We’d been heliskiing with CMH Revelstoke all day long deep in the Monashee Range of the Columbia Mountains. The day was winding down, everyone was a little tired, our clothes were a little damp from equal parts sweat and powder snow, and the already low winter sun had just dropped below a cloud band when we heard on the radio that the helicopter had been forced to return to Revelstoke for a repair.
Although it appeared that the buttery-smooth world of CMH heliskiing had just come to a grinding halt - it was really just revving up.
The ski guides reassured us that we would not have to wait long for another helicopter, but that we should keep moving to stay warm. At the end of the day, in the heart of Canadian winter, the cold moves quickly into a tired body. One of the guides built a fire and some skiers huddled around it for warmth. Some of us with a little more energy to spare sidestepped up the hill and made a few more powder turns to keep the blood flowing.
It was hard not to imagine worst-case scenarios and the group good-naturedly shared our inner fears.
“Do you think we’ll have to stay out all night?” one skier asked.
“Do you think they’ll bill us for the extra vertical of sidestepping up the hill?” another joked.
“Where are they going to get an extra helicopter?” a third asked.
It didn’t take long for the skiers with extra energy to tire from sidestepping, and everyone snuggled around the fire while CMH went into evacuation mode. Surprisingly, evacuation mode while heliskiing with CMH also included a 1000-metre powder run.
Using the smaller jet ranger support helicopter, four or five skiers at a time were shuttled to a ridge high above the valley where the group was stranded. There, the first skiers would wait until the rest of their group and the guide arrived. Once a full group was gathered on the ridge, they put their skis on and dropped into a huge bowl that drained towards Revelstoke.
I was part of the last group to fly out, and by the time we began the final ski run, the familiar rhythm of a Bell 212 echoed out of the clouds below. Since Alpine Helicopters keeps a backup 212 always ready for CMH in Revelstoke, the delay had cost us about an hour and we still enjoyed a final ski run – and a really good one at that.
We shredded the town-sized bowl before traversing right to a long ridge dotted with trees and filled with over-the-head powder that disappeared into the mist rising from the Columbia Valley below.
We waited no more than 10 minutes at the bottom of the run before the backup 212 returned for the last group. On the ride out, I marveled at the system that is CMH Heliskiing.
Without the extra 212 stationed in Revelstoke, a helicopter repair could shut down a day of skiing. With the extra 212, and three other CMH Lodges - the Gothics, Adamants, and Monashees - operating nearby, there are multiple layers of support in case of a real emergency, and very little lost skiing in case of a minor mechanical delay.
The other CMH areas have backup as well, with the Cariboos, McBride, and Valemount watching each other’s backs to the north, and the Bugaboos, Bobbie Burns, Kootenay and Galena ready to help out in the south. No other heliski operation in the world has this kind of backup.
For example, another time when a weather delay left multiple groups in danger of being benighted far from the Bobbie Burns Lodge, the helicopter from the nearby Bugaboos was recruited to join the Bobbie Burns helicopter in shuttling skiers home; and turned a potentially desperate night of shivering into a quick flight back to the lodge for a gourmet meal, a massage, a few stories in the hot tub, and a deep sleep in a warm bed.
Heliskiing with CMH is sort of like flying with a reliable airline. If one plane has technical issues, another can take its place almost seamlessly. If a delay causes you to miss a flight, it is usually not a long wait until the next one. But unlike a big airline, CMH will not leave you in the woods if you’re a minute late to the pickup!
You heliskiers out there, do you have any stories of the CMH safety net working for you?
Photo of the CMH system at work in Revelstoke by Topher Donahue.