Being a guest of CMH inspires great stories. Today, with Thanksgiving coming in my neck of the woods, I was skiing with my kids and thinking about how thankful I am to have had a chance to work and play at CMH.
My story is by no means the best CMH story, but after contributing to the Heli-Ski Blog for the last 4 years, and working with CMH for the last decade, I thought it worth sharing.
In 2003 an assignment from Climbing Magazine gave me the chance to visit CMH Adamants, in the summer, to experiment with heli-climbing and write an article about it. I’d been to the Bugaboos before, but seeing the Admants opened my eyes to the vastness of the Columbia Mountains. For six days we bagged first ascents on the vertical walls of the Adamants.
After seeing my photos, Jane Carswell in the CMH Marketing department, invited me back the next summer for a photo shoot in the Cariboos. There, I was lucky enough to share the trip with none other than CMH founder Hans Gmoser, his wife Margaret, and their two grandkids.
Like most journalists, I had to ask Hans a few questions. Also, my father was a mountain guide, so I was curious about another family that made a life in the mountains. In the ensuing conversation, Hans told me about the upcoming celebration at the Bugaboos to celebrate 40 years of Heli-Skiing. I remember saying, “I’d love to be a fly on the wall at that party!”
Hans replied, “You should come.”
Who would turn down that invitation? When I got home, I contacted Powder Magazine to get an assignment that would make it worth my place at the party. And what a party it was; many of the original guests and guides, their families, and other friends of the business expressing their appreciation for being part of the invention of Heli-Skiing and 40 years of friendship.
After skiing, the wine and stories would flow and I took notes and recorded presentations. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the story of CMH is much more than a magazine article. At one point I asked one of the guides, “Hey, I’d be happy to contribute the material I’m getting here to whoever is writing the book.”
He looked at me and said, “Nobody’s writing the book.”
I was stunned. CMH seemed like the best story I’d come across in a lifetime spent living in, writing about, and photographing the mountain culture. After a few long conversations, I found myself with the dream assignment: write the story of CMH Heli-Skiing.
In 2006 and 2007 I visited every CMH area, filled several notebooks with interview material with some of the most incredible individuals I’ve ever had the honour of meeting, and in 2008 Rocky Mountain Books published the result: Bugaboo Dreams, A story of Skiers, Helicopters and Mountains.
Since then I’ve helped CMH with creative content of various kinds, becoming friends with the hard-working staff, guides, and guests and feasting on some of the most delicious snow I’ve ever tasted. And like so many long-time guests, staff and guides have told me: at first we think the CMH experience is all about the skiing, but then we realize it is so much more.
- It is the intimacy of the remote lodges and the great people.
- It is returning to a place that is so wild and pristine yet feels like home.
- It is living a lifetime in a week.
- It is getting to be where you’d rather be no place else on earth with a group of people who feel the same way.
The people I met while working on Bugaboo Dreams, and my relationship with the guides, staff and guests of CMH - and of course the skiing - have made working with CMH a dream project. Thank you CMH!
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:
The wintertime snow riding is often called the world’s greatest skiing, and the award-winning summertime adventures are the kind of experiences that imprint a person’s heart and soul with beauty, so it’s easy for the lodges of CMH Heli-Skiing and Summer Adventures to blend in with the scenery.
However, the location and the alpine hospitality delivered at the CMH lodges are so authentic and spectacular, that sometimes I wonder if CMH would become even more famous if the lodges were marketed as remote lodging destinations rather than base areas for world-class mountain experiences as they are today.
For those of us who enjoy the warm personality and dream-like mountain environment of the CMH experience, the lodge is just one aspect the comfortable outdoor immersion that the CMH winter and summer programs provide. Yet we all know that the charismatic lodges of CMH are a huge part of what makes a vacation at CMH so refreshing, memorable and enjoyable.
Looking back at my photo collection from a decade of pointing my cameras at CMH Heli-Skiing and Summer Adventures, the following 5 photos stand out as capturing the personality of the CMH Lodges.
Galena Lodge in January. 5cm/hour snowfall:
Bugaboo Lodge in August. The view from the helicopter on the way to dreamland:
Cariboo Lodge in February. The only civilization for farther than the eye can see – even from the summits of the biggest peaks:
Bobbie Burns Lodge in July. The most diverse and accessible smorgasbord of remote adventure options on planet earth:
Gothics Lodge in March. The Germans call it hüttenzauber or, loosely translated, “alpine hut magic”:
These are lodges where world-class ski and snowboard athletes celebrate some of the most fun adventures they’ve ever had in the mountains; lodges where 90-year-old great-grandparents breathe the fresh alpine air and hike in the tundra; lodges where adventure travellers live their most memorable experiences; lodges where thousands of people from all over the world have spent the kind of days that make them feel most alive.
Photos by Topher Donahue.
Even with the prevalence of digital capture, it is only every once in a while that we see something entirely unprecedented.
Growing up in the mountains, I always felt like geologic change was real, but not the kind of thing that happened in human time. I was in awe of how glaciers grew and receded, carving the mountains into the seductive shapes that inspires us to learn to ski and climb; but I always believed that I wouldn’t live long enough to really see the changes.
How wrong I was! Just a decade of working with CMH Heli-Skiing has been enough to see dramatic changes in the glaciers of the Canadian Rockies. During the same time, geologic change seems to be accelerating in many parts of the world, and with the phenomenon reaching beyond the niche circles of skiers and mountaineers, people are aiming cameras and instruments at our planet in new ways.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of this change being captured "on film" is the Chasing Ice project. By using time-lapse methods the team, led by photographer James Balog, set out to capture geologic change in a human time frame.
The results, starting with a National Geographic Magazine assignment in 2005, have received global attention. The project has continued, and with cameras trained on galciers all over the globe, perhaps it is not suprising that something extraordinary would be revealed. Recently, a team of photographers in Greenland captured something that defies all our previous assumptions about geologic change.
While shooting a tongue of glacier that has receded as much in the past ten years as in the previous 100, they stumbled into filming the largest glacier calving that has ever been captured on film. This is not a time-lapse, but instead a city-sized section of glacier falling into the sea in little over an hour:
This video clip is perhaps the most stunning thing I’ve ever seen on film. It is part of the film “Chasing Ice” which is showing in North America and the UK during 2013.
Thankfully, here at CMH Heli-Skiing, we still have a vast wonderland of safe and skiable glaciers positioned right next to epic tree skiing; but I gotta wonder; will my grandkids be able to ski these glaciers too?
I must first start with an apology. Last week, we missed photo of the week... because I was out at CMH K2 and The Gothics taking the photo of the week! So, this week we will have two photos, from the last two weeks.
"Andy rockin' with the rocks"
Photo: John Entwistle
Skier: Andy Mahre
Date: January 11th, 2013
Area: CMH K2
Camera: Canon 6D
"A unique view of the Gothics"
Photo: John Entwistle
Skier: Seth Morrison
Date: January 14th, 2013
Area: CMH Gothics
Run: Old Camp
Camera: Canon 6D
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"Jumping in to the Sun"
Photo: Michael Welch
Date: January 4th, 2013
Area: CMH Galena
Run: Cocoon High
Camera: Nikon D3S
High Resolution Version: Here
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