Words by Morgan Dinsdale | December 22, 2017
There are few countries in the world whose national spirits are integrally intertwined with a single sport. For Canada, there’s hockey. For India, cricket. And for Austria, there’s skiing. Many nationalities love to ski, but few whose zest for days spent on snowy slopes runs deeper than the Austrians.
Robert Koell, known fondly at CMH as ‘Roko’, is such an Austrian. His life has, and always will be, centered around skiing, a passion that brought him to Canada and has taken him around the world countless times, sharing his passion with the world.
Raised near the Austrian border with Italy next to the Dolomite Mountain Range, Roko grew up in Austria’s ski racing’s heartland. Quickly, he found himself rising the ranks as a coach within the Austrian system. He was offered a coaching position on the national team under one condition – he learn English, a requirement at the national level.
“I came to Canada in 1989 to learn English through an opportunity to work at CMH as a ski guide,” he says of relocating to Canada nearly three decades ago. “The skiing was so good I never left, and I’m still learning English 28 years later!”
His pursuit of the English language would mark an irreversible redirection in the career of this young Austrian abroad, now a beloved member of the CMH family. So much more than a great coach, Roko brought a personality the size of his adopted country to CMH along with a spirit of skiing exuding with every turn.
As a lifelong coach he is always in pursuit of improvement, motivated by the success and happiness of others. These passions have lead him to develop two of CMH’s most coveted programs; Powder Intro and Powder Masters, designed to craft “newbies” into exceptional heli-skiers and to accommodate seasoned heli-skiers who want to ski at a more relaxed pace.
“Guides, we ski very efficiently, we look at the snow and know how it will react, so we can be proactive, but guests don’t always have that right away,” he says of the Powder Intro trips. “Many people, even strong skiers, don’t know the right techniques, or they’re simple afraid they can’t heli-ski. This program creates a platform for them to be introduced to powder skiing. People have breakthrough experiences and then come back for many, many years as a part of the regular program.”
“At the same time we began the Powder Intro trips, we noticed that a lot of people who had skied with CMH for many seasons had started to enter their 80s and beyond and couldn’t keep up with the regular pace. But they wanted to keep skiing. With three guides in the group and a slightly slower pace, we’re able to have guests skiing into their 90s today,” he says of Powder Masters.
Exceptionally talented in his own right, Roko consciously steers his abilities and expertise towards the advancement of others. He’s one of those skiers who always has a smile on his face – no matter the conditions, no matter the terrain – he’s simply happy to be on skis. “A lot of people ask me which lodge at CMH is the best lodge. The best lodge is wherever the best snow is that week. But it nearly doesn’t matter. At every area we have trees, we have glaciers, we have big open bowls; they all have it all.
And every lodge has its own magic in its own way,” he says of his epic career across the tenures of CMH. “I love the mix of skiing, spring days on big glaciers, skiing trees with 90-year-olds I’ve known for years, and then steeper lines with young, aggressive skiers. The mix of it all is what I really love and something that’s great about these experiences. They take me to every lodge each season, and I get to enjoy the best that each has to offer.” For Roko, it’s about something profoundly simple. Keeping people skiing. Helping others become comfortable and strong in the deep powder of CMH’s heli-skiing experience is the fuel for his own passion.
Roko will always be a coach; it’s woven into his DNA. From working with new heli-skiers to critiquing his nephew’s World Cup racing footage to leading Powder Masters trips for almost thirty years, that’s where you’ll find him. In the mountains. Helping people advance their skills and deepen their love for skiing. It’s more than his passion, it’s the way he was meant to move on this earth, gliding on thin sticks of wood and metal across snowy slopes, taking in the romance of a life lived in the great outdoors.
“You see the beauty of CMH is so much more than the terrain, it’s the people – that was (founder) Hans Gmoser’s true vision. At CMH people are truly themselves, they rediscover a part of themselves they had forgotten. There are so many distractions in life, but up at the lodges it’s just a really happy, healthy life,” he reflects on his lifelong career. “It’s why I’m going to keep doing this for the next 300 years if I can, because with CMH it’s the people, the community, the mountains, the simple life that all make it so very rich.
WATCH: Roko describes the Powder Intro trips below.