CMH Heli-Skiing is a team and family that includes the guests and guides, staff and support, first timers and veterans. Liz Richardson, the Guest Services Coordinator at CMH Revelstoke and a newcomer to the CMH family has been learning what CMH is all about. She shared her perspective on Heli-Skiing after spending a day out with the guides during the making of the early season Revelstoke video. With a wide-open beginner’s mind (although she’s no beginner on skis) she has an incredible perspective on snow riding, the powder paradise of Revelstoke, and CMH Heli-Skiing.
TD: I hear you’ve spent some time running gates and skiing around the world. Can you fill me in on your ski career?
LR: Yes, I was a ski racer, way back now. I grew up skiing and racing in Panorama BC, which is well-known for long groomers and generally hard icy snow. A great place to become a well-established racer but a long way from the deep powder Revelstoke is known for. I competed up until 2002 with the BC Team and the Canadian National Team.
After ending my race career and finishing my degree, I drove from B.C. to Panama and fell in love with surfing, eventually spending six years in New Zealand where I surfed everyday there was a wave. The Deep South of NZ captivated me. The cold, raw surfing was one of the only challenges in my life that rivaled skiing; it filled the void for a continuous challenge and adrenaline that was left when I quit ski racing. I moved to Revelstoke for friends and family – and because the skiing is amazing. Things naturally fell into place, and I ended up as the Guest Services Coordinator with CMH Revelstoke.
TD: Can you share a little on your philosophy on life and skiing after so much racing and travel?
LR: My philosophy is to take time to do what you love with who you love. To fully embrace life you must embrace every bit of it. Ups and downs all have their place, feel it all and roll with the terrain, trust your instincts and act on those instincts.
TD: What was it like, your first time out with the CMH guides?
LR: Within my first month back in Canada, after 7 years away from skiing, I find myself heli-skiing with three CMH guides and a cinematographer....it was surreal. (Read more on the day with the cinematographer.) They took me through the beacon safety training, etc., but it wasn't until I was sitting down and the helicopter fired up that I became overwhelmed with excitement. I was rubbing my hands together like a greedy thief who had just come across a stash of gold. Although I felt a bit of trepidation about how my legs would hold out and where we were going, the guides immediately made me feel at home and well taken care of.
The guides are such a great gang to hang out with, always up for a laugh and each and everyone is a genuine character. Then you witness them out in the field and they become so focused. The level of comfort and knowledge they have is exceptional and it was privilege to see them in action setting up for the season.
TD: Did you quickly feel like part of the team, or does it take more time to fit in with such a group?
LR: One thing that is so unique about the CMH Heli-Skiing experience is how quickly a bond of trust and friendship is formed with the guides and group you are skiing with. I think it is rare to form this sort of relationship so quickly with people. Even though this is daily life for the guides they were genuinely stoked to get me up in the mountains and share that experience. This bond is something that our long time CMH guests understand and a big reason why they return. This bond is something new guests are not expecting and something that cannot be fully understood without coming here.
TD: How did your first day of Heli-Skiing change your view of what CMH is all about?
LR: One thing that I was well aware of before coming to work with CMH is their history and reputation of being one of the biggest and best heli-ski companies in the world. My view of CMH has not changed but has been confirmed and strengthened. This is one of the most comprehensive, safety-focused and passionate companies in the business. And it is obvious. A prominent theme among the CMH guides is their loyalty to their guests. I have heard so many great things about the CMH guests in the pre-season meetings and set ups that I can't wait to meet them. It is obvious that the guests are the key reason why CMH takes so much pride in the business and why CMH employees are so dedicated to the CMH experience.
TD: How do you think the riding around Revelstoke compares to other places you've been?
LR: I grew up on ski hills around the Kootenays. To me the epic snow, mountain atmosphere and endless terrain is just normal. It wasn't until I travelled around the world with ski racing and my other travels that I realized what we have here in the Kootenays. Revelstoke has developed into the symbolic heart of this culture. My brother, from nearby Nelson, reassured me that I would meet so many solid people and wouldn't regret the decision of moving here (I may have been a bit hesitant to leave the waves so needed some encouragement). My brother was bang on.
In regards to the skiing, Revelstoke really has it all. It is accessible, abundant and diverse. As one of my good friends quoted my first day skiing, "Revelstoke is not a lazy man's mountain" and she was right. The Revelstoke terrain in general is steep, deep and makes you work. The skiing here can be as challenging as you make it, which is why I think you find such a concentration of accomplished riders here. It allows these skiers to take on the next challenge with a network of people around them who they can trust.
TD: As Guest Services Coordinator, what is your goal for this winter?
LR: I am so excited to be taking on the GSC position with CMH Revelstoke! I can't wait to meet our guests! I have several main goals for this winter:
First, listen and learn.
Second, assist the guests and CMH team with anything they may require. Erin Fiddick, the last RE Guest Services Coordinator, is a real gem. She formed strong relationships with many CMH guests and put her heart into the position. I intend to do her justice by working to strengthen these relationships and continue her momentum.
Third, I hope to enhance the Revelstoke guest experience by providing them a direct link between CMH, their travels and other external factors. Our guests come from near and far to reach us here in Revelstoke. There are many unexpected things that can pop up. My job is to identify and manage these things so our guests can focus on what they came to do: ride.
Finally, I hope to take a page out of our guest’s book: have tons of fun, ski and enjoy life in Revelstoke and with CMH!
Meet Liz in Revelstoke and join the CMH family this winter by calling 1-(800) 661-0252 and find out why CMH is the first choice among veteran and first time Heli-Skiers.
Photo of Liz Richardson ripping it up on her first day Heli-Skiing by CMH guide Kevin Boekholt.
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:
Snowboarders have all the advantage on this one. Since they only have one tool to deal with – instead of four – it’s a lot easier to keep the hands warm. But regardless of how many boards you ride, these 10 suggestions will help you enjoy the coldest winter days.
- Consider mittens instead of gloves. Mittens are warmer and you don’t really need the added dexterity of gloves unless you’re shooting photos.
- Don’t hold onto your board for too long with either hand while walking to the lift or boot packing for some freshies. The cold board and the pressure on your hands both contribute to your hands losing heat.
- Don’t let snow get inside your gloves. It takes just a moment of inattention to get a pile of snow inside your gloves – and all night to dry them out before they’ll be warm again.
- Make sure you can put your board on without taking your gloves off. Practice everything with your gloves on, even when it’s warm, so that when it’s cold you already know what to do.
- Practice keeping your hands warm from the moment you put down the coffee cup. When you’re cleaning the snow off your car, getting your gear out of the shed, and even driving the car before the heater gets going – keep your fingers warm! Use a beater pair of gloves and keep your best ones dry for riding, but protect your fingers long before you get on the hill. You can quite often track your cold fingers back to a hurried mistake in the morning before you even got to the first run.
- Practice skiing without wrist straps. The straps restrict blood flow to your hands. Savvy backcountry skiers and Heli-Skiers don’t use them anyway because of the risk of catching a tree and injuring a shoulder, or even worse, in case of an avalanche or falling in a tree well your wrist straps will pin your arms down. (In fact, for safety reasons, CMH Heli-Skiing removes all wrist straps from their fleet of poles, and strongly suggests guests who bring their own not to use straps.)
- Let go of your poles every chance you get. Wrapping your fingers around your pole handles both limits the circulation to your fingers and conducts cold from the pole into your hands. When you’re standing in the lift line, waiting on the slope for your friend, or even sitting on the lift, position your poles so you can let go of them (tucking them under a leg on the lift works well) and ball your hands into a fist inside your gloves.
- Practice everything you do without taking your gloves off. Putting on your goggles, cleaning the ice off your bindings and boots, adjusting your buckles, putting things in your pockets, turning on your GoPro and even lighting a smoke (if you smoke you’re going to get cold hands even easier since nicotine is a vasoconstrictor.)
- Dry your gloves every chance you get. Be it in the helicopter, snowcat, gondola or in the lodge. Even if they’re still dry on the inside, go through the motions of drying them out. Experienced Heli-Skiers will carry a pair of thin liner gloves to wear during lunch, and stick their ski gloves inside their jacket while eating and drinking. Getting hot tea or soup on (or in) your gloves feels good at first – but later, not so much.
- Most importantly, don’t let you hands get cold in the first place. Once they’re cold, the most expensive gloves in the world will have a hard time making your hands warm again. Practice keeping your hands warm all the time. Once it becomes second nature to move your fingers to improve circulation, keep them dry, keep your jacket sealed over your gloves, and be vigilant to your hands at all times, you’ll be amazed how you can keep your hands warm even in the coldest conditions.
Photos of warm hands and big smiles in the mega-deep powder of CMH Heli-Skiing at CMH Gothics
and CMH Galena
by Topher Donahue.
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.
Solo travellers, consider these options:
Option one: Travel to a huge and famous resort. Check into a hotel room on the 6th floor. Go out looking for a place to have dinner. Eat at a table by yourself. Go to a bar in hopes of finding someone to talk to. The next day, ski alone and try to be social on the lift. Channel Jason Bourne strategies to get a few fresh tracks.
Option two: Take a trip with CMH Heli-Skiing. From the moment you meet the CMH concierge in Calgary or wherever your trip begins, you’re warmly welcomed into the fold of CMH Heli-Skiing. Every aspect is taken care of for you. Go to a remote and cozy lodge where you’re immersed in ski paradise with people having the best days of their lives. Request a private room or let us find you a roomie. Dine with snow riders from all over the world who quickly become your friends. Use the world’s safest helicopters for a ski lift. Channel Scooby-do appetite to devour thousands of vertical metres of untouched powder.
Which would you choose?
For some reason, there’s a common myth among snow riders that you have to be part of a group to book a trip with CMH Heli-Skiing.
This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Among CMH Heli-Skiing’s 11 ski tenures in the Revelstoke region, two of them are private lodges that are (mostly) booked by groups; the rest are filled with singles, couples, families, small groups, and every combination of powder enthusiasts imaginable.
Not only are single Heli-Skiers allowed at CMH, there are numerous return guests at CMH Heli-Skiing who book trips with their friends and family for the shared experience – and then return for a trip alone for the full-throttle experience of snow-riding without friends and family.
For solo travellers who want to socialize outside of the CMH Lodges, CMH Revelstoke and CMH K2 are based in the charismatic Canadian mountain towns of Revelstoke and Nakusp where nightlife and a ski bum scene can be found between days of Heli-Skiing in the legendary mountains of the Selkirks and the Monashees.
For the unique combination of camaraderie and comfort that makes you feel like you’d rather be nowhere else on earth - a feeling known in the German alpine culture as huttenzauber, or hut magic – a Heli-Ski trip to one of the nine remote CMH Lodges would be a solo travellers dream trip.
Whatever you choose, CMH has been hosting solo travellers (and groups) for 48 years, and there may be no other place on the planet where you’ll feel more welcome or have more friends more quickly than CMH Heli-Skiing.
Photo of a solo traveller making friends with a few snow mushrooms, CMH Adamants, and huttenzauber at CMH Gothics by Topher Donahue.
There are a lot of Heli-Skiing options out there, from Chile to Russia, Alaska to Nevada, but not all are created equal - so how do you know what’s the right Heli-Ski trip for you?
Since Canadian Mountain Holidays invented the sport of Heli-Skiing, we’ve pretty much answered every Heli-Ski question you can imagine. To get an idea of the most important questions that any skier or snowboarder should ask before booking a Heli-Ski trip, I spoke with Becky Champion at CMH Heli-Skiing Reservations.
Becky said, “At CMH Heli-Skiing we’re transparent about these kinds of things, but maybe not everyone else is...”
She then gave me this list of questions that you should ask any Heli-Ski operator before you book:
How do you charge for vertical?
- Some operators will have lower price tags, but then you'll usually ski less vertical or get less of some other part of the Heli-Ski package.
- Others offer “unlimited vertical”, but then limit their vertical in other ways, by "calling it a day" early, etc., or else by charging a high rate that covers a full day of helicotper time no matter how much you ski.
- Flying a helicopter is so expensive that "unlimited vertical" is not the fairest way to charge. At CMH Heli-Skiing we have a base charge for a set amount of vertical, and then charge extra above the guarantee. Many other reputable operators use this system, and it has proven to be the fairest way to charge for Heli-Skiing. When conditions are great, you can opt to ski more and pay more, but if you decide to take a day off, or if flying or skiing conditions are limiting the program, you’re not paying for “unlimited vertical” when you're not skiing.
How much vertical do you end up skiing on average? A lot can be learned here. One-day Heli-Skiing is often squeezed by the safety practice, equipment setup and other things, so the best value is often a multi-day trip.
What’s included and what’s not included? For comparison, CMH Heli-Skiing includes:
- Radio for each guest
- Avalanche rescue equipment (shovel, probe, transceiver)
- Excellent food
- Comfortable lodging
- Skis and poles
- Snowboards (limited availability and style - please call to reserve)
- Transportation to and from Calgary for most trips
Am I a good enough skier?
All Heli-Skiing requires a solid intermediate-level resort ability, but some areas are better suited for first timers. Just ask and be honest with your abilities. Typically, many women tend to underestimate their abilities while many men tend to overestimate their abilities.
What kind of terrain do you ski?
Some areas, like those in Alaska, only ski above treeline and are unable to ski during storms but are famous for steep skiing in the springtime. Other areas, like CMH Heli-Skiing and other areas in BC, are most famous for deep powder skiing in both the alpine and in the trees from December through April.
What kind of equipment and clothing is needed?
CMH Heli-Skiing has comprehensive Heli-Skiing equipment suggestions online. While our equipment suggestions are optimized for deep powder Heli-Skiing, these pages contain valuable information no matter what kind of skiing you’re planning to do.
What is the cancellation policy?
Hopefully, you’ll never have to cancel a Heli-Ski trip, but impossible weather or your own schedule complications do arise, so it’s good to know what will happen if you cancel as well as what happens if your operator cancels your trip.
Becky concluded with the biggest question: What will the weather be like? And then answered with a laugh, “If we could predict the weather, we’d be charging a heck of a lot more!”
While knowing for sure what the weather will be like is impossible, there are weather and conditions tendencies within each area and Heli-Ski region during a particular time or season. Your operator should be able to give you at least an approximate idea of what kind of skiing conditions are possible in their area during a particular time of the year.
The CMH Heli-Skiing Reservations agents are a wealth of information, and with the widest range of Heli-Ski options on the planet, our agents work magic when it comes to matching skiers and snowboarders with the right Heli-Ski trip for their tastes, abilities, time and budget. Give ‘em a call at 1-(800) 661-0252.
Photo of CMH Gothics by Topher Donahue.
I’ve been waiting for weeks to post this. I came across this photo in June, at the peak (hopefully) of a horrendous wildfire season in the US.
Waldo Canyon and High Park, the most destructive wildfires in Colorado history, were both raging, consuming over 600 homes between the two of them. New Mexico’s Whitewater-Baldy fire had taken the dubious honor of being the largest fire in the state’s history. Utah, Wyoming and California were all doing battle with fires.
It seemed most respectful to wait until those unbelievably destructive fires were under control before talking about them on a blog dedicated to having unbelievable amounts of fun in the mountains.
It’s a screenshot of a CNN photo of a Bell 212 helicopter and pilot from Alpine Helicopters fighting fires in California in June. After seeing Alpine machines flying above glaciers, between billowing white clouds, over heavily snow-ladden forests, and under huge granite walls, it was somewhat shocking to see the familiar red and white machine hovering above a massive wall of flame.
Alpine Helicopters has been a reliable partner for CMH Heli-Skiing for decades, and now supports all the CMH Heli-Skiing locations in the vast Columbia Mountains ski paradise around Revelstoke. Some heli-ski pilots take the summer off, but many have families to support, or simply enjoy flying, and spend much of their summer fighting fires in the US and Canada.
The pilot and engineer often commute together, in their helicopter, from the Alpine Hangar in Kelowna, BC, to wherever they are needed for firefighting. An Alpine pilot told me once, “Smoke and Jet-A smell good to a pilot”.
I’d guess the Alpine boys got enough of whiffs of jet fuel and pine smoke so far this summer to last them through a winter of fresh air, gourmet food, and powder snow with CMH.
Heliskiing photo from CMH Galena by Topher Donahue.
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.