The Heli-Ski Blog

Corn - heli-skiing's best kept secret

Posted by Topher Donahue on Mar 8, 2010 10:10:00 AM

While working on the quintessential book of heli-skiing, Bugaboo Dreams, I spent a couple of bluebird spring days ripping long, fast runs in the legendary Bugaboos with Dave Cochrane, the CMH Bugaboos area manager.  At the end of a long run called Straight Shot, he told me corn skiing was his  favorite kind of skiing.  And he was loving it.  Dave was yelling, yodeling and carrying on with such enthusiasm that everyone started howling with glee and skiing faster, fully enraptured by the  high-speed freedom of a good corn day.  

TD: What is so special about corn skiing anyway?

DC: AHHH, it is freedom!

  • It is just the ultimate way to travel through mountain scenery, cruising at any speed you choose, or are comfortable with, moving over vast landscapes quickly and easily.
  • It gives you the option to ski super fast - maybe a little outside your envelope - due to the  predictable and reliable surface conditions.
  • When there is corn, it's warm out, the sun is shining, the wind is in your hair. 
  • It's so much fun , you can't help but smile and go a little faster...

TD: For average skiers, what is easier, knee-deep powder or corn?  

DC: Corn. The perfect corn is a slightly soft, smooth, predictable, supporting surface that is easy to slide on  and turn without really using much effort.  So, compared to powder the difference is that there is no resistance so you get your gravity quickly and easily.  You don't have to work at it. Corn season is perfect for first time heli-skiers. 

TD: Powder skiing is the stereotype most people associate with heli-skiing.  Do you find average skiers have more fun skiing powder or corn?  

DC: The pure floating sensation of fluffy powder is really hard to beat, and that is what everyone expects to ski here and what their dreams are made of, so I think most of our skiers want powder.  Lots of people tell me they can ski "corn" at their home ski area, so they have already prepared themselves for a let down if they don't experience powder here, but then I see these people having a blast skiing corn once they experience a few runs carving on the pure velvety surface of ultimate corn in these huge mountains! 

TD: What is the best season for good corn skiing?

DC: April. 

TD: Do you ever get powder and corn in the same week?  If so, when?

DC: Yes, absolutely! April is the best time. What you really need is a perfect recipe of weather to make the best of both worlds of corn and powder.  Here we get that perfect recipe quite often: 

  • Clear, sunny, warm days are required to melt the top 30cm of the snow on the southerly slopes but there must also be cold clear nights to freeze that 30cm of snow.
  • Enough days of a thaw and freeze cycle will create a strong crust which, when it warms up in the morning sun, softens just a little, making for a soft, velvety surface over a really hard base. 
  • Then we get the fast moving, intensely unstable frontal systems that are typical in the spring time, which get boosted by solar heating. The air heats up, rises quickly over the mountainous terrain, cools rapidly and starts snowing - snowing hard. In a short period, even 20 or 30 minutes, an intense snow shower can drop a serious pile of very light fluffy stuff. Sometimes the snowfall is local to one run or valley or quite widespread.
  • The storms move off quickly and leave behind a goldmine of cold smoke under blue skies! 

TD: What happens when the perfect recipe doesn’t happen?

DC: Even without any snow squalls coming through the areas, the steeper, north facing slopes are shaded and cooler, protected from solar radiation, preserving the powder for when the south slopes get too hot and mushy. We often ski corn until it gets too soft, then ski powder on the north faces for the rest of the day.

Spring heliskiing is not only warmer and easier, it is also cheaper!  Check out the space availability for spring heliskiing and helicopter snowboarding with CMH!

Topics: First Timers, Bugaboo Lodge, Tricks of the Trade