For the last three months, the CMH Heli-Skiing staff has been competing with the squirrels for who can be better prepared for the deep snows of Western Canadian winter.
For those of us who join CMH for the world-class powder and hospitality, it seems as though the lodges are stocked and ready for us as if by magic, so this year the staff made this video to capture the precision frenzy of preparing a CMH Heli-Skiing lodge for a winter of fun and pleasure.
Get Ready to Take Flight - Winter is Coming from CMH Heli-Skiing on Vimeo.
The mastermind behind stocking the lodges is Rick Carswell, who, with a small team, carefully inventories and stocks 40,000 pounds of non-perishable food and beverages into each lodge before the roads are drifted closed for the heart of Heli-Ski season. Perishable items are brought in to the remote lodges each week using a combination of helicopter and snow machine, but the fall stock provides the lion’s share of the calories that will fuel five months of turning deep powder dreams into reality.
Then there’s the 13,000 bottles of wine that are stocked to celebrate realizing those dreams...
Meanwhile, in the Alpine Helicopter’s hangar, the fleet of helicopters used by CMH Heli-Skiing is being tuned up for ski season and converted from fire fighting and flight-seeing machines into one of the world’s largest and most well-maintained fleets of Heli-Ski helicopters.
Ski and snowboard technicians are slapping bindings on the latest quiver of powder harvesting tools from K2, Atomic and Burton, guides are testing safety equipment and the lodge staff is putting the final touches on the comfortable rooms, luxurious spas, welcoming living areas and cozy lounges that so many CMH Heli-Skiers call, quite simply, “home”.
Photo of Gothics Lodge by Topher Donahue.
The snowiest mountains in Canada.
The world’s first Heli-Ski company.
The biggest employer of mountain guides in the world.
The world’s greatest skiing.
A lot of flattering statements have been used to describe CMH Heli-Skiing and the Columbia Mountains that CMH calls home, but there is one that is often overlooked (or only talked about in the dark of night) in the quest to explain this place.
And that is: the snow is just plain sexy.
It's true. The characteristics of this snow inspire pillow talk. It is drier than the snow found in coastal ranges, but more voluminous than the snow found in most continental ranges, creating a truly drool-worthy medium. If you're into that kind of thing, here are seven photos that put the soft in softcore:
A skier flirts with a snowball in the Monashees:
A snowboarder between the sheets in Galena:
A skier feeling confident with his pickup line in the Gothics:
Cornices show off their curves in the Adamants:
A woman in the Cariboos realizing that size matters when it comes to snowpack:
Bump and grind in the snow ghost disco above the Columbia River:
A shy helicopter sports the sheer look in Revelstoke:
Ok, that was bad. Just putting together these pictures that I took over the last few years kinda got me all worked up. Now I really want some, but at least the early season snow is falling!
“The helicopter permitted the age-old emptiness of the wilderness to remain intact, free from the commercial hardware and gingerbread that a network of lifts would have imposed upon it.”
-Hans Gmoser, from Lynn Grillmair’s Bugaboos cookbook, Gourmet in Paradise
While we’re extremely proud to be the company that invented Heli-Skiing nearly 50 years ago, we realize the concept was obvious, and that if we hadn’t been the first, someone else would have done it. Let's see - use a helicopter to get to the top of the mountain, then ride down in blower powder - no brainer.
The execution however, turned out to be a bit more complicated, and that’s where being the oldest company in Heli-Skiing has its advantages. The helicopter technology and our understanding of mountain safety developed in parallel, as well as our relationship with our sister company, Alpine Helicopters.
Today, helicopter technology for Heli-Skiing is on a happy plateau. The machines are extremely reliable and their power and payload are perfectly suited for mountain flying at the moderate altitudes of CMH Heli-Skiing. But it wasn’t always that way. Here’s the evolution of the heli-ski machine in image:
Bell 47 G3B-1: The first Heli-Ski helicopter. Flown by Jim Davies, the original Heli-Ski pilot, the B-1 held two passengers, was underpowered, and hard to start, but it got Heli-Skiing off the ground:
Alouette II: Although slightly bigger and more powerful than the B-1, the Alouette II didn’t last long in Heli-Ski service before larger helicopters became available:
Alouette III: The Alouette III was well-tested in the Alps as a rescue and service helicopter, and with a 6-passenger payload it allowed a full group of skiers to be transported to the top in just two flights. Up until this point, skiers carried their skis over their shoulders like you see in resorts. Then someone shoved their skis through the rotors of an Alouette III, shutting down the “ski lift” until repairs could be made. That’s why Heli-Skiers now carry their skis below waist level:
Bell 204: One day the Alouette III was in the shop for maintenance, and a Bell 204 was brought out as a temporary replacement. Jim Davies remembers that when he flew the 204 the performance was so superior to the Alouette III that he told the helicopter company, “You’ll have to leave that (Bell 204) right here.”:
Bell 212: In 1970, just in time for the opening of CMH Cariboos, the Bell 212 entered the picture. Hans Gmoser, the founder of CMH, called the twin engine machine the single biggest factor in the success of Heli-Skiing. “It was the helicopter capacity. Once we had the 212 we had a business that could really work." Here's to the Bell 212:
Bell 407: The 407 is the race car of Heli-Ski helicopters. It was certified by Transport Canada in 1996 and has become a staple of small-group heli-skiing, holding 5 guests, the guide and the pilot:
Bell 206: The 206, also called the Long Ranger, is our support machine. With excellent fuel efficiency, we use the 206 alongside the 212 to make our Heli-Ski program more economical during those flights (such as when a tired skier needs to return to the lodge) when the payload of the 212 is not necessary:
My first time heli-skiing I was nervous. Not because of the skiing – I’d been skiing my whole life and knew that once the boards were on my feet it would be the same as it ever was. Not because of the helicopter – I knew CMH Heli-Skiing's partner, Alpine Helicopters, has one of the most well maintained fleet of helicopters on the planet. Avalanches make me nervous anytime I go skiing, but I knew I was safer with CMH and their world-renowned snow safety system than any other time I'd spent in the backcountry or sidecountry.
So why was I nervous? In hindsight, I think I was nervous because Heli-Skiing was something new. Like the first day of school, or learning a new skill, doing anything for the first time is a little scary.
By lunchtime of the first day, my nervousness had disappeared, and was replaced by utter fascination and absurd amounts of fun. Looking back on my own maiden voyage, and watching other first timers go through the same transformation from intimidation to fun, there are five things that seem to help the most:
1. Get to know your guide, and follow their directions. I knew our ski guide was a seasoned veteran of Heli-Ski guiding, but for some reason after we talked for a while at the pickup and got to know each other a little, I felt like the seed of friendship had been planted, and everything felt more relaxed. It’s a lot more relaxing when your guide becomes your friend. Follow their directions and you’ll stay safer, become ever better friends, relax even more, and have more fun.
2. You don’t always need to hurry. At my first pickup, I was trying to bundle my skis as quickly as possible to prepare them for the ski basket, and my guide noticed my haste.
“Island time, man.” he said, “No need to hurry.”
When he said that, I felt every bone in my body relax. There are times when it is important to bundle your skis quickly so the helicopter doesn’t have to wait, forcing the rest of the groups to wait, but much of the time you can take the time to bundle your skis slowly. The best way to know is to simply ask your guide:
“Are we in a hurry?”
If there is no need to hurry, don’t. Learn to bundle your skis properly and you’ll be faster at it later. If there is a reason to hurry, ask for help. Your guide or another experienced skier or snowboarder will be happy to give you a hand.
3. Learn to put your skis on in deep snow. Even on the most epic powder day at a ski area, underneath the powder is a hard-packed ski area base, making it easy to put on our skis and snowboards. While Heli-Skiing, we sometimes step out of the helicopter into waist deep powder with more soft snow underneath the fresh, making it a tricky process to get into your skis or board - until you get used to it. When you first experience this, ask you guide, CMH staff, or other experienced rider to show you how to put on your skis or board in deep powder. If you don’t learn this trick, you’ll fight with your board(s) at every landing, wasting energy and becoming frustrated; not a good way to start each run. Also, if you loose a ski mid-run, where the snow is usually even deeper, much deeper, than on the landings, you’ll be able to put it back on much easier. Also, ask for tips on getting up if you fall down. On one board or two, getting up after falling can be one of the most exhausting parts of riding deep powder.
4. Ask your tree buddy to ski right behind you on the first couple of runs. Unless you’ve skied a lot in the backcountry, Heli-Skiing often provides the deepest snow you’ve ever ridden. It is pretty intimidating your first time, but with the fat skis we use at CMH, and a friend to help you out if you fall, even intermediate skiers learn quickly how to ride the pow. Regardless of the size of the group you’re skiing with, your guide will ask you to always ski in pairs - the buddy system. If you’re nervous, ask your buddy to ski behind you for a couple of runs. This way if you fall, you’ll have someone right there to help you get up, and even if you don’t fall, it’s nice to have a friend backing you up. After a couple of runs, take turns going first - but always stay together. In no time, the intimidation quickly transitions to insane amounts of fun.
5. Pay attention during the safety training, but don’t stress over it. At the beginning of each CMH ski trip, every guest goes through a short training exercise, covering the use of radios, avalanche transceivers, avalanche rescue technique and helicopter safety. It’s hard to learn if you’re stressed out. Instead, get into the beginner’s mind and just listen to what the guide is telling you. The avalanche equipment is important, but because the goal of the CMH guide team is to keep you out of danger in the first place, the vast majority of CMH guests, even thouse who've ripped millions of vertical feet with CMH, will never have need to use the avalanche equipment. Instead, focus on learning these just-in-case skills and then go have fun. If you ever go backcountry, sidecountry or cat skiing, you’ll be one step ahead of the game.
While the safety and helicopter efficiency systems that CMH guides have developed over the past five decades are complex, for guests the system is designed to be simple. The guides and the rest of the CMH staff are there to help you have the time of your life. Get ready to have the most fun you’ve ever had with your boots on.
Photo of the fun kicking in for a first time Heli-Skier at CMH Gothics, by Topher Donahue.
“It’s a thing of beauty.” Said Dave Cochrane, the manager of CMH Bugaboos, when I asked him what he thought about the new ski baskets that were installed on Alpine Helicopter’s fleet of Bell 212 helicopters in the last few years.
It may be hard to believe that something as dialed as the CMH Heli-Skiing system would need to change something as simple as the ski basket, but the story of the ski basket, like much of the Heli-Skiing story, is long and colorful. The heli-ski ski basket has gone through an evolution every bit as significant than the evolution in snowboard, ski and snow safety technology.
To begin with, the ever innovative ski guides and pilot Jim Davies attached to the skids a simple ski rack designed for an automobile, and strapped the the skis and poles to the rack with bungie cords. (Photo at right. Note the extra gas can strapped to the side of the helicopter - there were no fuel caches in those days.) While this method would never fly (so to speak) in the modern world of safety-obsessed Heli-Ski companies and oversight from Transport Canada that has to approve every detail of air transport, it was a workable solution in 1965.
After the car ski rack was retired, the first real ski basket turned out to have a serious safety flaw. They began using a basket built to fit the helicopter - but the basket had no lid. Jim Davies explained that they figured it would work fine because when they were lifting the group to the top, the airspeed and rotor wash would tend to pin the skis in the basket, and in those days nobody ever flew back to the lodge. Instead, they always skied to the bottom of the valley or to the lodge at the end of the day, so there were never skis in the basket while the helicopter was flying downwards.
Then one day a tired skier wanted to go in early. As the helicopter quickly lost eleveation, the skis were lifted out of the basket by the airflow, and flew through the rotor. The skis were chopped in half like a carrot hit by a machete, and the skis carved a dinner plate-sized chunk out of the rotor. The pilot, none other than the original Heli-Ski pilot Jim Davies, mustered his considerable skills and managed to land the wobbly and aerodynamically compromised machine safely at the lodge.
The next basket was built to handle the speed, power and safety of modern Heli-Skiing, and it served the industry well for decades - until we changed the dimensions of the tools we use to ride the pow.
Fat skis and snowboards came along, pushing the well-designed little basket to overflowing, and requiring the most recent basket design change (above) which accommodates our larger boards without sacrificing aerodynamics and weight. The new basket required years of design innovation and approval from Transport Canada, and each one costs upwards of $15,000. But it seems the new ski basket can handle the high standards of safety, equipment and efficiency that we’ve all come to expect from the modern world of CMH Heli-Skiing.
In 1963 - 50 years ago this year - CMH began experimenting with what would become known as Heli-Skiing, and took the word’s first commercial Heli-Ski guests up a mountain with a helicopter for a ski lift. At the time, the best machine for the job was a Bell 47 B-1. The pioneers of Heli-Skiing strapped their skis to the skids with bungie cords and shuttled the group to the top, two passengers pusing the payload capacity of the reliable little helicopter to the limit.
The Bell 47 line were technological marvels for the time, setting helicopter records for distance and elevation.
- In 1949 it made highest altitude flight to 5,650 metres (18,550 feet).
- In 1950 it became the first helicopter to fly over the Alps.
- In 1952 it set a distance record of 1,959 kilometres (1,217 miles).
- In 1958 it became the first helicopter to be used for television news camerawork.
Its 178 horsepower engine had about the same power as a small car, but at the time there was nothing better for mountain flying than the Bell 47 B-1.
When Hans Gmoser, the founder of Heli-Skiing, was first approached by a couple of different skiers about the possibility of using a helicopter for a ski lift, he didn't immediatley jump on the possibility, but he didn’t forget the concept. Hans brought up the idea with Jim Davies, a skilled mountain pilot who had helped Hans with ski exploration in the Cariboo and Rocky Mountains using a fixed wing.
According to Hans, he asked Jim, “Do you think you could use a helicopter to take skiers up a mountain?"
And Jim replied, “I know I could.”
That’s how it began. But there were a couple of false starts including a trip in 1963 to the Goat Glacier near Canmore, Alberta where the helicopter worked great but the snow was hideous breakable crust, and a trip in 1964 out of Golden, British Columbia where windy conditions blew the little helicopter far from their destination, clear into the next province of Alberta, before they found a place to safely land and ski.
In 1965 Hans decided to try Heli-Skiing in a place called the Bugaboos, where a remote sawmill camp provided lodging, the endless mountain range of the Columbia Mountains provided the terrain, the now-legendary storm cycles of Interior British Columbia provided the powder – and the Bell 47 B-1 provided the power. The third try was, as they say, a charm; the snow was dreamy, the guests were ecstatic and wanted to go again the following year, and Heli-Skiing was born.
Helicopter technology changed dramatically in the late 60s and early 70s, so the Bell 47 was soon exchanged for larger, more powerful machines, but these pictures of the little helicopter servicing the very first commercial Heli-Skiers will forever speak to the world's greatest skiing and the unprecedented adventure of learning to use a helicopter for a ski lift half a century ago.
Photos courtesy CMH Archives.
In 2005 I received an assignment from Powder Magazine to document a Heli-Ski party in the Bugaboos to celebrate 40 years of Heli-Skiing. The story was far more than a magazine article, and from the magazine assignment the project transformed into a 293-page book called Bugaboo Dreams: A Story of Skiers, Helicopters and Mountains.
For two years I interviewed the characters involved in those 40 years of innovation and adventure, and in the process came across some wild stories. In the early days of Heli-Skiing, there were no radios, no avalanche transceivers, no mountain weather forecasts, no collaborative safety program between guides - and a bottle of wine was shared at lunch time.
Of all the stories I heard, this is one of the wildest; told by Bob Geber, a guide who retired from guiding just two years ago:
“The pilot had a southern accent and no mountain flying experience. As we were landing I looked down to enter flight time in my book – when I looked up all I could see was snow.”
The pilot reacted at the last second and pulled up just before hitting the slope so the helicopter crashed with much of the force on its skids. As the machine rolled backwards, a skid stuck in the snow crust, preventing a probably fatal tumble. When things stopped moving, Geber had one thought: “!#&$, I’m still alive!”
During the crash, he slammed his head into something in the fuselage, and blood from the wound pooled in his eyes. His second thought was: “!#&$, I’m blind!”
He could smell fuel, so he kicked down the door and started running away. After a few steps he had a third thought: “!#&$, I’m the guide!”
Wiping the blood out of his eyes was a relief, as he realized he still could see. He turned around and helped everyone else out of the helicopter. No one was hurt, and there was wine in the lunch, so they grabbed the lunch and moved away from the helicopter to wait for a rescue. There was no long-range radio in those days, so Geber hoped someone would realize the helicopter hadn’t returned and send out a second ship.
They drank the wine and ate the lunch, and still no rescue was forthcoming. The short winter day was half over, so Geber decided they’d better try to get out under their own power before darkness fell. While the helicopter was bent, with pieces scattered everywhere, the basket miraculously protected the skis during the crash. Everyone grabbed their skis and did what they knew how to do – ski. The only problem was the pilot. He had no skis and wouldn’t have known what to do with them if he did.
The snow was too soft to walk without debilitating effort, so Geber had the idea to make a sled using a disk-like cover that fits around the base of the helicopter’s rotor assembly on the very top of the fuselage. There was enough room for the pilot to sit in it, like a child on a saucer, and the disk slid easily on the downhill. They left the wreck and headed down the mountain, eleven skiers easily cruising along, and the pilot sledding behind on a piece of his mangled helicopter. When the terrain was less steep, they attached a rope to the makeshift sled and pulled the pilot along, but when they hit a flat section, with deep, soft snow, it became impossible to pull. He tried to walk, but ended up wallowing.
To make forward progress, Geber and one of the stronger skiers each gave up one ski so the pilot, with zero ski experience, could use two. Gently rolling terrain was perfect for the new system and they made good time, the pilot even started enjoying the idea of skiing with the exhilaration of sliding easily down a few small hills. Soon they crested a bigger hill, and Geber was ready to change back to the sledding system, but the pilot asked, “Hey Bob, do you think I could ski by myself down this one?”
Geber thought there wasn’t much of a hill, so he let the pilot go ahead. Geber remembers, shaking his head, “He went about 50 feet, fell over, and started squealing like a pig. We couldn’t figure out what he could have done to himself in such a short distance and insignificant fall, but I skied up to him and he was holding his leg. Immediately I could see he had somehow gotten a compound fracture. The bone was obvious sticking out against his pants.”
By now the day was well the way to a guide’s worst nightmare, in fact nightmare on top of nightmare. With a crashed helicopter and a pilot with a broken leg, Geber was in no mood to listen to the pilot’s screaming. “I shoved 200mg of Demoral up his #$$, and pretty soon he was grinning stupidly, happy as a baby.”
By this point a rescue helicopter found the beleaguered skiers. The other guide was so happy to see the entire team alive and well, he got out of the helicopter and started running towards Geber – directly into the path of the rotor. To end the day, Geber ran at his fellow guide and dove at his legs with a football tackle, effectively knocking the other guide over before he decapitated himself on the blade.
Yup, more than a few things have changed in Heli-Skiing.
Photo courtesy CMH Archives.
Anyone who’s spent a bit of time with CMH Heli-Skiing falls in love with the beyond-epic tree skiing in the Columbia Mountains of Interior British Columbia. Powder so deep and soft that you can’t even tell where the last storm stopped and the new storm began. Pillow drops so fluffy and forgiving that even timid powder skiers find themselves happily catching air. Old growth forests with massive trunks perfectly spaced to inspire rhythmic fall-line runs. It's that good.
But there’s a problem with tree skiing and those constant snowstorms: you sometimes don’t get to see the spectacular terrain you’re skiing through.
Unlike Heli-Skiing in treeless mountain ranges like those in Alaska where you can't Heli-Ski when its storming, in Canada the contrast provided by the trees allows pilots to see well-enough to fly even in moderately heavy snowfall. Sure, occasionally it snows too hard for them to fly safely, and when the pilot says it's snowing too hard to fly, we don't argue. Instead, we rough it in the spa until the weather improves. More often than not, the skilled Heli-Ski pilots we work with from Alpine Helicopters, and their reliable, well-maintained helicopters, keep us skiing while it snows.
Yeah, the tree skiing with CMH is as good as skiing gets, but sometimes I crave a sense of place. It’s hard to believe, but there are weeks at CMH when it snows the entire time, and we ski all day every day. At the end of such a week I'm tired, happy, and satisfied as a skier, but as a mountain lover I do sometimes wish the snow had stopped long enough to give us a look around.
Luckily, mountain weather is ever-changing, and during the average week with CMH Heli-Skiing there is a load of fresh snow as well as spectacular mountain vistas. The average week entails both full-throttle tree skiing as well as expansive alpine ripping.
I spent one week at CMH Monashees when it never did stop snowing (yeah, it was some of the most fun I've ever had with skis on), and another at CMH Galena where it snowed all but a few hours (not sure if my skis were on the ground or in the air half the time). One morning at Galena the clouds parted for a few timeless minutes and I shot the following panorama of the Galena ski terrain. While the epic skiing we did that week certainly lives in my memory, this view enhanced my experience there immeasurably:
So next time you’re skiing with CMH, and the weather starts out clear, savor it; you might spend the rest of the week deep in the hemlock, spruce and fir forests, choking on face shots and giggling madly, with hardly a glimpse of the vast mountain wonderland surrounding you.
Photo of deep powder tree skiing with CMH by Topher Donauhe.
Interviewing CMH Bobbie Burns guide Marty Schaffer would probably be best done on a pair of skis with a recorder taped to a ski pole – Marty was skiing in his mother’s womb before he was born, and hasn’t stopped since. In fact, the only reason I caught him on a down day was because he was at his 62-year-old mother’s house helping her recover from an injury that she sustained after a jump went awry while powder skiing.
You read that right - Marty's 62-year-old mother is still going big.
I’d heard about Marty, equally comfortable on a pair of skis, a splitboard or a snowboard, and already a legend and a full ski guide at 26 years old. He was profiled on the spirited website, GetRadRevelstoke.com, where the stories of him growing up with parents who ran a backcountry lodge convinced me I had to track him down for a few more tales.
And tales he had to share. When he was 3 years old, his parents were digging out the door to the Blanket Glacier Chalet while Marty played in the snow nearby. After digging for a while, his mom suddenly asked, “Where’s Marty?”
A minute of panic ensued while they looked frantically for their son – and for good reason. They found him deep in a nearby tree well! They got him out without incident, but a treewell is the kind of trap that can kill even a strong adult without help.
With childhood imprints like treewells and backcountry lodges, it’s no wonder Marty pursues the twin pillars of mountain life, fun and safety, with almost religious fervor. “I was sort of tricked into becoming a guide,” explains Marty between chuckles. “When I was 13 or so, my dad would be guiding a ski tour with a few faster skiers, and I would take the faster guys and ski laps around the rest of the group. I didn’t even realize I was guiding. We were just skiing and having fun. I was just showing my friends the good stashes.”
Coming from such a rich background in the ski world, I had to ask Marty about the changes he’d seen. His first answer was the same one everyone gives: ski technology. Ski technology has made everything more fun.
His second answer was more surprising: “The average weekend warrior is skiing things the pros were skiing 10 years ago. Backcountry education is cool now. It’s cool to be prepared.”
Marty adds a cautionary tale at this point. During a recent freeride camp organized by Marty’s private guiding service, CAPOW!, Canadian Powder Guiding, he took a group skiing with ski pro Chris Rubens. They were skiing on mellow terrain on Rogers Pass, looking up at tantalizing extreme terrain, when Chris turned to the group, “If it were just Marty and me skiing here today, we’d be skiing exactly this same terrain. Conditions have to be perfect to ski that stuff.”
The moral of the story is that while average backcountry skiers push into more serious terrain, the ski pros don’t always ski more aggressively. “My ski pro friends are some of the most conservative skiers I know,” explained Marty.
The Blanket Glacier Chalet works in the same area as the CMH Revelstoke Heli-Ski operation. Marty remembers slogging up a skin track with his dad and seeing the Heli-Ski helicopter fly overhead. He remembers saying, “Dad, when I grow up I’m going to do that!”
He did just that. And working with CMH Heli-Skiing has proven to be more than he could have even imagined: “I still have to pinch myself sometimes to make sure it’s real! There’s a great mentorship program at CMH. Even as a full ski guide I learn stuff every week.”
Talking with Marty was entertaining, and revealing of the cutting edge of both recreational and professional skiing, but as it should be, talking with Marty mostly just made me want to go skiing.
Showing wisdom beyond his years, Marty concluded: “I’d like to think things haven’t changed too much. It’s all about fun and safety, the same as it was when Hans (Gmoser, the founder of CMH Heli-Skiing) was taking people ski touring in these mountains all those years ago. It’s not just about powder snow – it’s the whole thing.”
It was a painful interview for Marty. He could scarcely contain his enthusiasm. “It’s totally bluebird in Revelstoke and the stability is great! I can’t believe I’m inside!”
Photos: Marty checking the air for the pilot in CMH Bobbie Burns by Carl Trescher, Marty dressed up as a mountain guide with his dad's old gear for Halloween from the Schaffer family archives, and waiting in the lift line at CMH Bobbie Burns by Ryan Bavin.
We experimented with one-day heliskiing too. In fact, the world’s very first attempt at commercial Heli-Skiing in 1963, exactly 50 years ago this spring, was a one-day trip. It was led by CMH Heli-Skiing's founder Hans Gmoser, so we know a thing or two about how it happened. On our very first day, we strapped a car's ski rack onto the skids of a helicopter and flew out of Canmore, Alberta, onto the nearby Old Goat Glacier, to try using a helicopter as a ski lift.
Granted, there were a few problems. First, we were using a Bell 47 helicopter, which could only carry 2 skiers at a time. Second, we tried Heli-Skiing in one of the driest areas in the Canadian Rockies so the snow was terrible. And third, everyone was wearing long, skinny, straight skis which made the terrible snow really difficult to ski.
It cost 20 bucks a person to be one of the world’s first Heli-Skiers.
Two years later, in 1965, we finally got it right in the Bugaboos. While the helicopter was still too small and the skis to skinny, we were in the right place - and we spent a week Heli-Skiing instead of just a single day.
Fast-forward 50 years, and Heli-Skiing has become a mature industry, but the problems with one-day Heli-Skiing have remained. We experimented again with one-day Heli-Skiing just a few years ago, and the problems are as plentiful now as they were that fateful day on the Old Goat Glacier in 1963.
At first glance, considering the expense of Heli-Skiing, the one-day idea seems like a good one. But when you dig in a little more, the reality tells a different story. Here are the five big problems with one-day heli-skiing trips, and the reasons that CMH Heli-Skiing does not offer one day trips:
- Training: Every Heli-Ski operator worth their googles trains guests in helicopter, avalanche, and skiing safety. A minimal training session takes an hour, and a good training session takes closer to two hours. In a three-day ski trip, spending an hour or two learning safety protocol doesn’t eat into much of your skiing time. In a one day trip, especially during the short winter days, the training cuts into your ski time dramatically.
- Burn per turn: How much money you spend per glorious, choker, blower, over the head powder turn goes down significantly the more days you can afford to ski. The best value heli-ski vacations are more than one day. No exceptions. If you are considering a trip with a “cheap” Heli-Ski outfit, do the math. For dollars per face shot, “cheap” Heli-Skiing is often the most expensive. Check out this article about one-day trips and other myths about Heli-Skiing.
- Conditions: No mountaineer travels to a mountain destination with only a single-day window to bag the ultimate mountain goal. In one day, you’re more than at the mercy of the mountain’s conditions – you’re a slave to them. CMH Heli-Skiing’s weeklong Signature trips were designed to take into account the fickle nature of mountain weather and conditions, as well as give people time to adjust to the rhythms of the wilderness.
- Friendships: For the guides and staff of CMH Heli-Skiing, this is the biggest reason we don’t offer one day heli-skiing. We don’t want to meet new people every day and then watch them leave before we even get a chance to become friends. And our guests don’t want to leave either. Everyone has more fun in the mountains after we get to know each other.
- Life: One day of surfing. One day of golf. One day of sailing. All one day does is get you ready for the second day. Even the best skiers amongst us have more fun Heli-Skiing the second day. If you’re going to throw down for the ultimate ski experience, you owe it to yourself to make it worth the cost, the time, the travel and the potential of Heli-Skiing.
CMH Heli-Skiing’s spring trips are some of the highest value options in the entire recreation industry. Join us this spring for a three to seven day trip that you’ll never regret.
Photo of one of the world's first commercial Heli-Ski flights from the CMH archives. Photo of the rewards of multi-day Heli-Skiing at CMH Gothics by Topher Donahue.