Heli-Assisted Ski Touring Takes the Schlep Out of Backcountry

Skiers and boarders dream of different things. Whether it’s wide open alpine runs or steeps littered with pillows begging to be popped like a landscape of bubble wrap, the one commonality of every winter fantasy is powder and lots of it.

But how we get to those stashes of pure joy is a topic as divisive at the question ‘skier or boarder?’ More and more the quest for untouched virgin powder fields has taken us into the backcountry and has evolved into the question ‘ski-touring or heli-skiing?’

 

Photo: Brodie Smith, courtesy of CMH Heli-Skiing

by Carolina Novotny

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What most people don’t realize is that you can meet in the middle. Heli-assisted ski touring is the best of both worlds, according to Christine Hicks, an Alberta-based ski tourer who was hooked after her first heli-assisted ski-touring trip at CMH Gothics back in 2015.

“I loved it and I am really being quite genuine here,” offers Hicks. “On your typical ski touring day, you spend a lot of time skiing up a valley. The approach is a bit of a slog before you get to the fun part of ski touring. We cut all of that out with the heli-assisted ski touring.”

The advantages that come with the ‘heli-assist’ don’t stop there:

  • Cut the long slog in. Skip the flat ski-out on tired legs.
  • Forget the bushwhack back to the highway.
  • No skiing up other people’s skin tracks hoping your objective hasn’t already been skied out. Why? With CMH’s giant tenure to pick and choose your terrain from (and we are talking 3-million acres) – there are no other people period. It translates to virgin powder fields stretching further than the eye can see, and with a heli at your disposal to actually take you there…well, it’s the thing of dreams.

 

Photo: Brodie Smith, courtesy of CMH Heli-Skiing

Ensuring each trip fulfills those dreams falls to guides like Jorg Wilz and Gery Unterasinger, both of whom have been guiding with CMH since the ‘90s, when fluorescent onesies were the definition of ski chic. It is quickly evident that both enjoy leading the heli-assist trips for different reasons.

Heli-assisted touring opens up a world of possibilities where unidirectional travel through the mountains allows exploration without having to plan your way back—time is no longer a limiting factor.

“When you book a week at a backcountry hut, you always start at the same hut each morning and have to come back to that hut each day so you are quite limited in your range of motion,” explains Unterasinger. “We can offer unique ski touring where you don’t have to go from A to B or A to A because when you have enough you just find a pick up, fly home, and call it a day.”

Heli-assisted touring opens up a world of possibilities where unidirectional travel through the mountains allows exploration without having to plan your way back—time is no longer a limiting factor.

“You can do these big traverses: climb a mountain, ski down the other side, climb the next mountain, ski down the other side… You travel quite a distance. Those are my favourite days,” admits Unterasinger.

 

Photo: Blake Jorgenson, courtesy of CMH Heli-Skiing

A real sense of journey comes out of such trips and you don’t have to be a mountain guide to feel the appeal. “I felt like I was ski touring in an area where people had never ski toured before,” Christine Hicks recalls with a smile. “We were exploring new territory and that was really exciting.”

Each day starts with the group and guide piling into a helicopter and being dropped off at a high point to start the day with a nice descent. “We try to land as high as we can –which from a ski touring perspective is a tremendous privilege—so we are on the mountain top for the first bit of light. If you were to do that from a conventional ski touring lodge you would have to leave at 2 o’clock in the morning to get the same experience,” explains Wilz.

After the initial heli ride up, you start skinning your way up to the next objective, get some turns in and repeat. You stop for lunch, then climb and descend, again and again until the heli comes back to carry you home to one of CMH’s luxury backcountry lodges.

 

Photo: Blake Jorgenson, courtesy of CMH Heli-Skiing

With the average trip climbing anywhere from 800 to 1,400 metres in a day and descending 2,000 to 2,400 meters of vertical, the pace is slower than heli-skiing but there are arguably advantages that as well.

“With ski touring you get into a rhythm and you find your pace,” says Wilz. “You have a lot of time to think about things and look around. There is more emphasis on the beauty and enjoying it. Turns are just the icing on the cake.”

Besides, very few people come back from 2,400 metres of decent needing more—nor does anyone complain about the hot running water, proper beds and private rooms of CMH’s backcountry luxury lodges for that matter. If it all sounds prohibitively posh, think again.

“The cost is less than regular heli-skiing and it was comparable to the amount we would pay to stay at a backcountry lodge where meals and a guide are provided,” remembers Hicks, “but I feel we got more bang for our buck. It was money well spent.”

For more on heli-assisted ski touring trips at CMH Heli-Skiing visit www.cmhski.com

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