What makes a great heli-ski run? The easy answer, of course, is any heli-ski run YOU are on, but for the insiders perspective I asked Steve Chambers, the manager of CMH Revelstoke.
1) Great Snow - At CMH Heli-Skiing, we have runs that range in length from 400m to 2000m and if the snow is perfect it doesn't really matter if you're on a short or long run! This is why people come heli-skiing in the first place. I'm not talking about just any kind of deep snow here. I'm talking about that infamous, dry, interior British Columbia powder. This is the stuff of legend - you can almost feel your skis on a firm base deep in the snowpack while the lightest, fluffiest snow is blowing up into your chest, over your shoulders and yes, even over your head. You will remember this run and this day even years from now. After 16 years of doing this job, January 5, 2009 still stands out as one of those epic days with perfect snow, top to bottom on every run all day long. The best day ever? Perhaps...
2) Fall Line - The helicopter lands, you put on your skis, your heli-ski guide shuffles over to the 'edge' and you look down to the valley floor and see the helicopter, another group at a pickup or the pickup flag itself. There's one thing that stands out - it's STRAIGHT down with no deviations from the fall line! It's also a guide's favorite as well and a common phrase heard when you have the right group is 'see you at the pickup'. Need I say more?
3) Transitions through Terrain - There is something to be said about the run that begins high in the alpine and makes its way through the sub-alpine and then down below treeline to the valley floor. You know the type of run - we're talking about the mega-classic, long CMH heliskiing runs that give you all the goods. There's the high glacier landing and open turns followed by the sparse trees at treeline where you feel the snow getting a little deeper and then the finale into the old growth trees and that deep powder. It's amazing to see all that type of terrain & snow in one run.
4) Incredible Scenery & Location - Some runs just have a quality about them even before you make a single turn! Take another helicopter flight into another landing and wait for the silence after the machine leaves. Look around and try to imagine another place like this in the mountains anywhere on the planet. Now try to imagine 100's of places like this at CMH's 11 areas. I still have runs that leave this impression on me even after all these years - you never get tired of being there again and seeing the reactions on the guests faces when they have that 1st experience.
5) The Right Group - Not every run in heli-skiing is going to have that perfect powder but with the right crew and the right attitude, it doesn't even matter. I have had some truly 'dud' runs over the years that were a blast nonetheless because of the people I was skiing with. These are the kind of people that can make any situation seem fun and enjoyable and regardless of the snow quality, they're having a good time. It is only skiing after all and is probably a better alternative to what you could be doing instead...
6) History & Reputation - Every CMH operation has 'that' run - the one everyone talks about because of its history, legends attached to it, famous photos attributed to it and so forth. Just getting out at the top of a run like that gives you goose bumps even before you make that 1st turn. These are the quintessential heli-ski runs that have many of the above elements and then some.
7) First Tracks - What can I say? This is the selfish part of the blog where, as a guide, I get to rant about how much fun it is to get 1st tracks - on every run. There's something about that untouched blanket of snow in front of you that just makes for a great run. If you're right behind your guide and just out of their tracks to either side, guess what? It's all fresh right there as well! This is what most of us think about when we picture ourselves heli-skiing anyway - making our way down some untracked piece of mountain real estate and leaving our own little impression upon the terrain.
Photo by Topher Donahue
What makes a great heli-ski run for you? Share your thoughts...