My first vacation with Canadian Mountain Holidays took place 4 years ago at CMHs Galena Lodge. I never anticipated I could love a mountain range as passionately as the alps but the rockies had me at my first glance.
I had no idea what to expect on a trip like this but suffice it to say that I enjoyed it so much that two weeks after my first trip I immediately returned for a second trip.
The journey usually begins with a flight into Calgary spending the night at the Calgary Delta Airport Hotel. Upon Calgary arrival one usually spends the evening laughing and sharing stories with fellow heliskiers en route to one of CMHs eleven lodges.
Early next morning the bus transfer -except Valemount where transfer is by chartered plane- brings your final destination. At some of the lodges, after getting settled, safety briefing and ski/snowboard setup you will already ski a few runs in the afternoon.
What makes this such an incredible experience? Most lodges are in a remote setting only accessible by helicopter. The rooms at the lodges are basic; as a matter of fact when I saw my room for the first time I thought the last time I had stayed at a room like this was at my last high school trip. But the rooms are functional; a bathroom tub for showers and baths, enough space for ski gear and clothes and a comfortable bed. I was soon to discover that except for sleeping one does not spend time in the room. At the lodge there are no TV, papers or radio or anything else that would pull one towards the outer world that one just left. An exception is the wifi available free of charge at all the lodges. The lodges are absolutely stunning and offer everything one needs after intense days of out of this world skiing. Hot tub, the best massages I have had, phenomenal food, great wines, beer, pool table, ...everything is geared towards social interaction and shared experiences. In my opinion this is what sets skiing apart from most other activities. I am a highly passionate skier and love to spend every moment I have on skies but I do not enjoy skiing on my own. I think skiing should be a shared activity and sharing raises the pleasure to new heights. Now imagine being in one place where you can share this passion with likeminded people. Here friendships are forged to last a lifetime. Skiing in those remote areas is a revelation. Especially for Europeans where heliskiing usually means one run and earning of the golden hiking needle for the reminder of the day in order to get back to the village. Oh and that run usually is not in virgin untracked powder. With CMH you are looking -depending on ability and group- in between 12 to 20 runs PER DAY in absolutely perfect untracked champagne powder. Pillow drops, tree skiing,...possibilities one couldn't even dream of open up. The North American style of deep powder skiing is quite different from the European approach that seems to focus on the maximal number of turns per runs. North American style is more like "deep powder carving", something that makes you feel as if you can fly. Add to this being in the midst of wilderness, being part of the natural flow of things, the snow blowing in your face that you almost can't breath...to me this is the unbearable being of lightness. All troubles just seem to fade away and it dawns on you that they are entirely self made and meaningless. I have seen grown man in helicopters with rapt expressions of pleasure on their faces they last had when they found the firetruck they desperately wanted beneath the christmas tree at age 5.
So how does a typical CMH day look like? One gets (rudely:-) if you are a novice) awakened by a bell at 7:15am; 7:30am to 8am is stretch class. Breakfast is served at 8am and the first helicopter leaves at 9am. Depending on the lodge there can be 1 up to 4 groups per helicopter. If it is more than one group per helicopter the group who gets to be group one (i.e. ski the freshest most untracked powder) is rotated every day. Weather permitting one usually stays out the entire day until 4pm. Lunch is served on the mountain. Be assured, starve you won't. Quite the contrary. Upon return to the lodge an afternoon snack awaits; this is usually enjoyed with beer or wine reminiscing about the glories of the day. Then onto a massage or hot tub. Dinner is served around 7:30 and like breakfast shared with staff and guides. Usually one goes to bed around 10pm -unless there is a party- to recover for the next day of skiing one usually only has dreams about.
Is it suited for women? I can't begin to describe how much I have gained on a personal and professional level from these experiences. The boost in self-discipline, self-confidence and how to integrate myself naturally (as nature intended and not the uneasy coexistence to prevalent in corporate life) into a male dominated group has taught me invaluable lessons I can apply within my senior role in a testosterone heavy working environment.
A word of caution...once infected with the CMH bug you will spend all your disposable income on heliskiing. I figure there are worse ways to spend it :-).
A final word to CMH Lodges.
If you are a beginner I'd recommend the Bugaboos. If you are a fit, experienced strong offpiste skier and like steeps, pillows and drops Galena. For the best treeskiing Monashees. Monashees and Galena both require the same ability; the difference is Monashees is less cliffy but offers on average longer tree runs than Galena. If you enjoy Glacier skiing Adamants or Cariboos. Ultimately every lodge offers challenging terrain for even the most seasoned experts. Where they take you will depend and snow stability and ability of the group. Each lodge has their unique vibe and depending on personality you might favour one over the other.
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