The Heli-Ski Blog
The blogosphere and ski reports are lighting up with the best early season snow conditions North America has seen in years, setting the stage for what promises to be an epic year for skiers and boarders. As the company that invented Heli-Skiing more than 45 years ago and the largest heli-ski operator in the world, CMH Heli-Skiing has created dozens of winter experiences that help dispel some of the myths around deep powder skiing or boarding, making it more accessible than ever. And, with 11 heli-skiing areas in and around Revelstoke in BC’s Columbia Mountains, CMH Heli-Skiing encompasses more terrain than all the major North American ski resorts combined.
Ski technology is red hot. It allows the pros to ski big mountain lines like tow in surfing helps surfers to charge the biggest waves. It gives old-timers (and their knees) an extra ten years of skiing. It made skiing a sexy game in the terrain park and turned skiing cool again.
But in the world of deep powder heli-skiing, is the modern ski technology always better? And are there ways to ski better and safer on the fat, rockered skis that are so much fun, but tend to go so fast?
To find out, I tracked down Dave Gauley, the Assistant Manager at CMH Cariboos and a former ski pro famous for making smooth, casual turns on outrageously steep lines. Here’s what he had to say:
“Fat skis are a bit of a double edged sword, especially for the beginner to intermediate skier. They make it easier to float through almost all snow conditions - except for a few. Most notably in Heli-Skiing is the snow you run into when several lines converge to a shared pickup. Hard packed, bumps, chopped up snow, etc. You are cruising along easily in the pow... then whabam! It's suddenly a bit of an epic to control those big skis in the chop. Strained knees, back etc. are possible if you’re not ready for it.
“This kind of snow on fat skis requires a different approach. What I do is when I see a section like that coming up, is to realize the run is over and I just eat up the vertical by skiing slow with big round turns.
"The other problem with fat skis is the increased speed they generate. Skinnier skis sink more, so the snow pushing off your body slows you down. Not so with the fats.
“For beginner powder skiers, you need to vary the shape of your turn to keep your speed managable. To slow down, let your skis come around a bit more in the turns and come up with a way to dump speed if need be. I use a scrub technique of a quickly throwing the skis sideways like a partial hockey stop to loose a lot of speed quickly - not always easy in the trees. Try to anticipate, and always looking ahead will really help out. Many times in the trees I will straight line sections to get to an open area where i can then dump some speed.
"Another consideration is the weight of these new skis. A pair of K2 Pontoons is pretty darn heavy, probably almost twice the weight of a pair of the Heli Daddy's we were using ten years ago. Combine that with the increased speed, you have quite a bit of potential torque on the knees.
"Overall, you can't just saddle up and rock a pair of fatties. A completely different approach, and set of eyes for the terrain is required to do it effectively."
For another perspective on the double-edged sword of fat skis, I talked with Lyle Grisedale, the shop tech at CMH Revelstoke. Lyle had this to add:
Fat Skis - I have mixed views on the really big fat skis especially for weaker skiers. They are an asset for weaker skiers in that they are not as deep in the snow and can be turned more easily. On the other hand, when you are not so deep in the snow you also go faster - not good for a weak skier on a steep tree run. Because of the speed, these skiers have to work the ski harder in order to slow down, which is tiring.
If guests are struggling on the fat skis, I often take them off of the fat guys and put them back onto the Heli Daddys or another mid-fat, which are easy to turn and easier to control speed. On big wide open slopes and glaciers, the big fats are fun to rip on, doing fast big turns with little effort involved to turn them.
Rockered Skis - I am not a fan of rockers for weaker skiers. Sure they make skiing easier, but for weaker skiers the rocker causes them to be back on their heels, which is hard on the quads. Also, for skiers who learned to ski 20 or 30 years ago ( a majority of our guests) they where taught to use tip pressure and other skills, and it is really hard to get any tip pressure on rocker tips and this is frustrating for carvers. Technique must be adjusted to a more swivelling or smearing of the ski type of attack. This works well, but is a big adjustment for a carver.
Interestingly, when CMH moved to mid-fat skis, staff spaces decreased as the guests could stay out longer before getting tired. Last winter I found that people were getting tired because they are going too fast on the fattys and are working too hard to control speed and to turn using techniques that are not the same as the techniques that they use on groomed runs.
The people who most enjoy the big fats are the younger skiers who are stronger, fitter, and less fearful of going fast."
Lyle offered these tips to help enjoy the pleasures of a fat ski while minimizing the work and leg strain:
- On steeper treed terrain, make lots of turns to keep speed comfortable.
- Use a good athletic stance with the hips above the feet for quick reactions to changes in terrain and snow texture.
- Upper body should be facing down hill most of the time, but don’t over rotate your shoulders or hips or the fat skis will run away on you.
- Avoid the back seat, otherwise the skis can't be controlled and manoeuvred optimally.
- Equal weight on both skis with a little more pressure to the outside ski produces the best results.
For skiers of all abilities who want to improve and would like their CMH Heli-Ski week to include both epic amounts of powder skiing as well as customized instruction in powder skiing technique, the CMH Powder University programs offer a new-school curriculum for all types of skiers and snowboarders.
Photos of fat ski powder harvest by Topher Donahue.
Wow, another month of sweet lines, happy guests and great ski photos is behind us. We were happy that we got an extra day in the month of February to enjoy all the fresh snow that's been falling along the Powder Highway in BC, Canada.
Here's how we saw the world at CMH Heli-Skiing in the last month, in no particular order:
1. Mid-February in the Bobbie Burns and Area Manager Bruce Howatt was able to capture poetry in motion early one morning.
2.In the Bugaboos the pilot of our Bell 407, aka "The Small Ship", Alex Edwards captured the theme of the month - deep, deep snow!
3. CMH Kootenay hosted our first ever Powder 401: Steep Shots & Pillow Drops program which was introduced as part of the new Powder U cirriculum for 2012. They are also hosting the K2 Demo Days starting this Saturday, March 3/12 - 2 spaces remain!
4. Up in the Monashees skiers and riders on our Private, Small Group Heli-Skiing program took advantage of the great conditions and skied 111,650 metres in the first week of February.
5. At the Cariboos skiers and riders on the Signature 7-day Heli-Ski trips skied sweet lines all week and enjoyed classic CMH hospitality back at the lodge. One group of 14 skiers who have been skiing together with CMH for over 20 years enjoyed the 75 centimetres of new snow, the three million foot suits that were awarded and the copious amounts of champagne consumed!
If moving pictures are more your thing you'll love this new video from the team at the Bobbie Burns.
And in the words of Rob Rohn, CMH's Director of Mountain Operations, 'the recent abundant snowfall and cold temperatures with minimal wind have made for really great skiing. A group of Swiss skiers in the Gothics told me that today was the best day of skiing they have had, ever!" So, if you're looking to end your ski season on a high note, contact CMH reservations at 1.800.661.0252 - some great space still remains for March and April here in the heli-skiing Mecca of BC, Canada!
For more ski photos from the month of February, check out CMH's online photo gallery.
“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.
This is a guest post by Kevin Brooker, editor of CMH: The Journal of the World's Greatest Skiing.
Not that you won't acquire new knowledge with every CMH Heli-Skiing visit, but for a number of seasons now we've offered specific teaching programs in areas like learning to powder ski and mastering the steeps. Well, the curriculum just got broader. For 2011-12 we are delighted to introduce five exciting trips under the all-new Powder U syllabus. Let the shreducation begin.
1. Powder 101: The Intro - Girl's School Four-day program, March 8-12, 2012, CMH Revelstoke
With all due respect to our friends with the XY chromosome, it is probably not a bad idea to forego the male presence while learning to rip powder in the Heli-Ski environment. It's been our experience that when it comes to supporting and encouraging one another, a tight group of female adventurers is living, skiing proof that sisterhood is powerful. And that ideal environment for learning is exactly what you'll find when you sign up for this unique program designed for a group of 10 women for whom learning technique is important, but having fun is the overriding mission.
Your first question, of course, should be, "Am I a good enough skier?" And the answer is a resounding yes if you are a strong resort skier who can handle diverse conditions—that is, you can tackle black diamond runs with confidence, if not necessarily style. Once here, the group will have its own dedicated pair of guide/instructors to turn each run into an alpine classroom. Equipped with video cameras, the guides will be recording each participant's progress, then screening the results daily in an aprés-ski setting guaranteed to keep the learning—and the laughter—rolling.
2. Powder 401: Steep Shots and Pillow Drops Five-day program, Feb 18 to 23, 2012 CMH Kootenay & March 26-31, 2012 CMH Revelstoke.
Step aside, 21-year-old daredevils. Thanks to new-generation equipment, you're not the only ones with an appetite for dramatic cascades and big airs. But having the will is only part of it; you need a whole new bag of tricks if you hope to charge like rock stars half your age. Enter the guides from CMH Kootenay and Revelstoke, who have designed a freeride program for advanced skiers who want to ramp up their steep skills, and especially their ability to trampoline from one snow mushroom to the next in total control. If you prefer quality over quantity, this is the course for you.
3. Avi Skills 201: Backcountry Five-day program, Feb. 23-28, 2012 CMH Kootenay
Prior to the advent of modern alpine touring equipment, it was unlikely that CMH Heli-Skiers would feel the need to learn backcountry safety. Times have changed, though, and all kinds of skiers are now hitting their local stashes in between Heli vacations. So why not learn to do it safely in the most glorious classroom available? Led by CMH guide and longtime Canadian Avalanche Association executive Rob Whelan, the course will focus on building a decision-making framework based on the latest in snow and terrain assessment. Graduates will earn their CAA Avalanche Skills Level One, a prerequisite for further professional-calibre training.
4. Powder 203: Big Trees Five-day program, Mar 3-10, 2012 CMH Monashees
Let's face it, few things we do in life are as daring and exhilarating as plunging through forests we've never previously laid eyes upon. But why do some skiers seem so much more relaxed while doing it? With this program, conducted amidst the world's finest old-growth-forest skiing terrain, you'll get hands-on instruction of a set of skills from line selection to turning technique that will have you slaying trees like Paul Bunyan.
5. Powder 215: Film School Five-day program, Mar 22-26, 2012 CMH Gothics
If the recent explosion in the use of GoPro helmet cameras has taught us anything, it is that we have probably reached the aesthetic limit of point-of-view photography. But that's OK, because clever videographers like your professor, Guy Clarkson, will teach you a raft of shooting and editing tricks that will change the reaction of your ski-video audience from Boo to Boo-yeah! Not only is Clarkson an award-winning filmmaker whose action features have rolled everywhere from the BBC to the History Channel, he's also a 28-year veteran CMH guide who knows exactly what skiers want to see and how to capture that through the lens.
To register for any Powder University course at CMH Heli-Skiing, contact CMH Reservations at 1.800.661.0252 or at
Hit the Slopes, as well as the Books!
At CMH Heli-Skiing, the beginning of the school year marks the end of summer, but the impending arrival of winter also marks a time to celebrate the joy of learning and the achievement of kids. In this spirit, the company that invented Heli-Skiing almost 50 years ago is offering a variety of interesting and exciting trips:
FAMILY HELI-SKIING VACATIONS
What better way to reward skiing kids over the winter vacation than with an amazing Family Ski Vacation in BC? For those with 12- to 17-year-olds, this is the ultimate White Christmas. Families begin the day skiing together, but kids can return to the lodge when they tire to participate in various fun, supervised indoor and outdoor activities -- including a climbing wall, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, hockey and broomball, building igloos and snowmen. Each evening, a family dinner is served with kid-friendly options. Adding to the festive atmosphere, there will be Christmas celebrations, including a beautiful tree with presents for everyone in the lodge (and Santa may even show up in a helicopter!).
*Younger children are welcome but guests must provide childcare (a non-skier, “nanny” rate is offered)
NEXT GENERATION TRIP
While anyone is welcome, this trip is designed to inspire the next generation of heli-skiers and boarders. Skiers and riders 12 – 25 years old will receive a 50% discount for half of the guaranteed vertical when travelling with a full-paying adult. CMH is offer four trips in March and April 2012. Maybe the ultimate spring break ski trip. At CMH we joke that we offer a new (and better) way for the next generation to get high! WARNING: Heli-Skiing can be addictive. Check out the video here:
And don’t forget…POWDER U!
Powder 101? Powder 505? Or maybe Powder 707? Through our new Powder University, CMH offers courses for all levels – from those who are just discovering powder snow to those looking to hone their skills in the steep couloirs of the Cariboo Mountains and everything in between. For those who have already been granted their M.D. or D.D.S.., CMH’s Med School offers health-care providers and other professionals with an interest in health-related issues a variety of CME Heli-Skiing weeks run by 4 different medical practitioners and covering a range of topics. Powder U @ CMH was developed and is overseen by the “Dean of Deep Powder,” Roko Koell.
Our cirriculum for Powder U will be expanding in the next few weeks. To be informed of new courses, sign up to receive our e-newsletter.
CMH Heli-Skiing is taking skiers “back to school” with the launch of Powder U @ CMH for the 2011-2012 ski season. Led by “Dean” Roko Koell, UIAGM and Professor of Powder, the curriculum at Powder U includes the courses skiers dream of:
Powder 101 - The Intro: These trips teach skiers everything they need to know to become a comfortable powder and wilderness skier. Each Powder 101 trip will include 10 skiers and 2 guides. This allows us to maximize instruction time and help move you into the type of deep snow skier that makes for a returning CMH guest! The only pre-requisite is that participants should be strong intermediate skiers on hard pack snow.
Powder 505 - The Steeps: Designed for skiers and snowboarders looking for a challenge on seriously steep terrain. Powder 505 trips will run in late April 2012 in the Cariboos, when snow conditions are most stable and days are longer, offering better access to challenging terrain. Seeking the most challenging terrain available on any given day, CMH's guides offer expert coaching, finding lines that allow you to develop your skills without compromising safety.
Prerequisite: Participants must be strong, confident skiers or riders – comfortable on double black diamond runs at resorts like Whistler and Jackson Hole and able to cope with tighter terrain (i.e. couloirs). Powder 505 – The Steeps weeks are limited to nine skiers/riders (which will be split into two groups), with three guides and a Bell 407 helicopter.
Powder 707 - The Masters: Powder 707 has been designed to keep guests on the slopes for as long as the spirit is willing. While the passion for Heli-Skiing never fades, veteran skiers’ knees, backs and other bio-mechanical hot-spots do show signs of wear! These trips emphasize quality over quantity of skiing. Two guides and a maximum of 10 guests per group ensure a high level of personal attention. Powder 707 weeks will be offered throughout the season.
Prerequisite: A willing mind, even if the body is less so.
Med School: For those who have already been granted their M.D. or D.D.S., CMH’s Med School is open to all health-care providers and other professionals looking to aquire their Continuing Medical Education (CME) credits in health-related issues. CMH will offer seven first-class medical symposia throughout the 2011-2012 season.
Are you ready to go back to school? CMH Reservations can help you select the best courses to set you on the path to becoming a Powder U grad!