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Backcountry Ski

All in the Heli Family

CMH K2 Heli-Skiing | Photo: Zach Doleac
CMH K2 Heli-Skiing | Photo: Zach Doleac
On sustaining 50 years of business off heli drops and pillow pops.

Crouched on the edge of the pickup zone, we were in position, covering our faces to shield the ice and snow pelting we anticipated from the incoming helicopter. A mix of heli-skiing veterans and newbies, we are ecstatic—and maybe a touch nervous.

It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been in a helicopter–dressed from head-to-toe in Gore-Tex, ready for blower snow and turns that dreams are made of. When you see that belly coming in hot for landing it’s powerfully exciting.

Skiing Mt. Sentinel

Skiing Missoula's Mt. Sentinel
Skiing Missoula's Mt. Sentinel
When pow fell and the craving hit, this skier turned to a local peak.

The day after the biggest dump in 65 years at Lolo Pass, I taught an avalanche class to local high school kids. I love teaching and I love evaluating the snowpack, but I also love skiing.

Brian spent all day with local middle school kids roasting marshmallows around a campfire and playing team building games while he watched skiers and snowboarders lap the fresh powder on Mount Sentinel.

Winter Lab: Avalanche Airbag 101

Compressed air, venturi valves, horse collars, fans, argon, TSA rules, cable pulls. The lingo alone can spin your head, so let us set you straight.

No matter what airbag pack you’re looking at, the vast majority, if not all of them, use a venturi valve to help inflate the bag. The valve essentially sucks in outside air to fully inflate the bag. Each bag is also repackable, and stores into it’s own compartment. When you pull the trigger, the zipper or Velcro pops, and the airbag inflates.

But beyond price, pack volume, pack features, and aesthetics (like color), there are 3 main differences. Here's what you need to know.

San Juan Sojourn

Where to ski: Colorado, Highway 550 | Photo: Liam Doran
Where to ski: Colorado, Highway 550 | Photo: Liam Doran
Where to ski, find ghost bears, and relish funky mountain culture along Colorado’s U.S. Highway 550.

“Do you speak English?”

It’s not every day you get asked such a question in your home country. This Forest Service ranger is clearly flummoxed by the camera-toting tourist shooting frozen roadside waterfalls: me.

“Uh, ya,” I manage, though still thoroughly absorbed by the row of 30-foot icicles dangling over the road. Apparently, I hadn’t responded fast enough to his stern warnings of avalanche danger.

“Well, you should probably get moving,” he warns and speeds off, burying me in diesel fumes from his four-wheel-drive truck.

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