The Birth of Heli-Hiking: Part 1

In Summer
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By Hans Gmoser

This is a story about a good idea that went unrecognized at first and almost failed to come to fruition.

I take full responsibility for being the one who didn’t want to have anything to do with this good idea…in the beginning.

In April of 1977, my phone rang. A man introduced himself as Arthur Tauck. I had no idea who he was. He told me that he had just spent a week Heli-Skiing with his son in the Cariboos, that they’d had a great experience, and had enjoyed the lodge and the wonderful staff. I politely thanked him for the compliments and said I hoped he’d come again. I was about to hang up when he interrupted and said we might be able to cooperate in a summer business venture.

Hans Gmoser, 1963

CMH had tried for several years to generate summer business. We offered horseback riding as well as canoeing and hiking around the Bugaboo and Cariboo Lodges, and in the Bugaboos, we even built tennis courts. The net result was that we lost money every summer. By 1977, we had decided to shut everything down in the summer and preserve what money we made in the winter. I wasn’t interested in any proposition that would cost us more.

Arthur explained that he operated bus tours in the Canadian Rockies and that he would like to have one of his tours stop at the Cariboo Lodge for a few days. My interest waned even more. I told him I’d think about it and call him back. We hung up, and I promptly forgot the whole thing.

Two weeks later, Arthur called back. He wanted to know what I had been thinking. I crab-danced a little about being too busy but promised that I would get back to him in a few days. At this point, I knew I couldn’t get rid of him. I had to start thinking.

Arthur said his tour guests flew to Calgary and spent two nights each at the Banff Springs Hotel, Chateau Lake Louise and Jasper Park Lodge. He wanted to add two days at the Cariboo Lodge. What could we do with guests for two days? After some thought, I decided we could fly them directly from the Jasper Park Lodge to the Cariboo Lodge. With 40 people going each way, at 10 per flight, that would take care of one day. The next day we could have nature talks in the lodge and then fly everyone around in the helicopter to look at the mountains.

After all this profound thinking, I called Arthur.

“No, no!” he said. “Why don’t you do the same thing you do in winter? Fly the people up to some beautiful place, let them go for a walk, and then move on to another place”.

Well, this short explanation turned that light on for me.

Arthur would come to Banff. I would gather a few people representative of his clientele, and we’d fly to the Cariboos to see how they reacted. Arthur also asked me to invite Ivor Petrak, the Vice President & General Manager of the Canadian Pacific Mountain Hotels, because, in order for this tour to work, he needed a commitment for more rooms in these hotels. At the moment, he was already at the limit of what they would give him.

Hans Gmoser and Arthur Tauck in 1978

It was a beautiful July day in 1977 when we flew from Banff to the Cariboos. After a quick lunch at the lodge, we visited three different landing sites. Everyone was ecstatic about their experience.

Among our guests was Lizzie Rummel, who had spent most of her life skiing, hiking and climbing. Now, with one fused hip, severe arthritis, and approaching 80, she returned to places she never expected to visit again.

Back in Banff, Arthur, Ivor and I sat down to see how we could make this work. Ivor was brief. He simply said, “Arthur, you’ve got your rooms.” With that hurdle out of the way, Arthur and I agreed that he would do the packaging, marketing and selling of this tour, while CMH would provide the ground service for guests at the lodge. This included helicopter transport to and from the highway, two nights at the lodge, all meals (wine with dinner), and guided hikes from six different helicopter landing sites.

The first summer, 1978, the Cariboo Lodge operated at 87% occupancy. The following year, Arthur achieved 100% occupancy, and we were talking about expanding the operation to the Bugaboo Lodge. By the summer of 1982, Heli-Hiking was offered at the Cariboo, Bugaboo and Bobbie Burns lodges.

In promoting Heli-Hiking, Arthur was very careful in explaining the experience and what people needed to bring. He supplied a small packsack, a warm parka and rain gear. In the brochure, he stated that guests had to bring good, sturdy walking shoes. Understanding the meaning of good, sturdy walking shoes varied widely among the guests. The first summer, I carried one lady down a steep, grassy slope in gem-studded, black satin loafers. When I asked if she’d read about brining good, sturdy walking shoes, she said, “These are my walking shoes.”

Arthur, always wanting to do the best for his guest, bought an inventory of light mountain hiking boots, which were kept at the lodge.

A family walks in the mountains at CMH Cariboos
CMH Cariboos | Photo: Jesse Tamayo

We were welcoming people who had never seen mountains except from a distance. Yet we had them walking through alpine meadows covered with beautiful flowers, hiking along high ridges, crossing snowfields, all in the heart of exceedingly spectacular mountain scenery. This was an experience far beyond anything they had ever imagined. As a group, their enthusiasm and their sense of accomplishment was far greater than that of our skiers. For us, it was highly rewarding to give such intense pleasure to so many.

I felt that this activity could be enjoyed by far more people than Heli-Skiing. We could accommodate virtually any physical limitation. And we could also make this very exciting and demanding for the most accomplished mountaineers. In other words, we could provide a great adventure for the whole spectrum of people who enjoy being in the mountains in the summer.

The challenge was how to position this experience in the marketplace. Immediately we found that we had literally fallen between the chairs. The perception about Heli-Hiking ranged from, “This is way too tough” to “This is a real Mickey Mouse activity.” While Arthur was very successful in filling our three lodges with Heli-Hikers, his success was largely based on the tremendous loyalty he’d built up among his clientele. Many came because this was a new Tauck Tour – they’d already been on 20 others – and if it was a Tauck Tour, it must be good.

Had it not been for Arthur Tauck, his vision, his perseverance, his unfailing desire to always do the right thing for his guests, and his highly ethical way of doing business, instead of Heli-Hiking, we may have had just another variety of flight-seeing.

Thank you, Arthur.

To this very day, our relationship with Tauck Travel continues, and that’s something we deeply covet.

While many other things in the world may have changed since 1977, the concept of CMH Summer Adventures remains the same. We fly you to these otherwise inaccessible landscapes for an experience that will leave you in awe. We supply the hiking gear (should you need it), the guiding, the transport, the comfort of the three remote lodges, the friendly staff, the gourmet meals, and the memories of a lifetime.

Stay tuned for part two of CMH Origins – The Birth of Heli-Hiking, coming soon to CMH Stories.

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