Heli-skiing teamwork - the myth of the Powder Pig
Leading heli-skiers and snowboarders has been compared to herding cats. The excitement of the best skiing on the planet combined with the different personalities, languages and nationalities in the ski groups make the job of leading ski groups to good snow, and around dangers, an interesting one to say the least. Some groups seem to ignore each other and take an every-man-for-himself approach resulting in frustrating days for both the skiers and the guides. Others take more of a team approach making it more fun for the other skiers and easier for the guides. I asked Lindsay Andersen, a guide who’s been at CMH Bobbie Burns for the last eight seasons, to talk about the teamwork she sees out there.
Without the teamwork the skiers provide, I think the guides would find it even more stressful to trust that skiers will make it down the mountain together and in one piece. It’s always such a relief to see all our powder ducks in a row after a long run in the trees!
I think two extremes occur amongst guests. You get the "old" regulars who have skied with us for longer than I've been alive, who are either really conscious of helping out, or the opposite happens, and they are out there for themselves and to get as much vertical as they can, which is funny because in heli-skiing being the first to the ski lift doesn’t get you an extra run!
The other side is the first-timers who come and are nervous and tend to hang back making sure everyone is safe, or they have their heads in the sand (or snow!) and have no experience in such an untamed environment.
In general, I find most skiers are quite good at helping others. Every day in the Bobbie Burns, one of the most popular lodges among our international guests, we see skiers helping others who don’t even speak the same language.
- I see people bundling each other’s skis for the helicopter, especially in the Burns where typically the heli is hovering close by waiting to pick the group up. Not much time to take pictures or tell jokes!
- I see people hang back to search for lost skis, and sometimes you'll get the entire group standing in the middle of a big slope searching for one lost ski. I'll be yelling to tell them they really only need one or two people helping out, but human nature makes it hard for even powder pigs to leave behind someone who is struggling.
- In the trees I find the teamwork most beneficial... Of course tree buddies are extremely important in keeping everyone safe and out of tree wells, and from getting lost. In the beginning, we have to continually remind people to stay with their partner in the trees, but after a while most people realize they enjoy skiing with a friend.
- More and more skiers bring their own radios for communicating amongst each other, which is great for keeping the team informed if you lose a ski or whatever.
- Around the helicopter I find some skiers are quite conscious of making sure everyone is crouching when the machine comes in. The noise, the flying snow, the wind from the rotors and the power of the helicopter tends to stress people out the most in heli-skiing, so having someone who knows what their doing is a comfort to those who are brand new.
- Serving each other tea and soup at lunch so not everybody has to wallow in the deep snow to get a drink.
- Picking each other up after falling in deep snow.
- Scoping landings and lines for each other.
- Helping each other get their skis on.
- Lending each other spare goggles, glasses and gloves.
- Leaving space in the drying room for everyone's gloves and boots.
- The list goes on...
While heli-skiers have a reputation for being selfish powder hounds, most guests help out whenever they can. Human beings are, in general, very kind and naturally nurturing and helpful and the mountains are good at getting people to work together. You always get those bruised apples who don’t pay much attention to the other skiers or the guides, not realizing that they hurt their own skiing experience by being so selfish, but these seem to be few and far between. We all have skiing in common, and the people at the CMH Reservations office, and the guides who create the skiing groups in the field, are extremely good at fitting skiers with the groups where they will fit in and getting you into different CMH programs that will put you with like-minded skiers. It's up to you to be honest about what you can do!