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5 qualities of the perfect active family holiday


It all sounds good in the advertising, but precious few family holidays could really be classified as "perfect".  Here are 5 qualities you'll find in the perfect active family vacation:

1. Easy Planning and Logistics
While complicated, challenging family vacations can be good for building character and making for long-lasting memories, they also can be far more stressful and exhausting than just staying home.  In this complicated modern world, you don’t want to return home form the holidays feeling like you need a holiday. 

Instead, the nicest holidays are the ones where you make a single call, catch a flight, and the rest is taken care of by leisure-time professionals who make your vacation a healing, refreshing, exciting, easy time from the first to the last second of the experience.

family travel logistics

2. Intimate times together
While many family vacation packages provide kid activities for the kids, and adult activities for the adults, but not much for the whole family to experience together and with shared enthusiasm and excitement.

The mountain environment, especially when managed by professionals with decades of experience, is an ideal setting for families to have a common experience, complete with challenges, breakthroughs, relaxation, beauty, isolation, and personal growth for everyone. 

family fun adventure travel

3. Memorable times apart
Everyone in the family needs a little of their own space as well as intimate times together.  The best holidays provide chances for the adults, teenagers, grandparents and young children to spend time on their own age group’s ideal activities, exercise, conversation, food, drinks, and atmosphere.

The perfect family holiday offers challenges for whoever wants it, peaceful respite from the daily grind for whoever needs it, and an inspiring life experience for everyone.

4. Excellent food
The best meal for an 11-year-old is very different from the best meal for a 40-year-old.  The ideal meal plan on a family holiday would provide a breakfast of cereal for the children and eggs benedict for the parents; a lunch of PB&J for the kids and Thai chicken wraps for the parents; and a dinner of pizza for the kids and Cordon Bleau for the adults - all with personal consultation to make sure everyone gets the right kind of culinary experience.

5. Safe adventures for everyone
We tend to think of incredibly thrilling experiences as being potentially dangerous, and therefore not appropriate for the whole family.  While this may be true in some cases, the best holiday is both exciting and safe, giving everyone in the family an experience they will remember fondly for the rest of their lives and sending them home safe and in better health than before they left.  

family adventure travel intimate

I challenge anyone to find a family travel package that fulfills these 5 aspects of a perfect family holiday better than a CMH Family Adventure.  Every family I’ve ever met at CMH has unequivocally stated that the CMH Family Adventure was by far their best family adventure travel experience ever.  Still need convincing, watch this video on CMH's Family Adventure program.

Photos of CMH Family Adventures in the Bugaboos and Bobbie Burns by Topher Donahue.

The misunderstood world of Bugaboos glacier hiking


We can thank the world-famous and notoriously dangerous Khumbu Icefall on Mt. Everest for giving us the impression that hiking on a glacier is an extreme sport where you take your life in your hands and at any moment a crevasse might open up beneath your feet. 

In reality, many glaciers have vast areas where it is safe to explore without ropes or technical training.  The Bugaboos in British Columbia, a sub range of the greater Canadian Rockies, is one of the best and most accessible places in North America to experience user-friendly glacier hiking.  

While we think of ice as being slippery, quite often glacier ice is a mix of rock, sand and ice that provides excellent friction and makes for easy walking.  Below, hikers cross the otherworldly beauty of the Malloy Glacier.

glacier hike rock

The small lakes that form below glaciers are called tarns, and the water in tarns is often coloured grey or blue by the glacial silt that forms from the grinding of stone deep within the ice.  Here, a hiker walks between two tarns below the Crescent Glacier.

bugaboos crescent tarn

Being on a glacier feels a little like a voyage at sea; the patterns that form in the snow under the hot alpine summer sun take on the patterns of open water.  Here, a hiker enjoys lunch on a rock floating on the Crescent Glacier.

glacier hike lunch
Besides having a professional watching out for your safety, the best thing about traveling with a mountain guide is that everything is more fun.  Here, on a small, safe snowfield near the Vowell Glacier, two families take the advice of their guide to enjoy a bit of bum sliding on their rain jackets while surrounded by the splendors of the Bugaboo Spires.  

sliding glaicer fun
Hiking on glaciers is one of the lesser known, but most unique aspects of CMH Summer Adventures.  In fact, CMH Lodges may be the only place in the world where North Americans can go, in just a long weekend of adventure travel, and experience hiking on remote glaciers by day - and by night relax in a comfortable, remote lodge eating gourmet food and luxuriating in a spa.

Via Ferrata update: The Skyladder is complete


One of the things that makes CMH Summer Adventures so exciting, is that for 35 years now, the program has been evolving and has become one of the most diverse choices in the adventure travel world.  In recent years, the biggest changes have been the development of the via ferrate in the Bobbie Burns and the Bugaboos.

For 2012, there are exciting new adventures afoot in both lodges, with the yet unnamed, and mostly unknown, adventure hike alongside the Conrad Glacier icefall in the Bobbie Burns, and in the Bugaboos, the Skyladder via ferrata is now much longer, reaching to the valley floor, which allows hikers to integrate the via ferrata climb into scenic hikes both below and above the via ferrata. 

skyladder via ferrata point of viewDave Cochrane, the energetic CMH Bugaboos manager, took time away from a spectacular ski season to share the new flavors of the Skyladder:

"The "lower half" which we built last year is full-on very steep rock climbing on a ferrata route.  (Now, with the already spectacular summit section of the Skyladder that has been in place for a couple of seasons, the complete Skyladder is comparable to the world’s other popular Via Ferrata routes.)

But there are a lot of ways to skin the cat on this adventure. The nearest place we can land to start the Skyladder viaferrata, is more than a few steps away from the base of the route. It is about a half hour walk uphill to the beginning of the technical part of the climb.
There are many options to approach the via ferrata, depending on what our guests are looking for that day.  We sometimes land at the bottom pickup for the Powder Pig ski run and then walk up to the base - that makes for one to two hours of hiking through beautiful Larch forests, across very green and lush ground cover.  Then the forest ends and the terrain steepens for the last section before the via ferrata.  This approach is all uphill, but covers dramatically different terrain and makes for a very enjoyable way to start the climb.

We can also start on Grizzly Ridge, and then hike down to the base of the Skyladder.  I have also started on the top of Sauce Alley, walked a very adventurous ridge line route to Leo's line, then down over quite challenging hiking terrain then back up through a big talus slope to the base - this approach can take as much as three hours.

There are some other ways to do this also, so depending on the group we can make this a very full, very challenging, and very interesting day, which culminates in the Skyladder, followed by a half hour hike off the top to more easy hiking terrain with world-class views of the Bugaboo Spires.  Or we can make it an easy half day outing for those wanting less challenge but still want to climb the Skyladder."

What’s the best age for mountain adventures?


It all depends who you ask. 

If you’re like the Canadian-American team that just removed a famous climbing route from Cerro Torre, one of the most beautiful mountains in the world (shown below) at the southern tip of South America, because a series of metal expansion bolts made it, in their opinion, too easy, you’d probably say that you need to be in your 20s and fit as an Olympian. 

cerro torre controversy

If you’re like the elder couple in their 90s, shown in this photo heli-hiking in Western Canada, you might say that the twilight of life is the best age for mountain adventures.  Modern access, lightweight and comfortable equipment, and world-class adventure travel programs make some of the most untouched alpine environments the perfect place to enjoy a quiet walk past some of the sweetest views on planet earth.

senior hiking adventure

If you’re like the family I met in the Bugaboos a couple of summers ago, who recruited the logistical wizardry of CMH Summer Adventures to get 4 generations of their family together for a summer holiday in the remote mountains of Western Canada, you probably have the best answer: anyone can do it.

Canadian Mountain Holidays is a perfect study of how the perceived optimal age for outdoor adventure has changed over the last half a decade:

family hiking adventure travel

  • In the 60s, CMH invented helicopter skiing and catered exclusively to the most adventurous, talented skiers in the world. 
  • In the 70s, CMH invented heli-hiking for groups of seniors looking for relaxing, yet inspiring tours in spectacular locations far from the busy, easily accessible tourist locations.  By using reliable twin engine jet helicopters for transportation from comfortable lodges into an alpine wonderland, everyone was able to enjoy a mountain adventure.
  • In the 80s, CMH diversified their summer program to include fit, younger hikers and couples who wanted to include difficult hikes with helicopter access to the heart of Western Canada’s rugged mountains. 
  • In the 90s, CMH responded to the growing popularity of mountaineering and led adventure travelers of all ages and abilities into technical terrain where ropes were used to keep them safe in case of a slip, and many people who never thought they’d want to climb a technical mountain stood safely on lofty summits thanks to the expertise of professional mountain guides

Most recently, in the new millennium, CMH Summer Adventures added Via Ferrata climbs, adventure trails, and a family program that includes professional youth educators to complete one of the most diverse adventure travel programs around.  In short, CMH has answered the question under no uncertain terms: every age is the right age for mountain adventures.

4 Fabulous Women-Only Heli-Hiking Trips with CMH Summer Adventures


We've always known that women are an adventurous bunch: extremely capable and committed to physically challenging themselves with unique and authentic experiences. We also know that while they love to get outside and stretch those muscles, building and maintaining meaningful connections with their girlfriends, sisters, mothers and daughters is equally important. Blend together those two elements with a cozy lodge, great food & wine and a whole lot of laughter and you've got yourself the perfect girlfriend getaway. CMH is pleased to unveil an expanded summer line-up of four fabulous Women-Only trips focusing on fun, mountain adventure and that all important shared sense of camaraderie.

jump for joy resized 600

NEW: Bodacious BOLD! in the Bobbie Burns (August 23-26, 2012). Join Margo Sutter and Cindy Pocza for “Core & Cork” in the Bobbie Burns. Climb the Mt. Nimbus Via Ferrata and/or Heli-Hike in the inspiring Selkirk Mountains. Après hiking learn some core strengthening tips from Margo and Cindy, then celebrate your amazing day in the mountains with wine tasting at cocktail hour.

NEW: The Ultimate Mother-Daughter Getaway with Marybeth Bond (August 5-8, 2012). Award-winning National Geographic author and editor of 11 books including best sellers 50 Best Girlfriend Getaways in North America; A Woman’s World; and Gutsy Women, Marybeth Bond is America’s preeminent expert on women’s travel. Hosted by Marybeth and her own daughter, this getaway will be a celebration for all women-- mothers, aunts, sisters, and friends alike.

Bodacious in the Bugaboos - The Classic (August 17-20 and August 20-23, 2012). Back by popular demand, join trip hosts Ellen Slaughter and Angie Smith for epic and guided heli-hiking, ridiculous laughs, alpine inspired cocktails and invigorating yoga...and some special Bodacious surprises.

Stretch n' Stir - Yoga & Cooking  (August 23-26, 2012) This alpine experience mixes up yoga, cooking and heli-hiking in one over-the-top recipe. Escape with morning mind-body yoga with your personal instructor, Julie Sagan, followed by exhilarating days of heli-hiking and fresh mountain air. Return to the lodge for cooking lessons with the very saucy Chef Sandra Davis from Edmonton’s The Saucy Gourmet.

To learn more about this great options for reunions, birthday celebrations or just a great weekend away, check out this clip and give CMH Summer Adventures a call at 1.800.661.0252.

Anyone want to be the first to go heli-bouldering in Canada?


Bouldering is the latest rage in mountain sport.  For one, it doesn’t take much gear or experience, just a desire to climb, a pair of climbing shoes, and a pad; yet it provides a yoga-like zen and as much challenge as anyone could ask for without quite as much risk as the more high altitude or high objective hazard genres of mountaineering.  And second, while most of the world’s most spectacular peaks have been climbed, there are literally millions of spectacular boulders scattered around the globe that are yet to be discovered.

helicopter bouldering canadaIn my three decades of globe-trotting in search of mountain adventure, the most impressive untouched bouldering area I have seen is smack in the middle of the rugged wilderness of CMH Summer Adventures near the CMH Bobbie Burns Lodge in a rugged part of the greater Canadian Rockies called the Vowell Range.  The granite wonderland is just north of the world-famous Bugaboos rock climbing area, yet the Vowells see only a few visits, at most, each year. 

We were there during the summer of 2005 to climb the first ascent of the east face of Snafflehound Spire, visible in the background of this photo, but the thing that stands out most in my memory of the trip is the hundreds of truck- to house-sized boulders scattered along the moraines below the glaciers. 

Like a lot of other valleys in the area, access is the only thing keeping the area from being a popular and well-known world-class adventure travel destination.  To get there, we chartered a helicopter which dropped us just outside the Bugaboo Provincial Park boundary. 

Using a helicopter to access big climbs is nothing new, and CMH Summer Adventures uses helicopters almost daily during the summer months to access hiking, climbing, mountaineering and via ferrata adventures in the area.  But nobody is yet using helicopters to go bouldering.

On our trip to the Vowells, we didn’t have a crash pad - the sturdy, closed cell foam pads boulderers use to cushion the landings - and we were not willing to risk sprained ankles when we had bigger climbs in mind, but I really wished we had brought one. We did a little bouldering, as seen in the above photo, but didn't even begin to scratch the surface of the potential climbs in the area.

helicopter bouldering crash padCrash pads are awkward to carry, and don’t leave much room for sleeping bags, tents, food or the rest of the essentials for a remote wilderness adventure.  For this reason alone, heli-bouldering might just have a place in the future of adventure travel, and there is nowhere better set up for it than the wilderness playground of CMH Summer Adventures.

Nobody has yet called the CMH Summer Adventures office asking about using helicopters to go bouldering, and CMH Summer Adventures doesn’t (yet) offer a program with bouldering, but maybe some day boulderers looking for adventure will realize what is possible with a helicopter and heli-bouldering will become part of the fabric of CMH just like the heli-skiing, heli-hiking, via ferratas and heli-mountaineering that have made CMH a visionary icon of the adventure travel world for the last 45 years.

Photos by Topher Donahue of bouldering near the CMH Bobbie Burns and a boulderer in Rocky Mountain National Park demonstrating why crash pads would be ideal for helicopter transport.

Any readers out there who would want to go heli-bouldering?

My Favourite Adventure Travel Bear Story


Some bear stories are fear-inducing, but the vast majority of bear encounters end with no real trauma for either the people involved or the bear.  These are the best kind of bear stories.

While researching Bugaboo Dreams, the book that chronicles the history of Canadian Mountain Holidays, the adventure travel icon responsible for the invention of heli-hiking and helicopter skiing, I collected adventure travel stories from four decades of careful and intimate human interaction with one of North America’s most pristine wilderness areas.  In the process, I came across this bear story that both ends well and reveals the depth of the wilderness philosophy of Canadian Mountain Holidays:

helicopter wilderness access

The cook at CMH Bugaboos had a few hours of freedom from his kitchen duties while the guests were out hiking, climbing and exploring the surrounding alpine paradise, so he decided to hike to a secluded alpine lake and soak up a few rays of sunshine.  Without another soul anywhere nearby, he took off all of his clothes and started soaking up the Vitamin D.  Before long, the noise of a large animal’s crunching footsteps interrupted his reverie. 

Sitting up, the cook was greeted with the terrifying sight of an approaching grizzly bear.  Without enough time to grab his clothes, the cook grabbed his radio and scrambled up a nearby tree.  Rather than leave, the bear decided to wait at the bottom of the tree while the naked cook radioed for help. 

As the story goes, the cook called on the radio, “Bring that helicopter over here and chase this bear away!”

Well, at the same time the big boss and founder of CMH, Hans Gmoser, a committed environmentalist from before the word environmentalist was even coined, was guiding at the nearby CMH Bobbie Burns lodge and overheard the radio call.  Much to the cook’s dismay, he heard Hans’ voice come over the radio to say, in no uncertain terms, “We will not be chasing bears with the helicopter!”

The poor cook was forced to stay in the tree, naked, and with a grizzly guarding his escape, for a good part of the afternoon until the bear lost interest and wandered away.

Today, the CMH staff would react very differently, and would bring the helicopter immediately if either staff or guests had a run in with a bear, but the philosophy of using the helicopter with careful consideration of wildlife has prevailed.  While wildlife sightings are common during CMH Summer Adventures, the helicopters are not used to access wildlife viewing.  In fact, the CMH guides track wildlife patterns on a database and fly long routes around valleys where bears and other wildlife are active to avoid stressing the animals or changing their natural patterns.

CMH Photography Workshop Contest Winners Announced


In August 2011 we hosted our second Bugaboo Photography Workshop with Canadian wilderness photographer John E. Marriott. Following the workshop John invited the participants to submit their images for a photography contest.  The judges deliberated for hours over the spectacular images each participant submitted to arrive at a decision on the winners in each category.

Without further ado, the winners are:

1) Best Overall Image by Joann Kennedy:

2011 Bugaboo Photography Workshop, Best Overall Image, Joann Kennedy


2) Best Trophy Shot by Jennifer Rutledge

2011 Bugaboo Photography Workshop, Best Trophy Shot, Jennifer Rutledge


3) Best Person in a Landscape by Shanna Baker

2011 Bugaboo Photography Workshop, Best Person in a Landscape Image, Shanna Baker Rutledge


4) Best Intimate Shot by Jennifer Rutledge

2011 Bugaboo Photography Workshop, Best Intimate Detail Shot, Jennifer RutledgeTo see all of the submissions from this year's participants, visit our online photo gallery.

A note from the John E. Marriott and Lyle Grisedale (CMH Summer Adventures guide):

This year's entries into our CMH Bugaboos Photography Workshop contest were a real treat to view and judge. Superb weather, a great group of eager participants and some spectacular locations made for our best year yet of images, many of which either of us would have been happy to call our own. We're looking forward now to next year, we can't wait to see who and what the workshop brings our way!

Learn more about CMH Summer Adventure Bugaboo Photography Workshops by visiting us online or contact CMH Reservations at

Why Heli-Hikers Do It With Their Boots On


Surely, with a helicopter at your service during a CMH Summer Adventure, you could go hiking in sandals, right?  Wrong.  It’s a little more committing than that – a lot more committing.  The helicopter just makes it really easy to get into some of the wildest, most beautiful, least developed wilderness in North America.  When the helicopter leaves, you definitely want boots on your feet.

boots ice hiking glacier

Snow, mud, dirt, tundra, gravel, talus, sand, ice and solid rock can all be touched in just a few steps.  My first time heli-hiking, I was a committed light shoe hiker.  I’d hiked all over rugged terrain in the Rockies, the Alps, the Andes, and never needed anything else - at least not in the summertime.   So why would I need boots if I had a helicopter to help with the long walk out?

Within a few hours of heli-hiking, my shoes were full of a combination of sand, water, partly melted snow, leaves, rocks and pine needles.  It wasn’t that the heli-hiking was more difficult or rugged, it was that helihiking occurs almost entirely off trail.  In the environments where I’d hiked before, we walked off trail, and sometimes my feet got wet, but I'd never encountered so many different kinds of terrain so quickly.

After that first trip, I’ve always worn sturdier footwear while helihiking.  Even the CMH Guides wear boots.  It makes walking in the diverse terrain of the Columbia Mountains so much easier and more comfortable.  Lightweight, leather hiking boots are fine, but high top ankle support and protection are essential.

CMH keeps and maintains a high quality selection of boots for guests.  I’ve always used my own, but guests who use CMH boots seem to be extremely happy with them.  Between trips, the guides clean the boots with a brush wheel, deodorize them, and give them a new coat of waterproofing.

What I learned is that the lightweight hikers are great for long, grueling hours on the trail – but with CMH helihiking there are not long, grueling hours on the trail.  If you want long grueling hours, there are plenty of hard hikes, but it will not be on a trail.  Instead, you’ll be traversing an alpine wonderland and subjecting your feet to unmaintained wilderness every step of the way.

That’s the beauty of helihiking that people who have never been just don’t realize: helihiking is exploring wilderness in a completely untamed form and, while lightweight hikers are great for the tamed wilderness, they just don’t cut it in the wild.

Photo of hiking on a glacier in CMH Bugaboos.

The World’s 5 Most Dangerous “Hikes”


Hiking is a personal thing.  So is risk.  One person’s hike is another’s Mount Everest and in many cultures “adventure travel” is a way of life. In the Himalaya, the Andes, and in undeveloped mountainous regions from Mexico to Mongolia, hiking, often on dangerous trails, is how people go to the store.

In tracking down the world’s most dangerous hikes, I realized there is an issue of definition.

There are the dramatically exposed hikes, and then there are places where the mountains are exceedingly wild, but the hiking is as safe as wilderness travel can get. The CMH Summer Adventure program takes people of all ages and abilities deep into the Canadian wilderness for hiking and myriad other adventures, but it is supervised by professional mountain guides, and orchestrated so carefully, as to better fit a list of the world’s safest hikes.

So, rather than use the typical definition of hiking like this excellent Backpacker Magazine article on dangerous hikes, I considered hiking in it’s most diverse definition, and came up with some of the more outrageous outings the planet has to offer.

1. Stolby, Russia

This one wins - hands down. Take a Siberian town with a few 100-metre rocks nearby, and a culture that accepts risk like most people accept a good night's sleep, and you have the recipe for a horrifying local tradition. While the “Stolbists” are arguably free soloing, or rock climbing without ropes rather than "hiking", the fact that the entire Stolby community participates together makes it look a lot like hiking – hiking on a really steep, slippery and dangerous trail. 

2. Mt. Huashan, China

Some might call this a Via Ferrata, but with zero oversight and dubious construction, this hike along a rocky ridge has to be, inch for inch, one of the most exposed pathways on the planet. It has been made safer with the addition of a cable in the most vertical sections. Hikers can clip into the cable with a tether, much the same as the modern Via Ferrate in the CMH Bobbie Burns and Bugaboos areas - but without the comfortable safety management provided by a friendly mountain guide.

3. Wendenstock, Switzerland

hike switzerland wendenstockeThe trails around the base of this massive peak in the Swiss Alps have claimed the lives of experienced climbers. Tiny, difficult to follow trails are covered with slippery grass, often wet from dew in the morning, and a fall would result in a tumble of several hundred metres.  Step for step, the Wendenstock offers the most dangerous hiking I’ve experienced in three decades of mountain adventure.

4. Keyhole, Longs Peak, USA

keyhole hike longs peakOnce the snow melts, The Keyhole can see a hundred ascents each day, but the consequences of tripping over your shoelaces can be deadly. And, with a summit over 4000 metres above sea level, it’s pretty common to feel a little light-headed while navigating the peak's most exposed sections. Although the Keyhole is the “easiest” route to the top of Colorado's Longs Peak, a dozen hikers have perished in falls on the route – more fatalities than have happened on any other route on the peak.

5. Your Next Hike

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably not the kind of person who is going scrambling in Stolby or hiking on the Wendenstock, but for any given individual, the adventure that is most dangerous is the one you’re willing to do. Walking backwards while you look through a camera, stepping onto an icy snowfield, or taking that shortcut are the kinds of things that get even the most sensible hikers into trouble. The key is to keep a close eye on the potential pitfalls in every outing, and to stay focused on avoiding them.

Do you have any dangerous hikes you 'd like to share?

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