The Heli-Ski Blog

Heli-Assisted Ski Touring Unplugged

Posted by Topher Donahue on Dec 18, 2009 12:12:00 PM

"Heli-assisted ski touring is really the best combination of exercise and skiing."


When CMH invented heli-skiing in the mid-60s in the remote peaks of the Bugaboos, the original idea was to extend the ski tours using the power of the helicopter.  As it turned out, the helicopter was so effective for accessing downhill ski terrain that the potential for ski touring with daily helicopter support was all but forgotten for 45 years.  Then, in the spring of 2009, two groups of skiers went ski touring from the comforts of the Bugaboo Lodge with a helicopter to place them on top of an idyllic ski run to begin each day.  The skiers toured in a different, stunning, mountain valley every day, and dined and relaxed, were massaged and spoiled, at the Bugaboo Lodge every night. The result was such a hit that this season CMH is offering tours in the Monashees and Adamants as well as the Bugaboos with several weeks already sold out.  Chantal Jennings, a skier from Maine with 35 years of skiing experience, and one of the skiers lucky enough to tour in the Bugaboos last spring, took the time to tell us about it:

TD:  Have you been backcountry skiing before this year?

CJ: The only backcountry skiing we have done is out the back door of our home in Maine.  We go out for only a few hours at a time.  It certainly isn't rugged or mountainous, just hilly.  

TD: Are you preparing any differently for your next trip to the Adamants in April?

CJ: Probably not much.  We were in reasonably good physical shape to hold up to the physical exercise in April 2009.  I believe we'll be as well-conditioned, if not a bit better, by April 2010.We'll take our time and definitely stay at the slow and steady pace set by the guides. Listening to the guides is all one needs.  After one day on the mountains, one can be ready to handle the subsequent days. The guides are very perceptive to the needs of the skiers and share all their knowledge to make our experience the best.  

TD: Do you have any tips for skiers booked this season?

CJ: Here’s what I learned:

  • Wear layers.
  • Have boots that will be comfortable all day.
  • Bring a brimmed hat.
  • Share with fellow skiers.
  • Help fellow skiers. 
  • Take turns in different positions on the trail.
  • Leave your egos at home.  

TD: How did the helicopter enhance and/or detract from the experience of ski touring?

CJ: The helicopter enhanced, and certainly didn't detract from, the touring experience. The helicopter allowed us to access areas we would have never reached in a single day. We would have had to spend at least one night - or a week - on the mountain.  (Not my idea of fun!)  Once the helicopter dropped us off, it left, and we never saw or heard it until we were picked up at the end of the day for our return trip to the lodge.  We skied areas far from those used by the heli-skiers so we didn't hear them or know what they were skiing except on the radio.  We always had the best conditions, too! 

TD: What was it like being in the lodge with heli-skiers while you were heli-ski touring? 

CJ: Not much different from when all guests are heli-skiers.  Except for Nostalgia Week where skiers interact a lot, skiers tend to stay with either their skiing group or the group of people they enjoy the company of.  We were the first CMH touring group in recent history, so we stuck together even in the evenings.  The heli-skiers didn't quite understand what our experiences were.  A few heli-skiers did join our touring group for a day if we had an opening and they thoroughly enjoyed it - afterwards wanting to join us again.  

TD: Other thoughts on heli-assisted ski touring?

CJ: It is both relaxing and exhilarating. The pace is slow, there is no mental stress, the quiet is deafening, the views fabulous with time to enjoy them, and the exercise is the best. It is perfect for those who love exploring, exercise, friends, quiet, and a slower pace.   We access summits and couloirs the heli-skiers can't get to and don't have time for. There is never a deadline to catch a helicopter. The downhill runs are so appreciated. Every turn has to be a work of art since we know we have to work hard to get up the mountain again before heading down easy street. The bottom line is: 

Heli-assisted ski touring is really the best combination of exercise and skiing.   

There are still limited spaces available on our heli-assisted ski touring weeks in February, March and April in the Adamants and Monashees. If you are feeling lucky and creative, enter our What Inspires YOU to Ski Tour contest and you could win one of those few remaining spaces!

Topics: CMH, winter mountaineering, Heli-Assisted Ski Touring, powder skiing