“I realized we’ve been doing our guests a disservice.” said Erich Unterberger, the CMH Heli-Skiing's Manager of Guiding Operations, in explanation of the new Powder 203: Big Trees heli-skiing program - as well as the philosophy behind the entire Powder University curriculum. “A few years ago I skied with one of our guests who had skied many millions of feet with us and he still skied exactly the same as he did years earlier; I felt like we had done this guy a disservice by not giving him the opportunity to improve.”
Ski guiding and ski instruction certainly have overlapping areas of expertise, but there are also vast areas of ski instruction where mountain guides have no experience - and vice versa. Traditionally heli-skiers haven’t wanted a lot of instruction, but instead hire a ski guide to keep them safe and show them the best skiing possible - and lots of it.
Since the beginning, CMH ski guides have done their best to accommodate both skiers who want instruction as well as those who do not, but to keep up with the heli-ski program the guides have traditionally been unable to give much one-on-one ski instruction. Essentially, the pace of traditional heli-skiing makes teaching difficult.
So after many years of full throttle heli-skiing, CMH Heli-Skiing has introduced a number of education-oriented heli-skiing programs designed to mix instruction with tons of great skiing, and many CMH guides are also high level ski instructors. Erich took time, while in the midst of helping his daughter tune her skis for a race at Nakiska, to explain the new Big Trees heli-ski program:
“In every CMH area, it doesn’t really matter which one, we do about 70 percent tree skiing. But some people are afraid to sign up for the famous tree skiing areas like Galena, Kootenay and the Monashees. There are a lot of skiers who ski really well, but they get into the trees and start having problems. The whole idea of Big Trees is to show people what to look for in order to ski better in the trees.”
The Big Trees groups will include a second guide so, with the sheer volume of powder skiing provided by the helicopter, each skier can expect one-on-one tree skiing instruction.
Erich outlined some of the Big Trees curriculum:
- Tactics for heli-skiing in the trees.
- Partner skiing technique for confidence and safety.
- Fall line selection.
- How to break a tree run down to manageable segments.
- How to avoid tree wells.
- Turn strategy with fat powder skis.
You might think that skiing a fat ski is a no-brainer, but heli-ski guides are finding that there are real issues with the new boards. Erich said, “They give floatation, which makes it in one way easier, but if you do not control the fat skis, the trees come up at you much faster!”
Erich explained that the Big Trees week will include a lot of skiing (100,000 feet guaranteed) with more of a coaching environment than a ski school environment.
“Our main goal,” concluded Erich, “is to give our guests a way to ski more in control, feel better about themselves, improve, and have more fun skiing."
Photo of maximum tree skiing fun in CMH Gothics by Topher Donahue.