In the spring of 2007 I attended the CMH Agents Meeting in the CMH Gothics. I was working on Bugaboo Dreams, the book that chronicles the history of CMH and the invention of heliskiing. Before arriving, I wondered if the agents would be travel agents who happened to sell skiing, or skiers who happened to be travel agents.
I needn’t have wondered; the grandfather of Miguel Arias, the Spanish agent for CMH Heliskiing, took people skiing in the mountains above Madrid using a donkey for the ski lift and helped introduce skiing to Spain a century ago. Two generations later, his grandson is selling heli-skiing in Canada using a helicopter rather than a donkey. The CMH heliski agents are ski fanatics.
My notes from Bugaboo Dreams read:
The potential of international CMH agents was realized in 1976 when a group of 44 Germans descended upon the Cariboos. It was the entrepreneurial effort of a man named Pepi Erben who owned of a travel agency called Aeroski that specialized in packaged ski tours to the best ski areas. To try out this heli-skiing concept, Aeroski booked the largest group of Europeans to yet go heli-skiing together in the Columbias. Pepi and his son Viet (Pictured here with Grandson Thor in the Bugaboos in 2008) accompanied the group. As Viet explained with a grin, “We didn’t want to sell things we didn’t know about ourselves.”
Pepi said, “The Cariboos exceeded our expectations by quite a bit!” His group also introduced the Canadian ski guides to the “Arlberg Design” of spooning one track against the other for a visually pleasing and yet somehow homogenous pattern in the snow. Discussions with Hans followed, and on a handshake Aeroski became the German agent for CMH Heli-skiing. Other countries followed a similar model with passionate individuals visiting CMH and starting a conversation with either Hans Gmoser or later CMH President Mark Kingsbury, about bringing groups to go heli-skiing.
The relationship has been flourishing for so long, that now a number of agents have now passed on the job to their children. Martin Gallati, the Swiss agent, explained that the European skier's perception of heliskiing is partly due to the European CMH agent’s sustained efforts. “In Europe, CMH and Western Canada is known as the place for heli-skiing.” he said.
Freddy Weis, the original Austrian agent for CMH Heliskiing, was instrumental in convincing Austrians to give heli-skiing a try. Like many agents, Freddy’s first experience was as a guest. Interestingly, it wasn’t the skiing that first hooked Freddy on the experience, but the camaraderie of the lodge. “My first time heli-skiing I came in, sat down at dinner and said, ‘Hello, my name is Freddy.’ Five minutes later we were all friends!”
Weis started the role of an agent, as he says: “As friends, for fun, and for no money. We wanted to come skiing! We just quit racing and we wanted a new challenge.”
In the face of modern business, the role of the CMH agents is utterly unique. They work together, trading spaces on the helicopter to make it work better for the guests, doing promotions together, and established agents help newcomers learn to work most efficiently. Competition is real, because there are a limited number of seats, and yet everyone works with the philosophy that what is good for one is good for all. CMH Heliskiing is now represented in 21 different countries.
The family of agencies globally representing CMH Heliskiing continues to grow globally and both new and veteran peddlers of heliskiing in Canada are fiercely proud of their service connecting people to the world's greatest skiing. The annual CMH agent’s meeting, often held at one of CMH's remote heliskiing lodges, is as much of a family reunion as a business meeting - yet the agents account for nearly half of CMH business. At the meeting, pranks are rampant, the party ends only for the skiing, and even those who are retired sometimes come back for the annual meeting.
CMH’s relationship with its agents is a direct result of Hans and Mark’s way of doing business through interpersonal trust and commitment, more like a climbing or skiing partner than a cold, hard business deal. Their vision is alive and well today. By welcoming others to be part of their project, the agents return to their home countries and sell heli-skiing as if they own the company.
Skiers interested in heliskiing in Canada can call an agent who speaks their own language, in their own time zone, and with an understanding of their own ski culture. Thanks to the CMH agents, booking heliskiing in Canada from anywhere in the world has never been easier - or more personal.