By Brian E. Clark
10:30 AM EST, January 11, 2013
Snow has been falling in buckets all over the West, but nowhere more so than on the rugged peaks along the British Columbia border with Alberta.
In a normal year, the Columbia Mountains near Revelstoke would have received roughly 8 feet of snow by now. But Mother Nature has been overly generous, dropping 14 feet in December alone (5 feet more than the previous record for the month) for a whopping total of 23 feet so far this season.
This isn’t the "Sierra Cement" that sometimes lands on California’s slopes, especially at lower elevations. The snow that falls on the Columbia Mountains has less moisture in it by the time it reaches eastern British Columbia, so it usually wafts down as light “champagne powder.”
Moreover, because this is up north, the sun's angle is low in the winter. That means that although there is plenty of light for a full day of skiing, the sun has little effect on the surface of the snow so it stays it soft and fluffy.
Which is why this corner of the Canadian Rockies is home to many heli-skiing operators, including Canadian Mountain Holidays, the granddaddy of them all.
No. 1: It’s only for experts
Heli-skiing has a reputation as an experts-only activity, but that's a myth. Although there are trips designed for schussers who want to take on the steeps, there are plenty of mellow runs to enjoy too.
Moreover, the latest ski designs have opened up the joys of powder to intermediate skiers. That means it’s important to have the right equipment and guides to lead you in what many consider some of the best ski terrain on the planet.
At CMH, spokeswoman Sarah Pearson said guides work with every skier to determine the right powder skiing experience based on fitness levels and ability. For intermediate skiers unfamiliar with deep powder technique, CMH has designed Powder 101: Intro ski weeks.
She said four-, five- and seven-day Powder 101 trips are available throughout the ski season and range in price from about $4,265 to $11,525 per person.
No. 2: Heli-Skiing is only for men
Wrong. Pearson said women shouldn’t be intimidated by powder and heli-skiing. With the correct equipment, guides and attitude, women enjoy deep powder just as much as men, especially in the light, dry snow of the Bugaboo, Monashee, Bobby Burns and Cariboo ranges of the Columbia Mountains.
CMH offers Powder 101: Girls' School for strong intermediate skiers wanting to build their powder skills. If you’re already comfortable in the deep stuff, Girl Pow(d)er is offered as a women-only outing. These four or five-day trips start at about $4,265. CMH also provides specially designed women's powder skis, poles and all safety equipment.
No. 3: Heli-skiing isn’t for families
Wrong again. Pearson said CMH guides select terrain appropriate for the entire family, and sometimes take three generations skiing together.
Seven-day Next Generation trips introduce powder skiing to the younger generation, with skiers ages 12-25 paying half price when booked with an accompanying adult. Next Gen trips are offered in March and April and start at about $8,215 ($4,110 for younger generation skiers).
Family Trips are for those with 12- to 17-year-old skiers, designed with the the Christmas holidays in mind (think next December). Younger children who won’t be skiing are welcome (CMH has nannies available because nonskiers must be supervised at all times).
Families begin the day heli-skiing together, but the kids can return to the lodge when they tire to participate in supervised indoor and outdoor activities, leaving parents to ski at their own pace for the remainder of the day. In the evening, families dine together, and kids can munch on meals designed for them.
No. 4: Snowboarders and skiers don’t mix when heli-skiing
Wrong. CMH welcomes boarders on all trips, and guides instruct boarders on how to manage different conditions and terrain, such as anticipating flat sections, not getting too low on traverses, setting bindings toward the rear for deep powder and using ski tracks to their advantage. Many CMH guides will lead on a board when riding with a full group of snowboarders.CMH trips include lodging, meals, snacks and non-alcoholic beverages, transportation to and from Calgary International Airport for most trips, and use of K2, Atomic and Rossignol skis and poles. A limited number of Burton snowboards are available. Guests are also trained how to use avalanche transceivers, and are provided with a CMH guest pack including shovel, probe and radio.
Info: Canadian Mountain Holidays, (800) 661-0252