December 8, 2022
Hello skiers, riders, mountain adventurers and friends,
Winter is upon us and the first heli-skiing trips of the 2022/23 season are already underway.
And wow — if our inboxes are any indication, so many of you can’t wait to get out there! Lots of guests had to defer trips multiple years in a row due to a myriad of COVID and travel-related reasons. Given that, anticipation and excitement levels are extremely high across the board. I’m so happy to see everyone getting set for what we hope will be another great year of skiing and riding.
100% of emissions
As we head into heli-skiing season, I’m proud to share an update with you about CMH’s focus on measuring, reducing and offsetting our carbon footprint.
Following a full year of tracking our activities across all CMH destinations and our offices in Banff, we’re now offsetting 100% of our greenhouse gas emissions.
We’re doing this via a third-party partner and through the purchase of registered, voluntary carbon credits. We view offsetting as a supporting tool alongside our main work to first reduce (or eliminate, where possible) our emissions. Our first offset purchase is in support of the Great Bear Initiative; a First Nations-led project local to British Columbia, Canada. We will continue offsetting moving forward.
Read & watch
I invite you read our brand-new report to learn the full details, including our emissions measurements and more about the project we’re supporting. It’s a candid read outlining the actions CMH is taking around sustainability, which includes climate and energy, wildlife and habitat, and our relationships with Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. You’ll learn what’s going well, our goals, and where we still have a long way to go.
I also encourage you to watch this short film we’re sharing for the first time It’s all about the ‘why’ that’s driving us to change our energy use and lower our greenhouse gas emissions.
A deeper dive
The conversation around sustainability is a nuanced one — especially for a business with helicopters central to its operations. I recently sat down for an interview in my office with a colleague to talk about this. We recorded the session, and I thought I’d share the transcript of that Q&A with you, below. I hope that this, in combination with the report and short film I’ve pointed to above, provides you with a meaningful understanding of CMH’s approach and priorities.
Q: What does the term ‘sustainability’ mean to you?
I think the term ‘sustainability’ is most often associated with the environment and wildlife. That’s an important part of it. But for me, the term also means business sustainability, which is about remaining profitable, and about the depth of a business’ relationship with the communities where it does its work. The essential question is, are you bringing positive benefits to the places and to the people you touch? I think that’s the true meaning of sustainability.
Q: Why should CMH care about sustainability?
First off, it’s the right thing to do. We acknowledge that we’re contributing to the world’s climate problem and so we’re trying to be part of the solution.
It’s also part of our heritage from day one. Our founder, Hans Gmoser, was keenly aware of the need to protect these special places, and it’s our responsibility and our goal to carry that forward.
Q. Does this way of thinking still exist in the company today? What does that look like?
I think all of us who have grown up loving the mountain world have a very deep respect for the environment. For anyone who gets into guiding — or any career that helps show people these wonderful places — you have to come at it from a place of respect. If you don’t, things don’t go well. The mountains demand respect.
Years have gone by since Hans’ original vision, and the world has changed pretty dramatically. The measures we take and the emphasis we’ve put on certain approaches over the years have certainly evolved over time, but what I don’t think has changed at all is that core desire to respect these special places we operate in. The basic philosophy is still the same. This isn’t a fashionable, flavour-of-the-month thing for us. CMH remains a company full of individuals who have chosen their careers here because they love the mountain world on a personal level. There’s a lot of natural passion in that regard.
Q: Are there business motivators that influence that desire to take action?
Of course. Frankly, a lack of action is a threat to our business. We need to be doing our part. The fact that we fly helicopters is contentious for some. For sure we have our detractors, and that’s to be expected. We know we’re not going to be perfect, but we know that we have to do everything we can to minimize our impact if we’re going remain in business and create these life-changing experiences for our guests and our team. And to create careers for the hundreds of people we employ, or to contribute meaningfully to the success of the local communities we call home.
Q. How do you balance business decisions and sustainability?
I’d say that sustainability is a business decision. When I think of balancing our fiscal, social and environmental responsibilities, I picture them as legs of a three-legged stool; any time you take action in any one area, it will have an effect on the others. If we only focus on one, the others suffer as a result and things get out of balance. Our job is to make sure the stool doesn’t wobble too much, or fall over. Putting that concept into action isn’t easy and rarely perfect. There’s always some give and take. When we choose which projects we’re investing in, it’s sometimes at the expense of one leg of the stool, and then we need to find a way to prop that leg back up.
At the end of the day, we need to be financially successful as a company in order to invest in the other things we need and want to do, including sustainability initiatives. We want to be positive contributors to the communities that surround us, and we want to act responsibly in the environment we’re operating in. To do so, we have to look at it holistically.
Q. What does an increased spotlight on climate change worldwide mean for CMH?
It means that more than ever we need to acknowledge how critical this issue is and that we need to be actively taking steps to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. The reality is every human has a carbon footprint. Every activity has a carbon footprint. Individuals and society have to weigh the cost-benefit of their activities, and every person will come to a different conclusion of what they think is appropriate. We believe that the experiences we provide for people are important and worthwhile if we can deliver them while operating as responsibly as we can. We are able to show people these incredible mountains landscape and help them gain a deep respect and appreciation for the natural world. There’s a major positive benefit to that individually, and at a societal level.
Q: CMH is now offsetting its entire carbon footprint. Some view offsetting as band-aid fix. Why do it?
Carbon offsets are an imperfect solution, but it’s a good step that we’re proud to take. It’s certainly not now the case that, “Oh, we’re offsetting so we wash our hands and say we’re done.” Offsetting is really the third step in the process of measure, reduce, offset. In my mind, measuring and reducing are the most important. Offsetting is the final step, and it only works if it’s happening together with the first two.
I also think it matters how you go about it, and if you’re doing it to the best industry standard. We’re working with a respected third-party partner to hold us accountable, and we’re only purchasing registered, voluntary offsets. It was important to us to choose a project that was as local as possible, so our purchase had ripples in our own backyard, so to speak. This project also resonated with us because it creates economic benefits for a First Nations community.
Q. CMH has been vocal about sustainability and operating responsibly for decades, but I think it’s fair to say that its level of action-taking has varied depending on the time period. Can you talk about that?
Sure. I think the commitment has always been there. That commitment has shown up stronger during some eras of CMH than others. But I do think it’s now firmly front-and-centre for our business more than it has been in a long time. Aside from all the motivators that I’ve already mentioned, I’d say there’s simply way more attention on sustainability now than there was in the past, and there’s a much more widespread understanding of climate change. It’s just the way of the world now. When CMH started, climate change hadn’t even been acknowledged as something that was happening. That’s obviously a huge change.
And so, I think we’ve tried to grow and evolve with the times. Have we evolved fast enough? That’s open for debate. But we have to look forward. There’s no point in dwelling on if we should have done more or done less. To me, the really positive thing now is that our owners, Alterra Mountain Company, are on board and committed. They have set company-wide sustainability goals and have targets to reduce carbon emissions at the operations they own. We’re now in a place where we have the support to make the investments required to actually do something meaningful, which was not the case in the past. We did not have the resources available to take bigger, meaningful action such as installing multiple micro-hydro systems or making state-of-the-art upgrades to our fuel storage infrastructure. These are the types of projects that really move the dial on our footprint. So, we’re in a much more positive place than we were in the past, when we could do the easy stuff like changing lightbulbs, but we couldn’t really tackle the meat of the issue. I think we’re better poised for impactful change now.
Q. Where do you see that individual passion fitting into the bigger CMH picture?
Probably in how it relates to our commitment to problem-solving, and the collective knowledge base we have.
We have multiple locations, which is both a challenge and an advantage when it comes to sustainability. On the one hand, our locations are geographically spread out, so we lack that centrality that can make it easier to put things into action. On the other hand, it means we have a huge diversity of thinking and ideas happening across the company, in a variety of environments, and we have the ability to test those ideas at individual locations.
Between the 12 different lodge teams, plus our Banff offices, we have that many people who have the power to think of ways to approach improvements. And really, so many of the things we now do daily at CMH when it comes to safety, guiding practices, hospitality, etc. started as a good idea at one destination and spread company-wide into a standard way of doing things. My hope is that this way of thinking and knowledge sharing is no different when it comes to coming up with innovative ideas around sustainability. Our teams know their individual jobs best; they hold the intimate knowledge to take actions — big or incremental — that stick and create real change. That’s a powerful thing.
Q. Last question. What do you want guests to know about CMH’s sustainability work?
I want our guests to know that we’re taking this seriously. We always pride ourselves on acting with integrity, and I hope people are able to see that we are approaching this the same way. We don’t want to be greenwashing or overstating our actions.
I do think that actions speak louder than words, though. Our sustainability report is a good communication tool, but the real test is in what we actually do in the years ahead. I want our guests to feel good about our words and our actions.
In closing, I urge everyone who joins us this year to take an intentional moment when you’re out there to truly absorb where you are. It’s the best skiing and riding on the planet, but I think we sometimes forget to consider how privileged we are to be in these untouched, mountain wilderness areas. They are timeless, powerful, transformative places, so soak it all in when you get the chance.
See you out there!
CMH President & COO
Follow our journey
cmhheli.com/sustainability is the online home for ongoing updates.