So, what's it take to become a full mountain guide and Heli-Ski guide? Contrary to popular belief, it's not necessary to be born with ski boots on and spend your childhood watching the X Games. I caught up with Mike Welch, Area Manager from CMH Galena who spends his working days skiing some of the best heli-skiing lines on the planet and wondered how he landed here in this skier's nirvana.
Jane: Mike, have you been a skier all your life, or is it something you got into later in life?
Mike: I started skiing when I was 15. I was a hockey player in my early life. I made my first turns at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary, which was called Paskapoo at the time. I went on a learn to ski trip with my school and I was hooked.
JC: Did you have any back up career choices in case the skiing thing didn’t pan out for you?
MW: Not really. I was pretty determined to make a career in the ski business. I guess I would probably have worked in ski shops if the guiding didn't pan out? Or continued ski patrolling and doing avalanche control at ski resorts.
JC: Who or what was your inspiration to ski? Did you have any ski heros that you followed?
MW: No real ski heros per se. I just really wanted to powder ski! I saw a Warren Miller film with a heli-ski segment. Perhaps skiing Elevator at CMH Monashees was the run they showed? That made me want to at least heli-ski as a guest. When I was ski patrolling I met Peter Arbic and Peter Lemieux (also CMH Heli-Skiing Guides) and they took me backcountry skiing and started me down the road toward guiding and that dream of heli-skiing.
JC: Your life is definitely better than most people’s vacations. What is the most exciting thing about being a Heli-Ski guide at CMH Galena?
MW: The skiing here is pretty damned exciting! I love tree skiing! So Galena's trees are a great place to ski and work.
JC: Any advice for any guys or gals out there looking to become a heli-ski guide?
MW: Becoming a heli ski guide is a long, dedicated process. You need tons of personal backcountry experience. It is like earning a master degree in terms of time and costs lots of money. But if you really want it, go for it, because it is a great way to make a living. No doubt it is a huge responsibility looking after 11 skiers run after run, and some days you don't even realise your skiing great snow because you have many things on your mind with conditions. But when things are all good you do get some of the best skiing any skier could ever imagine. And you get to go first! Not a bad gig.
There are a few spaces left at CMH Galena for this winter and if you've been following The Heli-Ski Blog you'll know that heli-skiing conditions are awesome in Canada this winter. For an overview of remaining spaces, check out our Special Offers page at cmhski.com.
Photo: Heli-Skiing in Galena by Mike Welch.