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The Steep and Deep of CMH: Day 2

The Steep and Deep of CMH: Day 2

A heliskiing blog: Four days of deep powder and lavish living in the heart of the Monashees
By Joe Cutts, Deputy Editor, SKI Magazine
posted: 03/26/2003

In this 2003 skimag.com web exlusive, SKI Magazine senior editor Joe Cutts checks out Canadian Mountain Holidays' (CMH) newest lodge—and the steep and deep of the Canadian Monashees.

Though still young, CMH founder Hans Gmoser was already a man of accomplishments in the late 1950's. He was first to climb McKinley's north face, a maker of ski and mountaineering films and the founder of the Canadian mountain-guide association. But in 1959, he had too little money to fly his first heliskiing guests the 45 kilometers from the valley to a primitive Bugaboo Mountain logging camp he had procured as his first lodge. It was only a momentary obstacle. Gmoser fastened a rope to the back of a Ski-Doo, tied a knot for guests, and towed them 27 miles to the camp. That year, flying in a three-seat Bell 47, guests skied a maximum of two or three runs a day. However, the guests knew a good thing when they saw it.

Today's guests can do sixty thousand vertical feet a day if they want, and CMH's luxe lodges bear no resemblance to that primitive logging camp in 1959. But one thing remains as Gmoser conceived it from the beginning. In the tradition of European alpine huts, the hutkeepers (house staff, guides, and even our pilot) eat and commune with their guests, enjoying the mountains with them. Our guides help to serve the meal, which is disconcerting at first. Here are the men on whom your safety depends on during the day, clearing your plate and bringing you dessert. But it's great to have them at your table.

After dinner, guests check email, call home, hang out in the great room over board games and rehash the day over the 3-D diorama of the CMH terrain. Later, I discover that some of the other guys in our ski group aren't averse to lingering near the bar, which is nice, since it turns out that the guys I came with, except for Tele Charlie, are devoted Scrabble players who retire promptly at 9:30. Dave and Dave and Chris, fellow Red Sox fans, hold down the west-end of the polished concrete bar, giving the cute barmaid, Jessica, a hard time. One of the Daves just logged his millionth vertical foot at CMH. But instead of accepting the one-piece suit that comes with the honor, he's chosen to have a donation made to the Kingsbury Foundation, honoring the late Mark Kingsbury, the Monashee Lodge manager and CMH chief executive, who died riding his Harley a few years ago. It's a classy gesture.

And besides, "Million-Foot" Dave, as he's become known, isn't really a suit kind of guy. Chris and the two Daves are CMH regulars, eager to show a rookie like me the ropes. They're generous with ideas for SKI Magazine stories, especially ones about them. Boston Dave, the walking wisecrack, takes time out from tormenting Jessica to point out that all of their names are on the wall, etched onto the 60,000-foot-day plaque. They're rightfully proud, but they think there ought to be a separate, equally prestigious award, a biathlon factoring in great feats of vertical footage on the barstool. It's hard to argue with them.

But what "Million-Foot" Dave is most enthusiastic about is Wednesday night at the A-Frame Chalet: a highlight of the Monashee social scene. Once a week, the local loggers, trappers, hydro workers and lodge staff mingle over pool and fooseball. I wonder how a bunch of heliskiers will fit in, but before turning in we make plans to attend.

There are only a couple of snowboarders in the lodge, including Kirk, a videographer and one of the controversial California crew, who are also good late-night bar company. He's considering a switch to skis because some of the traverses to landing zones are flat, and the snow is so deep that anyone trying to walk in it will immediately be in up to their crotch.

There's also one telemarker, our own Tele Charlie, a card-carrying Mad River Glen shareholder. The rest of us are strictly fixed-heelers. Some have brought their own skis, including our ringleader, Gotama Jamie, who's on next year's Volkl big-mountain twin-tip, and California Brad, who's on the Line Mothership. Most of us are on house equipment: Volkl's special-makeup CMH Monashee. There are ultra-wide Atomics, too, in casee of bottomless fluff, which can happen around here. Width is essential: Nothing under 85 mm in the waist will survive.

Day 2 breaks bright with sunshine, which is a mixed blessing. It could be bad for stability, but the visibility's great, so we can head above treeline. The views are breathtaking, and the skiing is mostly wide-open bowls and powder fields-nothing too steep, given the stability problems, but pretty much what you expect from having thumbed through heliskiing brochures. On our first run we pause while our guide for the day, Thia, a young Bavarian, digs a pit to assess the condition of the snowpack. The total depth is 161 inches, much of it in one gigantic layer that's bigger than Thia.

Unfortunately, above and below this six-foot layer are weak seams, where the layers aren't securely bonded. With a compression test, Thia shows us how easily they shear. And while the 11 of us huddle around watching him dig deeper and deeper, we hear an ominous "whump": the unstable snow settling around us. It's an unsubtle reminder that it's still best to stick to fairly low-angle descents or seek the protection of the trees.

We make about eight runs in the Northwest corner of CMH's Monahsee terrain, from Roller Coaster to Picture Right. Near needle-sharp Hallam Peak, we stop for a lunch of soup, sandwiches, tea, chocolate and nuts, with the whole white world spreading below us. In the afternoon we take more relaxing, un-taxing runs, skimming fields of powder under the brilliant sunlight. But snow is in the forecast. And at sunset, the clouds move in, pregnant with possibility.

Check back with skimag.com as Cutts will be submitting day-by-day reports of his trip to the Monashees.

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