Heli-Skiing and Surfing (the web, that is!) with CMH
by Russ Peardon, Director of Information Systems, CMH
Safety and service are deeply imbedded in CMH's culture and Internet access has become important to both. Our heli-ski guides use the Internet in our snow safety program to collect and share weather and snow data. Internet access is becoming so ubiquitous that it is an intrinsic part of the lifestyle of many of our guests. They just expect it to be there. We take pride in providing by far the best, most reliable internet service in our industry. There is a bit of a story to how we do this, one I thought you might find interesting.
Within our facilities, we use industrial-grade versions of the wireless access points you might have at home. In most of our buildings, 12-15 access points are needed to provide reliable coverage. It has been an ‘archaeological adventure' connecting those devices together in some of our older lodges. CMH's hard-working Infrastructure Manager Tim Hodgkinson returned from some particularly challenging work in the Cariboo Lodge commenting: ‘If we have some sort of apocalypse, I am going to the Cariboos - the place is solid concrete!'. Undaunted, we are taking another crack at improving coverage there and in the Monashee Lodge this summer.
Getting internet service to our lodges provides a range of challenges. Of course, ‘town' facilities like Kootenay, McBride and Revelstoke are easily serviced by commercial grade ADSL, much like you may have at home. Guests are often surprised that the same is not true for the Gothics, Monashees and especially Valemount lodges. Although these road-accessible sites have ‘town power and telephone', our phone company does not provide any kind of high-speed internet service due to their distances from the nearest connection office.
At the other end of the spectrum are four remote lodges - Adamants, Galena, Gothics and Monashees - each of which is a long way from any terrestrial internet source. For these lodges we rely on satellite internet. At each lodge we have a 1 metre Ku-band dish, and a 2.4 metre C-Band dish. We added the C-Band dishes this summer at considerable expense, as we found the Ku-Band dishes performed poorly during heavy snowfall. In addition, the lone satellite internet provider available to us in western Canada appears to have heavily over-subscribed the Ku-Band network. While the new C-Band dishes deliver the best satellite service available to us, it is important to understand just how limited even that service is. Our tests show download speeds of 0.8 to 1.1 megabits per second. Compare that to the 4.0+ mbs available to residential customers in most urban settings. I enjoyed hearing Monashee Area Manager Paul Vidalin explain this at dinner to his guests this past season: ‘Imagine your home internet is running at ¼ speed. Now, imagine you've invited 44 friends over, and most brought their laptops, iPhones and Blackberrys...'. These systems are sufficient to provide e-mail and web browsing services to all guests. Sadly, it only takes one or two guests streaming video or Skyping to slow them down for all.
Where the lodge is close to an internet source, and geography favors us with a low-elevation, line-of-sight ridge repeater location, we can bounce the internet from the source to the ridge, and then down to the lodge. We've employed systems like these for our Cariboo and Valemount lodges for three years, and in 2009 upgraded services there. We also added new systems for the Bugaboos and Bobbie Burns lodges this past summer. At their core, these are really simple wireless access points with very strong radios and highly directional antennas. The tricky part is delivering power at the ridge repeater site, especially during short, cold December days. As you can see from the photo of CMH Guide Kobi Wyss lining up the antenna, we use a mix of solar and wind generation, with battery backup. These systems are certainly the future for us. They are expensive and touchy (requiring redundant satellite backup systems), but offer terrific internet speeds.
Whichever CMH Heli-Skiing area you visit next, we want you to simply fire up your internet device and do what you usually do with great, simple service, without concern for how it gets to you. If you are interested in more details or have comments or suggestions, I'd enjoy speaking to you directly and can be reached by e-mail or phone at 1.800.661.0252.