A real powder day

Reflections on the ultimate form of skiing, and the man who popularized it

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Our group crouched in a collective huddle on the exposed, snowy plateau. Gale force winds threatened to knock us off our feet and gloved hands clutched at toques and goggles which were in jeopardy of lifting off heads and being carried away to some undiscovered corner of the Blanket Glacier. The noise was deafening. Faces peaked from behind mittens, swirling snow slamming into exposed skin like rough sandpaper. Couldn’t be long now….

Within seconds all was quiet and serene. The great, silver helicopter disappeared into the mist, leaving behind a neat pile of skis and snowboards and 10 people, alone on the barren mountaintop, not a tree in sight, just great fields of fresh, untracked powder, a majestic view and deep silence.

In the valley between the Selkirk and Monashee mountain ranges, the flowers were blooming in Revelstoke. However up here, winter still reigned supreme. Like a magnificent white blanket the snow cloaked the peaks and plateaus, and a palpable vibe of excitement and nervousness permeated our small group: A few first timers, some intermediates and a seasoned guide, we strapped and clipped into our equipment of choice, the slope’s virgin snow beckoning.

Hans Gmoser could be considered the father of heli-skiing. An Austrian mountaineer who immigrated to Canada in the early 1950s, Gmoser built Canadian Mountain Holidays, or CMH, from scratch. What has grown into the largest heli-skiing and hiking operation in the world began as a young man’s passion for the great outdoors and a desire to share it with others.

Gmoser began his mountaineering career in Banff, leading groups of hikers and skiers on mountain treks in the Canadian Rockies. In 1959 he formed a small company and CMH was born. It wasn’t until the mid-60s, however, that he had a brainstorm of epic proportions, a new and daring idea whose success has resonated through the decades that followed: Gmoser began using helicopters to access the virgin slopes of the Bugaboo Mountain range.

I would like to say that our first run down Geronimo was a smooth sail through virgin powder punctuated by whoops of joy, but the reality was the skiing equivalent of a train wreck. This was not a civilized resort powder day. These were “freshies” of epic proportions. Two feet of virgin white stuff requires a much different technique than the smooth groomers of the lift accessed mountain, and some of us definitely did not have our powder legs yet!

After a minor injury and a major excavation to recover a lost ski, we finally found ourselves at the pickup point waiting for the helicopter, our guide only thinly disguising his exasperation.

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