Through the lens: Experiencing CMH Kootenay

In Heli-Ski, Lodge Life

Photo: Shannon Mahre-Skouras

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In the distance, I could hear the helicopter heading our way – the sound of the machine was slowly getting louder and louder as it wove through the valley en route to our pick-up location. Our skis and poles were bundled and sitting next to Peter, our guide, along with our backcountry backpacks. The other five of us were huddled a few yards away, ready for the heli to land so that we could load up for another lift to the top. The machine buzzed past us and turned around to come in for a landing. As the helicopter got close to our huddle, the wind from the rotors stirred the air around us, sending snow and wind gusts in our direction. As soon as the mini snow storm began, it was over and the helicopter was sitting, nestled in the snow directly in front of us – awaiting our ascent into it’s cozy, snack-filled interior. We all had our seat assignments in the helicopter and because I was by far the most vertically challenged, I got to ride monkey in the middle: a seat that had a lower ceiling level than all of the others.

Photo: Danny Stoffel
Photo: Danny Stoffel

(Heli-skiing Lesson #293: Small stature and the ability to “keep up” will automatically give you brownie points with your group – At 5’3” and swift in powder and in the trees, I was welcomed with open arms by my crew of seasoned heli-skiing pros. Thanks mom and dad.)

As we helped each other get buckled, Peter finished loading our gear into the basket attached to the side of the heli and then hopped into his seat next to the pilot. As the helicopter began to take off I looked at the stoked, red-nosed crew around me and smiled; our day of adventure, face shots, sweeping epic views and endless fresh tracks had only just begun… and I couldn’t wait to see where our guide would take us next.

My husband Andy Mahre and I had made the trek from our hometown in Naches, WA to Nakusp, British Columbia to spend a few days shredding, shooting photos and exploring all of the goods that CMH Kootenay has to offer. When we rolled into the The Lodge at Arrow Lakes a little later in the evening than expected, we were greeted with an overall warmth and kindness that was truly unmatched – and to be honest completely unexpected. Brenda, one of their many amazing restaurant employees, with her genuine smile and insanely caring and hardworking demeanor made sure that our belly’s were full (we arrived after dinner) and that we were taken care of during our entire stay (I am allergic to wheat/gluten and she made sure that all of my meals were gluten/wheat free — and extremely delicious by the way). Every time we came into the lodge or popped into the restaurant, we were greeted with real, down to earth smiles and conversations. You could tell that the staff was a family – and that while we were there, we were part of their family too.

Photo: CMH K2 dining room | Shannon Mahre-Skouras
Photo: Shannon Mahre-Skouras |CMH Kootenay dining room

A few of my mornings at CMH Kootenay started with the short stretching class before breakfast. This is not a mandatory morning activity, but extremely helpful in keeping the soreness and aches and pains away. Brea, also a masseuse at the lodge, led us through some yoga poses and stretching exercises, and I must say that it was the perfect way to start off the day. A healthy dose of coffee, protein, fruit, water and orange juice at breakfast and we were ready to head out to the mountains for another day of adventure.

As we loaded up the vans, Nakusp was covered in a cool fog, a haze that never lifted during the duration of our visit: a deceiving start to a day that would soon be filled with sunshine.  Driving up to the helicopter pick-up/drop-off location, we listened to tunes while eagerly anticipating the day ahead. Our group was first to head out and when the helicopter showed up, we were ready and raring to go.

Piling into the heli one at a time, we plopped into our designated seats, clicked into our seatbelts and settled in for the ride to our first drop-off location. Higher and higher we went until we were above the clouds and fog that covered the valley. Sunbeams cascaded across the sky, lighting up the mountaintops that loomed above the mist. The carpet of clouds was completely seamless, forming a never-ending fluffy blanket of blues and greys that wove in and out of the mountains as far as the eye could see.

Photo: Shannon Mahre-Skouras

Our pilot set us down on top of one of the many sun-covered peaks, and one by one we hopped out and huddled together in preparation for his departure. As he ascended into the sky, the snow filled the air around us and sparkled like glitter as it slowly fell back to it’s new resting place. I’ll never forget the beauty of the moment that first day we flew and I stood on top of that mountain – because in that moment realized, this is truly heaven.

We each grabbed our backpacks from Peter, clicked into our skis and prepared for the descent. He filled us in on the route down and headed off through the trees. “Ladies first”, Steve said: I definitely wasn’t going to turn him down. Dropping into the glade, I felt me heart speed up with excitement – the snow was waist deep, completely untouched and mine for the taking. I could hear Bob behind me hooting and hollering as we rallied down the mountain

(Bob would quickly become my “ski buddy” and “tree-skiing partner” for the trip: never a dull moment when chasing that Tahoe shredder through the trees).

Photo: Shannon Mahre-Skouras
Photo: Shannon Mahre-Skouras

When we made it to the pick-up spot, I couldn’t do anything but smile knowing that this was just the beginning. From high alpine descents, to steep glades speckled with trees, to wide open bowls filled with the most blower and luscious powder you can imagine, our next few days of skiing were a whirl-wind of fun, laughter, excitement and positive energy. From taking care of each other on the hill and in the heli, to chowing on hot soup, candy bars and homemade sandwiches at lunch, (P.S. the BEST gluten-free sandwiches I have ever had… EVER!) to being goofballs and enjoying every crazy moment together – these four guys that I spent a few days flying and skiing with quickly made a place into my heart. And when I left that next day, I not only left with great memories, but also with the knowledge that I now had four new and absolutely amazing friends.

You never know what a trip is going to be like – who you are going to meet, what the adventures are going to be like, how your “plans” are actually going to play out. My trip to CMH Kootenay far exceeded any expectation that I had when I left Naches a few days prior. From the friendly and ever-helpful hotel and restaurant staff to the knowledgeable and absolutely hilarious (Marty, I will never forget you lip-syncing on top of the van while putting your crew’s skis in) and energetic guides and pilots, the staff were a pleasure to meet, work with and get to know.

Photo: Shannon Mahre-Skouras
Photo: Shannon Mahre-Skouras

And even though the skiing, terrain and shred factor was a 10 on the epic scale, my pre-dinner massage from Brea was top notch and the ever-calming and relaxing Nakusp Hot Springs was a lovely and calming post-shred activity option, the people were what set this trip apart from any other that I have ever been on. The people make the company, the people make the experience, and the people and the experiences with those people make the memories that we will take with us for the rest of our lives… the memories that are truly unforgettable. Well, CMH, I would have to say that in my book, this trip was truly unforgettable.

Photo: Shannon Mahre-Skouras, time for a little apres!
Photo: Shannon Mahre-Skouras, post-ski massage at The Lodge at Arrow Lakes
Photo: Shannon Mahre-Skouras, The Lodge at Arrow Lakes

Click here to learn more about CMH Kootenay  | *Formerly CMH K2