words:: Ben Osborne photos: courtesy CMH
In 1936, Orville Wright wrote a letter to a colleague who was involved in the aircraft engine world. The letter was focused on the budding technology of helicopters, and their commercial viability. “I don’t think any individual can afford to undertake them as a business proposition,” wrote the American aviation legend. “The helicopter type of airplane offers several seemingly insurmountable difficulties.”
Lucky for us, Hans Gmoser wasn’t listening. As a young Austrian, Gmoser arrived in Canada in the 1950s, fresh-legged and eager, ears pinned back and ready to explore the mountains. One of the first ranges he explored on skis was the Cariboos in eastern British Columbia, where Gmoser had his first vision of a business that would forever change the world of outdoor recreation: a remote heli-ski lodge deep in the Canadian wilderness.
Fast-forward six decades, and we know a few truths: helicopters are certainly a useful tool, and Canadian Mountain Holidays, more commonly known as CMH, certainly knows how to use them. For decades CMH has solidified its place in the heli world through an excellent reputation for safety, customer service, terrain choice, and amenities.
When I was asked if I wanted to go on a heli-hiking trip, I will admit—I scoffed. I’ve been lucky enough to spend enough time in helicopters that although these machines continue to mystify me, they also terrify me a bit. On top of that, I had become more attached to my mountain bike and splitboard in past years, and the idea of walking around the mountains (in comparison to snowboarding or biking) had become of a bit of a punching bag in my friend group. But I had heard the rumours of CMH’s incredible terrain and accommodation, and the pull of their reputation drew me in. And so I was booked for three days of heli-hiking at the newly re-opened-for-the-summer Cariboos Mountain Lodge.
What is heli-hiking, you might ask? In short, it’s the best kind of hiking. But there is a bit more explaining to do. Let’s start off with a simple question: what’s your least favourite part of hiking? Now, imagine your favourite part. Finally, imagine if hiking had none of those bad parts, and only the good parts. So take out the long approaches, and really everything in between, leaving only the moments of pure bliss in the mountains. That’s heli-hiking.
After arriving on the first day just after noon, we were immediately fit for boots, backpacks, and all other necessary hiking gear for the coming days. Next up was a buffet of charcuterie, smoothies, and plenty of sweets. As I settled into the charcuterie, we were told we would be heading on a hike in the next twenty minutes. It was a perfectly sunny day, yet I had assumed this first day would just be a transfer. As I quickly learned, CMH may look and feel like a luxury lodge in the woods, but the ethos of the company as defined by Hans Gmoser calls for limitless adventure in the mountains. So off we went.
The Cariboos are unlike any other mountain range, and it’s easy to see why Gmoser chose this as a location for heli-hiking. With perfectly sloping valleys, picturesque alpine meadows, cascading waterfalls, and mind-bending glaciated terrain, the area is a hikers’ heaven. Lucky for us, the guides—many of whom spend their winters here, too—know the area as well as anyone aside from the local mountain goats.
Every day was filled with hikes in multiple locations that would normally take a full day or more to access. I quickly realized heli-hiking is not just hiking with the help of a helicopter, but much more than that. The guides and pilots, due to their experience navigating through complex terrain, were able to treat four groups of guests to only the most enjoyable terrain possible—while still providing enough physical exertion to make the beers at the end of the day worth it. We skipped from the toe of massive glaciers to waterfalls, alpine meadows, and summits. When you’re strolling through an alpine meadow surrounded by glaciers hundreds of thousands of years old, it’s tough to complain about the views, or your sore legs.
It took only one flight accompanied by a ridge walk for me to be convinced at the genius of heli-hiking, and it is hard to imagine a company that can better execute a few days in the mountains. –ML