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Heliskiing with CMH Bobbie Burns

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I just spent four days heli-skiing at the CMH Bobbie Burns lodge in British Columbia (December 30 to January 2, 2017). I feel fortunate that this was my third heli trip in the past 5 years I want to share the experience with you.

Enjoy this journey through four days of incredible skiing! If you have questions, I included links and email addresses at the bottom of this post. Also, please read the trip reports from my previous trips to CMH Galena Lodge in 2012 and CMH Monashee Lodge in 2013.

Day 1, Friday, December 30, 2016

While most people fly to an airport in British Columbia and take CMH-provided transportation to the heli pad, our travel plans were different. Myself, my wife Lauren and two friends (Jason and Megan) had just skied Whitefish Mountain in northern Montana, and decided to drive across the border and arrive at the heli pad in our own cars.

It was a dark drive, leaving Whitefish at about 330am and arriving at the heli pad at 830am.

The heli pad is essentially a parking lot in the middle of the countryside. A parking lot with a helicopter, that is (see the chopper behind our cars).

We were the first group on the helicopter, and about 10 minutes after lifting off, we spotted our home for the next four nights.

The weather had been snowy during the previous few days, but as we arrived the sun came out, so we were excited to be able to ski in fresh snow and sunshine later that afternoon.

After a quick welcome by the staff at the lodge, we found our room. The view was fantastic, and I began to get into the Chanukkah spirit.

The first day at Bobbie Burns is a little bit of everything.

We arrived around 1030am, unpacked, explored the lodge, and ate a fantastic lunch.

Then, just after noon, we began the safety briefings.

Our pilot Brian gave the first briefing about safety around the machine:

And then with our guide Shannon walked us through a series of avalanche rescue drills:

By about 2pm, we were finally ready to board the helicopter and get whisked away to our first ski runs of the trip.

Here is a map that I created to provide an orientation for our time at the CMH Bobbie Burns tenure. It is a massive area and we only explored a tiny bit during our four days of skiing.

We took three runs during the afternoon of the first day, and these were indeed warm-up runs. The snow was fun and the terrain was simple, which was a perfect recipe to get our legs under us and to test our group dynamics. Our group totaled 10 people plus our guide. Seven of the 10 were our group of friends, and the other three were a father and his two sons. They were phenomenal skies and wonderful companions.

My wife Lauren and I on the first afternoon:

Day 1 was a long day of travel and education, and a short day of skiing. That was fine with us since we knew that Day 2 would deliver a lot more vertical!

Day 2, Saturday, December 31, 2016

We were excited to start skiing the bigger terrain. We had heard from the previous guests at Bobbie Burns that the snow had been magnificent for them, and we couldn't wait to see for ourselves.

However, I have remembered during past ski trips that high expectations can get you into trouble, so I tried to keep myself calm as the heli took us above treeline at about 930am.

It turns out that tempering my expectations was a good idea. At the higher elevations, wind speeds had increased during the previous day, and in the open bowls, the wind transformed the fluffy snow into wind-affected, variable snow. To be honest, it wasn’t that much fun to ski, but the scenery was beautiful.

We tried a few different above-treeline areas to find less wind-affected snow, but it became apparent that the wind had made its mark on a lot of the exposed terrain. During our third run, we skied below treeline and found fun snow with a few rock features.

By mid-morning, I was frustrated by the wind-affected snow, but then our guide told us that we would be heading to the Crystalline Valley during the middle of the day and afternoon. This valley often sees a lot more snow than other terrain, but we couldn’t go there first thing in the morning because the guides were conducting avalanche mitigation and we needed to wait until they declared the area safe.

When we moved closer to the Crystalline Valley, our snow fortunes changed. The snowpack became deeper and softer, with lots of fun features.

I was so excited to find this playful terrain that I started jumping off of a few rocks. I am generally risk averse, so if I am jumping off of things, you know that the landings must be deep and soft!

Indeed, there were features everywhere. This is the type of terrain that gets me excited!

And I wasn’t the only excited skier in the group. My friend Jason took to the air as well.

Sometimes the features can get the best of you:

But, because of the soft snow and the wide skis (which CMH provides) that are perfect for deep powder, often times I was able to recover from mistakes:-)

As we moved into the Crystalline Valley, we found deeper and deeper powder.

The deep snow made all of us quite happy, and that included my wife. Just look at her smile as were about to drop into a tree run.

The snow and tree skiing in the Crystalline Valley was exactly what I had dreamed of during the weeks leading up to this trip. It doesn’t get any better than 15-20 inches of powder with open trees and a consistent pitch!

Here are two videos that nicely show this terrain.

Jason was excited to go airborne.

While this skiing is mostly fun and games, it is important to keep an eye on your partner. Deep snow and big trees can create tricky situations if you happen to fall into a tree well.

At one point, our friend James caught a tip and fell sideways into a tree well.

Thankfully his head was above the snow:

And Jason was able to quickly help him out of the tree’s grasp:

Our second day of the trip, and the last day of the year 2016, was one that we’ll all remember for a long time. It started slow, but the afternoon’s skiing was incredible and we were exhausted by the end of the day. Just as it should be!

After a soak in the hot tub, it was time for dinner in a special “long table” arrangement to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

No longer in the tree well, James was back to his ways of being the life of the party.

Day 3, Sunday, January 1, 2017

A new year, but thankfully, the same terrain.

The weather on January 1st was chilly, windy, and lightly snowing, so we went back to the Crystalline Valley which has trees that protect the snow from being wind affected. This terrain decision was fine with us since we had such a great time there during the previous day.

A view of the fabulous tree skiing from the helicopter.

Our runs generally started with lightly treed and less steep terrain:

And then, the middle and bottom of the runs transitioned into steeper, more playful terrain.

Like the previous day, the snow was fantastic in the Crystalline Valley:

And the tree skiing was phenomenal (skiing by Megan):

The only downside to our third day was the chilly temperature, made colder by a consistent wind and lack of sun. Because of this, we all opted to go back to the lodge for lunch (instead of having lunch on the hill).

After lunch, myself and most of the others stayed in the lodge to warm up and relax for the afternoon. A few others did go back out and enjoyed four runs after lunch, one of which was down a beautiful gully as the sun began to peek through the clouds (skiing by Jason):

Day three ended with another hot tub session and of course, more food than we should have consumed. That’s par for the course at CMH!

Day 4, Monday, January 2, 2017

The final day of our trip dawned with clear skies.

The great visibility gave me hope that we would be able to fly further west and get into the Selkirk mountains, a place that we hadn’t visited. During breakfast, our guide informed us that yes, we would be heading to the Selkirks, so I was pumped.

The lines in the Selkirks often start at high elevation, well above treeline, and can descend all the way to the Duncan River Valley. This amounts to 4,000 - 5,000 vertical feet!

Due to the very cold weather (-25C or about -15F) and ice crystals in the otherwise clear air, the atmosphere was putting on an optical show. We saw this halo at one of our drop-off points. 

The terrain above treeline was gorgeous, but the snow was also quite affected by the wind.

Lower, in the middle of our runs, the wind hadn’t touched the snow and the terrain was super fun.

As I said, the runs were looooooong. In the picture below, we started skiing just below the rocky face that you can see in the top of the image.

And here is a view from above. We skied all the way to the valley bottom.

At the valley bottom, we were greeted by enormous trees that thrive on the hefty amounts of winter snow and summer rain. For scale, notice Jason and our guide Shannon just to the left of the tree.

The only casualty on this day was Jason’s GoPro, which fell off of his helmet when he crashed after getting air. Remember – use a piece of string (or similar) to connect the GoPro to your gear so that, if the GoPro becomes unglued or unclipped, it won’t fall into the snow. We marked the spot with GPS and hope that the CMH Heli Hiking crew might find the GoPro this summer!

Our final run of the day took place on the other side of the valley where the sun was still shining (the run was appropriately called “Sunny One”.

I followed my college friend Tamra, who skies faster than I do! Watch until the end to see the helicopter give us a high-speed fly-by!

When we returned to the lodge, I was sad to think that this was the last time I would be visiting the boot drying room and replacing my radio. As usual, it was an amazing trip!

Day 5, Tuesday, January 3, 2017

This morning was all about closing things out.

First, we checked our final tally for vertical. Mine was about 74,000 feet during three and a half days, and most of our group was in the 60,000-80,000 foot range.

Then we ate a big breakfast, grabbed the to-go sandwiches that the chef had prepared for us, dropped our gear to the lobby…

… and boarded our 10-minute flight back to the car.

Is it too early to dream about the next trip?

The Last Word from Bobbie Burns 2016

For more information…

- read through the comments below

- see all of CMH’s upcoming trips at the CMH website

- email me with specific questions: Joel Gratz <[email protected]>

- email CMH’s sales rep for more information about booking a trip: Brad Nichols <[email protected]>

Heli skiing is best enjoyed with friends … and I can’t wait to get the crew back together for another round!

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