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HELI-SKIING STORY - from the Yellowhead Magazine, WINTER 1977-78
Thursday, January 26, 2017 - 00:00
THE FOLLOWING IS THE STORY OF HELICOPTER SKIING
Hans Gmoser came to the Canadian Rockies in 1951 from Austria in search of adventure. He had a homespun love for the mountains, but when he started to explore the mountains of British Columbia he found something he could not relinquish. The opportunity to explore new areas; the opportunity to develop them in such a way that there is very little environmental impact and the opportunity to introduce these areas to people who would not otherwise be able to enjoy them.
Hans started his exploration on alpine skis with seal skins attached to the bottom, enabling him to walk up the mountains. The rewards were what people today are searching for - untouched snow in a vast and beautiful wilderness.
Gmoser guided these treks into the Bugaboo, Cariboo and Monashee Mountains, leading small adventuresome parties, which would ski one or two slopes a day. They were never satisfied with this. The topic of conversation was always how they could do more.
The suggestion was made by Brooks Dodge from Jackson, New Hampshire to get a helicopter. After some argument about cost and logistics, Hans launched his first heli- skiing week in 1965. The site for this was a primitive logging camp at the base of the Bugaboo Glacier in the Purcell Mountains of British Columbia.
Hans’ guests were so excited about helicopter skiing that the numbers of heli-skiers grew from 18 the first year to 70 the second and 150 the third. With this type of following Hans built the world famous Bugaboo Lodge.
Gmoser took this success and his followers to search out other possible heli-skiing areas, particularly the Cariboo Mountains in the Premier Range, located west of Valemount on the Yellowheard Highway. Hans and Lloyd “Kiwi” Gallagher, a mountain guide from New Zealand, had been conducting one week ski touring trips through this area since 1964. These touring trips started with flying by helicopter up to 7,000 ft. on the North Canoe Glacier. From there an ascent was made of Mount Sir Wilfred Laurier, one of the highest peaks in the area - 11, 500 ft. Then they skied from the Canoe Glacier onto the Sand Glacier, down the Sand glacier and returned to the Yellowhead Highway via the Sand Creek.
When Hans started his heli-skiing in the Cariboos in May of 1968, his knowledge of the area was already extensive, so development was very rapid. He went back again in 1970 and 1971. Lloyd “Kiwi” Gallagher was appointed manager of Cariboo Heli-skiiing for Canadian Mountain Holidays. Kiwi based his operation at the Sarak Motel in Valemount until construction was started on a new lodge in April, 1974. The million-dollar ski lodge is located 12 miles by logging road off the Yellowhead Highway. Kiwi, with his New Zealand background, his easy-going manner, beneath which is an incredible desire for new challenge and adventure, was able to organize the construction and completion of the lodge in a short 18 months.
Canadian Mountain Holidays also maintains a very successful operation out of the Sarak Motel. Today this is run by a very popular man, Hermann Frank. Hermann, a Swiss mountain guide, worked with Kiwi in the development of the Cariboo Mountains. Now Hermann is the manager of our Valemount-Cariboo operation and lives in Valemount.
Canadian Mountain Holidays has continued to expand and now runs six areas. They are The Bugaboos, The Cariboos, the Monashees, Valemount-Cariboo, Radium-Bugaboo and, the newest, Bobby Burns.
Helicopter Skiing is the ultimate in skiing today. The versatility and speed of the helicopter make the untouched snowfields and glaciers of the mountains very accessible. The Bell jet-powered, 14 passenger helicopters are based at these areas and the guests are brought in for a week of skiing. Each morning the skiers are lifted to the top of a run and the helicopter waits at the base of the run to ferry the groups back up to the top of another unbelievable ski run. This goes on for as long as their legs can stand it! Weather is seldom a problem. At each of the areas the pilots are familiar with the terrain and when the weather is bad the skiers stay close to the trees where visibility is good. On the good days they go to the high glaciers and snow fields.
Each group is led by the world’s most qualified mountain guides. There is a mixture of Austrian, French, Swiss, American and New Zealand guides. All of these men are licensed under the international association of mountain guides. With these guides the adventure skiers are able to go into potentially very dangerous mountain terrain to find the best skiing in the world.
Heli-skiing is not for the timid, inexperienced skier. It is the most difficult skiing in the world. We are not trying to scare you away from the mountains by saying this. We try to offer Heli-skiing to every skier by varied packages. One can book a “Learn to Heli-ski week” with us in Banff, where one of our instructors will ski with you and tell you whether or not you are ready for Heli-skiing. You can book one day, five days or seven days with us. We can accommodate most skiers who would like to delve into this magnificent world.
Helicopter skiing is unique to British Columbia. Because of the geographic location of the mountains of Eastern British Columbia, they offer optimum snow conditions from December until May. The snowfall there is not the heavy, wet snow, which is common to the coastal ranges, nor the cold dry climate to the East. The amounts that fall are not in excess but in modified amounts. The temperatures are mild, fluctuating very little over the winter. The mountains rise from 3,000 ft. to 12,000 ft., adding up to the best powder snow. All of this and the uncrowded country provide the adventure skier with the best, the most expensive and the most difficult skiing in the world today.
If you are ready for this and wish to learn more about Heli-skiing with Hans, Kiwi, Hermann and the other Canadian Mountain Holidays’ guides, please contact us at Canadian Mountain Holidays, Box 1660, Banff, Alberta, CANADA T0L 0C0 CANADIAN MOUNTAIN HOLIDAYS LTD
Top left: A heli-skier slicing through deep powdered snow on the way down a mountain slope.
Bottom left: After dropping off a group of ten skiers and their guide, the helicopter quickly departs for the next group.
Top right: The once almost inaccessible reaches of Western Canada’s mountains have been transformed into the most sought after skiing in the world.
Bottom right: Heli-skiers enjoy a meal at the Cariboo-Valemount CMH Lodge.
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