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The Heli High Life Part 1: Canadian Mountain Holidays

The Heli High Life Part 1: Canadian Mountain Holidays

The Classics: C.M.H. may be the granddaddy of heli-skiing, but its 11 lodges—and blower B.C. pow—keep it fresh.
By Joe Cutts
posted: 10/10/2012

One of Canadian Mountain Holidays’ signature runs at its Monashee Lodge, called Elevator, descends directly opposite the lodge, its image reflected on the placid waters of the Columbia River. 

Elevator doesn’t get skied often—the reliable snow is higher up in all but the coldest months. But in the dying light of evening, it’s fun to stand on the broad, sturdy balcony of the Monashee Lodge, with legs tired from another 20,000-vert day, and trace the line you’d take down its steep, sparsely spruced slopes if you ever got a crack at it. 

Behind you, the lodge, a striking construction of concrete and rough-hewn timber with long horizontal lines and lots of glass, glows warmly. Its helipad, down by the river, is silent now, but inside, the lodge quietly bustles with activity. Chef Claude readies the evening meal, pistachio-crusted rack of lamb. Dinner wines are selected and uncorked. Hot-tubbers soak. Masseuses knead knots. Weary groups of satisfied powder lovers gather round a diorama of the surrounding mountains to retrace the day’s routes. A couple of 16-year-olds, with energy to spare, clamber on the three-story climbing wall under the tutelage of a fully certified alpine guide.

A cheery fire blazes in the huge fieldstone hearth.

Hardcore? Doesn’t feel like it. And yet that’s the misperception heli-skiing constantly battles in its efforts to entice those who haven’t tried it. And so CMH, despite its hardcore cred—its founder basically invented heli-skiing, and it commands some of interior British Columbia’s best terrain—constantly strives to convince the hesitant that heli-skiing is well within their abilities.

    

In short, if you can ski powder, you can heli-ski. You won’t be required to jump out of a hovering helicopter. You won’t be forced onto terrain you can’t handle. And you won’t hold your group up (or be held up yourself), because you’ll be with skiers of similar ability. Even kids are invited to CMH during certain weeks.

And whether you’re a first-timer or a veteran adrenaline junkie, interior British Columbia is arguably the best place to get your heli fix. B.C. powder is the most reliable in the world. Elevations are modest, so you don’t have to fight for oxygen. And while Alaska might have steeper descents thanks to its stabler snowpack, B.C.’s weather and its forested landscape make flying possible just about every day. 

Like today, which was cloudy and snowing, so you stuck to the trees. Which was just fine with you, because you prefer tree skiing. But tomorrow will be sunny again, and you’ll be skiing the wide open powder fields of the high alpine, enjoying roof-of-the-world views. The one constant, almost assuredly, will be the snow, untracked and yielding beneath your rockered fatties, flying up your chest and into your face. And while fancy lodges and fine food are nice, that’s what you came for, isn’t it?

   

{ Lodge Logic }

Canada’s two heli giants—C.M.H. and Wiegele (page 78)—offer similar terrain, sometimes within earshot of each other. But Wiegele occupies a single campus, and CMH’s 11 lodges are dispersed, each with its own flavor: 

Adamants Small-group skiing at a faster pace.

Bobbie Burns Located in the Purcell range. Best for stronger, faster skiers in groups of 11. 

Bugaboo Crammed with mementos of founder Hans Gmoser, CMH’s original lodge oozes history.

Cariboo Renovated this year. Known for terrain diversity.

Galena In the Selkirks; offers steeps for aggressive skiers.

Gothics The lodge is a carefully repurposed mining camp.

Kootenay Five hours from Spokane along the Powder Highway. Less lavish; more affordable.

McBride CMH’s best value for private groups. 

Monashee Offers some of CMH’s steepest terrain and deepest powder, with excellent tree skiing.

Revelstoke Revy accesses CMH’s biggest leasehold.

Valemount For private groups only. Exceptionally lavish.

Click here to read Part 2Part 3Part 4 of "The Heli High Life"


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