Photo Essay: The Evolution of the Heli-Ski helicopter
“The helicopter permitted the age-old emptiness of the wilderness to remain intact, free from the commercial hardware and gingerbread that a network of lifts would have imposed upon it.”
-Hans Gmoser, from Lynn Grillmair’s Bugaboos cookbook, Gourmet in Paradise
While we’re extremely proud to be the company that invented Heli-Skiing nearly 50 years ago, we realize the concept was obvious, and that if we hadn’t been the first, someone else would have done it. Let's see - use a helicopter to get to the top of the mountain, then ride down in blower powder - no brainer.
The execution however, turned out to be a bit more complicated, and that’s where being the oldest company in Heli-Skiing has its advantages. The helicopter technology and our understanding of mountain safety developed in parallel, as well as our relationship with our sister company, Alpine Helicopters.
Today, helicopter technology for Heli-Skiing is on a happy plateau. The machines are extremely reliable and their power and payload are perfectly suited for mountain flying at the moderate altitudes of CMH Heli-Skiing. But it wasn’t always that way. Here’s the evolution of the heli-ski machine in image:
Bell 47 G3B-1: The first Heli-Ski helicopter. Flown by Jim Davies, the original Heli-Ski pilot, the B-1 held two passengers, was underpowered, and hard to start, but it got Heli-Skiing off the ground:
Alouette II: Although slightly bigger and more powerful than the B-1, the Alouette II didn’t last long in Heli-Ski service before larger helicopters became available:
Alouette III: The Alouette III was well-tested in the Alps as a rescue and service helicopter, and with a 6-passenger payload it allowed a full group of skiers to be transported to the top in just two flights. Up until this point, skiers carried their skis over their shoulders like you see in resorts. Then someone shoved their skis through the rotors of an Alouette III, shutting down the “ski lift” until repairs could be made. That’s why Heli-Skiers now carry their skis below waist level:
Bell 204: One day the Alouette III was in the shop for maintenance, and a Bell 204 was brought out as a temporary replacement. Jim Davies remembers that when he flew the 204 the performance was so superior to the Alouette III that he told the helicopter company, “You’ll have to leave that (Bell 204) right here.”:
Bell 212: In 1970, just in time for the opening of CMH Cariboos, the Bell 212 entered the picture. Hans Gmoser, the founder of CMH, called the twin engine machine the single biggest factor in the success of Heli-Skiing. “It was the helicopter capacity. Once we had the 212 we had a business that could really work." Here's to the Bell 212:
Bell 407: The 407 is the race car of Heli-Ski helicopters. It was certified by Transport Canada in 1996 and has become a staple of small-group heli-skiing, holding 5 guests, the guide and the pilot:
Bell 206: The 206, also called the Long Ranger, is our support machine. With excellent fuel efficiency, we use the 206 alongside the 212 to make our Heli-Ski program more economical during those flights (such as when a tired skier needs to return to the lodge) when the payload of the 212 is not necessary: