"FACE SHOTS – How can that not be the first thing on your mind?"
I recently exchanged emails with Lilla Molnar, a mountain guide who splits her time between climbing granite cracks and skiing deep powder, both heli-skiing and backcountry touring. She finished her last email with this line: “We are set up to have an awesome winter – can’t wait to go to work!”
This got me wondering what it is like to be a heli-ski guide going to work during the snowiest early season in 11 years. The helicopter pilots at CMH Galena are already using pickups at the valley bottoms and the snowpack at treeline all across the Columbias could be easily mistaken for mid-season. Every year is different, but this year the difference is the kind that makes skiers - and guides –drool in anticipation. Here’s what Lilla had to say about it:
TD: I’m curious what it feels like to be a ski guide going into a big snow period. When you’re driving the Trans Canada highway with a cup of coffee in your lap on your first commute to the Bugaboos this year, and you know there is this kind of snowpack out there, what kinds of things will you think about in anticipation?
LM: FACE SHOTS – how can that not be the first thing on your mind? A good snowpack and lots of snow leads to great psyche amongst the guiding team, which is then contagious for the rest of the staff. This great morale gets passed along to the guests and as a result you get a lodge full of super amped people who are totally passionate about skiing. It’s very satisfying and motivating to work or play in such a positive environment.
TD: Everyone dreams of skiing the deepest powder, but being in truly bottomless snow is a wild place to spend the day. Do you have any favorite guide advice for not only the skiing, but for simply moving around - like making it to pickups without wallowing - and staying comfortable in the all-day powder bath?
LM: It takes some getting used to, but most people find it a dreamy place to spend the day. Here's some deep powder tips. Unless you make the mistake of breaking trail for the lead guide on the flats, he or she will be the only person wallowing in fresh deep powder to break trail to the pickup. On flat sections, hold up and give the skier ahead of you lots of space. Save yourself the agony of having to walk along the flats by giving them lots of time to get ahead, that way you can just cruise along in their tracks. Keep in mind that as the second person you will be sliding slower than the 11th person in the group. Let the snowboarders go last so they can get across without having to step off their boards.
TD: What about gear for the deep stuff?
LM: Make sure you have the appropriate equipment.
- Low rider pants may look good, on some, but they certainly won’t keep the powder out, bib pants with high waists are the ticket.
- Same goes for gloves which barely cover the wrists. Puffy, warm, gloves or mitts with long powder cuffs are what you want to be wearing.
- A Buff, balaclava, or neck gaitor will also prevent you from freezing your face and choking on the powder.
- Goggles – a very important piece of equipment. Make sure they ventilate well. Keep the foam above the top rim free of snow. In the helicopter, keep your goggles over your eyes, if you put them on your forehead they will fog up.
TD: A month ago I wrote an entry about winter weather preditions, and it's starting to look like the Old Farmer's Almanac might be right with big snow for interior BC. Comparing this year to the average early season in the Columbias, how much more terrain would you guess is going to be skiable by Christmas?
LM: I am sure we are way ahead of average in most areas for this time of year. All I know is that last year we had an awesome Christmas week with a below average snowpack, so this Christmas’ skiing will be unsurpassed!
Join Lilla for Christmas in the Bugaboos and see how much snow Santa brings this year!