CMH invented heliskiing, and for the past 45 years we’ve been fine-tuning the system to make it work better for the guides and pilots, to make it more fun for the skiers and snowboarders, and to make it safer for everyone involved.
For the 2010/2011 season, one big change is that there will be five radios for each group of 11 skiers. This increase will allow guides and skiers separated by trees or obstacles to communicate easily, making the guide’s job less stressful and the skier’s job more fun.
Veteran heliskiers will be quick to realize that this change will allow each “ski buddy” team to have a radio. While skiing in the trees, which we do extensively, we ski in teams of two so every skier has a ski buddy to help in case of a fall, losing gear, or getting stuck in a tree well. Now, each ski buddy team can easily communicate with the guides. This will make skiing more fun, because there will be no specific “radio team” always forced to stay at the back of the ski group. Instead, everyone will be part of a radio team.
It will be more important than ever for ski buddies to stay together, so in case of a delay the skier with the radio can quickly tell the guide what is happening. Colani Bezzola, CMH Safety Manager, hopes the new system will encourage skiers to be more committed to their ski buddy. In the past, a radio team of two skiers stayed at the back and radioed ahead to the guide if there was a delay. Now the responsibility of staying together and communicating in case of a delay or the need for help will fall squarely on each “ski buddy” team.
Over the past few years, when some groups arrived with their own radios, the guides realized that having more radios in the group improved communications dramatically. This may seem like an obvious improvement to the system, but the increase in radios is not without issues. Sometimes a guest will climb into the helicopter and sit on the push-to-talk button on their radio. This effectively shuts down all communications on the primary channel, sometimes for the entire helicopter ride. To manage this inevitable issue, the guides have a secondary frequency they can use that can only be accessed from the guide and pilot radios. Colani explained that guides and pilots have become accustomed to quickly switching to the second frequency when the main channel gets locked open, so the benefits of adding radios to each group now outweigh the problems.
The CMH guest radios will all be Motorolla CP200 radios programmed so two channels are operational. As before, the two channels will be the direct channel, used to communicate in the same valley, and the repeater channel, directed through a repeater station on a high mountaintop, that can be used to communicate with the main lodge, helicopter, or guides in a different valley.
The final carrying system for the radios is still under consideration, but skiers can expect either a small leash to clip the radio in while it rides in a jacket pocket, or a simple chest harness to hold the radio.
As with any element of the heliski system, there will be a benefit and a responsibility that goes with it. Guests will need to be aware that when they are using the radio, the rest of the guides, guests, and pilot will be listening and waiting to make further communications.
This means you should feel free to inform your guide if you are delayed while looking for a lost ski, but that there is no need to use the radio to tell your friends that you just got the most epic face shot of your life!
Photo of CMH Gothics by Topher Donahue