Words by Morgan Dinsdale | December 9, 2017
Everybody has to start somewhere. For heli-skiers, that means one day in the distant, or perhaps not-so-distant past we all stood for the first time on a helipad. Rookies, quivering slightly as we awaited take off in our first helicopter bound for remote mountains and deep powder turns. We all stood there, piles of excitement, anticipation and nerves, wishing we could have the knowledge and advice of those who had come before us.
Luckily, CMH has no shortage of heli-ski veterans. Skiers with millions of vertical feet under their belts, who are more than happy to share their heli-ski tales and the advice they wish they could have given their younger selves.
Vertical Skied with CMH: 2,774,213 ft
Todd Losee first experienced heli-skiing with CMH in 2001 in the Gothics. He can remember it like it was yesterday. “It’s hard to explain the adrenaline rush, the anticipation and anxiety of the unknown of your first heli-ski trip,” he says of the experience. “Then the heli shows up and the sound of those rotor blades is something that will make you grin every time you hear it. And taking that first step out into knee-deep powder gives you a smile that never goes away.”
Today, CMH means a lot more than just great skiing to Todd. In many ways, CMH is synonymous for friendship, as he’s met some of his best friends while heli-skiing. Since 2004, he’s been returning each season with the same group of guys that he first met skiing that pristine backcountry terrain. “The guests, the guides, the staff, they all quickly become friends,” he says of the relationships he’s built inside the walls of the lodges.
After all these years, Todd has a few sage words of wisdom for first timers;
“Don’t be as nervous, remember the things we fear are usually the things that end up being the most fun.”
“Every trip seems to trump the last. It keeps getting better and better, the amazing adventures and experiences. Know there’s always something to look forward to.”
“Don’t tell your partner that this is a once in a lifetime experience. It makes for a long trip home trying to figure out a way to break the news that you are already booked for next year.”
Vertical Skied with CMH: 12,202,974 ft
Few light-up like Hank Brandtjen when talking about CMH Heli-Skiing. His passion shines through like the first rays of sunshine over the snow-capped mountaintop. Having skied over twelve million vertical feet over the course of nearly forty years, Hank has lived the heli-skiing dream. His first run at CMH was guided by non-other than CMH founder, Hans Gmoser, at the Bobbie Burns in 1978. A high school graduation gift from his father, this trip would mark the beginning of a lifetime playing in the mountains of CMH’s tenures.
“I would like to say I remember the name of that first run. I do not. What I remember is this: There was not a track on the entire mountain. Hans looked at us and simply said five words. See you at the bottom. Then he skied away. I looked at my dad with a grin and said ‘I can’t believe this,’ and we both took off. Father and son enjoying the run of a lifetime.”
The father and son would ski over ten weeks together at CMH over the course of a lifetime, weeks that “brought [their] relationship to a much higher level.” After his father’s passing, Hank reflects that it was their heli-ski stories they always came back to throughout his final years. “I cherish every run and trip I took with my father. Through CMH I created unforgettable moments with my dad,” he says in reflection. “I also blame him for addicting me to the best skiing on Earth (stated with a smile)!”
And what an addiction it’s been for Hank. His stories could fill the pages of an adventure novel, two, three times over. From skiing over 350,000 vertical feet in one week with a private group at the Monashees, where even the guides came home tired each day, to taking in the sunset in total silence atop CMH Bobbie Burn’s Home Run before skiing home to the lodge – a picture of this cherished moment still proudly sits in his office today. After all the miles, this veteran CMHer has a bounty of sage heli-ski wisdom to pass along…
“There’s more to heli-skiing with CMH than powder runs. The entire staff treats you as a part of their family. Yes, the lodging is great. Yes, the food is amazing. But more than this are the friendships you come away with. Don’t miss that!”
“You need not be an expert skier to enjoy CMH. What you need is to be a strong skier. Still nervous? CMH offers powder weeks for first-time heli-skiers where they teach you little tricks that make wilderness skiing all the more enjoyable. Like how to find a ski, how to put them on in deeper snow and how to read the terrain. Master these tricks and you have it made.”
“Take the time to catch your breath and take a look around when you’re out in the mountains. It’s some of the most sage advice I’ve ever been given.”
“Being able to side-slip when needed, and even snowplow can save a day. Ask any experienced heli-skier what part of the day exhausted them and they will say the traverses. To line up a run you sometimes need to traverse. To end a run you may need to traverse to a pick-up. First timers need not be shy here. Trying to sidestep or break trail on the flats is incredibly time-consuming and exhausting, so go behind the guide.”
“If you plan on using your time at CMH as a form of boot camp to lose weight you have made a huge miscalculation. Often my clothes are snugger upon leaving than arriving. Heli-belly is a real thing!”
Vertical Skied with CMH: 19,507,136
Andy Epstein is a name well known throughout CMH. After all, it’s not every day you cross paths with a heli-skier whose skied nearly 20 million vertical feet! Andy’s first CMH experience took place many moons ago at the Monashee Lodge mid-March 1977. A young buck at the time, Andy remembers being thankful for the great conditions he was blessed with on that trip, enjoying fresh powder run after run.
“I was physically prepared, in great shape, and 21-years-old. I had skied a lot that season but nothing was like what I experienced there,” he remembers of this first experience. “It was a defining moment.”
And it’s no doubt those powdery tree turns made a lasting impression. Over the course of his 40 years skiing with CMH, he’s become an incredibly seasoned heli-skier, the kind that sets the pace and understands the demands of a successful trip into the mountains. He’s skied countless lines, explored new zones with seasoned guides and witnessed everything from sublime powder to a fellow, not-so-experienced, heli-skier setting his moustache on fire with a flaming shot during après. After all these years, here are a few titbits Andy has to share from his lifetime with CMH;
“Use CMH’s skis. My biggest mistake on my first trip was bringing my own skinny skis instead of using CMH’s. They were like anchors on my feet, so much so that the toe piece ripped off on day three, forcing me to use theirs. It was a defining moment for me. The amount of effort from that day forward for the rest of the week was much less and I haven’t brought my own skis since.”
“You will have a great time regardless of the shape you are in but you will perform so much better if your body is prepared. Heli-skiing can be an exhausting experience if you’re not ready for it, so get in shape, give up smoking and do as much skiing prior to your trip as possible.”
“Don’t overdress. You will sweat – Trust me! Remember that you are the warmest at the bottom, not the top, of a run, which you have just skied and probably exerted a fair amount of energy on the way down. Remember you’re going to get into a warm helicopter and be at the top again within five minutes, as opposed to 10 or 15 on a cold chairlift at a resort. Carry an extra layer in your heli pack if need be, but don’t overdress or you’ll find yourself drenched in cold sweat all day long.”