When I received a magazine assignment to photograph a Heli-Assisted Ski Touring next week in CMH Adamants, I realized I really have no idea what to expect. I couldn’t decide which skis to take, what camera equipment would maximize the ski photography while minimizing weight, how much I should be prepared to ski uphill versus downhill, or if my lack of cardio training was going to come back to haunt me.
To answer some of my questions, I tracked down Gery Unterasinger, assistant manager of the CMH Bobbie Burns and one of the guides from last year’s Adamants ski touring program.
My first question was the big one: “How much will we ski each day?”
GU: How much we ski depends largely on the group. We put two guides in each group so the group can split up to accomodate different fitness levels. Last year we skied 1200 to 1500 metres each day - after the initial run. Some skiers did significantly less, and a strong group could do significantly more. If the heliskiers are nearby, there may be a chance to go in early, or catch a lift to a different valley to find optimal ski conditions, but we’ll be prepared to stay out all day.
My second question was a little embarrassing, but I had to ask: “What does a day of Heli-Assisted Ski Touring look like?”
GU: The idea is to get in the helicopter each morning and fly to an area where the heliskiers will not be skiing, so we’ll have an entire valley and a variety of terrain to ourselves. If the conditions are good, the helicopter will leave us on top and we’ll ski a long downhill run to start the day. Then we’ll ski tour from there. We’ll carry our lunches with us, and if all goes well we’ll see the helicopter at the end of the day for a ride back to the Adamants Lodge. We’ll be ski touring for seven days, so we’ll pace ourselves moderately each day.
I began to get a clearer picture, but Gery’s answers left a lot of room for variation. So I asked, “Why would we not be able to start on top some days?”
GU: If we're looking for corn conditions, and we get a solid freeze at night, then the snow will be too hard and icy to start with a downhill run, so we might start with a mellow glacier cruise to start the day and save the downhill for later when the corn snow is perfect. If it is powder conditions (which is quite likely at the rate of this snowy season) we'll almost surely do a long downhill run to start each day.
By this point I was getting bit excited, so had to ask, “Will we be able to ski features that might never be skied with the heliski program?"
GU: There’s a good chance. With ski touring we can get to places the helicopter can’t land, and we can take the time to ski lines that don’t work well with the heliskiing program.
My conclusion was that there is no reason to be uncomfortable: It wouldn’t really matter which skis I brought – Gery isn't going to take us down some bulletproof alpine face where the right edges would be essential to prevent a big fall. I can expect as much of a workout as I can handle, but there is no reason to sweat my dismal VO2 max.
The camera question still looms. I guess I’ll start with a full kit and leave more things behind each day until the end of the week, when my legs are butter, I’ll be shooting with my cell phone.
Anyone else have questions about the Heli-Assisted Ski Touring Program? Post them here and we’ll get someone to answer so we can all benefit.
Photo of CMH Adamants epic ski touring terrain by Topher Donahue.