“I’ve got nothing to do today but smile.”
With over 40,000 photographs of CMH Heli-Skiing taken over the last decade in my archive, I find the ones that stand out most are not necessarily the images of face-shot powder, steep lines, and endless mountain vistas, but rather the ones that show the unabashed happiness of people getting to experience one of life’s ultimate pleasures.
With a year coming to a close, and a new one on deck, I thought it a good time to share some of those moments:
Like the look of this kind of happiness, but have never been Heli-Skiing? CMH is the best place to try Heli-Skiing for the first time. In fact, CMH has probably hosted more first time Heli-Skiers than the rest of the Heli-Ski industry combined. From our Powder 101 program, to our guides who are experts in taking riders into the deep powder for the first time, to our vast terrain with endless options for beginners and experts alike. Make 2014 your year to try Heli-Skiing!
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:
"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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Well, the last helicopter landed last Saturday, calling an end to the 2011/2012 CMH heli-ski season. As sad as that may be, it does mean that we have time to reflect on the season, and go through loads of fantastic pictures that we recieved. For this blog post, I thought I would create a tribute to the machines that make it all possible: the helicopters.
1. This picture was taken in February up at the Bugaboos. Photographer Alex Edwards is our support helicopter pilot, and managed to snap this mid-flight picture from a nearby ridge.
2. In my opinion, there are two situations where I am ok that a helicopter is not flying. The first being when it is dark, because I need my beauty sleep so that I can get out and ski the next day. The second would be when it is snowing so hard that you can be guaranteed that once you do get back in the air, the skiing is going to be beyond epic. This picture by Topher Donahue shows just how much early snow Galena can get.
3.The Bell 407 is the sports car of helicopters. This picture shows it in action, and I like it. Going to pick up the next group of small group heli-skiers in Kootenay.
4. Wait a second... Oh. I see what I did here...
5. And for the last picture, I will put up a picture that I took. Because I can. This is also the best view of any helicopter- because if you are looking at one like this, it is coming to pick you up for your next run. Giddy up at CMH Galena!
The first day of spring rolled around this week, and if you were stuck at a CMH lodge without a calendar, you would have no idea!
Here are a couple of awesome pictures from right around the official "change of seasons" - But they might as well be from mid-January!
Allan from the Monashees is really enjoying guiding this spring:
Sure, this picture has some sun... But the snow is still mid-January like:
The K2 Demo Days were a little earlier in March at CMH Kootenay- This was the begining of the snowy spring:
The Bobbie Burns is "sinking" that this spring snow is deep!:
At Mcbride, you can get private spring heli-skiing. Because there isn't enough snow to share... Yeah right!:
Spring means longer days, more vertical, and LOTS of snow! Come and get it!
Wow, another month of sweet lines, happy guests and great ski photos is behind us. We were happy that we got an extra day in the month of February to enjoy all the fresh snow that's been falling along the Powder Highway in BC, Canada.
Here's how we saw the world at CMH Heli-Skiing in the last month, in no particular order:
1. Mid-February in the Bobbie Burns and Area Manager Bruce Howatt was able to capture poetry in motion early one morning.
2.In the Bugaboos the pilot of our Bell 407, aka "The Small Ship", Alex Edwards captured the theme of the month - deep, deep snow!
3. CMH Kootenay hosted our first ever Powder 401: Steep Shots & Pillow Drops program which was introduced as part of the new Powder U cirriculum for 2012. They are also hosting the K2 Demo Days starting this Saturday, March 3/12 - 2 spaces remain!
4. Up in the Monashees skiers and riders on our Private, Small Group Heli-Skiing program took advantage of the great conditions and skied 111,650 metres in the first week of February.
5. At the Cariboos skiers and riders on the Signature 7-day Heli-Ski trips skied sweet lines all week and enjoyed classic CMH hospitality back at the lodge. One group of 14 skiers who have been skiing together with CMH for over 20 years enjoyed the 75 centimetres of new snow, the three million foot suits that were awarded and the copious amounts of champagne consumed!
If moving pictures are more your thing you'll love this new video from the team at the Bobbie Burns.
And in the words of Rob Rohn, CMH's Director of Mountain Operations, 'the recent abundant snowfall and cold temperatures with minimal wind have made for really great skiing. A group of Swiss skiers in the Gothics told me that today was the best day of skiing they have had, ever!" So, if you're looking to end your ski season on a high note, contact CMH reservations at 1.800.661.0252 - some great space still remains for March and April here in the heli-skiing Mecca of BC, Canada!
For more ski photos from the month of February, check out CMH's online photo gallery.
Even if the Columbia Mountains surrounding Revelstoke, British Columbia, in Western Canada didn’t get dumped on to the tune of around 20 metres of snow each winter, the terrain alone would make it a world class ski destination.
The best I can explain the Columbia Mountains is that they are like two mountain ranges - a high alpine range and a steep forested range - sitting on top of each other.
Quite frequently a storm rolls in and obscures the high peaks for days on end. In these conditions, heliskiing would be impossible in mountain ranges without trees. The trees give the helicopter pilots enough visual contrast to allow them to fly in all but the heaviest snow, lowest visibility, and strongest winds. It is during these storms that heli-skiing near Revelstoke really comes into its own. The deepest powder clings to the steepest faces, and the same trees that give the helicopter pilots enough visibility to fly, also give the skiers and snowboarders enough visibility to shred.
Some of the forests have been logged, and the regrowth is often thick and difficult to ski through, but many ski runs pass though old growth forests with ancient cedar trees the diameter of an automobile. While the alpine terrain is what drew heliskiers to the Columbias in the first place, it is the tree skiing that made the Revelstoke area a heavyweight contender for the world’s greatest skiing.
Then, when the storm clears above the forests, the sublime alpine peaks of the Columbias reveal themselves. A few lucky skiers have learned to ski here from day one, learning to turn on low-angled glaciers where there is nothing to hit for a kilometre in every direction. Many lucky skiers and snowboarders have ripped steep lines off the pointy summits and through the varied forests of the Cariboos, Selkirks, Monashees, and the Purcells - the subranges of the Columbias.
Ski film makers have been shooting the more popular areas in the Columbia Mountains for years now but, in my opinion, the most spectacular ski lines in the Columbia Mountains have yet to be shown on the big screen. There are thin couloirs dropping into glades filled with over-the-head powder, steep faces that rival the wildest Alaskan terrain, mellow meadows where even beginners feel comfortable, and everything in between.
There are some places where the hype is greater than the real thing. In this case, no amount of hype could really do justice to the skiing in the Columbia Mountains of Interior British Columbia. If you’re a skier or snowboarder, and you haven’t yet visited Revelstoke or the Columbia Mountains, do it. Soon. Heli-ski. Tour. Fusion. Ride lifts. The method doesn’t matter. Just make it happen.
Columbia Mountains ski terrain photos by Topher Donahue.
I talked to a professional snowboarder last week who said that the conditions in the Columbia Mountains were creating the deepest snow he had ever ridden - then it snowed for the next week straight...
Over the last 2 weeks, the Columbia Mountains’ snow machine has dumped nearly two metres of low-density snow at treeline in the CMH Heli-Skiing tenures.
Shooting photos in these conditions resulted in some exceptional images of the deep powder heliskiing experience, some of which I shared last week, but some of the best face shot photos have yet to see the light of day. It seems only fitting that the loyal readers of the Heli-Ski Blog should see them first.
This first shot shows CMH Galena guide Bernie Wiatzka, the ski guide with by far the most experience at the tree skiing paradise of Galena, doing what he does best - disappearing in a cloud of cold, white smoke.
It snowed between 10cm and 30cm every night, and the CMH Galena Lodge was as fascinating in these conditions as the skiing itself:
While much of the time, the snow was so deep that it was impossible to tell if the CMH Heli-Skiing guests were on skis or snowboards, occasionally everything would ride to the surface and the deep powder travel tool of choice would be revealed:
Conditions were ideal for big air, and the CMH guides were in good form suggesting the best pillow drops, not to mention the mandatory air on some of the runs. Here, the co-owner of The Source snowboard shop demonstrates one method of choking on a mushroom:
The CMH Ski Guides wear bright orange jackets to make them easier to follow, but in these conditions much of the time they were nearly invisible in a cloud of snow. Luckily, CMH Ski Guides, one shown here up to his earlobes in low-density powder, are exceptionally good at giving directions and nobody had any issues following them down run after run of the deepest snow imaginable:
Even the Bell 212 helicopter, known to be the safest helicopter ever made, seemed to enjoy the mind-blowing storm cycle:
Yesterday, the CMH Heli-Skiing area's snow reports showed up to half a metre of new snow over the last 24 hours - on top of what you see here. If you haven't booked a heli-ski trip yet this year, call your boss, your partner, and CMH Reservations at 1 (800) 661-0252. Not necessarily in that order!
I watched the first skier step out of the helicopter today at CMH Galena, and he sank up to his armpits in the fresh snow. He looked back up at the rest of us, just exiting the machine, with wide, thrilled, stunned eyes behind his goggles - and he’s skied 11 million vertical feet of the world's greatest skiing.
Needless to say, it was the best day of skiing many of us here today have ever experienced. Not only did we ski some the the most famous runs at Galena, like Mega Bubba and Hanging Gardens in blower, choker, creamy, over-the head powder, but there is more snow in the forecast. At one point today, I got back in the helicopter after a nearly non-stop run with face shots on almost every turn, and my face felt like I’d just received mother nature’s most thrilling facial. Yup, ski conditions at CMH are going off.
On another run, I skied nearly 300 metres with the snow streaming over my shoulders and across my face the entire pitch.
Shooting photos in these conditions has been an unusual challenge - the pow is so deep that the skiers and snowboarders are almost entirely obscured much of the time. But in between, when they pop out of the massive powder clouds, the magic of deep powder heli-skiing and boarding with CMH is revealed.
At the end of the day, with classic CMH mountain hospitality, we walked in the door of the lodge and were greeted with cold beers, hot chocolate, and steaming racks of ribs before we even had a chance to take off our snow-packed ski gear.
I had several conversations tonight with guides, staff, and guests with many years of experience chasing skiing and snowboarding nirvana, and everyone had a similar comment: "We are so fortunate to be here right now!" Of course a couple of the guides and guests had this to add, “But it’s like this a lot around here.”
I talked to a guy this morning who just booked his trip last week - needless to say, he’s pretty happy with his last-minute decision to join us. There is still space on the helicopter...