British Columbia’s Bugaboos: The birthplace of heli-adventures

In Heli-Ski, Origins, Summer

Photo: John Entwistle

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Words by Tamara Elliott | Posted August 25, 2016

With its soaring granite spires and steep, glacial terrain that has proven irresistible to thrill-seekers for decades, it’s no wonder Bugaboo Provincial Park in British Columbia’s Purcell Range is the birthplace of heli-adventures. Nestled between Golden and Radium in southeastern B.C., “The Bugs” as they’re fondly referred to are a year-round outdoor playground. Summer sees mountaineers scale peaks high above the tree line, as vibrant alpine lakes and meadows bursting with wildflowers dot the landscape below. Come winter, heli-skiers tear down the slopes, whopping with delight as they glide through mounds of untouched powder that envelop the range like fluffy pillows—a sport that just so happened to be invented in this very place by CMH founder Hans Gmoser.

In 1964 Hans ventured out to the remote Bugaboo Glacier with a small group, a two-day excursion that included overnights at an abandoned lumber camp and being towed 45 kilometres on skis by a truck and skidoo. Inspired by the incredible conditions he called “one of the most impressive days in all my years of skiing in the mountains,” Hans vowed to make it accessible for CMH’s guests. By the start of the next ski season, he was using helicopters to transport guests into the heart of the spires, an adventure that proved so popular the Bugaboo Lodge was built just a few years later right next to the logging camp. At the time, visitors slept six people to a room—a far cry from the luxurious lodge it is today.

Photo: CMH Heli-Skiing historic archives
Photo: CMH Heli-Skiing historic archives

As they say, the rest is history. The Bugaboos are now considered one of the world’s premier destinations for heli-skiing, drawing people from around the world to its backcountry slopes framed by the iconic Snowpatch, Houndstooth and Pigeon spires. The Bugs have also hosted two Canadian prime ministers, as a quick dig around the CMH archives unearths a photo of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau back in the 1970s, relaxing at the property with his already-charming young son Justin who just so happened to become prime minister himself.

With many peaks towering over three-thousand metres, the area has also seen success with heli-hiking, which CMH brought to the area in 1980 after it became popular in the neighbouring Cariboos range. But it turns out mountaineers had been drawn to the spires long before then, as the Bugaboos were first noted during surveying expeditions in the 1800s. Prospectors hoping to strike it rich flocked to what were then called the “Nunataks”, scaling the steep terrain only to discover more glaciers than gold. Disheartened, they renamed the range Bugaboo, a term used to describe a dead end.

Photo: Lyle Grisedale, CMH Bugabooos
Photo: Lyle Grisedale, CMH Bugabooos

Today, CMH guides like to say that they “harvest the white gold,” embracing the snow that cloaks the dramatic spires and provides signature experiences for heli-skiers who get to tackle more than 200 different runs, with some stretching more than three kilometres. As the saying goes around the Bugaboo Lodge: “The peaks are the same. The only thing that’s changed is the people, landscape and lodges around it.”

Learn more about CMH Bugaboos here.

Photo: Jeff MacPherson, CMH Bugaboos