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Heli skiing

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 

So, I've been contemplating a hell trip, and I see that CMH has an additional 300 meters per day if you buy by 10/15.  So, what say folk about who to go with?  This will be my first heli trip. I'm a level 8/9 skier, did Gulmarg last season, so have a bit of experience with untracked snow.  Is CMH a good outfit to go with or would I be better off with another vendor?

 

I'd most likely pick a small group trip (4-5 in a A star).  Recommendations please.

 

Mike

post #2 of 24

CMH is a GREAT outfit.  The difficult decision is which venue.

post #3 of 24

First, my usual caveats - All heli and cat ops are at the mercy of Ullr and Mother Nature. All heli ops are constrained by the same economic parameters (which can vary by country a bit). DIfferent operators do have different "personalities" - often, but not always,  tied to their cost structure and customer demographics. So at least in my experience, there is no magic to one deal vs another. If you want a machine to yourself, or limited numbers of small loads, you need either a great deal of luck or you pay for it. If you get into the cattle call scene, forget all those dreams of untouched vistas all to yourself, you'll be farming tracks with other loads... You pick your real price/service/atmosphere point and hope Ullr delivers. Also, for very practical purposes, these things are often quite regimented. The more loads per machine and the shorter the days, the more regimented... you just need to get used to that and be OK with it. The bigger operators are more hospitality industry setups. More staff, more staff structure, etc.   If you compare prices, note the implications of tipping in different countries. In some places, not tipping at least 10% amounts to stiffing and starving your guide & staff. In others, like Iceland, tipping is pretty much optional and a really modest tip is just a nice way of saying thanks for a super job. I have blathered on about this in more detail before. That said, some quick thoughts:

 

I have a friend that guided for CMH and has good things to say about them. Being interior BC, you have good odds of good continental snow.   I have not skied there myself.

 

My personal favorites are Arctic Heli in Iceland (don't just shrug this off because it is international - travel and costs are way reasonable), followed by Bella Coola's Pantheon tenure. I have posted before about Arctic Heli which is run out of the owner's family farm in a scenic valley.  I just love the nature of the whole trip - I like the people, location, the vibe, the skiing, all of it. And if you get a down day, you still have access to cool cultural and natural experiences. Pantheon has a roughly similar small vibe - it is a huge tenure run out of one of the most crazily remote ranches in northern BC. Both are run "small". Very limited numbers of loads at both... Both places have a very chill vibe - clients, guides, pilots, staff, folks who live there, all hang out and eat together. I just like that. Not to mention the great skiing.The new Warren Miller movie has an Arctic Heli segment in it...

 

I've also skied out of Bella Coola's main lodge. Perfectly fine, but nowhere near as cool as the Pantheon experience IMO. My opinion may be skewed due to having had crap conditions there (not their fault, but annoying). But even ignoring the snow, it is more of a lodge thing vs a ranch home experience.

 

A wide range of guides I know have given Mica a very big thumbs up.

 

Spring skiing in the Tordrillos was pretty cool. Spectacular country. Relatively limited guest capacity - which is good. I know things shifted a bit with who is running it & how, but I could see going back there at some point. I'd look into Chugach Powder Guides/Tordrillo Lodge  (or whatever they call themselves now) if you want to do a remote AK thing.

 

Alaska in general - almost everyone in the know seems to say to do a long enough trip that you can wait out a multiday storm without wanting to shoot yourself because you did not get to ski. Minimum of a full week booking...

 

I have never skied interior BC proper, so to reiterate, my comments about CMH, Mica, etc are echoing word of mouth.

post #4 of 24

Interesting stuff on places I've never been, SD.  I should also mention HMH Heliskiing out of Jackson Hole.  Easier to get to and reserve than CMH and a lot of other places.  You might also have better success going last minute for just a day or two when you know the snow is good.  Smaller groups than some and John is a real pro in terms of safety, skiing and just about everything else.

 

If you get lucky or unlucky depending upon perspective, you might lunch with a well known rock group that frequents that op.  However, they board which isn't ideal if you are a skier but they reserve a group to themselves.

post #5 of 24

CMH is the top of the line heli-skiing, but you also pay accordingly.  The accommodations and food are very fine, which just adds to the price.  The more vert you ski the more money they make, so they have an incentive to get you the most skiing possible. I believe all of their lodges only offer week long trips, except for Kootenay which has shorter options.  If you want small groups you only have one CMH lodge choice, and it costs a lot more.  Their base price includes "guaranteed" vertical, but if it is a good week you can easily get 50-75% more than that (for which you pay by the meter), so the eventual cost can be considerably more than the up front charge.

 

Something that offers more options is going to Revelstoke, which has the 5,000+ ft. ski area, cat-skiing and heli-skiing options, including packages and day trips.  In addition, 4,200 vertical Kicking Horse is just over the Pass.  A trip like that does not put all your skiing eggs in one basket.

 

I have been with CMH a few times and when it is good it is epic, but it can be a crap shoot on conditions and you need to make reservations way in advance. If you've got the $$ to burn there is no better way to do it.  There are cheaper heli operations but they need to cut cost somewhere, so do your homework and make sure you know what you are getting.  Some charge for "lifted" vert as opposed to "skied vert," which makes the arithmetic different on the guaranteed vert and cost.

 

There are lots of operations providing lots of options.  Alaska can have fantastic skiing, but by their own admission they only fly 50% of the time because of avi conditions and weather.  It is a long way to go to run up a bar tab while waiting in the fog, so realize that your are rolling the dice, and if you win it is worth every penny, but no one wins every time.

post #6 of 24

Well, there is one advantage to being a skier with a bunch of boarders. If you are in terrain with alternating pitches and benches, the boarders like to have the runouts across the benches pre-packed. Which means skiers get invited to go first. The words "two plankers to the front" after being dropped off were music to my ears :D 

post #7 of 24

At Northern Escape Heli Skiing, of which I am an owner and guide (disclosure), we fly in small groups with several choices of pkg's. check them out here http://www.neheliski.com/packages#chart

 

We offer an early booking discount. The total discount depends on how early you book. If your interested, check out our pricelist for more details at http://www.neheliski.com/images/stories/downloads/NEH2014_en_ebook.pdf.

 

We also offer an Unlimited Vertical Option which can be added to any Classic or Elite pkg. check it out at http://www.neheliski.com/unlimited-vertical-heli-skiing. This option offers an industry leading Minimum guarantee. 

 

All of our pkg include a fail safe back up to Ullr's ever present threat, the down day, with our catskiing back-up. http://www.neheliski.com/about-us/catski-back-up. We average about 1 day per week in the cats when it's simply snowing to hard to fly safely, but these days can be some of the best powder days and we're sure glad we're out there enjoying them and not waiting till the next day to get out.

 

Our site also is now full of new videos which offer an insight into our programs. you can also check them all out on one page here if you wish http://vimeo.com/neheliski.

 

Hope that helps make your decision easier! 

post #8 of 24

My only week-long heli trip was with Mike Wiegele in 2006.   Vertical there is unlimited, prices slightly more than CMH, but would end up being quite a bit less if you have a good week.   I hit 100,000 on the nose, which is CMH's guarantee.  That was probably below average because nearly all of the skiing was in the trees, needs more frequent regrouping to keep track of everyone.  If you're in a big helicopter, Wiegele runs 3 groups of 10 people with 2 guides, while CHM runs 4 groups of 11 people with 1 guide.

 

For both cat and heli I like to choose a place with good reputation for BOTH high alpine and tree skiing.  You get bad weather or a high wind event, you will be in the trees most of the time as I was in 2006.  You get warm weather you want to be up high where it's colder and the snow won't be wet, heavy or melt/frozen.  I returned to Wiegele for 2 days in 2007, a warmer year so one of the days was 27K in the alpine.

 

I've done a little bit in Alaska.  The more stable snow lets you ski steeper terrain. They need to be more conservative about snow stability in interior B.C.  So my lifetime best day was with Chugach Powder Guides, but the 50% "down-day" rate in Alaska is about right.  Down days for Canadian heliskiing are in the 10-15% range.  Over a week the average difference in what you ski may be less than that looks because on a clean day in Alaska you'll get a ton of vertical. Alaska is also somewhat cheaper than Canada for heliskiing, except for the cost of getting there.

 

On balance I prefer Alaska heli to Canada, but most of my time and $ for this sort of thing has been spent on remote lodge snowcat skiing in Canada.

 

 

 

 

post #9 of 24

Hey Mike,

I love this discussion.  I have it many times a week.  We represent all of the operators, and don't play favorites. 

I've skied with John at Northern Escape a few times, the small group Adamants CMH trip and many others.

Another consideration is who can take you when you want to go (it's getting kind of late).  The nuances of unlimited and guaranteed vertical are also important to understand.

If you want to tell me how many in your group, when you want to go, how many days (or $) you can spend, where you are coming from (all Colorado?), and any preferences regarding the type of skiing experience you are looking for, I will send the best available options (free). 

Email tj@HELISKI.com or call 866 HELISKI

Apologies if that's too promotional.

Best,

tj

post #10 of 24
Thread Starter 

Tony, any idea how La Nada correlates with snowfall in interior BC?

 

Mike

post #11 of 24

Check the November Powder Magazine.  It has a summary of heli operations with some good comparison info like average snowfall, refund policy, cost, nearest airport, etc.

post #12 of 24

I'll second this.

"CMH is the top of the line heli-skiing, but you also pay accordingly. The accommodations and food are very fine, which just adds to the price. The more vert you ski the more money they make, so they have an incentive to get you the most skiing possible."

 

 

I like to ski ALOT more than I like to eat and I am a cheap bastard :)  Imagine my thought after a week of this.  Lots of alternatives these days.

post #13 of 24

CMH and Mike Wiegele (Blue River B.C.) are among the oldest most established heli ops in N.A.

 

CMH has a daily guarantee for vertical that is usually achieved by noon or 1 pm and then it is call it a day and return to the lodge or bring out the credit card and pay by the vertical foot for the remainder of the day. If there is a no fly day due to weather, then they usually make up the guarantee by packing two days of guaranteed vertical into one day once the weather permits flying again.

 

I'm pretty sure that Mike Wiegele offers cat skiing on no fly days.

 

A friend of mine use to guide for Great Canadian Heliskiing (Golden B.C.) and he says that they have very few down days/season for bad flying weather (only 2-3 days per season). They use A-Star helicopters which means 3 skiers and one guide per chopper so it is much more of a boutique operation than most. They also offer 2-7 day packages.

post #14 of 24
Quote:
Tony, any idea how La Nada correlates with snowfall in interior BC? 

Interior western Canada averages 112% of normal in 11 La Nina seasons, 96% of normal in 19 La Nada seasons and 86% of normal in 13 El Nino seasons.

 

I only have stats for one long term weather station in the terrain representative of most heli and cat skiing.  It is at 6,150 feet on Mt. Fidelity near Rogers' Pass.  Not only does it average 486 inches Nov-Apr, but its standard deviation of 86 inches is only 17.6% of the average, even more consistent than Targhee, which is the most consistent high snowfall lift served area.  Fidelity's lowest season was 309 inches in 1992-93 (mild El Nino).  To my knowledge 2001 was the only time CMH postponed their opening day a couple of weeks due to needing more snow cover. 

 

Adequate snow on the ground is a non-issue for most of the cat/heli places by mid-January.  The snow conditions that can degrade a trip are not predictable in advance.  In my case it was rain to very high elevation in January 2005.   Severe weather can keep you out of the alpine.  A warm spell will degrade powder at low elevation.  If your operator has access to a wide range of terrain you would be very unlucky not to find decent powder somewhere.  Those 3 days in 2005 were the only ones out of 70 lifetime cat/heli days in Canada with NO powder.  The "below average" days are typically powder but in a short vertical range constrained by weather above and/or non-powder conditions below.  I've had 17 Canadian heli days and 2 no-fly days.

post #15 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by DanoT View Post
 

 They use A-Star helicopters which means 3 skiers and one guide per chopper so it is much more of a boutique operation than most. They also offer 2-7 day packages.

 

 

Most places it is more usually 4 clients per A-Star. Sometimes up to 5 in a pinch some places...

post #16 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by spindrift View Post
 

 

 

Most places it is more usually 4 clients per A-Star. Sometimes up to 5 in a pinch some places...


You are probably correct but the main point is that heli ops that use A-Stars are offering a more exclusive experience with groups about a 3rd the size of other heli ops.

post #17 of 24

I'm not ready for a heli trip yet myself, but I like to watch - maybe someday.  ;-)  Picked up a DVD for Dean Cummings' Alaska operation at Snowbomb (trade show) in San Francisco last week, and it has a cool video on it showing some behind the scenes of a guided heli trip. Found same vid on youtube, thought others might find it interesting as a well...

 

post #18 of 24
Thread Starter 
I'm pulling the trigger on a 5 day trip to Northern Escape. Trip report to follow...

Mike
post #19 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by habacomike View Post

I'm pulling the trigger on a 5 day trip to Northern Escape. Trip report to follow...

Mike


Awesome Mike you're gonna have a blast.  Now you will want to go every year....I did the once in a lifetime experience and now I want to go every year... too bad my bank account can't afford it.

post #20 of 24

One point.   If you go with smaller group - 4 skiers/riders- instead of the bigger heli with 10 customers you won't or shouldn't have a wait problem based on ability levels.   I went on a 10 person heli all day trip in BC and spent a lot of time standing around and waiting for poor skiers. this was a real bummer, about the time you are really clicking you had to stop.  I talked to the guide over beer at the end of the day and asked her about next time avoiding this problem and she said to;  request/demand to not be on a mixed ability heli and this would eliminate the problem. Our copter had 2 very poor powder skiers and 3 ok powder skiers and then 3 good powder skiers.  Waiting was a bummer.

 

heli 020.JPG

post #21 of 24
Thread Starter 

Thanks Dave and Pete.  I did ask about the pairing issue, and John Forest (the owner) stated that pairing usually wasn't a problem due to their clientele.  I am doing their elite  package, which has two groups of four guests in the bird -- it should allow for a fair amount of vert.  And Northern Escape has cat backup for no fly conditions.  Looking forward to it!

 

Mike

post #22 of 24
Quote:
Originally Posted by habacomike View Post
 

Thanks Dave and Pete.  I did ask about the pairing issue, and John Forest (the owner) stated that pairing usually wasn't a problem due to their clientele.  I am doing their elite  package, which has two groups of four guests in the bird -- it should allow for a fair amount of vert.  And Northern Escape has cat backup for no fly conditions.  Looking forward to it!

 

Mike

 

That should work out good for you and having a cat backup is a good thing too.   Have fun and here's hoping you get great powder.

post #23 of 24

Glad to hear you pulled the trigger Mike!  When are you going?

 

JF


Edited by 4ster - 11/19/13 at 6:28am
post #24 of 24
Thread Starter 
Jan 31-feb 5! Lots of skiing to do before then.

Mike
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