"These, my friends, are Dumb Falls."
Even with a helicopter to take you up the hill, heli-skiing can be pretty exhausting. For some pointers on conserving energy I caught up with John Mellis, the gregarious manager of CMH's Cariboo Lodge, just before he left for a pre-winter surf trip to Hawaii. He busted out some answers that were, well, right to the point.
Topher Donahue: Hey, Johnny, what is the number one thing heli-skiers do that wastes energy?
John Mellis: In my experience, the biggest waste of energy is people arriving out of shape.
TD: So what's it like for a first time heli-skier?
JM: A new heli skier has to survive the first half of the first day on his own. I don't say much in the first few runs - it tends to be a waste of breath.
TD: Why's that?
JM: The mind of a first-timer, in the first few runs, is completely overstimulated and blocked for learning. There is way too much going on for them to learn. If they can make it through lunch - and aren't completely whipped - this is when the learning curve begins.
TD: So that's where the fitness comes in - if you aren't at least moderately fit you might not even make it to the learning curve?
JM: Exactly. Then you need to find a little confidence which gives you the mental space to get into a new skill set. As soon as you can find this precious bit of confidence, the next lesson is terrain reading. Poor terrain reading skills can cause one much grief and cost plenty of energy.
TD: So a skier with intermediate skills who pays attention to the terrain might be more efficient than a better technical skier with poor terrain judgement?
JM: I see that all the time.
TD: So what are your tips for reading terrain?
JM: Here's the big ones:
- Look ahead - way ahead!
- Hit dips and gullies on an angle!
- Anticipate flat areas so you glide across effortlessly instead of walking!
- Stay on the high side of features - keeps your options open!
- Look between the trees - not at them!
TD: It seems like heli-stress can burn a lot of energy too. Any advice there?
JM: Helicopters definitely boost the heart rate and make people nervous in the beginning. The key for this is be ready. Have your hat and goggles back on your body instead of scattered around in the snow. Make sure your jacket is done up. Get away from the last minute scramble and you can relax for the easy ride.
TD: What about getting in and our of your skis and preparing them for the helicopter?
JM: It's amazing how such a little thing can waste so much energy. Do what your guide does:
- Start on on the flattest place possible put on your downhill ski first.
- Clean your boots by kicking and scraping the top of your toe piece.
- For strapping your skis and poles together for loading on the helicopter, it's easy, but ask your guide for a demonstration.
- More then anything use a little common sense.
TD: Just standing still in those wild mountains feels tiring. How do you rest out there?
JM: The trick I use for standing still on a mountainside is to jam either one or sometimes both of the heels of my skis into the slope.Then I place the tips of my poles behind the toe pieces of my bindings and lean on my poles - creates a great rest.
TD: So here's the big one - do you have any tips for skiing efficiently?
JM: I'll save the dynamic ski teaching concepts for Roko, but powder skiing is the most relaxing and upper-body-quiet type of skiing there is.
TD: Surely there is a tip that is left out of even the best Austrian ski instructor's thick trick book.
JM: Ok. I'll add just one tip that will save you a ton of energy: Think about skiing and only skiing from the first turn to the last when you come to a complete stop beside your guide. What I observe - about fifty times a day - is skiers taking the dreaded dumb fall. To many dumb falls in a day in deep snow, and then climbing out of your crater in the snow, will rob you of the power to enjoy awesome powder skiing. The most common place for dumb falls is at the end of a pitch of skiing while approaching your group and guide. The skier usually starts talking or showing off right at the last turn causing the most embarrassing crash. This becomes the avoidable energy waster and everybody waits as you clean your goggles.
TD: That sounds kind of dangerous for you!
JM: Yeah, I often wonder if there is a bull's eye drawn on my suit. As the first skier comes down he locks eyes with me, his target, starts into his wiggly, tight show-off turns, crosses a tip and face plants at my feet - hopefully without hitting me. These, my friends, are Dumb Falls.
TD: What about saving energy over multiple days of skiing?
JM: Take the opportunity to go back to the lodge before you become completely exhausted. End the day on a good note and you'll recover for tomorrow.
TD: Good stuff. Thanks!
JM: One more thing: Attitude is everything. With a good attitude you're able to learn, you don't wast energy being frustrated, and you'll be able to brush things off and try again. I believe the mountains are no place for negative energy. Remember, you are on your holiday.
Never Heli-Skied before, but considering it? View CMH's First Timers video and consider a Powder Introduction. And never hesitate to give us a call at 1.800.661.0252. We love to talk skiing and we'll be honest an up-front with you to work together to find the best fit for your Heli-Ski vacation.