Why Early Season Snow is Critical for Helicopter Skiing in BC
by Ken France, Area Manager, CMH Kootenay
What a treat! Seldom have we seen so much snow in our skiable terrain at this time of year. Heli-Ski season began on December 2 at CMH Galena Lodge and Mike Welch, Area Manager, said that skiing on Wednesday was some of the best skiing EVER! Dave Cochrane was rippin' it up in fluffy white stuff in the Cariboo front ranges yesterday and he measured the snow depth at 2300m to be 2 metres plus. Dave says "Yesterday I was ski touring in an area called Kangaroo. We had an excellent day skinning up the ridgeline and a supberb decent through beautiful glades. If there was ever a year to take advantage of fantastic early season snowfall, this is it."
Not only is all this deep fluffy snow fun to ski in, it also opens up more terrain for us to enjoy. As you can imagine, the ground out there is rough; logs, creeks, boulders, cliffs, small trees and underbrush dominate the landscape around here. Unlike ski hills that meticulously manicure their runs to take advantage of early season skiing/riding potential, in the heli-ski world we “get what we get”, and actually need 1.5m to 2.0m (4’ to 6’) just to cover up the surface roughness so we can get down the mountains safely. Even those depths typically do not “squash” the underbrush enough to allow travel through some sections. Alder patches, young conifers, willows, and bushes all stand upright until the snowpack is deep enough to cover them or, on a slope, to start bending them over from “snow creep”. Understandably, the smoother things are, the more useable runs we have, regardless of snow stability.
November in Revelstoke from Jeff Bellis on Vimeo.
Speaking of snow stability...
Invariably, with deep early season snowpacks, the weather to create them has been wet. In this region and climate, that usually means fairly warm temperatures (just below freezing) and cloudy skies. The warm temps are good because they better facilitate metamorphism and sintering together of the snow grains, thus adding to snow stability (thereby reducing the risk of avalanches). The cloudy skies prevents the sunshine from forming surface hoar crystals and facets which, once buried deeply enough, are often the failure plane in skier/snowboarder/snowmobile caused avalanches.
We are now pushing 3m (10’) at most 1,800m (6,000’) elevations in the Selkirk, Monashee, Purcell and Caribou Mountains. Skiable terrain can be anywhere from 1,000m to over 3,000m (3,000’ to over 10,000’) in these ranges which comprise all twelve of CMH’s Heli-Ski areas.
With more snow on the way, we in the industry are drooling over the prospects! If our words don't convey the 'awesomeness' of what we've got out there right now, perhaps this video CMH guide Jeff Bellis made in Revelstoke earlier this week will! Many of us have been out ski touring because we just can't let these remarkable conditions pass us by. Come and join the fun!