Atomic: bringing fat skis to the people

In Heli-Ski

Photo: Craig McGee

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Words by Morgan Dinsdale | Posted November 1, 2016

It all began with a ski. Atomic’s Powder Plus, the world’s first fat ski. It forever changed the way we ski powder, plucking skinny skis off our feet and guaranteeing we’d never look back.

Imagined in 1988 on a cocktail napkin by Atomic’s Chief Ski Designer and Engineer Rubert Huber, the Magic Powder – or ‘Fat Boy’ as it became lovingly known – would transform the skiing experience and spark a 25-year collaboration between one of the world’s greatest ski manufacturers and the world’s largest heli-ski operator, CMH Heli-Skiing.

“I’ll always remember when our first Fat Boys arrived,” recalls Andy Anderson, CMH Retail Services Manager, who in 1991 as a shop manager found himself setting up Fat Boys in his first year with CMH. “They completely revolutionized powder skiing, their design was the embodiment of thinking outside the box!”

Photo: Mike Welch | Atomic Heli-Daddy's circa 2009
Photo: Mike Welch | Atomic Heli Daddy’s circa 2009

Inspired by Atomic’s snowboards of the late 1980s, it seemed only logical to Huber to use the floatability of snowboards as the basis for a better powder ski. Known by his nickname ‘Killy’ – earned in tribute to the great French ski racer Jean Claude Killy – Huber simply bandsawed a snowboard in half, turned its steel edges inward, and the fat ski was born.

It was a ski meant for deep powder and big mountains and there was no better theater to test the limits of this new design than the vast rugged terrain of CMH’s tenures across the interior of British Columbia. It was, as Humphrey Bogart put it, “the beginning of a beautiful friendship”.

The next iteration from Atomic would be the Powder Cruise, fashioned to offer a gentler transition for the average skier than the water ski-like Powder Plus. But it was with the creation of the Heli Daddy in 2006, built specifically for CMH’s Heli-Skiing needs that would truly give flight to the relationship. “It was a game changer,” recalls Anderson. “We were able to have a one-ski quiver. It worked for 95% of our skiers if they were on the right length. It made our life easy. It was a no-brainer ski for us.”

Photo: Mike Welch
Photo: Mike Welch

So what makes a great heli ski? According to Anderson it’s one that’s maneuverable, can initiate turns easily, and comes in a variety of size platforms for the different snow depths experienced over the course of a winter. These principles govern Atomic and CMH’s alliance, an association that has created some of the world’s greatest powder skis.

“In 2009 we went to Austria on their invitation to collaborate,” says Andy of their ambition to create the next great post-Heli Daddy ski. “We sat down with Killy, a few of their ski engineers and a blank piece of paper. ‘What do you guys want?’, they asked us. They gave us carte blanche to imagine a ski that would work even better for our guests.” That teaming lead to the creation of the Atomic Heli Pro, a high performance powder ski whose development would trickle over into Atomic’s Access Line of skis.

“What really makes it a great partnership is the people,” Blair Blackie, Commercial Manager for Atomic Canada, remarks when asked about the 25-year relationship. “We are skiing,” adds Blackie, “everyone in our company is incredibly passionate about skiing and the gear we produce. The same is true for the people at CMH. They are equally passionate about the mountains they ski and the gear they ski on. CMH are our ambassadors and expert advisors in the heli skiing realm. It’s a collective labour of love and our work together seems to bring out the best in both of us. Looking for solutions together, working to create the world’s best powder skis, that’s what makes it so special.”

Photo: Live from the Atomic Factory, just in time for the new season
Photo: Live from the Atomic Factory, just in time for the new season

Today Atomic is CMH’s official ski sponsor, signifying the continued collaboration that brings the best gear to the most incredible terrain. Walk into any CMH lodge this season and you’re bound to see a variety of Atomic’s Backland FR series lining the shop, their latest range of big mountain skis. Developed for deep powder and the backcountry landscape, you’ll find them in every CMH lodge, delivering everything guests and guides are looking for in a state-of-the-art heli-ski.

Sparked a quarter century ago by one ski and driven by innovation and passion, in pursuit of the best snow planks imaginable, the bond between Atomic and CMH has grown deeper and stronger with every passing year. It’s a truly symbiotic pairing of some of the world’s most innovative ski engineers with the guides and guests who navigate a landscape intent and designed to test the best. In the big mountains, in the backcountry, in foot upon foot of untracked snow.

“At the end of the day it’s about teamwork and the pursuit of perfection. And to be actively working with the best in the business, striving to provide the best ski we can, that works in our world and for our guests – how awesome is that?” says Anderson with a smile.

Learn more about CMH Heli-Skiing here.

Photo: Craig McGee | Guide: Lindsay Anderseon, head guide and Atomic Ambassador
Photo: Craig McGee | Guide: Lindsay Andersen, Atomic Ambassador and lead guide at CMH Bobbie Burns