The Heli-Ski Blog

Before the Powder (A Skiers Journey to the Snow)

Posted by Jane Carswell on Dec 6, 2010 11:19:00 AM

By Michael Smith

Today’s blog comes from a good friend of mine, Jan Hudec. Jan is a world class downhill skier who has been on the podium at the World Cup and World Championships level. He recently posted an 11th place finish and the top Canadian at the Lake Louise World Cup Downhill a couple of weeks ago. Jan knows a thing or two about skiing fast, preparing for an event and achieving a great performance. On that note Jan has a few words of wisdom to share about preparing to ski.

Jan HudecLet's face it, anyone who is an avid skier can appreciate the vastness of the mountains, the open air, and for the few that are fortunate, the feeling of getting some snow in the face on a virgin powder run.

But how did we get here? I'm not talking about the evolution of skis or resorts, but more simply, how did we get to the hill that morning? Did we drive, fly, take a bus, a train? Or do you live close enough to walk?

Most of us are not lucky enough to live walking distance to a ski hill, let alone the majestic mountains, so we do what we need to do to get there, and we don't give it much thought. Although this may sound - or even be-  boring it is often the journey to where we are going, that has a huge impact on how our experience then unfolds.

Heli-Skiing with CMH in the Cariboos by Topher DonahueHow can I be so sure? Well for one, I speak from experience, a lot of it! I actually get to ski.... or should I say, travel for a living. Being on the National Ski team allows me to experience many different cultures, ski resorts, and living conditions around the world. But one of the most important aspects, (whether good or bad) has become managing travel and how the human body reacts to it. And when your body is the tool that enables you to make money, you do not have time to wait on jet lag or dehydration, let alone Stiff muscles from a workout before travel. Ok, so the professional athlete needs to take care of their body, but where do you, the recreational skier, fit into this?

I love ski racing and being in the mountains, but let's face it, stepping out of a helicopter at 9,000 feet onto a fresh, white blanket of powder, beats skiing in spandex down a sheet of ice any day of the week. Which brings me back to my question? - "how did you get here"?

You probably called CMH Heli-Skiing months, maybe even a year ago to book what will undoubtedly be the most epic skiing experience of your life. The lucky few live in the Canadian Rockies or Kootenays. The rest of us snow-chasers will probably sit in a car, then a plane then a car and then a helicopter for days at altitudes we're not used to. (And that’s not to mention the folks coming from Europe and Asia)

A week before the trip you're hanging out with your buddies in Toronto, bragging about the million vertical feet of waist deep powder you will conquer in the Bugaboos. You've planned to be there for 7 days and ski at lightning speed for all of them and take full advantage of this prestigious privilege. And it's worth every penny, so you better be prepared!

If you're not in good shape, by day three, you will be begging for mercy and probably sit out a few runs. Fortunately for you, CMH has some of the most pristine mountain lodges I have ever seen, with plenty of things to keep you relaxed and entertained. There is always opportunity to "wet the whistle" as well as a cuisine that makes your mouth water and five-star living quarters while you wait for the "fit" guys to finish their day in paradise.

But are they really that much fitter than you? Or did they just come prepared?

One of the easiest and most important things to do while travelling is to be hydrated. It's good for your muscles and for your blood flow. If you don't already drink a lot of water, start a day or two before you fly. When I say hydrate, I mean, peeing water is a good start. As soon as you get on the plane, dehydration sets in and it’s imperative you nail this part. Drink the water, or cheat with one cup juice one cup water. If you're waiting in the Air Canada lounge, don't empty out the Scotch cabinet to get your "money's worth". Sure, Will Ferrel can use it as an exemplary 'News Anchor', but it will not help you ski a million feet in champagne powder. Like I said before, if need be, there will be plenty to sip on in one of the scenic mountain lodges awaiting you. Sure you will be using a bathroom more often than not, but you would be surprised as to how potent water is to the body and our metabolism. Drinking it actually increases our body’s ability to metabolize energy! Half the effort of staying in good shape is drinking... (water) ;)

Secondly; Muscle mobility. It doesn't matter how fit you are, if you stay static for 8 hours, you're going to be stiff and more prone to strains or sore joints. While you're traveling, move around. Don't "fidget" to the point of driving your neighbours insane, but subtly move your toes, ankles and knees to keep blood moving and your joints from turning into petrified wood. I'm only 29, but with 6 big knee surgeries, I can't take this one lightly.

You say you're sick of water, your bladder is the size of a football, and feel like you just did an episode of "Sit & be Fit?" Perfect! You're almost ready. For those of you within driving distance, disregard this. But for anyone flying, especially from across the country or over-sees, the last point will be imperative to your full engagement at CMH.

Lastly is sleep, or lack thereof. For people with sleeping issues already, travel is a doozy, and high elevation can expose this deficiency even more. I personally like flying east to west as I am generally a night owl. Flying home from Europe, I usually start feeling tired around 6 pm and absolutely devastated by 8! which allows for a few days of "easy" early mornings for me. This can be great if you are going skiing! Of course, this is different with everybody. Some are early risers and their biological clock will want to go to bed extremely early and if you succumb to it... at 4am you're twiddling your thumbs waiting for the rest of the world to wake up. Several days, before you hop on a plane, figure out the time difference and start by slowly mimicking the time zone at home each day. If you are on the flight and sleep is necessary to bring you up to speed for the new time zone, a sleeping pill or gravol can help you relax while in a potentially (for some) stressful environment. If you are flying west to east and it's more than a few hour time change, you are better off fighting sleep for the sake of your first three days of adventure, or they will be spent in bed, or God-forbid falling asleep in the helicopter! The best thing to do at this point is to "tough" it out and try to get on the local time zone right away. In these cases, your body wants to sleep around noon or just after lunch, and if you succumb to your biological clock, you may take a nap, but be prepared to be awake most of the night only to want to go to sleep when everyone else is getting up to tackle the slopes. This is the worst case scenario, but very possible, even with seasoned travellers.

Once you arrive, STAY Hydrated! Each day, ride a stationary bike or do the rower, if only for 15 minutes. It will keep your blood oxygenated, keep your muscles fresh, and your mind alert, not to mention hungry for the dinner, which will be as outstanding as the scenery.

You are now prepared to tackle those beautiful mountains in one of CMH's gorgeous fly-in resorts. And if for any reason you still need a rest, you can always take in a rejuvenating Spa-day to prepare for your next run through the endless white velvet ;)

Keen to ski with some world-class atheletes?  Join Michael Smith and maybe even Jan Hudec this winter on a CMH Heli-Skiing trip.  Contact CMH Reservations for more information at 1.800.661.0252 or by e-mail at

Topics: For Fun, CMH Experts, Heli-Ski Tips