For the first 47 years of heli-skiing, it was all about how much deep powder could be shredded using a helicopter for a ski lift. Maybe we’re slow learners, or maybe deep powder is just so much fun that it took this long to see the forest through the snow-cloaked trees, but enter CMH Heli-Skiing 2012 and we’re finally starting to realize that there is more to heli-skiing than just insane amounts of vertical in the most sublime snow imaginable.
Along with a handful of exciting alternative heli-skiing programs now being offered by CMH Heli-Skiing, Steep Shots and Pillow Drops is 5 days of skiing designed around finding the most exciting and technical lines possible within the bounds of safety and professional ski guiding oversight. The idea is the brain child of Pat Baird, a ski guide at CMH Kootenay, who got tired of looking at gobsmacking lines, but not having the time to ski them within the traditional maximum-vertical oriented heli-ski program.
“I gotta admit, the inspiration was partly selfish,” Pat told me last night. “It was partly the agony of seeing all these great lines that either half the group couldn’t ski, or the constraints of the heli-ski program wouldn’t allow.”
CMH Kootenay is located at the southern edge of the CMH ski paradise, and the mountains are unique. In Bugaboo Dreams, the book that chronicles the invention of help-skiing, I wrote this about CMH Kootenay:
“The Kootenay region is a maze of ridges with few taller peaks reminiscent of Utah’s Wasatch Range - on steroids. Hundreds of pointed summits dot the horizon with steep faces on all sides. Daniel Zimmerman, a guide from Switzerland, describes the Kootenay Selkirks as, ‘the kind of mountains shaped like children would draw.’
“In my opinion,” says Pat, an 18 year veteran ski guide, “there is no CMH area that has as much available ski terrain - virtually everything you look at is skiable.”
Steep Shots and Pillow Drops is a program Pat designed to take advantage of this remarkable area. “The focus is not to do huge airs, but to do more technical lines that take a little longer to ski.” explains Pat. “Sure, if we have a guy capable of big air who wants to do it, we’ll accommodate it, but Steep Shots and Pillow Drops is more about technical skiing.”
While an average day at CMH Kootenay may include 10 to 14 runs, Pat anticipates a Steep Shots and Pillow Drops day might have eight or nine runs. “We want to be able to do an extra flight here and there, and skip a flight sometimes. This way we can ski a run once, and say ‘I missed that hit to the left of my tracks - lets go back and ski that again!’”
According to Pat, the program should offer a special treat to families with teenagers and young adults. “There are a lot of parents with kids who rip,” explained Pat. “In this program, the parents could ski an easier line, and then get to watch their kids rip the pillow drops.”
Part of the guide’s approach to Steep Shots and Pillow Drops is to video the more technical lines, partly for the educational value, and partly so the skiers and snowboarders can see footage of themselves ripping such incredible lines in blower pow.
Perhaps the most exciting thing is that this program has yet to be tried. In late February, a group of Norwegians, reputedly including a professional free skier who might just blow the lid off the program, will join Pat and the CMH Kootenay guides for the inaugural week of Steep Shots and Pillow Drops.
Following a long tradition of CMH guests getting to both participate in, as well as help design, the heli-skiing experience, Pat foresees guests getting to name technical lines and help build a photographic album of wild lines that can then be passed around the fire for inspiration and planning on future trips.
Steep Shots and Pillow Drops is part of the new Powder University at CMH, a smorgasbord of self-explanatory offerings from CMH that give everyone who can ski an ideal program where they can push their own limits, learn the skills they need to have more fun, and feel comfortable enjoying the world’s greatest skiing.
This season, Steep Shots and Pillow Drops is offered in CMH Kootenay as well as CMH Revelstoke. The Kootenay trip sold out immediately, but there is still space in Revelstoke. Contact CMH Reservations at 1 (800) 661-0252.
Photo of CMH Kootenay anticipation and ski terrain by Topher Donahue.