Jan 15 2017

Return of the Fantastic Four

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Moe, Larry, Curly and Shemp

Since the unfortunate and abrupt ending to my last trip to Alaska I have not had the great pleasure of skiing with what I call the core four – that is is me and the only three guys I know that have just as bad a powder addiction as I do. We have done numerous trips together to both British Columbia and Alaska and except for our misfortune in Valdez we have always had a fabulous time riding together. So when my favorite sherpa Kevin started raving about a new operation he found in the legendary Monashee Range, it didn’t take much convincing to get the band back together.

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

The first landing in the early morning light is a instant reminder of how beautiful it is high up in the mountains and how lucky we are to be there. The ghost trees are particularly stunning and other worldly. 

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

And then it’s time to play follow the leader…

As usual British Columbia has had a ton of early season snow so our only concern was the predicted sub zero temperatures which fortunately had passed by the time we got there. Instead we were treated to classic BC conditions – a deep base covered with a minimum of a foot of fresh wherever we went which got deeper and deeper as the week progressed.

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kevin in his natural habitat

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

David getting buried

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Aaron finding his bliss..

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Rippin time

The Monashees are famous for their old growth forest and amazing tree skiing and certainly our experience did nothing to dispel that truism. Besides providing a natural slalom course, the trees help keep the snow in pristine condition by blocking the wind and letting the snow pile up for us powder carnivores. So while the upper exposed slopes might be a little wind affected and only have a surface powder layer, the trees are invariably soft and deeeeeeeep.

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

One of the big boys…

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Not just tree skiing

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Oh chute!

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Quick, our guide’s getting away…

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

on his tail

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

oh, what a beautiful morning…

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

now there’s proper technique

But as you can see from the photos above there was a wide variety of terrain to keep us entertained. From tight chutes to long powder stuffed meadows there was big fun around every corner. And of course all of it had natural features to play in and jump off. And since the landings are all deep and soft, the temptation is hard to resist.

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

And the man who lead us to all this glory

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Our fearless guide, Matt

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

showing us how it’s done

Of course none of this is possible without a great operation making it happen. In this case it was Kingfisher Heliskiing whose entire staff treated us like royalty and made our every wish their command. Our guide Matt Devlin, whose attitude is best summed up by his photo above, delivered the goods run after run with a smile permanently etched on his face (not surprising considering what we had at our disposal).

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

the long commute from our lodging to the helipad…

And beyond the great skiing, delicious meals, comfy accommodations and toasty hot tub that Kingfisher provided there’s simply just the incredible scenery everywhere you look.

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

It goes without saying that the hardest part of a helitrip is leaving, especially when it’s snowing hard which is exactly what happened on our last day.

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

Do we really have to leave?

The four shots above were taken on our last run and as you can see it was dumping! This would also be a good time to thank Kevin for all the fabulous photos he took (which you can click on to see larger) which are the majority of the action shots in this post. 

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

How we all felt about this trip

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

nothing like riding with good friends

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

and with all this bounty

Kingfisher Heliskiing - Monashee Range

no wonder his smile’s so big

As always we shot a ton of video and like last year I’m just going to post a tease until I have the time and energy to go through all the footage. It was a fabulous trip with great friends and marvelous conditions so until I see them again, here’s a tribute to the Fantastic Four – thank you guys!!!

 

 

 


Jan 16 2016

Back in the Heli Again…

CMH K2 transport ship

Sure beats Uber…

After my accident in Valdez, one of the questions people most frequently asked me was whether I would ever heliski again. For me, the accident had less to do with heliskiing than with the inherent risks involved in riding big mountains. The big question for me was whether I’d be physically able to ride again at all, not where I would do so if I could. So once the docs gave me the okay and CMH advertised that they were having a half price sale, I didn’t think twice about booking a helitrip in British Columbia where I have had so many great experiences previously.

CMH K2

Home sweet home…

I had never previously been to a CMH operation (they have 11 lodges spread throughout British Columbia) and had always thought of them as the big box store of heliskiing. I had no doubt that they they offered a great experience, but was used to going with smaller operators and smaller groups. However they were making an offer we couldn’t refuse, so we decided to try something different and boy did that turn out to be a great decision.

CMH K2

The syndicate

The biggest difference between this trip and past ones is that we would be riding in a bigger helicopter with a group of 10. Theoretically, this could have meant fewer untracked lines, and longer wait times but in reality it meant just more folks to celebrate the amazing conditions with that we were fortunate to have all week. BC has had an excellent early season and after a long stretch of on and off snow, we managed to catch the first stretch of sunny days with cold temps and no wind to disturb our precious bounty.

CMH K2

Before…

CMH K2

After…

One of our big concerns with any heli operation is whether they “farm” their snow – that is they insist that skiers/riders stay close to one another in order to save as much untracked as possible for future groups. So we were thrilled to discover that our guides had a very much laissez-faire approach to our chosen routes down the hill. Basically all they required was that we meet up at the bottom of the hill so everyone got to enjoy fresh lines no matter when or where they started. And because the snow stability was excellent and their terrain is primarily classic Kootenay tree skiing, we got to ride steep untracked lines all day long. What else could we ask for?

CMH K2

You don’t always need a helicopter to catch some air…

CMH K 2

Aaron shows how free heelers do it

CMH K2

Kevin with his usual cat swallowing the canary look…

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Trevor with his V for Victory pose…

Originally, this trip was going to be a reunion of our “core four” – the same group that went to Revelstoke and Valdez together two years ago. Unfortunately, one of the founding members had to drop out but came up with a worthy replacement as seen directly above. We then spread the word and picked up three more associates who ripped along with us.

CMH K2

Did I mention how beautiful it was…

CMH K2

everywhere you looked…

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and when you got there…

CMH K2

there were never any tracks…

Since we had nothing but bluebird days, the scenery was spectacular everywhere you turned and the late December sunlight was glorious all day. This led to an abundance of picture taking of our very photogenic crew.

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Aaron finding his zen…

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What me worry?

CMH K2

Who took this photo?

CMH K2

Our staff photographer, Kevin Edwards, of course…

My good buddy Kevin always complains that I never give him photo credit so I’m going to publicly state right now that any good photo of me is his doing and I owe him dearly for that as well as all the times he pulls me out of a flat spot. Who says skiers and snowboarders can’t get along?

CMH K2

But enough scenery shots…

CMH K2

let’s get back to why we were really there…

CMH K2

to find deep powder…

CMH K2

to rip turns through…

CMH K2

run after run…

CMH K2

and I’ve got to say…

CMH K2

it was absolutely worth…

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every second…

CMH K2

of my…

CMH K2

rehab.

Of course, we need to thank all the great folks at the CMH K2 Rotor Lodge for the delicious food, comfy accommodations, rides to the Nakusp Hot Springs after skiing, and most of all the incredible guiding and terrain they provided for four amazing days!

CMH K2

Cool sign too…

It’s really hard to capture just how fabulous the skiing/riding was with just some still photos especially because when you’re in the middle of an incredible run, stopping to take a photo generally isn’t at the top of your priority list. Fortunately we also shot a ton of video but cutting that into something that someone other than the participants would want to watch is a rather large task. In my past life, I was once a video editor so I may attempt to do just that but for now you’ll just have to settle for this tease.

And yes, my surgically rebuilt knee held up just fine, so there will be more tales from the Gluten Free Snowboarder. I need to thank my surgeon for sewing me back together, my physical therapists for working me hard, my family for helping me in times of need and my friends for telling me I’d be back. It not only takes a village to raise a child, but also to put a broken snowboarder back on the mountain. Thanks everyone, and see you on the slopes!!!


Jan 14 2013

When in Doubt, Head North!

My second favorite mode of transportation

It’s been another rough year in Colorado for powder hounds. Yes, Wolf Creek has been getting it as usual and Steamboat has had it’s moments, but for Front Range skiers and riders the pickings have been slim. Fortunately, there’s a cure for that – what I like to call the BC solution – packing your bags and heading to our neighbors to the north where the snow is deep and the living easy.

All by my lonesome…

For this year’s BC adventure we choose Valhalla Powdercats, the sister company to Snowwater Heli-Skiing who we visited with a few year’s back. While the snowcat is a more earthbound creature than the helicopter, it still has the ability to transport you to magical places full of bountiful powder and untracked lines.

Dave dropping in

But while lots of places have deep untracked snow, what Vahalla also offers is super fun dynamic terrain with guides who love nothing more than showing it off. Cliffs, chutes, glades, meadows – you name it, they got it. And with only 12 guests and no snow farming it’s your own personal playground – pick a line, any line.

Aaron airing it out

Mira demonstrating that “anything you can do, I can do better”

While down in the states I generally try to stay close to the ground, up in BC, the sky’s the limit. Perfect hero snow tends to encourage launching and Valhalla had both the terrain and the soft landings to spur us all on.

Of course, just regular old ripping is fun too…

It also helps to have a great group of riders to enjoy all that snow with. And for once, the boarders outnumbered the skiers. But if nothing else, we certainly proved that we can all get along just fine.

Gary says “full speed ahead”

and “may I have some more, please”

The one variable on every ski trip is of course the weather. On this trip, the gods decided to bless us with snow every night, as a matter of fact, we didn’t see the sun till the last day. And frankly, none of us missed it.

Snow, snow and more snow…

Of course, blue sky does make for good photos…

All in all it was an immensely satisfying trip that will keep my powder fever at bay for at least a week or so. Can’t thank the folks at Valhalla enough for all their fine work and the happy crew below who certainly know how to have a good time.

Now that’s a lineup…

So once again, I thank my lucky stars for having the good fortune to experience all that the mixture of deep powder, wicked terrain and good friends has to offer. For the beautiful photos in this blog post I’d like to thank Melissa Welsh Photography who did a great job of covering the action and can be your personal photographer if you ever make it up that way. And as you can tell from the photo below, for me, there’s no business like snow business…

Life is good…


Jan 16 2012

The Great White North

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I recently had the tremendous good fortune to spend five days heliboarding at Great Canadian Heliskiing located near Rogers Pass in my favorite Canadian province, British Columbia. While I have visited GCH numerous times before, this was my first trip there in three years and an excellent reminder of why I keep coming back.

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As any skier/rider who lives in the US knows, it’s been a bad year for snow in the lower 48. As a result, I wasn’t exactly in mid season shape when I started this trip. However there’s nothing like a helicopter to really get your legs cooking. Fortunately the exhaustion I felt by the fourth day was easily overcome by the adrenaline that the terrain and snow quality sent coursing through my veins.

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You’ve probably also noticed that there seems to be an awful lot of teletubbies on the hills these days thanks to the ubiquitous GoPro cameras that you see perched on everyone’s helmet. I personally prefer the Contour HD which is the round tube you see attached to my googles in the picture above. I did however have access to an extra GoPro which I convinced those riding with me to strap on their heads backward so I could work on my form. Check out the video below for the results

As you might be able to tell from the video, it was an incredibly good time. I can not count the number of times I thanked the gods, the guides and my own good fortune to have been there. I will post more about the trip in coming days, as I accumulated enough footage and photos for a small miniseries. Fortunately the weather seems to be turning down here in Colorado so my local friend reading these posts won’t hate me…


Jan 19 2010

O Canada

Love thy neighbor

Love thy neighbor

We had one final day after our love fest in the Valhalla mountains but sadly the snow and fog returned so while there was deep powder everywhere, we could only access the runs close to the lodge that we had been doing for days. Now don’t get me wrong, these were still great runs – steep shots with lots of fresh snow – but after getting a taste of what the surrounding mountains had to offer we were all hoping to experience a little more of the nearby terrain.

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Ah, the memories

All in all it was a great trip. I always love to check out new terrain and what better way to do it than with a helicopter at your service. In the end we only really got to go exploring on 3 of the 7 days, but even the close in stuff  provided tons of excellent riding.

My kind of run

My kind of run

This trip also reminded me once again how lucky and spoiled rotten I am about powder skiing. There were a couple of first timers on the trip who were raving about what was at best a marginal heli day, which is still of course much better than almost any day on a ski hill. But once you’ve tasted the kind, all you want is a little more. Fortunately, the day we spent in the Valhallas was pretty much worth the whole trip by itself as I will not be forgetting those runs and that scenery till my brain cells totally deteriorate.

What's not to smile about?

What's not to smile about?

I would also be totally remiss if I did not thank everyone at Snowwater for doing everything possible to make our trip a great time. The guides and pilots went above and beyond the call of duty trying to get us out in very difficult conditions and the staff treated us like kings at every turn. Patric and Mariah were tremendous hosts – it felt like one week long party with good friends that just happened to be at a heli resort.  I will definitely be returning some day to check out the rest of their terrain and give Patric another chance to level me with an infraction (it’s a long story). Till then, I’ll be checking the weather and dreaming about O Canada…


Jan 17 2010

All hail Valhalla!

Finally above the fog

Finally above the fog

We finally won the weather battle yesterday. No fog, snow or wind – instead we got blue skies and cold temps – just what the doctor ordered. This meant we could go exploring – and like the Norse gods of old we headed to Valhalla.

First stop on the Valhalla tour

First stop on the Valhalla tour

Patric Maloney, the owner of Snowwater has a saying – A day in Valhalla, a customer for life. Today we got to find out if this claim was true. The Vahalla range is one of three in Snowwater’s tenure and a little bit of a haul to get to but it very quickly became apparent that it was well worth the effort. The scenery alone was quite spectacular – massive granite peaks towering over beautiful valleys filled with old growth trees. But we weren’t really there to sightsee, we were itching for some big mountain skiing after days of fighting the weather around the lodge and Valhalla definitely delivered.

Keith airing it out

Keith airing it out

When people think of heliskiing they often see a picture of perfectly spaced parallel tracks down wide open glaciers. While that has its’ allure it’s not why we go to British Columbia. We go for the natural terrain park that nature provides us. Big rocks and cliffs, pillows and mushroom caps, nicely spaced old growth trees – you name it, they’ve got it.

Love those old growth trees

Love those old growth trees

It was one of those days that makes all the time I spend chasing powder worthwhile. Run after run of steep varied terrain with unlimited opportunities for airtime. The guides call them “gigglers” because as you reach the bottom of the run you’re as giddy as a kid at your own birthday party. For one day at least we were all in heli heaven.


Jan 14 2010

Now that’s more like it!

Fog, fog go away

Fog, fog go away

We’ve been battling the weather all week but it’s finally starting to turn in our favor. Still fighting the fog but on the first run today we discovered that foot of fresh snow had fallen overnight and while not champagne powder it was a far cry from the Sierra Cement we have previously been dealing with. So while we were still having to play and hide and seek with the helicopter, when we did get to land the riding was fabulous and only got better as the day progressed.

Kevin in the pow

Kevin in the pow

One of the advantages of the heli operation at Snowwater is that they have a cat backup in bad weather. So after lunch we jumped into the cat to ski some close in terrain. Now while on Monday, this terrain was a little more tracked than I would prefer, today all the snow had refreshed the runs and provided us with some very sweet powder laden steeps. After a couple of cat runs it was back in the heli and while we couldn’t go far, the snow conditions were now moving into the superb category making for some very happy clients.

Fellow members of the Snowwater 12 step powder program

Fellow members of the Snowwater 12 step powder program

Sadly, two thirds of the original 12 folks had to leave today. I can thank the gods, Ian McTavish and my support system back home for allowing me to stay for another three days (I was originally supposed to leave today). This evening 8 folks from Rossignol including pro athletes are coming in for some photo shoots so it should be an interesting rest of the trip. We also get all new guides tomorrow which brings a tear to the eye as besides being tremendously hard working and excellent route finders, were also great fun to ride with. I felt particularly blessed as our guide Scott Newsome is the only certified guide in Canada that uses a snowboard to guide with so for once I was led around the mountain by one of my own kind – loved the lines he chose as well as his guiding philosophy.

Snowwater's fearless leader

Snowwater's fearless leader

As I write this it is dumping once again so have high hopes for tomorrow. Either way it’s been a fabulous trip so far as the staff at Snowwater led by the highly entertaining Patric Maloney and his lovely and talented wife Mariah Grant make sure everyone’s having a good time all the time. Been to a lot of heli and cat ops but can safely say that none have as lively or as an engaging an atmosphere as the one that permeates every aspect of the Snowwater operation. As my favorite roommate and staff photographer Kevin Edwards just said to me – “this place has the soul of skiing”.  Party on dude!


Jan 14 2010

Getting better all the time

Out in the great wide open

Out in the great wide open

Day 3 of our Snowwater adventure. Finally got away from the lodge and started to explore the Bonningtons, one of the three mountain ranges Snowwater’s tenure covers.  Didn’t take us long to discover that while there was good snow up high, we needed to avoid going too low if we wanted to have our legs last all day. After some good but thigh burning runs we landed in an area called Tropicana. Now I’ve been drinking Tropicana since I was a wee lad, but it never tasted better than it did today. A 2500 foot consistently pitched slope with widely spaced trees allowed for high speed rippers that would warm the cockles of any snowrider. The persistent fog that has been haunting us for days chased us away for awhile but dissipated in the afternoon so we returned to greedily chug the Trop till our belly’s were full. There were nothing but smiles in the heli at days end.

Kevin making the most of it

Kevin making the most of it


Jan 11 2010

No more pineapple!

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My temporary home sweet home

Now I love Hawaii as much as the next guy. I’ve had many a fine vacation in that tropical paradise. But when I’m visiting British Columbia I don’t want anything associated with the Hawaiin Islands particularly something known as the “Pineapple Express”. This term refers to a weather pattern where warm moist tropical gets funneled directly from Hawaii to British Columbia. While moisture is generally a good thing, the warm air that comes with it is not and can lead to rain throughout the BC mountains in the middle of January. I have experienced this phenomena before and it’s not a pretty thing. Unfortunately the area I’m visiting right now is in the middle of this pattern and while we’re fortunate it’s not warm enough to rain, it has made the snow very heavy and more importantly has caused a lot of fog which makes flying a helicopter quite problematic.

nice accomodations

nice accomodations

This year our group chose a new venue for our annual helitrip – Snowwater. Like all the heli and cat places I’ve visited in BC, it is very nice, with comfy rustic lodges, great food and wonderful staff who cater to your every wish. What they can’t do however, is change the weather. They do have the benefit of having a snowcat that they use when they can’t fly but they can only ski the local terrain for so long before it starts getting skiied out which is not a term I want to be using on a helitrip.

Looking for freshies

Looking for freshies

For most of the day we played hunt and peck with the helicopter and the fog. It would look like it was clearing, so we’d get in the heli but by the time we got to the top of the hill the fog would close in again preventing us from getting any distance from the lodge. We did get some good shots at the top of the runs but eventually everything would funnel back towards the lodge where the terrain would start to look more like your local ski hill than your typical heli paradise. Eventually we switched to the cat for our last run which was actually one of the better runs of the day as we accessed some terrain that had not yet been skied this year.

the happy camper in the cat

the happy camper in the cat

For those of you that know me, it will come as no surprise that I was less than thrilled with the conditions. Fortunately, I was able to remember that I was incredibly blessed do be doing a trip like this in the first place and it is still a lot of fun to ski with a bunch of folks as dedicated to chasing powder as I am. On every trip like this I meet really nice people whom I exchange snow stories and info with usually in the hot tub or over a delicious meal so I got that going for me. But if you know any weather prayers, please say one for me as I will only be here for four days and sure would like to see what these incredible mountains have to offer.


Jan 6 2010

Should I stay or should I go…

Sadly, not today

Sadly, not today - but hopefully soon

Here’s how my planning goes during the six months of ski/snowboard season. Scour the various weather and snow reports to determine when and where I’m most likely to find powder. Cancel all appointments for that day (or days) and make sure I have the needed child care arranged. Put out the general call to any or all that might be interested in coming along. The night before pack up my stuff and get some food together.  Everything’s ready but now comes the big variable – the actual snowfall. It’s an easy decision when there’s a big dump somewhere but unlike some of my friends I’m not interested in riding hardpack so when the morning reports show little or no new snow the debate in my head starts. Sure is comfy in this warm bed. Maybe the storm is just late and it’s dumping right now (check more reports/forecasts here). Perhaps tomorrow would be better. Does whomever I was planning to go with still want to go (make phone calls here). Maybe I could poach some old snow. I wonder what shape Berthoud is in? And so it goes till I either get out of bed and go for it or I’ve debated so long it’s now too late to catch rope drop so what’s the point. That’s how it went this morning – no new snow to speak of, no great motivation from my potential riding buddy and the lure of chair 4 at Loveland opening for the season not enough to get me going. Oh well…

But there is light at the end of the tunnel – a very bright light – my annual heli trip to British Columbia is next week. What started out as a once in a lifetime experience during a particularly dry spring in 2002 quickly became a once a year necessity – one trip to the powder triangle and I was hooked for life. Some years it’s been heli, some cat and some both but no matter what every year I make a pilgrimage to what I consider the closest thing to a sure thing – British Columbia and its’ astounding collection of cat and heli operations – there’s a good reason 90% of the world’s heli ops are located there (if you’re interested in more details check out the B.C. page on this site). This year we’re checking out a new place Snowwater – which actually runs both a heli and cat (Valhalla) operation so if you can’t fly due to weather they put you in a cat till it clears (a very useful option and one that few other places offer). Anyway my next several posts should be from there so if you’re interested, check in next week or if you’re jealous skip the next couple of posts or start saving up for next year…