A magazine feature in the winter edition of Kootenay Mountain Culture is devoted to the young partnership between CMH and K2, and how it has put the sleepy town of Nakusp, in Interior BC, Canada, on the map.
If you haven’t picked up a copy of Kootenay Mountain Culture, check it out. It’s the magazine you wish all other outdoor mags were like. It’s honest, well-written and diverse, covering every mountain sport yet invented and revealing the often hidden world of mountain culture, art and lifestyle.
In the article on CMH K2, titled “Nakusp Gets Sethed”, Editor-in-Chief Mitchell Scott presents the local’s view of the new face of Nakusp, the K2 athletes and executives thrill at having a world-class Heli-Skiing destination to “work” with, and the CMH guide’s story of their “office.”
I suppose it’s not surprising that two of the snow sport industry’s most iconic brands, with a century of experience between them, could get together and turn one of the least know ski destinations in BC into perhaps the world’s coolest place to ride, but it is surprising how the change has permeated the local culture.
From the local ski hill, where K2 put up $1500 to install rails where the local kids could learn to jib like the pros, to the renovation of the Kuskanax Lodge into the K2 Rotor Lodge, in just two years, cool has transformed the ski scene in Nakusp.
A quote from Mike Gutt, K2s Global Marketing Manager, sums it up: “It’s a cool place where everything resonates with the K2 vibe: the town, the mentality, the terrain.”
Scott describes the renovation at the Rotor Lodge that helped lead the town’s metamorphosis from unknown to cool:
"Old K2 paraphernalia is sprinkled throughout the lodge, and each (room) has its own distinct theme. There are posters, top sheets of classic K2 models, covered bar stools, and bits of helicopters on the walls. It’s funky and it feels ‘ski’ in every room."
CMH K2 Area Manager, Peter Macpherson, reveals the mentality:
"The presence of K2 athletes and staff, who've been coming up religiously for the past couple of years, as well as the photography and footage that's coming out of our lodge, is beginning to attract younger, more adventure-oriented skiers."
Finally, an interaction with one of the guides reveals the conditions and terrain:
“It’s sunny, there are 20 centimetres of col -9C powder, and the mountains are firing. ‘This is skiing in the Selkirks,’ says lead guide and Nakusp local Patrick Baird. ‘It’s always good up here. It always snows.’ With that he leads his group of 10 skiers down into clouds of whitesmoke, through perfectly spaced trees, to the valley bottom far below."
The terrible twos at CMH K2 are happening, but there is hardly any space left at the party. All the seats during the K2 athlete weeks are sold out, and the rest of the season has precious few openings, so if you want in on the coolest partnership in skiing (and a free pair of K2 skis of your choice for your efforts) speed dial CMH reservations before anyone else at 1 (800) 661-0252.
Lots of space next season though!
Photo by John Entwistle: Seth Morrison hiding out in the Kootenays.
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 story of food at CMH goes back to the 1960s and the very beginning of Heli-Skiing. At that time the Bugaboos was the only place in the world to go Heli-Skiing, and all the food had to be brought in, mostly canned, at the beginning of the season while the road was still open. Once the snowdrifts closed the road, a crate of fruit once a week was the only fresh food resupply.
Over nearly 50 years CMH Heli-Skiing has found it necessary, in order to provide such excellent and responsible cuisine in such outrageous locations, to take the CMH story far from the mountains into the world’s most progressive fisheries, ranches, farms, vineyards, coffee roasters, cheese-makers and olive oil producers. To put it simply, not every food supplier is up for the task of providing high quality, responsibly-sourced foods to some of the planet’s most remote world-class kitchens.
Yesterday I talked to Christoph Weder, the mastermind behind Heritage Angus Beef, a conglomerate of Canadian ranchers committed to raising cattle at higher standards than even the “organic” certification requires, and the source for all the beef prepared in CMH Lodges.
You’ll never meet a more committed cowboy than Christoph. He calls himself Dr. Moo after an education, both practical and institutional, that has given him a PhD in Animal Range Science and made him the proud owner of Spirit View Ranch, a free-range cattle outfit in Northern Alberta and one of the 20 ranches that make up Heritage Angus. His efforts have garnered several national awards including the Alberta Beef Producers Environmental Stewardship Award.
“The people who buy our beef,” explained Dr. Moo, “want more than hormone and antibiotic free beef - they want ranching done with consideration for wetlands and natural habitat, and without overgrazing and inhumane treatment of the animals; they want fair trade for the ranchers and animals that spent the most possible time foraging and the least possible time in the feedlot.”
Dr. Moo’s recipe for excellent Canadian beef is working, and now Heritage Angus sells beef to Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Czech Republic, Holland and France as well as the US and Canada. Heritage Beef’s blog, The Trail, is an insight into what it takes to provide the best possible beef as a Canadian rancher - from counting herd losses due to wolves one week, to touring the finest restaurants in Europe’s most cosmopolitan cities the next.
He explains his approach, in which he distills a lifetime of education and passion into a simple philosophy: “If you’re going to raise beef, raise the good stuff. If you’re going to eat beef, eat the good stuff. If the good stuff is expensive, eat a little bit less.”
Like so much of CMH Heli-Skiing, the network of passionate individuals and complex systems that makes it tick goes largely unseen, but once you dig into the story, it makes perfect sense. Christoph “Dr. Moo” Weder’s story isn’t so different from the story of CMH. In his blog he writes:
“It’s a busy schedule running a branded beef program, being a father, husband and also running a ranch… I spend many, many hours of the week in the office 15 feet from the kitchen table talking to customers and working with the partners of Heritage Angus… sometimes more than I would like, so when the opportunity comes to get in the saddle and get out with the cows I am all over it. September is some of the prettiest times of the year to be out on the range…. its a time for reflecting back over the past summer and for seeing if all the best laid plans turned out…. I love to see how well the calves have grown how the grass held up and what the cows look like as we head towards winter. Being a real rancher and being a partner with nature is something the ranchers of Heritage Angus are all very proud of. …. Heritage Angus Beef is not a spin doctored brand… it is real ranchers and real families that are proud of being part of something good.”
Hans Gmoser, the founder of CMH Heli-Skiing, or today’s mountain guides and CMH staff, could just as easily have written something very similar about running the world’s biggest Heli-Ski operation, and the pleasure of getting “in the saddle” after a hectic day in the office or the sentiments of being partners with nature and being real families that are proud of being part of something good.
Dr. Moo ended our conversation with this: “The partnership we have with CMH is one we’re really proud of, and it’s fitting with their international guests who get to visit these far-away mountain lodges and experience some really good Canadian food.”
Photos of CMH Cariboo Lodge and well-nourished CMH guests by Topher Donahue. Spirit View Ranch photo courtesy of Christoph Weder.
Like most good things in Heli-Skiing, the need drives the innovation, and Pre Heli-Skiing, offered in Banff by Vertical Unlimited Ski Hosts is no exception. Last season, CMH veteran Kimbi Farrelly took a British family skiing near Banff before their maiden Heli-Skiing voyage in the Bugaboos. To start with, they didn’t really know which lodge they were going to. Kimbi said, “It was all neatly written up for them on their correspondence, but they obviously did not have the time or desire to read it.”
Personally, I like that British family’s approach - just sign up for the dream ski trip with CMH Heli-Skiing and get on with it. Why bother with the details, eh? But the family gave Kimbi the idea to start a program to help people get ready for their CMH Heli-Skiing trip. We all know CMH will take fantastic care of you on your dream trip, and teach you what you need to know while you’re out there, but Kimbi had discovered a valuable addition to the CMH Heli-Skiing program.
While skiing with the British family around the Banff ski areas, Kimbi found herself teaching them many of the things that would help them get the most out of their ski holiday:
- She explained the kind of terrain they would end up skiing in the Bugaboos, and how the heli-skiing program works in the various terrain.
- She went over the techniques for tree skiing, like the buddy system and leap frogging.
- She showed them how to find a lost ski in the deep powder.
- She showed them how to put on skis in difficult terrain and deep snow.
- She coached them on how to approach difficult terrain.
- She taught them how to get up after falling in deep powder.
- She gave them pointers for how to conserve energy throughout the day and week.
- She emphasized the importance of listening to the guide’s instructions.
- She explained how to dress for a day of heli-skiing in various temperatures and conditions.
- She showed them how to bundle their skis and poles together for the helicopter.
By the end of the day, Kimbi had designed the beginnings of an entirely new ski program.
After 12 years of working for CMH as a ski shop manager, in almost every CMH area, and accumulating over 8 million vertical feet of heli-fun, Kimbi knows what will help CMH guests get the most out of the vacation.
“Not only is this great for first timers,” she explains, “but it is also an add on for the returning guests that want to bring their families, or for groups of friends who want to get their ski legs underneath them; a lot of heli-skiers don’t have the time to prepare before their vacation and this is a great way to get the ski legs moving again.”
There are also some benefits that even the experienced CMH powder hounds would appreciate. Kimbi provides private shuttles from your hotel, and will take you on a tour of Banff’s “hidden stashes and secret spots that all the locals ski!” (Sign me up for that part alone...)
Besides Kimbi’s substantial fun hog credentials, she is also a certified Nordic and Alpine ski instructor. Everything Kimbi teaches will be explained by CMH guides as well, and repeated whenever needed, but joining Kimbi for a warm-up allows you to spend more of your concentration and ski energy simply enjoying the world’s greatest skiing.
For more information about Pre Heli-Skiing, visit Vertical Unlimited Ski Hosts or call CMH Heli-Skiing reservations at 1 (800) 661-0252.
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.
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!
When Hans Gmoser, the founder of Canadian Mountain Holidays, first arrived in Banff in the 1950s, he walked through town with a pack on his back, found a suitable patch of grass to pitch his tent, and went to sleep. In the morning Hans awoke to someone kicking his feet from outside the tent. After wriggling out of his sleeping bag, he found himself facing an irritated homeowner by the name of Elizabeth “Lizzie” von Rummel.
After kicking Hans out of his sleeping bag for sleeping on her lawn, Lizzie quickly realized Hans was a foreigner struggling to make it in Canada. Before Hans even finished packing his bags, she offered him a job assisting her with the operation of the alpine hut at Mt. Assiniboine.
It was there, below one of the world’s most beautiful mountains, where Hans learned the importance of mealtimes in the mountains - a philosophy that continues to this day in every CMH lodge. It is no coincidence that the biggest tables and biggest helicopters at CMH accomodate about the same number of people. The skiers who heliski together can dine together if they choose; thus carrying the skiing emotion throught the entire day and into friendships that reach beyond the holiday.
Lizzie’s guests didn’t just visit – it was their home for a week. The lodge was theirs and the hut keepers and fellow explorers were their family. After a big day in the mountains, mealtimes were family affairs, with mouthwatering plates of hot food brought to the tables to be dished out in front of the hungry climbers and skiers. After eating, everyone helped clear the tables before gathering around the wood stove to tell tales and build strong friendships as only crackling fires on cold nights can inspire.
Many things have changed since then, but CMH has held onto the belief that mealtimes in an intimate mountain lodge after a day of adventure are best eaten at tables big enough to accommodate a group of skiers - but small enough to allow common conversation and hearty laughter.
Sure, the skiing is where the friendships are born, but the CMH dinner table is where they mature. And sort of like a climber visiting basecamp even when he or she is too old to climb, some life-long heliskiers, when they can no longer ski, still return to CMH for the rest of the CMH experience. There is a lot of great skiing on this planet, but there is no hospitality company on earth that throws down the intimate, gourmet dining experience of CMH.
Do you have any CMH Dinner Table stories you'd like to share?
Photo of toasting to deep snow and fine friends in the CMH Gothics by Topher Donahue.