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TR: CMH Bugaboos Lodge, Powder 101 Intro to Heli Skiing, March 2013

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 

As a mostly NE resort skier with no experience in deep powder I figured that this is the year I finally take the plunge and learn how to do it. This is my review of my first heli ski trip. After much research and questions I decided to dive in the deep end and go with a 7 day Canadian Mountain Holidays Powder 101 Intro to the Bugaboos.  The next thing you know, I’m waist deep in powder in the middle of the Canadian Rockies.

 

Here’s the thread where I’m trying to decide where to go ski:

http://www.epicski.com/t/114405/best-cat-skiing-operator-for-intro-to-powder-skiing

 

In summary

 

GOOD:  Hans Gmoser and Leo Grillmair essentially created heli skiing in 1965 in the Bugaboos so CMH is the biggest and most experienced heli operator in the world. This shows in the level of luxury, organization and safety that goes into every trip. Everything down to the smallest details is top notch.  It had dumped the prior 2 weeks and there was deep powder everywhere.  The scenery and skiing were sublime, the company convivial, and I had a great time. Overall I would highly recommend CMH and the Powder 101 program.

 

BAD:      It was a 7 day trip with 6.5 possible days of skiing. Unfortunately a Pineapple Express blew through bringing rain which shut down flying and skiing for 2 consecutive days mid-week.  2 down days out of 7 is extremely rare and unfortunate but I  believe that few on this trip would have considered it a good value for the $$$ (peak season rates).

 

More to follow…

 

ps The trip photos were taken by me, other guests, and our guides

 

A view of the granite spires from the Bugaboo Lodge

 

 

Same view from the Bugaboo Lodge as the rain comes in

 

AppleMark

Another group dropping in above us

post #2 of 11

 Thanks for reporting back after your trip!

post #3 of 11

2 down days out of 7 is not really that rare....

post #4 of 11

more pictures please

post #5 of 11

Wow! From that first thread, looking for a cat op to learn to ski powder, to this TR with a 7 day trip to the Bugaboos... Way to jump in with both feet! Sorry about the Pineapple Express...it happens now and then. March is usually a really good storm month but, now and then, it happens. Hope you had a great time!

post #6 of 11

After that other 3-page thread, I would like to hear more details.  How did the other "intro group" people compare to you in ability/learning curve?   How did that learning curve go, both for you and the group as a whole?   Was everyone up to speed after the 2(?) days before the Pineapple Express?  Was anyone exhausted and needed those two days off?  Were those first 2 days up high on wide open alpine or was some of the skiing in the trees?   If so did people struggle more in the trees (not necessarily, much of the time the snow is lighter and easier to turn in the trees)?  

 

After the Pineapple Express I suspect the low elevation skiing was unpleasant.  Were they able to get up high well above the rain line on the days after that?  If there's bad visibility they can't fly/ski in the high alpine, so skiing may be confined to a very narrow elevation range.  During my week at Mike Wiegele in 2006 we skied about 2 runs in the alpine the entire week.  Fortunately it was very cold that week with some new snow, so the tree skiing was good.

 

I have a personal interest in all of these questions, as my girlfriend Liz fits your skier profile fairly closely (advanced skier from the East, very good conditioning but limited powder experience).

Purcell Heli Feb. 21: http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards/viewtopic.php?t=10836

Wild Horse Snowcat Feb. 28:  http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards/viewtopic.php?t=10852

Liz enjoyed these experiences and didn't fall much.  But it wasn't nearly enough deep powder.   She does not yet ski at a pace in powder that she would be assured to fit in with my annual (reserved a year ahead) reservation at Mustang Snowcat, though she might have this year.  http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards/viewtopic.php?t=10892

We had a fair amount of cut up powder or a few inches of new snow over packed powder or bumps at Whitefish, Fernie, Revelstoke and Whitewater.  To me that's a lot more work than pristine untracked.  To Liz or many easterners it's more familiar and she/they ski it quite well and with more confidence than deep snow.

post #7 of 11
Thread Starter 

Continuing...

 

So earlier this year I’m looking for a way to learn how to ski in deep powder and contemplating a cat or heli trip as a possible entry point. I’d be travelling solo because I have no friends and my family are ashamed to be seen with me in public. As I researched my options I realized that many  cat/heli ski operations welcome powder novices but most don’t have an actual intro program. They would just put me in the slowest group. But if I also wanted the community group lodge vibe (I didn’t fancy sitting alone in a hotel room eating takeout) and also convenient transport (I didn’t fancy renting a car by myself and driving 5 hours in a snowstorm), my choices were somewhat limited. Luckily there were some last minute openings at CMH Bugaboos Powder 101 Intro and I was in. CMH is well oiled machine, pretty much all I had to do was to show up in Calgary, check into the airport hotel and everything else is organized for me until I check out of the airport hotel a week later to board my flight back home. It’s completely turn-key from transportation, food, equipment, entertainment, relaxation, finding ski buddies, making friends etc..

 

Our group waiting for the next pickup

 

Magnificent scenery at the high drop off

 

Powder 101 Intro is a bit of a misnomer; there are actually powder hounds hiding in the group. Some are accompanying someone else who is a first timer. Others are CMH veterans who just enjoy skiing at a relaxed pace and with the security/luxury of having 2 guides in a group. Our guides were Jeff (lead) and Kiwi (tail). They were excellent. In a previous life Jeff was a racer and coached junior racers so he had a lot of teaching experience, not to mention great technique to imitate. Kiwi started with CMH right at the beginning in 1966. He has probably forgotten more about heli skiing than the combined knowledge of all 43 guests in the lodge. The extra guide helps with equipment, always skis last to help fallen or lost skiers, and also is responsible for the door of the heli. In a regular week there will be 4 groups of 11 guests. Each group gets 1 guide. Each day the groups rotate in order of flying out to ski and  also rotate to a different guide. The Powder 101 group will be different than the other 3 regular groups with only 10 guests which always keeps the same 2 guides. The format of Powder 101 is not a group lesson, it’s more like “learning by doing” within a support group. Because there is only 1 Bell 212 heli, all 4 groups are skiing the same runs, but the guides are selecting pickup/dropoff points, terrain and pace based on the guests’ ability. So our group made more frequent stops and skied at a moderate pace. Also everybody in the group is very supportive of everybody else, nobody complained about the pace. But the terrain is so huge I think we were lapped by a faster group only once or twice. The guides offer tips and advice and also shoot video and photos for later analysis. When there is enough material there is video night where our group would go over footage and the guides would help us with our technique. We only had 1 video night because of the overcast and down days. After the trip they will send all members of the Powder 101 group a DVD with all the footage as a souvenir.

 

AppleMark

 

We arrived at the lodge Saturday morning and the weather was bluebird. The departing guests told us that our first day was the best day of their whole week. I felt bad for them, but little did I know our luck wouldn’t last. The sun was bright and warm and the half day  was spent on safety training with some actual skiing.  It was sun and surf mostly above the treeline in the wide open. It was so warm I probably could have skied in just a T-shirt underneath my Gore Tex.The first drop off was spectacular. Photos and video cannot do justice to the majesty of the peaks which surrounded us. I could have spent all day just staring at the scenery. Without so much as a tip or hint, Jeff turned his skis downhill and disappeared into the distance leaving the rest of us to follow. That first run I will never forget – mostly because it was fast and furious I didn’t fall down. That first day I thought to myself, you know, skiing powder is actually not too hard.  Little did I know that it’s the falling down and getting back up that gets you. Day 2 was overcast but the snow was still soft and fluffy. Spent half the time in the alpine and ventured into the trees a bit. Day 3 it was glorious sunshine again. I must say that for the most part Jeff and Kiwi let us ski pretty much everywhere within reason. Jeff would point out the hazards to avoid e.g. crevasse, avy debris, don’t crash into another guest etc. and we would just follow. Sometimes there were other tracks from groups ahead of us but it was up to us whether we wanted to spoon tracks (I think it’s a Euro thing), or ski through old tracks, or make fresh tracks. Day 4 it was overcast and snowing and we spent most of the time in the trees at lower elevation. Usually lunch is out in the field but the weather was so shitty that all the groups returned to the lodge for lunch. That night the rains came and Day 5 and 6 it continued to rain with the temperatures hovering around freezing causing both days skiing to be cancelled due to danger from helicopter icing, avalanches and wet heavy “leg breaker” snow. Even the CMH veterans couldn’t remember as time with 2 consecutive down days. By Day 7 the rain stopped and was replaced with howling wind and sideways snow at the summit so we went skiing in the trees. Although there was some good snow at the middling elevations we were mostly restricted to lower elevations trees where the snow was mostly heavy, deep and not much fun.

 

 

 

 

Apres ski was almost as much fun as skiing. The lodge is not so much a hotel as a giant vacation home with all the amenities. One longtime CMH guest would relax by the fire after a day in the powder in his dressing gown, pajamas and bedroom slippers, with drink in hand. Being on vacation with other like minded skiers was an experience unto itself. There was daily socializing over drinks and hors d'oeuvres as the last helis came in; comparing stories and trading videos; relaxing in the hot tub.  I didn’t know a single person when I got on the coach, but by dinner the first night I felt right at home with my 42 new ski buddies - more if you include all the staff who mingle with all the guests as hosts. There were people from all over the world and the guest population had a definite European flavor. CMH has very loyal clientele (70% repeats I’m told) so the guests ranged from first timers like me to 30 trip veterans with millions of feet under their belts.

 

To be honest most of my photos kind of suck. Here are a bunch of other photos from our week...

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.552596214773232.1073741826.320948414604681&type=1

 

and other weeks too

https://www.facebook.com/CMHBugaboos

 

More to follow...

post #8 of 11
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tony Crocker View Post

After that other 3-page thread, I would like to hear more details.  How did the other "intro group" people compare to you in ability/learning curve?   How did that learning curve go, both for you and the group as a whole?   Was everyone up to speed after the 2(?) days before the Pineapple Express?  Was anyone exhausted and needed those two days off?  Were those first 2 days up high on wide open alpine or was some of the skiing in the trees?   If so did people struggle more in the trees (not necessarily, much of the time the snow is lighter and easier to turn in the trees)?  

 

After the Pineapple Express I suspect the low elevation skiing was unpleasant.  Were they able to get up high well above the rain line on the days after that?  If there's bad visibility they can't fly/ski in the high alpine, so skiing may be confined to a very narrow elevation range.  During my week at Mike Wiegele in 2006 we skied about 2 runs in the alpine the entire week.  Fortunately it was very cold that week with some new snow, so the tree skiing was good.

 

I have a personal interest in all of these questions, as my girlfriend Liz fits your skier profile fairly closely (advanced skier from the East, very good conditioning but limited powder experience).

Purcell Heli Feb. 21: http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards/viewtopic.php?t=10836

Wild Horse Snowcat Feb. 28:  http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards/viewtopic.php?t=10852

Liz enjoyed these experiences and didn't fall much.  But it wasn't nearly enough deep powder.   She does not yet ski at a pace in powder that she would be assured to fit in with my annual (reserved a year ahead) reservation at Mustang Snowcat, though she might have this year.  http://www.firsttracksonline.com/boards/viewtopic.php?t=10892

We had a fair amount of cut up powder or a few inches of new snow over packed powder or bumps at Whitefish, Fernie, Revelstoke and Whitewater.  To me that's a lot more work than pristine untracked.  To Liz or many easterners it's more familiar and she/they ski it quite well and with more confidence than deep snow.

 

The skiers in the group ran the gamut. I think I was the only person who had never skied in powder before so I had the steepest learning curve. I tend to be a very one footed skier on hard pack which didn't help much in the deep stuff. During the week I did eat a lot of snow and expend a lot of energy.

 

Breaking down the group:

- 7 were first time on a heli, 3 had been on at least 4 previous CMH trips but just preferred to ski at a more relaxed pace (1 senior guy had close to 4 million feet but was taking it easy);

- 2 had skills to be in a regular group, but were accompanying somebody who truly belonged in the intro group.

- The age range was 40s - 70. 6 male, 4 female.

 

As the week progressed my powder technique improved with help from the guides and also experience, but at the same time my body was getting more tired. Falling is a vicious circle, the first fall takes a bit out of me which makes it more likely I'll have a second fall etc.. I'm average fitness but I don't do much cardio and I live at sea level. The Bugaboos Lodge is at 5000 ft and the high drop offs are around 9000 ft. I did get exhausted every day and I usually packed it in after 4-5 hours. I could have skied every day all week but for the cancelled dates. As a group I would say we skied better early on when legs were fresher. People fell more as they got more tired later in the week. Nobody in the group was so overwhelmed that they would not have been able to ski all 6.5 possible days, but only maybe 2-3 skiers would have been able to ski every day from open to close. The other factor is that Day 4, the day before the rain, it was snowing hard, windy, flat light and the snow was quite heavy in places which was exhausting. We skied  the easier high and open alpine earlier in the week, and we skied more in the trees when the snow got crappier later in the week. You're right, the last day, Day 7, was not really a great skiing but I think the guides realized that there would have been a riot if they cancelled 3 consecutive days. Only 1 run in the whole tenure was greenlit and it was heavy slogging through lower elevation not-so-low-angle trees. Maybe OK for better skiers, but for me it was a slog.

 

Looking at your trip photos I think Liz would have fun in a CMH Powder 101 group. She may even have fun in a regular CMH group. I would hazard a guess that she is better powder skier than I am. We mostly skied very similar looking terrain as your photos. The snow was usually not super deep. The only face shots I got were when my boot were at a higher elevation than my helmet (although it's probably more of an inditement of my skiing technique)! I think you were right; that the best way to virtually guarantee powder snow is heli/cat trip. But that's no guarantee of super deep powder. We had a few runs of deep powder, but also breakable crust, avy debris, regular powder, cement, hard pack etc.. The good thing about the Powder 101 group is the lack of peer pressure to keep up or ski fast steep lines. One of my compatriots is a 5 time CMH vet but she prefers to ski with the Powder 101 group because it's a more relaxing vacation for her. Meanwhile her husband, who is more type A, skis with a faster group. They just regroup back at the lodge for apres ski and dinner. Actually she sometimes just ditched her husband to hang out with our group. Something else to consider: some CMH guests prefer skiing at a moderate pace and there are groups to accommodate them. I met a very nice older English lady who is a 17 year CMH guest who used to always elect to be in the Powder 101 group, but at some point the lodge manager that she was ready "graduate" to a regular group. So she skis in a moderate group, usually for about 5 hours and goes back to the lodge, and she's perfectly happy. In the afternoon when some guests pack it in and spaces open up, the staff come out to ski/ride (and they all rip). Groups are also consolidated. What this means is that even in the Powder 101 group, in the afternoon the runs tend to be a bit more exciting if that is what the group wants. The flip side is that with 1 Bell 212 serving 4 groups, there are a lot refueling runs so there is plenty of opportunity to return to the lodge throughout the day if tired.

 

I think you're right about Easterners skiing bottomless pow. It was a very disconcerting feeling to be skiing with nothing solid underneath. A few times I would be cruising along easy terrain at speed, relaxing and looking at the scenery, and just do a head plant because I wasn't paying attention to what my skis were doing. 

post #9 of 11

Thank you for this entertaining and most educational post. A friend has been bugging me to go heli-skiing with CMH and in beginner weeks, since I learnt late in life (5 years ago) and ski on the East Coast, NY State/Mass. area. A great read. 

post #10 of 11
Thread Starter 

I don’t have much perspective because it was my first and only heli ski trip. But I figure I’ll give a few of my observations which may help somebody with their future heli trip planning.

 

At the bus stop

 

The Library with a lot of history of mountaineering and skiing in the Bugaboos

 

  • The Bugaboos Lodge is the original CMH lodge and is full of history of the early history of heli skiing and mountaineering in the region.  Lots of photos and things to see and touch from the early days. Some of the guides have been with CMH since the early days in the 60’s and 70’s and have lots of stories to tell. There is almost a museum like feel to the experience. However the lodge itself has been expanded and renovated numerous times so it’s quite modern and comfortable. All the creature comforts including wi-fi throughout the lodge at around 4 Mbps speeds.
  • With 70% return business, many guests and staff know each other already. 44 guests each week; my week the majority were European. Breakdown: 49% Euro (German, Austrian, Swiss, Italian, French, Swiss, Norwegian, Swedish), 23% Brits, 18% North Americans, 10% Australian. Most guests can speak English well enough so everybody getting along just fine. The age range was between 18-70+ with the mode probably around 40-50. 20% women.
  • Older long time CMH guests seem to enjoy coming back to the Bugaboos Lodge. These are skiers in their 60’s and 70’s with several Million Feet suits each and each with 20-30 years with CMH.
  • The food and drink is excellent, restaurant quality, but served in a homey atmosphere. Even the tea bags are a premium organic brand. During the week there is a dress up night where everybody dresses up in costumes they cobble together from what they can find in the costume storage room. For some reason cross dressing is really popular (must be a Euro thing). Also, if somebody hits 1 million feet, there is a celebration with much mirth and public humiliation (must be a Canadian thing, eh?).  Between the eating and partying there may even be time for a bit of skiing too.
  • There were 4 multigenerational groups my week. There were no minor children and maybe only 1 teenager with his father and 2 older brothers. The atmosphere is grown-up and the humor and ambiance is probably not really going to be great for young children during regular non-family weeks.
  • My week the skiers for the most part were relaxed and no evidence of hard charging testosterone laden types. Although I heard the prior week had some some faster skiing CMH vets.
  • With 4 groups of 10-11 skiers and 1 Bell 212 heli (14 passenger), there were times when we had to wait a few minutes for pick ups. There was also a small Bell 407 (6 passenger) used for emergencies and other jobs e.g. lunch run.
  • CMH provides all the skis, poles, snowboard, backpack w/ shovel + probe, beacon, 2-way radio. Available skis: Atomic Access, Atomic Ritual, Atomic Century (women), K2 Sidestash, K2 Pon2oon. Avy airbags available for extra $. Some guests brought their own skis. CMH wants you to use their light weight hi viz backpack. In emergency drill everybody grabs a shovel and probe from somebody else’s pack so nobody has to take off their own pack. The shop is well equipped and can handle equipment tweaks. You can also buy almost any clothing you may need.
  • Safety is excellent. All guests carry a radio which reaches all the other groups, guides, pilots and base lodge (via repeater). The beacon is really easy to use (Mammut Barryvox Pulse). Powder Intro group and some other special programs have 2 guides. Regular groups have 1 guide. Radio and tail guide really work well from a safety perspective. It helps a lot when people get lost, fall into tree wells or otherwise get injured. One skier got injured and was quickly evacuated to hospital using the little heli. The delay to the rest of us was minimal, maybe 15 minutes. The injured guy was treated, released and flown back in the lodge by dinner. He skied the rest of the trip.
  • Optional activities during down days include snow shoeing, X country skiing, indoor climbing wall – and of course bicep curling at the bar.
  • There were only 2 snowboarding guests. They were somewhat frustrated on the trip. There were quite a few flat traverses across deep snow. Also, some guides/guests would stop or bunch up in narrow or flat areas making it hard to get going again on the board.
  • Skiing with 10-11 other people is a lot. At times there are traffic jams. The best position is in front, behind the lead guide (never have to help them up and doesn’t stop unexpectedly). The worst position is in the back where it can be difficult to get speed and rhythm going. I suspect if you can put together your own group of 4-5 skiers of like abilities, it would be less like herding cats.

 

AppleMark

Our group's poor attempt to spoon runs

 

Rain soaked snow = not much fun

 

Tips for other first timers:

  • Bring earplugs. The heli is LOUD.
  • Snow inside goggles sucks. Smith Snow Eraser is invaluable.
  • Have both bright and flat light goggle lenses
  • Bring USB drive to swap photos and videos
  • Lots of heli op choices out there, I used heliski.com to research.

 

Unplanned stop to watch the scenery and enjoy the snow


Edited by smackboy1 - 4/12/13 at 1:10pm
post #11 of 11

All in all, great trip report and follow-on information and advice. Nicely done!

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