The Heli-Ski Blog

CMH Heli-Skiing: Alpine Luxury Defined

Posted by Topher Donahue on Jan 2, 2014 7:05:00 AM

In an article in Expressions, the luxury magazine of Acura Canada, I wrote: “If you compare snow sport to the two gold standards of fine living, wine and golf, Heli-Skiing with Canadian Mountain Holidays would be the Domaine Romanée-Conti or the St. Andrews.”

Even though I wrote those very words, I can’t help but feel that the kind of luxury you find at CMH Heli-Skiing is another flavor and experience entirely from the classical definition of luxury. The remoteness. The intimacy. The wilderness. The adventure. The camaraderie. The cozy comfort. The friendship. These are not concepts that first come to mind when you think of luxury. But luxury is not something typically experienced deep in some of the world’s snowiest mountains.

Sure, CMH Heli-Skiing has been providing the ultimate mountain experience since 1965, but in the early years “luxury” was not a word that would have been used to describe the Heli-Ski experience. The first Heli-Ski trips were based out of a rugged sawmill camp without indoor plumbing or running water. Since then, however, CMH Heli-Skiing refined the experience to meet the desires of our guests, guests accustomed to the best the world had to offer. After nearly half a century of refining, the modern world of CMH is the very definition of mountain luxury.

From the Snow Bar at CMH Valemount, where hospitality and the après ski party are delivered in the fluffy white stuff we travel so far to play in:

Valemont bar

To the well-stocked wine cellars at each lodge:

ski lodge wine cellar

To the ski- and snowboard-savvy massage therapists who know just how to treat your body after a thousand face-shots:

ski massage

To the sauna and spa facilities that are just the right combination of intimate and modern:

ski lodge sauna

To the living areas that blend ski tradition and cozy warmth:

ski lodge fireplace

To the way the lodges are designed to enhance the view of the heavy snowfall outside, promising another day of the world’s greatest skiing:

luxury heliski lodge

To the staff, trained to deliver surprising hospitality against the stunning backdrop of the mountains of Interior British Columbia:

heliski hospitality

To the widest variety of Heli-Ski experiences anywhere on earth ranging from small group, “boutique Heli-Skiing” with small helicopters, to our signature Heli-Ski trips that are the industry standard for fun and value:

botique heliskiing

To the experiences you’ll find nowhere else on earth, like champagne served on a helicopter’s ski and snowboard basket:

heli ski champagne

CMH Heli-Skiing is the kind of luxury that a twenty-something ripper can tweet as beyond rad, while a sixty-something connoisseur of life’s finest can describe as one of the best experiences ever. And while these images are a glimpse into the mountain luxury of CMH Heli-Skiing, it’s also the kind of luxury that can’t truly be explained in word or image – you just have to experience it yourself.

Topics: Heli-Boarding, luxury, CMH Valemount, Small Group Heli-Skiing, heli-skiing

Heli-Ski Happiness

Posted by Topher Donahue on Dec 26, 2013 8:44:00 AM

“I’ve got nothing to do today but smile.”
-Paul Simon

With over 40,000 photographs of CMH Heli-Skiing taken over the last decade in my archive, I find the ones that stand out most are not necessarily the images of face-shot powder, steep lines, and endless mountain vistas, but rather the ones that show the unabashed happiness of people getting to experience one of life’s ultimate pleasures.

With a year coming to a close, and a new one on deck, I thought it a good time to share some of those moments:

lindsay ski guidesnow beardsnow smileadamants happinesshappy ridersfamily heliskiing

Like the look of this kind of happiness, but have never been Heli-Skiing? CMH is the best place to try Heli-Skiing for the first time. In fact, CMH has probably hosted more first time Heli-Skiers than the rest of the Heli-Ski industry combined. From our Powder 101 program, to our guides who are experts in taking riders into the deep powder for the first time, to our vast terrain with endless options for beginners and experts alike. Make 2014 your year to try Heli-Skiing!

Topics: Best of, Guides, photos, Girls, heli-skiing

What do we want for Christmas? A visual tour

Posted by Topher Donahue on Dec 24, 2013 7:43:00 AM

My kids are in first grade, about the most exciting age in the known universe to experience Christmas. At a Christmas party a few days ago, Santa asked my son what he wants for Christmas. My son replied, “A seismometer.”

“A seismometer?” Santa replied, taken aback that a 6-year-old would want such a device. “Why?”

My son went quiet, blushing huge.

He wants a seismometer that can detect Santa landing on the roof, so he can bust him in the act. He's determined to discover if this Santa guy is real. He also has a strong suspicion that his parents are involved, and he thinks the seismometer would detect them moving too...

But in case Santa is real, he didn’t want to tell Santa of his plans for the seismometer.

His suspicions remind me of a story I heard from a Family Heli-Ski Trip over Christmas a few years ago, when a group of older kids was stunned to see Santa show up at CMH Gothics. Deep in the Canadian wilderness, a few of the older kids, who’d given up on believing in Santa, gave pause to question their doubts.

A few of them may have noticed that Santa had a strangely similar accent to one of the ski guides from Germany…

For Christmas this year my family, as usual, just wants to go skiing. Here’s a photo from a recent ski trip home from school, in an interactive form. Hover over the photo and click on the icons for some Christmas wishes:

Topics: CMH Gothics, Family Travel, For Fun, families, heli-skiing

7 sexy snow shots from CMH

Posted by Topher Donahue on Oct 24, 2013 7:15:00 AM

The snowiest mountains in Canada.
The world’s first Heli-Ski company.
The biggest employer of mountain guides in the world.
The world’s greatest skiing.

A lot of flattering statements have been used to describe CMH Heli-Skiing and the Columbia Mountains that CMH calls home, but there is one that is often overlooked (or only talked about in the dark of night) in the quest to explain this place.

And that is: the snow is just plain sexy.

It's true. The characteristics of this snow inspire pillow talk. It is drier than the snow found in coastal ranges, but more voluminous than the snow found in most continental ranges, creating a truly drool-worthy medium. If you're into that kind of thing, here are seven photos that put the soft in softcore:

A skier flirts with a snowball in the Monashees:

monashees powder ball

A snowboarder between the sheets in Galena:

snowboarder in deep powder

A skier feeling confident with his pickup line in the Gothics:

gothics powder

Cornices show off their curves in the Adamants:

adamants cornices

A woman in the Cariboos realizing that size matters when it comes to snowpack:

cariboos snow

Bump and grind in the snow ghost disco above the Columbia River:

Columbia river trees

A shy helicopter sports the sheer look in Revelstoke:

snow helicopter

Ok, that was bad. Just putting together these pictures that I took over the last few years kinda got me all worked up. Now I really want some, but at least the early season snow is falling!

Topics: CMH Monashees, CMH Gothics, helicopters, heliskiing, Cariboos, photography, photos, Adamants, heli-skiing, helicopter snowboarding

McConkey – The Movie

Posted by Topher Donahue on Oct 18, 2013 6:58:00 AM

I’m speechless.  After watching McConkey You have one life. Live it. the new film from Matchstick Productions that digs into the life and death of snowsport megastar Shane McConkey, I tried to put together my feelings into a tidy blog post about passions, innovation, adventure, life, and risk. But my feelings wouldn’t cooperate. I am torn, inspired, blown away, and don't really know how to begin.

Everyman’s superman.

The world’s most influential skier. 

Those are some of the words his friends and the media used to describe Shane, and with innovations like the rockered ski to his credit, and a background going from pizza delivery boy to ski superstar, those words ring true. But there’s more to it than that.

Shane was one of those human beings that experienced the cultural and technological equivalent of the rogue wave that happens in storms at sea when one wave builds on top of another to create a single wave that is massively out of proportion to the rest of the swell.

Shane’s wave was so enormous (he was the first North American athlete sponsored by Red Bull) in part because his father, Jim McConkey, was part of a cultural and technological wave that launched what became known as Heli-Skiing half a century ago. McConkey begins with footage of Jim skiing in the Bugaboos and Cariboos in the 60s where he helped Hans Gmoser develop what became CMH Heli-Skiing, a recreation icon that today parters with Shane's sponsors Red Bull and K2 to help everyday skiers and superstars alike savor the ultimate skiing experience.

mcconkey plane jump

The movie follows the highlights of Shane’s life, benefitting from an incredible collection of home video and GoPro style footage from Shane’s own camera, shot decades before the GoPro was invented.  Born in Vancouver, Canada, Shane started skiing when he was 23 months old, and he began with a fairly predictable trajectory of a ski icon, from joining the local ski team at 7 years old to attending high school at the Prestigious Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont where Olympic racers are made, to a ski scholarship at CU Boulder in Colorado. When Shane didn’t make the cut for the US Ski Team because he was too small, he was shattered and his predictable trajectory was interrupted.

He jumped on the wave left by the likes of Glen Plake and Scot Schmidt who’d shown a new generation of brilliant skiers that skiing wasn’t just about racing. He left ski racing with one last memorable slalom run (also caught on film) where he bashes his last gates in his birthday suit.  Yup. Buck naked.

You’ll have to watch the film to get the whole story, but the bottom line is that Shane didn’t just raise the bar a little; Shane raised the bar by an order of magnitude. He didn’t just ski off the biggest cliffs, he hucked backflips of the biggest cliffs. Shane was a staple of cutting-edge ski films for two decades, and McConkey highlights many of his best moments (and some of his worst) but it wasn’t the mind-blowing lines he chose, or the committing tricks he pulled in the midst of them that really left me speechless.

It was the fact that Shane always came across as a regular guy. A regular guy who just liked to see how big he could go if he did everything right. And big he went. He didn’t give a whit about the latest snow-gangster fashion or what his fellow skiers did.  He just went out and figured out how to make something outrageous into something that was for him normal and repeatable.  In 1996 he founded the IFSA, International Free Skier’s Association (also known as I F&$#!$g Ski Awesome) helping boost the prestige and mainstream appeal of creative free skiing.

He discovered BASE jumping in the early years of the sport, and mastered it, logging close to a thousand jumps all over the world, with and without skis and was a veteran of BASE jumping's thrill and tragedy. He was there when a woman’s chute didn’t open properly on a demonstration jump off of Yosemite’s El Capitan. Shane stood next to her husband, watching his face as it happened. (Perhaps one of the reasons the film hit me so hard is that I was sleeping on El Capitan that morning, and awoke to the sound of her hitting the ground - a sound I'd buried in my memory for years until they talked about that sound in the film.)

Shane didn’t just try ski BASE, he mastered ski BASE, which allowed him to ski lines that ended on massive cliffs and did it so well that it seemed almost normal – at least for him – and did it successfully for years. We all know this was what cost him his life in the end, but one of the things that I hadn’t realized was that it wasn’t ski BASE that got him, it was ski BASE with a wingsuit, which added to the complications and risk. As usual, Shane was raising his own bar.

Perhaps the details of his final jump don’t really matter. What matters is that “everyman’s superman” did a lot more than be a superman – he helped the rest of us feel like superheroes. When I’m slashing down a face of steep powder, feeling like a hero instead of the hack skier I am, it is thanks to Shane McConkey who walked away from his ski racing pedigree and even his extreme skiing peers to create both technology and a mental approach to skiing that makes many thousands of everyday skiers all over the world feel like superheroes. 

McConkey does about the best possible job of doing the impossible: capturing the beauty, the tragedy, and the brilliance of Shane McConkey’s life in under 2 hours. From intimate interviews with his loved ones, to footage of his journal where he drew pictures of the first rockered skis and mused on the potential of ski BASE, the experienced team at Matchstick Productions deserve all the accolades they will certainly get. Order it here.

McConkey premiered in London on October 1st, and the story of the premier was captured by Pure Powder. I’m sure the tears and beers flowed freely.

Photo of Jim McConkey jumping a plane in 1962, during the first explorations into the Columbia Mountains in what is now CMH Cariboos Heli-Ski terrain, with CMH Heli-Skiing founder Hans Gmoser. Courtesy CMH Archives.

Topics: Ski Heroes, Bugaboos, CMH Heli-Skiing, Cariboos, Ski Movies, heli-skiing, Shane McConkey

10 tactics for ski area powder days

Posted by Topher Donahue on Sep 6, 2013 6:42:00 AM

Everyone has a strategy for getting the most out of a powder day at a ski resort. Here are 10 time-tested tactics, ranging from the aggro to the zen:

ski area powder tactics

1. First Chair: It takes a special kind of skier to get to the lift half an hour or more before the lifts open, and stand there stomping like an excited race horse trying to stay warm, in order to be the first skier on the lift.  While there is immense prestige with being on the first lift, it has little bearing on how many freshies you’re going to get – to have the most fun on a powder day you need to study the following strategies no matter what chair you’re on.

#2. Local discount: Hooking up with a local is by far the best way to harvest the most pow. They know which runs tend to get skied first, where the secret lines are hiding, and how to beat the crowds. If you don’t know a local, listen carefully in the lift line. The locals are usually either talking loudly about their run selection strategy, or not saying anything at all.  Then follow the one who’s not saying anything – they probably know best.

#3. Sloppy seconds: One of the best-kept secrets of the ski area powder day is that sloppy seconds are some of the best turns on the mountain. I’m not talking about skiing across somebody’s tracks; I’m talking about that point when the deep piles have been knocked down, creating a consistent surface that rides like carving the surface of a lemon meringue pie. Sure, the first lap or two in truly untouched snow is great, but after that, I’d rather have sloppy seconds on a sweet line than root around the flats for another turn or two in the fresh.

#4. All too obvious: If you can’t hook with a local, or find one to follow (or can’t keep up with the local you tried to follow), don’t ski the obvious runs. Everyone else will be there too. Instead, look for those obscure lines that require a traverse to reach, runs where you have to take your skis off and boot pack to reach, those black diamond runs hidden in the middle of mostly blue terrain. Watch for places where a number of tracks traverse off the side of the main runs – those tracks are probably from locals gettin’ the goods (Remember, though, you may get more than you bargained for by following those tracks!).

#5. Tree team: There’s always that guy or girl who jumps into the thickest trees on the very first run while even the main open runs are still untracked. To each their own, I suppose, but most of the tree team will hit the trees after the main lines are skied out. Poking around in the trees is a great way to find freshies long after the rest of the ski area is fully hammered, but it’s also a way to get suckered into lousy fall lines and slots where less skilled skiers and snowboarders have side-slipped through, removing the fluff. Explore the trees on a bluebird day so you know where to find the goods when the flakes are flying.

#6. Hey diddle diddle, straight down the middle: With the invention of the fat ski, anyone who’s an intermediate level skier can ride powder. This is great, but it means there are a lot more powder hounds on the hill than there used to be. I almost don’t want to tell you this one, since it makes me giggle every time I score on this, but quite often everyone thinks the middle of runs have already been skied, so they ski the edges, leaving large swaths of untouched snow right down the middle.

#7. IBOB - In Bounds Out of Bounds: While you may find some fresh snow here, this method will get you busted. Most ski areas have roped off areas within the ski area boundaries. On powder days, there are always a few people who decide it is worth getting their passes taken, or getting injured, so they duck the rope. Think about it: losing your lift ticket or season pass over a single run is more expensive than Heli-Skiing.

#8. Sidecountry/Slackcountry: Progressive ski areas with good backcountry terrain accessible nearby have installed gates where riders can leave the ski area legally. This is a fantastic evolution of our sport, but it also means skiers who leave the area need to realize they are entering the wilderness. The ski patrol does not usually do avalanche control or patrol outside the ski area (unless the slopes threaten the resort or roads) so you’re on your own. Avalanche and terrain assessment are essential, and remember that just having avalanche rescue gear does not mean you are safe.

#9. Patrol Beers:  The whole mountain doesn’t always open immediately after a dump, but instead runs open in stages as the ski patrol determines it is safe to do so. In areas with the most rowdy terrain, the day after the powder day often results in the best skiing when the whole mountain is finally opened. It might be a good investment to take a six-pack to the patrol office, tell them you're new to the area, and ask nicely how they tend to open terrain after a storm. This can be more effective than jonesing in line for the first chair only to miss the main event when they open the backside hours later.

#10. Last Chair Larsen: This is the ultimate zen approach to the powder day. Named for a legendary ski bum, Last Chair Larsen would show up on a powder day for his first run – and catch the last chair; not just once but nearly every time it snowed.  While many dozens of riders vie for the first chair, Last Chair Larsen was in a league of his own. At first, I thought he was missing the whole point of the powder day, but he seemed to be having at least as much fun as anyone else on the mountain – maybe it was those of us stressing out for fresh tracks who were missing the point…

the best heliskiing

PS. Go Heli-Skiing: If powder is your thing, take a lesson from Last Chair Larsen. Mellow out at the ski area and have fun no matter what time you arrive - then do whatever it takes to go Heli-Skiing. In an average week of Heli-Skiing with CMH you’ll rip more powder than a decade at a ski resort – and even though Heli-Skiing is expensive, from a dollar-per-powder-turn perspective it is the best deal going.

Any of you powder gurus have any other tactics you'd like to share? C'mon, we'd never use your own tactics to poach your line...

Photos of Man versus Machine at Alpental, Washington, and Man loving Machine at CMH Galena by Topher Donahue.

Topics: Ski/Snowboard Tips, safety, heli-skiing, resort skiing

5 top ski and snowboard training websites

Posted by Topher Donahue on Aug 28, 2013 7:00:00 AM

The season’s first snows have dusted the summits of the Rockies. Summer activities are losing their appeal. Days are growing shorter at a rapid rate. We all know what that means. For some of us, it also means it is time to wonder what we can do to get in shape for winter.

ski and snowboard fitness

Perhaps you’re the kind of snowrider who likes to just get out there and let fitness come as the winter goes, but if your planning a dream snowriding trip this winter, or you want to take your game to the next level, a bit of focused work in the preseason will go far in both improving your abilities and preventing injury. Even a simple approach like “I’m going to ride my bike a couple days a week” is better than nothing, but if you want to feel dramatic improvement, check out these websites and consider a more systematic approach.

To pick these sites, I looked for places with a little different approach to ski and snowboard fitness rather than just another training program. Here are my top 5:

  1. National Ski Patrol: The National Ski Patrol is an organization that represents one of the hardest working groups in the world of skiing. Their preconditioning page on their website shares the wisdom of Dave Merriam, the head coach of the PSIA and the AASI demonstration teams. Here’s a glimpse into his understanding of snowsport fitness:  "In most snowsports, it's important to build a strong base of aerobic fitness, because that's what's going to allow you to be on the hill longer and reduce your chance of injury due to fatigue. At the same time, skiing and snowboarding are anaerobic activities, which means that they require short, intense bursts of energy interspersed with rest periods."
  2. Bodybuilding: At CMH Heli-Skiing, we tend to think of snowboarding and skiing as two equally wonderful ways to do the same thing – rip deep powder on spectacular mountains – but the specific demands of snowboarding are very different than skiing.  This article gives specific exercises as well as a potential training schedule to ride your best this winter.
  3. Orthopedic Specialists of Seattle: There may be no group of professionals who have a more intimate perspective on skiing injuries than orthopedic surgeons. This website caught my eye, not so much because of their specific training suggestions for preventing injury, but because of their overall way of presenting both training and injury prevention. They give a smorgasbord of potential activities for you to choose from, and a suggested a conditioning program to go with your activity of choice.
  4. Adventure Sports Online: If you’re like me, the thought of following a specific training program is about as appealing as going on a raw food diet. To each their own, and for some a training program is the ticket to both health and inspiration. Of all the websites I’ve seen that were most in line with my approach to fitness, this one is prefaced with, “Perceptions of preseason conditioning stem from Hollywood's depiction of Rocky's training regime.” And goes on to say how “What we all really want to know is how can we get back into skiing shape with as little trouble as possible.” This article by Chris Fellows is both highly entertaining (this is important) and also suggests enrollment in the North American Ski Training Center program for skiers and snowboarders who want to receive professional coaching and training without being a professional athlete.
  5. Ski and Snowboard Inspiration: Lastly, my favourite website for snowriding fitness training is this one. Why? Because the inspiration to stay healthy and chase your skiing and snowboarding dreams is the most important training element of all.

Photo of a group of Heli-Skiers about to put their pre-season training to the test at CMH Cariboos by Topher Donahue.

Topics: summer, Cariboos, Fit Tips, heli-skiing, Snowboarding

5 tips to help first time Heli-Skiers have the most fun

Posted by Topher Donahue on Aug 13, 2013 7:10:00 AM

My first time heli-skiing I was nervous. Not because of the skiing – I’d been skiing my whole life and knew that once the boards were on my feet it would be the same as it ever was. Not because of the helicopter – I knew CMH Heli-Skiing's partner, Alpine Helicopters, has one of the most well maintained fleet of helicopters on the planet. Avalanches make me nervous anytime I go skiing, but I knew I was safer with CMH and their world-renowned snow safety system than any other time I'd spent in the backcountry or sidecountry.

So why was I nervous? In hindsight, I think I was nervous because Heli-Skiing was something new. Like the first day of school, or learning a new skill, doing anything for the first time is a little scary.

By lunchtime of the first day, my nervousness had disappeared, and was replaced by utter fascination and absurd amounts of fun. Looking back on my own maiden voyage, and watching other first timers go through the same transformation from intimidation to fun, there are five things that seem to help the most:

heliski tips for first timers

1. Get to know your guide, and follow their directions. I knew our ski guide was a seasoned veteran of Heli-Ski guiding, but for some reason after we talked for a while at the pickup and got to know each other a little, I felt like the seed of friendship had been planted, and everything felt more relaxed. It’s a lot more relaxing when your guide becomes your friend. Follow their directions and you’ll stay safer, become ever better friends, relax even more, and have more fun.

2. You don’t always need to hurry. At my first pickup, I was trying to bundle my skis as quickly as possible to prepare them for the ski basket, and my guide noticed my haste.
“Island time, man.” he said, “No need to hurry.”
When he said that, I felt every bone in my body relax. There are times when it is important to bundle your skis quickly so the helicopter doesn’t have to wait, forcing the rest of the groups to wait, but much of the time you can take the time to bundle your skis slowly.  The best way to know is to simply ask your guide:
“Are we in a hurry?”
If there is no need to hurry, don’t. Learn to bundle your skis properly and you’ll be faster at it later. If there is a reason to hurry, ask for help. Your guide or another experienced skier or snowboarder will be happy to give you a hand.

3. Learn to put your skis on in deep snow.  Even on the most epic powder day at a ski area, underneath the powder is a hard-packed ski area base, making it easy to put on our skis and snowboards. While Heli-Skiing, we sometimes step out of the helicopter into waist deep powder with more soft snow underneath the fresh, making it a tricky process to get into your skis or board - until you get used to it. When you first experience this, ask you guide, CMH staff, or other experienced rider to show you how to put on your skis or board in deep powder. If you don’t learn this trick, you’ll fight with your board(s) at every landing, wasting energy and becoming frustrated; not a good way to start each run. Also, if you loose a ski mid-run, where the snow is usually even deeper, much deeper, than on the landings, you’ll be able to put it back on much easier. Also, ask for tips on getting up if you fall down. On one board or two, getting up after falling can be one of the most exhausting parts of riding deep powder.

4. Ask your tree buddy to ski right behind you on the first couple of runs.  Unless you’ve skied a lot in the backcountry, Heli-Skiing often provides the deepest snow you’ve ever ridden. It is pretty intimidating your first time, but with the fat skis we use at CMH, and a friend to help you out if you fall, even intermediate skiers learn quickly how to ride the pow. Regardless of the size of the group you’re skiing with, your guide will ask you to always ski in pairs - the buddy system. If you’re nervous, ask your buddy to ski behind you for a couple of runs. This way if you fall, you’ll have someone right there to help you get up, and even if you don’t fall, it’s nice to have a friend backing you up.  After a couple of runs, take turns going first - but always stay together. In no time, the intimidation quickly transitions to insane amounts of fun.

5. Pay attention during the safety training, but don’t stress over it. At the beginning of each CMH ski trip, every guest goes through a short training exercise, covering the use of radios, avalanche transceivers, avalanche rescue technique and helicopter safety. It’s hard to learn if you’re stressed out. Instead, get into the beginner’s mind and just listen to what the guide is telling you. The avalanche equipment is important, but because the goal of the CMH guide team is to keep you out of danger in the first place, the vast majority of CMH guests, even thouse who've ripped millions of vertical feet with CMH, will never have need to use the avalanche equipment. Instead, focus on learning these just-in-case skills and then go have fun. If you ever go backcountry, sidecountry or cat skiing, you’ll be one step ahead of the game.

While the safety and helicopter efficiency systems that CMH guides have developed over the past five decades are complex, for guests the system is designed to be simple.  The guides and the rest of the CMH staff are there to help you have the time of your life. Get ready to have the most fun you’ve ever had with your boots on.

Photo of the fun kicking in for a first time Heli-Skier at CMH Gothics, by Topher Donahue.

Topics: Ski/Snowboard Tips, Heli-Boarding, helicopters, CMH Guides, Tricks of the Trade, heli-skiing

The first Heli-Ski Helicopter

Posted by Topher Donahue on Jul 25, 2013 6:46:00 AM

In 1963 - 50 years ago this year - CMH began experimenting with what would become known as Heli-Skiing, and took the word’s first commercial Heli-Ski guests up a mountain with a helicopter for a ski lift. At the time, the best machine for the job was a Bell 47 B-1. The pioneers of Heli-Skiing strapped their skis to the skids with bungie cords and shuttled the group to the top, two passengers pusing the payload capacity of the reliable little helicopter to the limit.

Bugs 1965 B 1 high landing

The Bell 47 line were technological marvels for the time, setting helicopter records for distance and elevation.

  • In 1949 it made highest altitude flight to 5,650 metres (18,550 feet).
  • In 1950 it became the first helicopter to fly over the Alps. 
  • In 1952 it set a distance record of 1,959 kilometres (1,217 miles).
  • In 1958 it became the first helicopter to be used for television news camerawork.

Bugs 1965 B 1 skiers on glacier

Its 178 horsepower engine had about the same power as a small car, but at the time there was nothing better for mountain flying than the Bell 47 B-1.

When Hans Gmoser, the founder of Heli-Skiing, was first approached by a couple of different skiers about the possibility of using a helicopter for a ski lift, he didn't immediatley jump on the possibility, but he didn’t forget the concept. Hans brought up the idea with Jim Davies, a skilled mountain pilot who had helped Hans with ski exploration in the Cariboo and Rocky Mountains using a fixed wing.

Bugs 1965 skiers, B 1 Bugaboo Glacier

According to Hans, he asked Jim, “Do you think you could use a helicopter to take skiers up a mountain?"

And Jim replied, “I know I could.”

That’s how it began. But there were a couple of false starts including a trip in 1963 to the Goat Glacier near Canmore, Alberta where the helicopter worked great but the snow was hideous breakable crust, and a trip in 1964 out of Golden, British Columbia where windy conditions blew the little helicopter far from their destination, clear into the next province of Alberta, before they found a place to safely land and ski.

In 1965 Hans decided to try Heli-Skiing in a place called the Bugaboos, where a remote sawmill camp provided lodging, the endless mountain range of the Columbia Mountains provided the terrain, the now-legendary storm cycles of Interior British Columbia provided the powder – and the Bell 47 B-1 provided the power. The third try was, as they say, a charm; the snow was dreamy, the guests were ecstatic and wanted to go again the following year, and Heli-Skiing was born.

Bugs 1965 B 1 two skiers

Helicopter technology changed dramatically in the late 60s and early 70s, so the Bell 47 was soon exchanged for larger, more powerful machines, but these pictures of the little helicopter servicing the very first commercial Heli-Skiers will forever speak to the world's greatest skiing and the unprecedented adventure of learning to use a helicopter for a ski lift half a century ago.

Photos courtesy CMH Archives.

Topics: Bugaboos, Canadian Rockies, helicopters, CMH Heli-Skiing, British Columbia, heli-skiing, History

The 5 best things about early season Heli-Skiing

Posted by Topher Donahue on Jul 18, 2013 7:00:00 AM

Why is it that some of CMH Heli-Skiing's most experienced guests book early-season trips each year? They're going to throw snowballs at me for telling you this, but here's the top 5 reasons why:

early season powder galena#1 Snow Quality

While the Columbia Mountains are vast, northerly (Revelstoke sits at 51 degrees latitude), and receive immense amounts of precipitation (the snowiest mountains in Canada), they are not terribly high (Sir Sanford, the biggest peak in the Columbias is 3,519 metres or 11,545 feet) so the average winter temperatures are not as cold as you might expect.  This means early season offers the shortest days to keep the snow cold at the moderate elevations and thus (now for the important part) quite often the lightest, fluffiest snow.

#2 The Vibe

Many of the early and late season skiers are seasoned heli-skiers and snowboarders who have learned the secrets of the early season. It’s typically an easy-going but hard-ripping crew you find at CMH Lodges in December and January.

#3 The Atmosphere

Mike Welch, the area manager of CMH Galena, put it best when he described why December is his favourite month:  “The snow is bottomless. Twenty centimetres fall every night. The days are short. It’s kind of dark all day. I love the whole ambiance! We come home wet. Our gloves are soaked. Our zippers are frozen. I just love it!”

#4 The Psyche

There is no place more exciting to be as a snow rider than a CMH Lodge in the early season when that first massive storm cycle of the Heli-Ski season rolls in. The guides, staff and guests are fresh off summer fun and everyone is rip-roaring-ready for ski season.  Sure, deep powder in mountain paradise with helicopter access is dream-worthy anytime of the year, but early season in Canada is when the amp gets turned up to 11.

early season heliskiing monashees

#5 The Cost 

Last but not least; it’s a simple matter of supply and demand. There are only so many seats on the helicopter, and more skiers and snowboarders want to go Heli-Skiing in February and March.  This means you can get in on an early season CMH Heli-Skiing trip for about a third less than the cost of a peak season trip.

Photos of early season conditions in Galena and the Monashees by Topher Donahue and Fred Huser.

Topics: Canada, CMH Heli-Skiing, Deep Pow, Monashees, heli-skiing, CMH Lodges, Galena