need to tell you how much fun you’ll have hucking laps with a jet helicopter on some of the world’s snowiest and most spectacular ski terrain.
With so many trip options for heliskiing in Canada available these days, and the high cost of ski resorts making the price of entry for heli-skiing seem like a deal, there is no excuse not to give it a try.
Reason number 1: It’s not snowing anywhere else.
This year may be the best year in history to go heliskiing in Canada. It seems that all the snow on the planet is falling in western Canada. I went for a ski tour in the Colorado backcountry yesterday, and it was not only poor ski conditions, it was not yet possible to properly ski in the backcountry. While there would normally be perhaps a metre of snow at treeline by this time of year, there were only a few centimetres of unconsolidated snow.
And Europe has it worse. According to an article in the BBC on Europe's snow woes, this fall has been the driest on record in Switzerland. A few ski resorts have managed to open by utilizing man-made snow, but at the edge of the piste, brown fields tell the story of a season without snow. The webcams at Davos reveal a dismal scene. It is not that there is less natural snow than normal - there is no natural snow!
While we wouldn’t wish bad ski conditions on anyone, and we feel the pain of our fellow snow riders in less snowy zones around the world, we can’t help but point out that CMH heliskiers are right now soaking up face shots and pillow drops in what is probably the finest early season ski conditions we’ve ever seen - might as well go skiing where there's snow!
The news of the most epic early season snowpack ever in the Canadian Rockies is getting entirely over the top. Over the last week I have received several reports of ski conditions that are unbelievable for this time of year, even in the deep powder heliskiing paradise of Western Canada.
The first was from CMH Bugaboos manager Dave Cochrane, who spent a couple of days ski touring above the CMH Cariboo Lodge near his home in Valemount, BC. After the first day, here’s what he had to say:
“This is Dave Cochrane, back in my old stomping grounds in the Cariboos. I just had the pleasure of joining Doug Dowling on a ski tour up the ever daunting Neckroll ski run. We skied from the Lodge up the switchbacks on the Neckroll road, to the avalanche path which is the main part of the run.
We started with 50 cm on the ground at the lodge, very supportive snowpack, with about 15 cm of ski penetration in fluff. At the top of the logging road where it meets the chute at 1450m there is 70-80 cm of well supported snow. We skied to the top of the slide path to the “low heli landing” on the skier’s left of the slide path. There, at 1780m we had 120 cm. Lower down in the chute @ 1680m. there was 100 cm At the heli landing the ski penetration is 25 cm and the boot penetration is about 35 cm. The boot penetration tells a good story for early season snowpack, not much penetration and the boots don’t go any further in since the snowpack is so supportive.
The downhill run was truly outstanding in an average of 25 cm of super powder with a great support, no breaking through in weak snow anywhere. If I had to open heli skiing today here, based on my limited observations, the skiing story on Neckroll would certainly make it a good opening.
I am hoping to return here tomorrow for some more skinning up and great shredding going down. Since 10:00 this morning it has been snowing steadily at just less than 1 cm an hour, with thick overcast skies.”
The next day, Dave sent this follow up:
“I skied up Neckroll again today. I just couldn't get enough yesterday. Where I took my skins off at 1780 m. the same high point I went to yesterday, there was 25 cm. of new overnight snow, making for spectacular skiing on the way down. The storm today was very intense with strong winds all day and while I was skiing there this morning it was snowing 2 cm. an hour. We had warm temperatures and rain in the town of Valemount, but as soon as one left town for the mountains it was snowing hard. Keep it coming!”
Then I received a note from a long time CMH guest who forwarded me an email from Rob Rohn, the Director of Mountain Operations at CMH Heli-Skiing:
“Hello everyone – We’ve had a really great start to the winter with a snowpack that’s well above average. There’s a meter and a half to two meters at tree line with a very solid base already. Konrad went for a ski tour today in the Adamants and had good skiing to the lowest pick up on Bungee at 1200 m. We’re all wishing we were open now! So spread the word that the best skiing on the planet is out there waiting for our first guests to show up. Anyone who’s been contemplating an early season trip should get off the couch – winter has arrived!
See you on the slopes!”
Just this morning, I received this note from Rob, who is just finishing up CMH Guide Training at CMH Monashees:
"It’s snowing again and we’re expecting a substantial accumulation over the day. I was just talking to the long time Monashee guides this morning and none of them can remember a year with this much snow and such a solid snowpack this early. It’s like mid-winter out there. A couple of days ago we skied Come Again to the bottom at 950 m and it was really good all the way. Some winters it doesn’t get that good that low ever! All the big tree runs in Soards Creek are in prime condition. It really is a phenomenal start to the season and our first guests are going to enjoy some incredible skiing."
Photo of ski touring on Rogers Pass near Revelstoke by CMH Guide Marty Schaffer during November 2011.
There are still a few spaces left in the helicopter for the most epic early season heliskiing ever - give CMH Reservations a call at (800) 661-0252.
Renowned architect and mountaineer Philippe Delesalle, the visionary behind the design of the remote CMH Heli-Skiing lodges, has been awarded the 2011 Summit of Excellence Award at this year’s Banff Mountain Festival for his architectural innovations on remote buildings in the heavy snowfall and harsh conditions of the Canadian Rockies.
Philippe emigrated from France in 1951 and took work as a lumberjack, among other jobs, before attending architecture school at McGill University in Montreal. An interest in adventure introduced him to skiing and mountaineering, and while learning to ski and working as a lifty at Sunshine Village Ski Resort, he met Hans Gmoser, the founder of CMH Heli-Skiing. At the time, Hans was working at the remote Mt. Assiniboine Lodge, and would use the ski lifts at Sunshine to begin his 25km ski commute to work.
In 2006 I had the honor of interviewing Philippe while researching Bugaboo Dreams, the book that chronicles the invention of heliskiing. Philippe first met Hans while working at the Sunshine ski lift. During my interview, with misty eyes and a warm expression, Philippe recalled meeting Hans: “This tall guy, who looked like Jesus Christ with a big pack, would come out of no man’s land, ask for a lift, and then disappear back into no man’s land.”
Philippe became one of Hans’ closest friends and adventure partners, sharing epic trips to Mt. Logan in the Yukon, pioneering long-distance ski traverses in the Rockies, and countless adventures in Little Yoho and the Bow Valley near Banff. As Hans’ heliski invention took off, he recruited Philippe to design the remote heli-skiing lodges in the Bugaboos, Cariboos, Bobbie Burns and Adamants.
Philippe describes his philosophy behind his design of the CMH Heli-Skiing lodges simply as creating a place where skiers can “live above the snow, looking out at the mountains.”
Philippe also designed the Lodge at Sunshine Village, the Sapphire Col Hut near Rogers Pass, and the original remote and exposed Alpine Club of Canada huts on the Wapta Icefield. “The most difficult site presents opportunity for the most interesting buildings.” says Philippe. WIth such a vision, Philippe’s architectural mastery was a cornerstone in the entire epic project of remote wilderness heliskiing in Western Canada, and he has created a lasting legacy of functionality and beauty with the design of the CMH Heli-Skiing lodges.
The CMH Heli-Skiing lodges are far more than just hotels; there are no other buildings or infrastructure near the lodges, so they must be complete life support systems that can sustain dozens of people through the most violent storms imaginable and weather many decades of Canadian winters.
For veteran CMH heliskiers, the unique look of a CMH Heli-Skiing lodge out the helicopter window on the approach is both a warm and thrilling sight. For skiers and snowboarders new to CMH Heli-Skiing, the lodge is different than what most people would expect. Rather than overt luxury or imitation of famous ski destination architecture, the CMH Heli-Skiing lodges are like no other buildings anywhere, and Philippe designed them that way on purpose.
He explained, “When Hans said, ‘Build me a lodge.’ he knew I would not give him an Austrian lodge or a French lodge, but a Canadian one.”
At first glance, the rooflines of the CMH Heli-Skiing lodges appear to be overbuilt, but in fact it is an extremely successful design that Philippe introduced to Western Canada. The roof consists of two roofs, a snow-bearing roof and an inner roof separated by a well-ventilated crawl space. This allows the roof to hold the entire winter’s snowpack without shoveling (other than cutting off the occasional cornice that overhangs too far over the edge) because the inner roof can breathe and behave like a roof in a dry climate without ever seeing icing, condensation, or wear and tear from the outside elements.
Now 82 years old, Philippe still skis regularly with his wife Mireille near their home of the last 50 years in Canmore, Alberta. The Summit of Excellence Award is given annually at the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival to an individual who has made significant contribution to mountain life in the Canadian Rockies.
Photo of the CMH Cariboos lodge by Topher Donahue.
The snow is piling up in the legendary ski paradise of the Columbia Mountains - another La Niña winter in the making.
Last winter I was fortunate enough to sample three different CMH areas during photography projects. It was also the best winter anyone could remember since the 70s; a La Niña winter - the same climate phenomenon meteorologists are predicting for this coming winter.
I know it is almost cruel and unusual punishment to post these photos right now, when most of us haven’t yet even buckled a ski boot, but I couldn’t resist. Not only do these photos illustrate a La Niña winter of heliskiing in Canada, they also reveal the quality of the snow that brings skiers from all over the planet to taste the world’s greatest skiing.
February 28, 2011, CMH Cariboos:
A short break between storms in the Cariboos had left a carve-able surface on solar aspects, but then another 30cm of low-density snow fell on the crust. Combined with -20C temperatures, the result was fast skiing and a swirling powder cloud that would twist and dance hypnotically after the skier had passed. I tried a few shots from below, but this one, looking down at the skier, best revealed the snow dance.
March 7, 2011, CMH Gothics:
Then it snowed for another week. Our first day in the Gothics dawned crystal clear. Even the most veteran guides and skiers were giddy at the breakfast table. Good stability, deep snow, and the massive Gothics terrain in the southern Monashees awaited. The day was like a dream. Not only did we ski CMH’s longest run, Thierry’s Journey, we skied it three times. After weeks of low visibility flying, the pilot was having a blast too. He dropped us off on tiny summits, plucked us from the deepest valleys, and was grinning as widely as anyone on the mountain. Here, the Gothics chef gets a few hours of dreamtime before going back to the lodge to prepare a gourmet dinner to give the rest of us the perfect ending to a perfect day.
April 12, 2011, CMH Adamants:
An assignment from Skiing Magazine, to tell the story of the the unprecedented CMH Heli-Assisted Ski Touring program, gave me another week in ski-topia. While we all anticipated spring conditions and corn snow, it was not to be. Instead, La Niña delivered deep powder conditions until well after the last week of the CMH season. I didn’t hear anyone in the group whining about skiiing in the Adamants during the winter that wouldn’t end.
At CMH Revelstoke, there is already a skiable base in the backcountry, and check out today’s 5-day Revelstoke weather forecast! S-N-O-W!
A recent article in National Geographic on the world’s Top 10 Ski Runs and Lodges brings to mind snow-laden luxury accommodations below mountains laced with fantastical ski lines. We’re proud that Western Canada’s very own Whistler/Blackcomb and the Fairmont Chateau Whistler tops the list, and even closer to home, Banff/Lake Louise and the Fairmont Banff Springs (though not exactly slope-side) is number five.
Interestingly, the article, while it contains “ski runs” in the title, doesn’t mention a single ski run, nor does it include heli-ski areas. The reader can only surmise that the writer intended “ski runs” in the most general sense, and not singular spectacular ski runs. Which for me, as a skier, was a bit of a disappointment. I was truly curious what the iconic National Geographic's list of the world’s top 10 ski runs would include.
Photo of the CMH Monashee Lodge and behind it the kilometre-tall ski run known as Elevator - a ski lodge and ski run that many have called the best in the world. Maybe next time National Geographic will include heli-skiing in their selection...
It's obvious why the article didn't include heli-skiing - heliskiing is so much better than resort skiing as to make comparisons seem absurd. What can compare with the CMH tenture? It is bigger than the rest of North America's ski areas combined!
Also, I can see why the writer chose to weight the article towards lodging rather than skiing. It’s much harder to give both lodging and skiing equal weight in such a selection. Even within CMH there are sometimes heated conversations, especially among the 3,921 guests who have skied over a million vertical feet with CMH, debating which is the best CMH area. Most understand that the whole discussion is subjective, and many ski at different areas every time, but each CMH area has its committed fans who have skied millions of vertical feet exclusively at their favourite CMH area.
So, if you asked CMH heli-skiers and snowboarders to pick their favourite ski run and lodge, which would they choose? The skiing is great everywhere, so some pick their favourite area based partly on the view from the lodge, and pick the Bugaboos or Adamants; others choose based entirely on the volume of steep tree skiing they can shred in a week, and might vote for Galena, Kootenay, or the Monashees; still others choose based on the variety of terrain they can encounter and might pick the Cariboos, Gothics, Bobbie Burns or Revelstoke; some like the most private luxury and mountain experience and would pick the private heli-skiing areas of McBride or Valemount.
Really, such a thing is utterly impossible to judge fairly.
But it’s fun to consider. So, just for the fun of it, what is your favourite CMH ski run and lodge?
La Niña. El Niño. Whatever. It always sounded to me like a soundbite for the media more than a real predictor of local weather. Sure, the temperatures of the ocean currents surely have profound effects on the planet’s weather, but how much they affect things like snow quality for heli-skiers is is another thing entirely. Or so I thought.
I was always a cynic of long term weather forecasting. Then last winter happened. I don’t think I’ve had more face shots in a single winter in my entire life. Nearly every day was a powder day. And all the North American skiers I talked to - from Aspen, to Jackson Hole, to Banff to Revelstoke - had the same experience. By February, I found myself asking: “Now, was this a La Niña or an El Niño season? ‘Cause whatever this is, I want another one!”
Last winter, demonstrated in the above photo from CMH Gothics, was a strong La Niña, so this year when August rolled around and I heard La Niña was in the forecast, I started getting excited.
Curious about long range forecasts, I looked at the usual places. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center anticipates above normal precipitation and snowfall in parts of the Pacific Northwest (a good thing for heli-skiers), with equal chances for above or below average precipitation for the southern US Rockies of Colorado and Utah. For skiers interested in weather predictions, it’s worth checking out NOAA’s maps of precipitation and temperature. The map below is NOAA's the predicted precipitation for the USA this coming December through February:
For a more applicable insight into how much long term weather prediction can foecast ski quality, I looked up Joel Gratz, a skier and meteorologist who has combined his passions into one of the web’s most followed ski websites, Colorado Powder Forecast. He has an immense following, and his visionary approach is profiled here in Colorado's Denver Post.
I asked Joel straight up: How much can skiers rely on La Niña/El Niño to forecast skiing quality for an upcoming winter? For example, would you base purchasing a season pass or a ski trip based on La Niña?
Joel replied: “Weather is only one factor I look at when deciding to purchase a ski pass or plan a trip. Meteorologists can somewhat accurately predict snowfall patterns during seasons with a strong El Nino or La Nina. But this season features a weaker La Nina compared to 2010-2011, so confidence in a snowfall outlook for the winter is lower than last year. Ultimately, the quality of skiing comes down to each individual storm, which aren't predictable more than about a week ahead of time.”
Gratz wrote an article on La Niña for Skiing Magazine and, while he’s not a big fan of long term weather forecasting as it relates to ski quality either, he did make this general - and if you’re a skier, highly exciting - statement: “For North America, La Niña has some predictable consequences for snow during the winter: it snows a lot.”
To give heli-skiers some real information on the World’s Greatest Skiing, I sent Joel snowfall data for the Columbia Mountains near CMH Heliskiing areas going back as far as the 70s. From the reports, he looked at for Mica Creek weather station near CMH Monashees, he had this to say: “In short, it looks like La Niña signals at least average or well above average snowfall.”
That's saying something - average snowfall in the Columbia Mountains is utterly epic. His quick study agrees with Environment Canada’s predictions, visible above in their precipitation forecast map for this coming December and January, which puts CMH Heliskiing areas in the red and white zone for normal or above normal precipitation.
What about you? Is the La Niña forecast changing your winter plans?
It was in CMH Gothics. It had been snowing for weeks. The snow was cold, light, white, deep perfection. Everyone in the group was skiing really strong and having the time of their lives.
I was skiing a sweet fall line along the edge of a patch of trees when suddenly something hit me in the side really hard. I was knocked off my feet, flew through the air, and tumbled into the snow.
After getting up slowly, I checked to see if I was ok. I was slightly dizzy and my shoulder throbbed, but considering the force of the collision I felt lucky. Then I tried to figure out what happened. Lying in the snow next to me was my ski buddy, a good skier who was in the Gothics as a ski model to help with photos. We had collided at high speed but he was also uninjured. We were both lucky.
In talking about it later, we realized that neither one of us had seen the other until the moment of collision. It wasn’t like one of us had been trying to scoop the line or cut the other off. Afterwards, I thought a lot about what had happened and what had caused the collision and what could be done to prevent collisions.
What caused the collision:
- Different perspectives of the fall line. You always feel like you are going straight down, even when you’re angling slightly to one side.
- Terrain. My friend had been skiing in the trees next to where I was skiing in the open. He turned into the open at the exact second when I arrived there.
- Speed. While you may have a good handle on your own velocity, when you combine it with someone else’s speed the sum is a velocity that is beyond our ability to react.
- Perception. The great thing about heliskiing is that it feels like you have the mountain to yourself much of the time. However, there are other people on the mountain, always nearby.
How we could have avoided the collision:
- Slow down at transitions. As I neared the trees, a natural bottle-neck, I should have anticipated that other strong skiers would likely be arriving there at similar times, and my friend should have slowed down when moving from the trees into the open where other skiers would almost surely be skiing.
- Give each other more space. We left the top of the run skiing right next to each other, so it is no surprise that we ended up near the bottom in the same place.
- Check blind spots. We were both wearing helmets and goggles, which was lucky because our heads slammed together with alarming force, but helmets and goggles also block peripheral vision. If either of us had checked our blind spots at the transition, we might have avoided the crash. With snowboarders, a common excuse skiers give for collisions is that "snowboarders have a blind spot". Well, skiers have blind spots too, a big one on each side.
- Take it easy near other skiers. The snow had been so good that we all felt invincible. There are good times to let it rip and times to take it easy. We should have been taking it easy.
I’ve seen dangerous collisions in both trees and on wide-open slopes. Every time it is a similar story – two skiers start perfectly in control, but the pattern of two skier’s turns gets closer and closer, until they meet violently, way more quickly than either skier anticipated.
Although not the culprit in my collision, most of the collisions I’ve seen have been when someone approaches the regroup and falls or runs into a skier who is standing still. Speed in the mountains is deceiving – begin stopping about twice as far above of the group as you think you need.
Photo of skiers giving each other space to play in CMH Cariboos.