How to Ski Out of This World

Category: Weekly Columns

From across the valley, see where we skied...note the tiny ski tracks on the left AND the old avalanche tracks on the right! Click on the photo to see it larger.

Our last day of our heli-ski trip in British Columbia – in the Cariboo Mountain Range – was probably the best day of skiing in my life. We skied 30,120 vertical feet, which is slightly more than the 29,029 height of Mt. Everest. This was a trip with CMH (Canadian Mountain Holidays) and there were 45 guests for our week, from Japan, Canada, France, Germany, Austria, Brazil, Spain, and a few of us from the States.

Please note: Final and FULL videos of our experience are now included at the bottom of this post!

To get to The Cariboo Lodge, we flew from Los Angeles to Calgary. We stayed overnight in Calgary and took a bus from the hotel early in the morning. Seven-hours followed through the gorgeous terrain of British Columbia. At one point, we were stuck in a traffic jam due to an accident. A short detour through by-now-snowing weather and we were back on our way.

Yes, a photo is worth 1000 words!

NOTE: Here’s the link to My Photo Album of 113 of the best photos from this trip!

They played a safety DVD that explained the basic pointers of getting in and out of a helicopter, explained the GPS devices we’d all wear “to find the bodies,” and the radios we’d all carry. We also saw demonstrations of an avalanche and tree-well rescue. I was beginning to wonder if it was too late for a refund.

We arrived at a designated helicopter pick up area. A group of the CMH staff unloaded our bags and we unloaded ourselves. By now, after the long bus ride, we had gotten to know about half of our fellow adventurers, since there were two buses taking us. We all huddled around – many clearly a bit nervous about what was to come – and got to know one another better.

Now do you believe we were "Out of This World?"

I suppose this kind of trip made everyone so very friendly. Given the number of avalanche warnings and the few deaths we’d all heard about from this current ski season, there was a sense of excitement mixed with uneasiness, though the latter quickly receded as the week progressed. I did update my Trust/Will just to be on the prepared side.

The guides were all highly trained and most were mountain people, literally in their blood. Rafi was a 4th generation Austrian mountain guide. John, the manager of the lodge, did it all. He literally climbed major peaks, skied, snowboarded, ski-toured (that is hard work), surfed 6 weeks each year in Maui, and did every other extreme water and snow sport known to man. He was quite typical of the guides, who are a unique breed of men and women.

It's beautiful, isn't it?

Our first day included a stretch class followed by very focused safety training in which we learned to search for the GPS beacon we all were wearing, and how to probe and dig with the shovel and probes we now carried in our CMH backpacks. Everyone paid close attention and even I found myself not making jokes. This was serious.

What followed were six days of skiing that can only be described in that over-used word that one of our guides, J.F., said was perfectly appropriate for our glorious experience – AWESOME. We got to ski one glacier that they could not ski all season for one reason or another. It was our longest run of the trip – over 4,000 vertical feet!

This is where we were - after the landing above! Photo by Tom Osborne

We skied steep trees in which you’d have to be careful to dodge the tree wells that can literally bury you if you fall in. We skied above tree line on glaciers new and dormant. The helicopter landed in the flats and on peaks you couldn’t imagine climbing to, let alone landing a big helicopter with 12 people aboard.

Getting in and out of the helicopter was a procedure that involved huddling up in a group when the heli landed or took off. The wind from the rotors was quite powerful. One skier was designated as the door man and when he got the thumbs up from the pilot, he’d open the door and we’d all rise and scramble in. Quickly, we’d strap on our seatbelts. The doorman would check that we were all in securely and then shut the door. That was the sign to the pilot that he could take off.

The Manby Family from England having fun with me!

He’d fly high and low; often skimming the trees and flying close to jagged rocks and cliffs. After about 45 of these trips, we all took them for granted when, in fact, each one was a true E-ticket ride. Aboard the helicopter were small plastic bottles of water and watered down Gatorade. We’d gulp these down often.

Lunch was outside. A smaller helicopter came and the pilot set up tables by digging them out of the snow. Each of our four groups had their food set up and there was a communal soup and coffee station for everyone. The guides would gather by themselves by the helicopter to compare notes. Group adjustments would be made to keep the groups compatible on ski ability. Choices were discussed of where or where not to go. Weather was always a major consideration.

It doesn't look real!

Everyone ordered sandwiches prior to each day by filling out a form. They were as good as the gourmet dinners we had each evening. The food was pretty much up there with a high-quality cruise ship. Fresh baked bread with every dinner. Exotic meals like bison and traditional fare as well. The guides were the servers. One night we were given the clean-up job and for each trip to the kitchen we got a watered down “shot.” I went just once.

But, without a doubt, the second best aspect of this trip – the first being the skiing – was the people. Four guests had won the national Warren Miller contest and were on a trip they otherwise could not have afforded, given they were young and just starting out in life. The eight Brazilians were the party animals and gloriously fun. One in their group had competed in two Winter Olympics. Gerhard, who completed the 1,000,000 vertical foot milestone on Day 4, led the Austrian group. We enjoyed hanging with Javier and Anna, a father-daughter duo from Barcelona. Both were ski instructors and Anna was the youngest guest, at 17.

The view at the start of a run on a glacier...

My wife and me were together for the majority of the skiing. One day, she was tired and did not continue after lunch. She also took a scary fall on the fourth day; going over a large covered rock and falling about 12 feet. She landed hard and was nauseous thereafter. We hope it is nothing serious, but it didn’t stop her from skiing the next two days. As I’m writing this in the Cariboo Lodge, prior to our departure, we don’t know if she hurt herself badly, though it seems unlikely, but we will get her to a doctor soon after our return home.

Me and my wife on our last day...

I fell at least a half-dozen times. Nothing serious other than getting back up out of the powder was incredibly difficult and tiring. Only twice did my skis release and that was a serious challenge to put them back on in the deep snow.

Danger Will Robinson, Danger! Snow on roof, Snow on roof!

We had powder of about 6 – 24 inches. We also had fresh powder one day after a 24-hour snowstorm that made for a short day during the storm but for a magnificent day afterward. After six days and about 40 runs, it all blurred together into one glorious experience. Go to the DadsPov YouTube Channel to see the videos already posted – more coming. I’ve included some of the best that I’ve edited so far.

Chris, the heli pilot, having his own fun between pick-ups! This photo is real!

Below are the final two videos – from our last three days – that I spent way too much time editing. They are long – truly they are made for Debbie and me – but it was impossible to cut them shorter when I had over 6 hours of footage to choose from. I think Part Two is the better one, but you choose!