The Heli-Ski Blog

5 facts about the precipitation phenomenon in Western Canada

Posted by Topher Donahue on Nov 19, 2013 7:17:00 AM

A lot of people ask me if the skiing and snowboarding in the Revelstoke area really lives up to all the hype, and if it does, why?

Well, it does, and the precipitation phenomenon is a big part of the reason why:

  1. During the winter months, the west coast of Vancouver Island and the Haida Gwaii Islands receive the most rainfall in North America. These storms turn to snow when they hit the coastal mountains.
  2. The driest locations in British Columbia are just inland from the coastal ranges where a series of huge valleys run north and south including the South Thompson and Okanagan. These are some of the driest and warmest locations in British Columbia, since the storms lose much of their moisture passing over the coastal ranges and warm air is funneled up from the south.
  3. The warming of the air over these valleys allows the atmosphere to pickup more moisture as the storms pass over the rivers and lakes of these Interior valleys, one of the world’s largest reserves of fresh water.  The air in these valleys is warm enough that the lakes and rivers remain largely unfrozen, allowing evaporation to continue through the coldest winter months.
  4. When the storms reach the Columbia Mountains on the eastern edge of these warm valleys, they are again saturated with moisture. Most of the moisture in the Columbia Mountains, which feeds North America’s 4th largest river by volume, falls during the winter months, in the form of snow – usually the light, fluffy champagne kind.
  5. To the north the Polar High, a shallow dome of high pressure and frigid air that moves south during the winter months, feeds cold air into the northern reaches of the north-south valley systems including the North Thompson and the Columbia River valley.

Super-saturated storms simultaneously slam into a huge mountain range and a wall of frigid arctic air directly on top of the CMH Heli-Skiing areas. Bingo - Take Flight!

deep snow canada

This phenomenon is what makes the Mt. Fidelity weather recording station near Revelstoke, some 400 kilometres from the coast, the snowiest weather station in Canada. On average, the Mt. Fidelity station receives almost 15 metres (49 feet) of snow, and during one epic season the station recorded 23 metres (75 feet) of snow!

Any ski guide will tell you that while the Mt. Fidelity weather station gets a lot of snow, there are pockets in the region receive even more. Those spots just don’t have a weather station to record the totals, but we can go Heli-Skiing there…

Photo of the Gothics Lodge and a happy Heli-Skier, with a view out the window worth writing home about, by Topher Donahue.

Topics: Revelstoke, Skiing Conditions, Skiing, weather, Winter, British Columbia, Snowboarding

CMH in Denver and Joel Gratz on Boulder precipitation trends

Posted by Topher Donahue on Sep 27, 2013 2:14:00 PM

Colorado is ready to ski!

Last night, CMH rocked Denver, Colorado. (Or maybe it was the other way around.) In either case, I headed to CMH Heli-Skiing’s Take Flight show in Denver last night hardly thinking about skiing, and today that’s all I can think about.

joel gratzMaybe it was Open Snow meteorologist Joel Gratz’s presentation on long range snowfall predictions (which he prefaced by saying that long range snowfall predictions are terrible). But he dug into old records and found that after Boulder’s five wettest Septembers, the winter that followed was above average or significantly above average for Colorado Snowfall!  Even Joel was shocked at the correlation, and with Boulder just finishing its wettest September on record, Colorado skiers might want to get some fatter skis!

Perhaps my skiphoria this morning is because of Chris Davenport’s inspiring presentation showing him going deep at CMH Valemount last winter and raving about just how darn much fun it is to ski – any kind of skiing.

Both Chris and Joel are hosting trips to CMH this winter – although after last night I don’t know if there are any spaces left. Give CMH reservations a call ASAP at 1 (800) 661-0252 to snag the last spaces with these two powder legends in Canada for a Heli-Ski trip.

It could have been being surrounded by 300 of Colorado’s most inspired skiers and snowboarders, from muscular 20 year olds with their baseball caps on sideways, to fit 60 year olds in leather.

Then there was the full length Take Flight movie, which is riveting. The sequences of powder skiing and snowboarding are good enough that you can almost feel the snow crystals bouncing off your goggles; some of the best snow texture and snow experience footage I’ve ever seen. I think the faces on the crowd in this photo pretty much agree:

denver ski crowd

icelanticOr it was the irrepressible stoke of the guy who won a pair of powder skis from Icelantic in the free gear drawing.

Then there’s the cold temperatures and fresh snow falling on the peaks this morning.

Whatever the reason, I can’t stop thinking about skiing today, and my suspicions are that it’s a combination of all of the above.

Thanks CMH, Joel and Chris for the incredible show in Denver last night. Thanks to the crowd for the psyche and the generous donations to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.



Only Sasquatch seemed grumpy, but maybe that's because he didn't win the skis.

Sasquatch girls

Two wrap it up, we threw down on the rooftop of Battery 621 under the cooling Colorado skies that prefaced today's early winter storm.

red bull DJ

Wanna get stoked and Take Flight with CMH Heli-Skiing? This is just the beginning…

Join us in Washington DC at the US Navy Memorial on October 9 (RSVP here), Seattle, WA on November 5, or New York, NY on November 21.

Photos by Topher Donahue and Mike Arzt.

Topics: Ski Heroes, CMH Heli-Skiing, CMH Valemount, Skis, CMH Experts, Announcements, Snowboarding

10 expert tips for warm hands while skiing and snowboarding

Posted by Topher Donahue on Sep 19, 2013 8:22:00 AM

Snowboarders have all the advantage on this one. Since they only have one tool to deal with – instead of four – it’s a lot easier to keep the hands warm.  But regardless of how many boards you ride, these 10 suggestions will help you enjoy the coldest winter days.

keeping your hands warm


  1. Consider mittens instead of gloves. Mittens are warmer and you don’t really need the added dexterity of gloves unless you’re shooting photos.
  2. Don’t hold onto your board for too long with either hand while walking to the lift or boot packing for some freshies. The cold board and the pressure on your hands both contribute to your hands losing heat.
  3. Don’t let snow get inside your gloves. It takes just a moment of inattention to get a pile of snow inside your gloves – and all night to dry them out before they’ll be warm again.
  4. Make sure you can put your board on without taking your gloves off. Practice everything with your gloves on, even when it’s warm, so that when it’s cold you already know what to do.
  5. Practice keeping your hands warm from the moment you put down the coffee cup. When you’re cleaning the snow off your car, getting your gear out of the shed, and even driving the car before the heater gets going – keep your fingers warm! Use a beater pair of gloves and keep your best ones dry for riding, but protect your fingers long before you get on the hill. You can quite often track your cold fingers back to a hurried mistake in the morning before you even got to the first run.
 warm hands snowboarding


  1. Practice skiing without wrist straps. The straps restrict blood flow to your hands. Savvy backcountry skiers and Heli-Skiers don’t use them anyway because of the risk of catching a tree and injuring a shoulder, or even worse, in case of an avalanche or falling in a tree well your wrist straps will pin your arms down. (In fact, for safety reasons, CMH Heli-Skiing removes all wrist straps from their fleet of poles, and strongly suggests guests who bring their own not to use straps.)
  2. Let go of your poles every chance you get. Wrapping your fingers around your pole handles both limits the circulation to your fingers and conducts cold from the pole into your hands. When you’re standing in the lift line, waiting on the slope for your friend, or even sitting on the lift, position your poles so you can let go of them (tucking them under a leg on the lift works well) and ball your hands into a fist inside your gloves.
  3. Practice everything you do without taking your gloves off. Putting on your goggles, cleaning the ice off your bindings and boots, adjusting your buckles, putting things in your pockets, turning on your GoPro and even lighting a smoke (if you smoke you’re going to get cold hands even easier since nicotine is a vasoconstrictor.) 
  4. Dry your gloves every chance you get. Be it in the helicopter, snowcat, gondola or in the lodge.  Even if they’re still dry on the inside, go through the motions of drying them out. Experienced Heli-Skiers will carry a pair of thin liner gloves to wear during lunch, and stick their ski gloves inside their jacket while eating and drinking. Getting hot tea or soup on (or in) your gloves feels good at first – but later, not so much.
  5. Most importantly, don’t let you hands get cold in the first place. Once they’re cold, the most expensive gloves in the world will have a hard time making your hands warm again.  Practice keeping your hands warm all the time. Once it becomes second nature to move your fingers to improve circulation, keep them dry, keep your jacket sealed over your gloves, and be vigilant to your hands at all times, you’ll be amazed how you can keep your hands warm even in the coldest conditions.
Photos of warm hands and big smiles in the mega-deep powder of CMH Heli-Skiing at CMH Gothics and CMH Galena by Topher Donahue.

Topics: heliskiing, CMH Experts, Tricks of the Trade, resort skiing, Snowboarding, Heli-Ski Tips

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 for skiing and riding safely at a resort

Posted by Topher Donahue on Aug 22, 2013 8:49:00 AM

As ski technology has made skiing easier, the average speed of average skiers has also increased, especially on a powder day where the fat skis allow us to really get going - before we crash. Since force equals mass times acceleration, at whatever our ability, our fat, shaped skis and snowboards are allowing us all to go hurling down the mountain with more force than we used to have. While it sure is fun haulin’ tail through the fluffy stuff, the bottom line is that our increased force means that if we hit a tree, another skier, a snow machine, a lift tower, or get hit by another skier, it’s gonna hurt more.

Besides the simple physics, there’s the fact that modern skis allow more people to ski the powder, so on a powder day there will be more people charging for their slice of the pow harvest than there used to be (a great excuse to go Heli-Skiing).  Snowboarders used to be, without a doubt, the fastest riders on the mountain. With modern skis, skiers are now rivaling snowboarders for speed.

resort skiing safety

Last year, most ski resort fatalities in Colorado happened on an intermediate groomed run after the skier or snowboarder lost control and hit a tree. This victim's average age is 37, is an experienced skier, and is wearing a helmet. According to an article in the Denver Post: “Those who died on Colorado slopes ranged from a local doctor to a snowboard instructor to a paraplegic using a sit ski. More than 80 percent were men. The youngest two were 11; the oldest, 73. Just more than 60 percent were out-of-state visitors.”

Considering the trends, here are 5 suggestions for making your time at the resort a safer experience:

  1. Ski good or eat wood? How about live to ski another day. Give the trees a wide berth when you’re skiing fast, and as the quest for freshies pushes you closer to the edge of the runs, slow down, way down - as in really slow - and enjoy the turns without redlining the adrenaline of powder skiing near the trees. Helmets are designed to protect you up to about a 19 kph (12mph) collision – most fatal accidents happen at 40-65 kph (25-40mph). For perspective, an ASTM study (an international standards organization) revealed that the average speed for a skier or snowboarder on a blue run, with good visibility, is 44.5 kph (27.6 mph) - plenty fast to render your helmet useless.
  2. Get out of the back seat. According to a study from the University of Vermont, skiers have the same statistical chance of getting an ACL injury as a college football player – or 365 times more likely than the rest of the population. Leaning back on your skis puts your ACL in a compromised position. Leaning forward doesn’t eliminate your chances of a knee injury, but it does put your knees in a stronger position, and allows you to react quicker. Besides, being centered or slightly forward on your skis will teach you to ski better than that old faithful backseat boogie. Here’s a detailed article on how to adjust your skiing habits to protect your ACL.
  3. Slow down at intersections, and don’t bag on snowboarders. Skiers love to say that snowboarders are more dangerous since they tend to look one way, creating what appears to be a blind spot on their backside turn. Statistics, however, tell a different story. According to a study done by the Rochester Institute of Technology, explained in this excelent article on ski safety, snowboarders are between 50% to 70% more likely to get injured (mostly wrist and upper body injuries), but they are about a third less likely to be killed on the slopes than skiers.  Additionally, the study revealed that skiers are three times more likely to be involved in a collision than snowboarders. That said, snowboarders need to be aware of their blind side at all times, and beware of the trend that snowboard accidents are on the rise, while skiing accident rates are relatively flat. Both skiers and snowboarders need to heed that deceptive mistress of speed. 
  4. Avoid crowds. Like a freeway, the ski hill tends to create bottlenecks and crowded zones. Choose runs that avoid these areas if possible, but when you must ski through these areas, make consistent turns in the fall line without stopping, give other skiers a wide berth and rotate you head frequently to see what’s happening in your blind spots – and yes, us skiers have blind spots too.
  5. Wear a helmet. No list of safety suggestions would be complete without suggesting that you should wear a helmet, but again, the statistics are surprising.  While the number of skiers and snowboarders wearing helmets is increasing each year, with almost 70% of all snow riders helmeting up these days, the fatality rate has remained flat. This suggests that wearing a helmet is a good idea, but skiing in control at slower speeds is an even better idea; as the numbers show in tip # 1, if you hit a tree with your head at 40+ kph, your helmet will not save you. When you're near the trees or on a crowded slope, challenge yourself with technical lines and perfect technique rather than tongue-wagging speed.

On the bright side of snow riding statistics, skiing and snowboarding are no more dangerous than other active participation sports, and safer than some of them, so while you're out there on the slopes, don't forget the most important element of all: have fun!

Photo of Telluride, Colorado by Topher Donahue.

Topics: adrenaline, Ski/Snowboard Tips, Skiing, safety, resort skiing, Snowboarding

Lego Freeskiing - are we no better than toys?

Posted by Topher Donahue on Jul 11, 2013 6:10:00 AM

After watching the Lego Freeskiing clip that’s been circulating the ether, I was struck by two things. First, how fantastic it is that modern digital capture and editing methods can make a plastic toy reveal much about the experience of snow riding. And second, how we’ve become so distracted by modern digital capture and editing methods that a one minute clip of a lego skier can inspire nearly the same emotional response in the viewer as many ski videos.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lego Freeskiing, and hats off to Devon, who made the clip, but as a visual storyteller myself it left me with some curious questions.

The sudden drop is frame rate to slow motion, the shallow depth of field, and sincere music; is this all that is needed to make a modern ski or snowboard video? Are we so saturated with visual stimulation that footage of the world’s best skiers ripping the world’s most demanding lies is little-more impactful than a stop-motion project shot with plastic toys in the garage?

Or perhaps I was taking it all a bit too seriously, so I showed it to my 6-year-old daughter to get her perspective on Lego Skiing.

She had one word to describe it: “Funny.”

That’s better.

But she didn’t get all the innuendo poking fun at the snowsport movie industry like I did.

Then I showed it to her twin brother.

His response was disturbingly in line with mine: "He's pretty good at skiing. For a Lego."

Hmm. That didn't help my dilemma.

I haven't come to grips with some backroom artist making a video with a toy that compares favorably with some of today's most popular ski videos, but the inspiring thing about it is what it means for the future of ski and snowboard cinematography. If Devon can do that with a toy, just think of what photographers, videographers and editors will do in future projects – once we learn to balance the eye candy with the deeper human story.

Think about it. Today’s ski and snowboard athletes are amassing an incredible visual record of their careers. Not just the money shots of them winning Olympic gold, or ripping the radest lines and throwing down the sickest tricks while being filmed with the cameras that cost as much as a new car, but the camera-phone footage of them learning to ski or snowboard with their families, throwing tantrums after crashing in the terrain park at 10 years old, and growing up on the snow.

We now have digital records that have the potential to capture entire lifetimes in a visually entertaining format, and when outdoor sports filmmaking culture moves beyond the eye candy, which many producers are already beginning to do, ski and snowboard movies are going to get entertaining indeed.

Then someone will make a spoof of Barbie growing up to be an Olympic downhill racer and going on to date the world's best golfer.  Oh well.

Topics: Ski Heroes, ski film, Snowboarding, ski videos, Ski Movie

Anatomy of a CMH Heli-Ski day – a photo essay

Posted by Topher Donahue on Jun 28, 2013 5:58:00 AM

The early birds at CMH Heli-Skiing are the ski guides, who awake while the lodge is still quiet and dark to make plans for the day; checking weather reports, avalanche conditions, and determining the safest and best Heli-Skiing possible on that particular day.
1 ski guide morning
For the guests, the ultimate ski vacation begins as it should – by getting you ready to ski. A bell rings and anyone who wants to feel good on the first run meets for a ski and snowboard specific stretch class in the exercise room.2 heliski warmup
Next, a buffet breakfast with everything from cereal and fruit to bacon and eggs gives everyone a chance to fuel up in the way they feel suits them best.3 heliski breakfast
After breakfast, it is time to gear up, and the CMH boot rooms, equpped with boot and glove dryers, as well as plenty of space for everyone's equipment, make getting ready easy and efficient.4 CMH drying room

On the first day, everyone participates in the safety practice, where the guides teach everyone how to use the radios, avalanche safety equipment, and the ins and outs of how to stay safe while skiing deep powder in the mountains. After the first day, everyone is up to speed with the safety techniques, and we just get straight in the helicopter after breakfast and go skiing.4 z heliski safety
We meet at the heli-pad near the lodge. We stack our skis so the guide can easily load them, and when the helicopter lands we step aboard and fasten our seatbelts while the guide loads the skis in a ski basket attached to the outside of the helicopter. 5 heli pad
Then we lift off for ski paradise.5 z heliski pilot
The helicopter lands on a flagged landing area atop the first run, and we all get out while the guide unloads the skis. After the helicopter leaves, we put on our skis, and listen to the guides instructions for the first run. Then we ski our brains out.6 heli ski friends
After each run, we meet the helicopter at a landing area the bottom of the run and repeat again and again and again until lunch. Most days, lunch consists of sandwiches, tea, soup, cookies and other snacks delivered by a small helicopter, but on special occasions during good weather, mountaintop barbeques have been known to happen in the most spectacular locations imaginable.7 CMH Barbeque
After a fairly quick lunch, so we don’t get cold and stiff, we dig into more powder runs. Skiers and snowboarders who are tired after the morning usually have a chance to return to the lodge at lunch, as well as other times during the day. The logistics of some of the areas require that you stay out all day, but the guides will let you know this before the day begins. The lodges with the more aggressive riders and terrain are the most likely to have the fewest chances to return to the lodge, including the Bobbie Burns, Revelstoke, Galena, CMH/K2 and the Monashees.8 heli snowboarding
When we’ve schralped so much pow that it’s hard to remember all the great runs, face shots, cushy airs, and fresh turns, we return for CMH après ski – an experience no snowrider should miss.9 heliski apres ski
Then we gather in the dining room for a fine family-style dinner and many generous toasts to an unforgettable day of skiing and snowboarding.10 heliski dinner
Finally, we retire to our rooms - ranging from comfortable double rooms, to spacious single rooms, to deluxe chalets - for a well-earned sleep, dreaming of deep powder and endless freshies. deluxe heli ski room
The best part? We wake up the next day and do it all over again!

Photos by Topher Donahue.

Topics: CMH K2, Heli-Boarding, Bobbie Burns Lodge, CMH Heli-Skiing, Skiing, Monashees, safety, heli-skiing, Snowboarding, Galena

NASA: Looking forward to astronauts snowboarding on Mars

Posted by Topher Donahue on Jun 20, 2013 7:04:00 AM

Last year I wrote a post for the Heli-Ski blog, musing about the potential of snowboarding and skiing on the dry ice snow that falls on Mars. I had fun writing the post, but I must admit I felt a bit like the ski bum who’d had a few too many talking about some absurd snow-riding mission. (Not that there's anything wrong with that!)

Then, when Jason Semenek at CMH Heli-Skiing sent me a link from the NASA website with a clip of Serina Diniega, a Systems Engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, having similar ideas, complete with animation of an astronaut snowboarding on the Marian dunes, I suddenly felt like I wasn’t so far out after all. She concluded:

“I’m looking forward to the day when astronauts can engage in a whole new era of extreme sports – when they can snowboard down a carbon dioxide-covered dune on a cushion of carbon dioxide and just shoot right down those slopes. It would be amazing.”

snowboarding on mars

Of course Ms. Diniega has a lot better science to back up her musings.

While I imagined riding the dry ice snow that falls on the Martian poles during the winter, Ms. Diniega was explaining the mysterious, snowboard-like tracks seen on the slopes of Martian sand dunes:

snowboard tracks on mars

To test a theory that the tracks were caused by the motion of dry ice blocks melting from the ridges of the dunes, a group of scientists took blocks of water ice, dry ice, and wood to a sand dune on Earth. What they found was surprising, but backed up the theory of dry ice causing the tracks on Mars.

Unsurprisingly, the wood block, acting as a control group, slid until sand built up in front of it, and then stopped. The water ice acted much the same, stopping after only a few feet of travel. The dry ice block, surprisingly, slid smoothly and quickly all the way to the bottom of the dune.

On the steepest dunes – 33 degrees, the steepest angle sand can sit on in repose – the results were surprising. When they repeated the experiment on dunes as low angle as 6 degrees, the dry ice still slid all the way to the bottom of the dune. So what was happening?

According to the JPL scientists, what happens is that the sand was warmer than the dry ice, so it causes melting on the bottom of the solid ice. This forms a cushion of gas that allows the dry ice to slide along on an air cushion, thus travelling along the sandy surface with much reduced friction.

I must admit, it got me musing again. Not so much about snowboarding on Mars this time, but about riding sand dunes here on earth with a snowboard tuned, not with P-Tex and wax, but with dry ice. Ripping sand dunes on a board riding a cushion of air? Now we’re talkin’. Besides, the lift ticket would be a lot cheaper than riding on Mars…

Screenshot of dry ice tracks and video from NASA's multimedia gallery.

Topics: ski film, Skiing, Snowboarding, Ski Movie

Heli-Skiing in Pakistan on CNN

Posted by Topher Donahue on Apr 9, 2013 7:30:00 AM

Heli-Skiing made the front-page on CNN last weekend with a story about Heli-Ski exploration in Pakistan. The plot is irresistible. Brice Lequertier, an Everest veteran who has skied from the summit, leading a team of world-class snow riders on an exploratory Heli-Skiing expedition to Pakistan’s famed Karakoram Range, home to the highest concentration of 8000-metre peaks on earth:

We’re turning even the most severe environments in the world into a playground, and I guess the only limit to what a Heli-Skier can do is the altitude limit that a helicopter can fly and land safely. The sky isn’t the limit, but it’s close.

I cued up the video excitedly, ready for a new frontier of skiing, but I must admit, it isn’t what I expected.  The journalist from Walkabout Films who narrates the story is enthusiastic and attractive, the mountains are beautiful, the filming is well done, and the scale of the mountains is mind-blowing, but for some reason the piece leaves something to be desired.

To begin with, the skiing shown in the video, while inarguably hardcore at extreme altitude, is hardly inspiring.  The skiers and snowboarders, who I have no doubt are great riders, make easy terrain look really difficult.

Maybe it is the unusual high altitude snow that makes the skiers appear to be having difficulty making simple turns, or maybe it's the lack of oxygen in their legs, but for whatever reason it looks like a ski video from the world’s highest bunny hill.

Maybe it's the green army helicopter they use that made it all seem a bit more like a military exercise than having fun on skis and snowboards in the mountains.

Maybe it's just bad timing for snow quality, and at other times the region could deliver great powder skiing on the world’s highest mountains with the potential for insane vertical.

Maybe they're saving the sick footage for the feature film.

Whatever the reason, the video didn’t really make me want to book my next Heli-Ski vacation to the Karakoram; but it's still fun to see Heli-Skiing make the prime time.

Topics: Adventure Travel, ski film, weather, adventure, heli-skiing, Snowboarding

CMH ski guide Marty Schaffer on fun and safety

Posted by Topher Donahue on Apr 4, 2013 7:59:00 AM

Interviewing CMH Bobbie Burns guide Marty Schaffer would probably be best done on a pair of skis with a recorder taped to a ski pole – Marty was skiing in his mother’s womb before he was born, and hasn’t stopped since. In fact, the only reason I caught him on a down day was because he was at his 62-year-old mother’s house helping her recover from an injury that she sustained after a jump went awry while powder skiing.

You read that right - Marty's 62-year-old mother is still going big.

I’d heard about Marty, equally comfortable on a pair of skis, a splitboard or a snowboard, and already a legend and a full ski guide at 26 years old. He was profiled on the spirited website,, where the stories of him growing up with parents who ran a backcountry lodge convinced me I had to track him down for a few more tales.

Bobbie Burns heli-skiing

And tales he had to share. When he was 3 years old, his parents were digging out the door to the Blanket Glacier Chalet while Marty played in the snow nearby. After digging for a while, his mom suddenly asked, “Where’s Marty?”

A minute of panic ensued while they looked frantically for their son – and for good reason. They found him deep in a nearby tree well! They got him out without incident, but a treewell is the kind of trap that can kill even a strong adult without help.

With childhood imprints like treewells and backcountry lodges, it’s no wonder Marty pursues the twin pillars of mountain life, fun and safety, with almost religious fervor. “I was sort of tricked into becoming a guide,” explains Marty between chuckles. “When I was 13 or so, my dad would be guiding a ski tour with a few faster skiers, and I would take the faster guys and ski laps around the rest of the group. I didn’t even realize I was guiding. We were just skiing and having fun. I was just showing my friends the good stashes.”

young ski guideComing from such a rich background in the ski world, I had to ask Marty about the changes he’d seen. His first answer was the same one everyone gives: ski technology. Ski technology has made everything more fun.

His second answer was more surprising: “The average weekend warrior is skiing things the pros were skiing 10 years ago. Backcountry education is cool now. It’s cool to be prepared.”

Marty adds a cautionary tale at this point.  During a recent freeride camp organized by Marty’s private guiding service, CAPOW!, Canadian Powder Guiding, he took a group skiing with ski pro Chris Rubens. They were skiing on mellow terrain on Rogers Pass, looking up at tantalizing extreme terrain, when Chris turned to the group, “If it were just Marty and me skiing here today, we’d be skiing exactly this same terrain. Conditions have to be perfect to ski that stuff.”

The moral of the story is that while average backcountry skiers push into more serious terrain, the ski pros don’t always ski more aggressively. “My ski pro friends are some of the most conservative skiers I know,” explained Marty.

The Blanket Glacier Chalet works in the same area as the CMH Revelstoke Heli-Ski operation. Marty remembers slogging up a skin track with his dad and seeing the Heli-Ski helicopter fly overhead. He remembers saying, “Dad, when I grow up I’m going to do that!”

Marty CMH ski guideHe did just that. And working with CMH Heli-Skiing has proven to be more than he could have even imagined: “I still have to pinch myself sometimes to make sure it’s real! There’s a great mentorship program at CMH. Even as a full ski guide I learn stuff every week.”

Talking with Marty was entertaining, and revealing of the cutting edge of both recreational and professional skiing, but as it should be, talking with Marty mostly just made me want to go skiing.

Showing wisdom beyond his years, Marty concluded: “I’d like to think things haven’t changed too much. It’s all about fun and safety, the same as it was when Hans (Gmoser, the founder of CMH Heli-Skiing) was taking people ski touring in these mountains all those years ago. It’s not just about powder snow – it’s the whole thing.”

It was a painful interview for Marty. He could scarcely contain his enthusiasm. “It’s totally bluebird in Revelstoke and the stability is great! I can’t believe I’m inside!”

Photos: Marty checking the air for the pilot in CMH Bobbie Burns by Carl Trescher, Marty dressed up as a mountain guide with his dad's old gear for Halloween from the Schaffer family archives, and waiting in the lift line at CMH Bobbie Burns by Ryan Bavin.

Topics: Ski Heroes, helicopters, CMH Guides, Deep Pow, adventure, For Fun, safety, Snowboarding, History, Athletes