Heli-assisted ski touring in the Bugaboos

In Heli-Ski
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Words and Photos by Morgan Dinsdale | Posted January 23, 2017

Stripping off sweat-soaked base layers I realize I’ve never been so fulfilled by exertion. Spending a week ski touring at CMH’s Bugaboos Lodge, summiting mountains one after another, I am wholly and completely sated. I have been a backcountry skier for many years but never experienced ski touring like this.  Deep within the Purcell Mountains I’ve awoken each morning to spring sunshine, 5-star breakfasts and endless touring possibilities in some of the most varied and breathtaking terrain imaginable.  I’ve laid turns under the magnificent Bugaboo Spires, skied steep tree sections in spring snow squalls, played follow-the-leader with CMH Ambassador and pro skier Chris Davenport and, on this last day of my trip, coincidentally the last day of the CMH season, taken part in a heritage ski run, an old school adventure of making our way back to the lodge on skis instead of the usual heli ride home.  It’s hard to put into words how good the end-of-day margaritas taste and how great the hot tub feels after such an awesome day.  Heaven on earth.

I’m here experiencing CMH’s heli-assisted ski touring program, where each morning the loud woompf-woomphing of a Bell 212 helicopter’s rotor blades have taken me and nine other guests along with two incredibly accomplished and passionate ski guides, Andrew Wexler and Erich Unterberger, to territory rarely seen by many let alone skied.  Our group is a mosaic of international skiers, from Quebec to Minnesota to Switzerland.  Through the week we’ve come to know each other deeply, chatting on the skin up, high-fiving each other upon reaching summits, and over picnic-style lunches out in mountains as we refuel.   We’ve summited some of British Columbia’s most remarkable mountains.  Thanks to the heli-assists we’ve had quick morning access to the high alpine – a ski tourer’s dream, contrasting the reality that most backcountry summits begin with 5am wakeups and long approaches from valley floors.   At the Bugaboos we fly, literally, to the peaks of mountains whose jagged ridgelines and steep snowy pitches are the stuff of ski porn. From these high landings we’ve explored vast and varying terrain amongst spectacular wilderness.

There’s something about the smooth gliding of skins heading uphill, slowly summiting mountains one foot after the other, culminating in the view from the top that’s completely gratifying to my soul – Morgan Dinsdale

Ski touring has blossomed in recent years. It’s a serene way to explore the mountains, is great exercise, and is a challenge for all ages and abilities. The sport has grown in large part due to its simplicity.  Before chairlifts, gondolas and helicopters, men and women summited mountains on skis in their simple yet relentless pursuit of winter’s wild wilderness. One foot after another, from the European Alps to British Columbia’s interior, they were driven by their collective passion for experiencing and exploring snow-capped vistas. That passion has always been within me; the deeper into the mountains I go the happier I find myself. There’s something about the smooth gliding of skins heading uphill, slowly summiting mountains one foot after the other, culminating in the view from the top that’s completely gratifying to my soul.   Few experiences are as rewarding as standing on the peak of a mountain that I’ve just climbed and looking down on the untouched line I’m about to ski.

Photo: Dropping in after a successful climb

But with great exploration and adventure come inherent risk; avalanche hazards, unpredictable weather, terrain traps, navigational challenges.  They are the realities that come with stepping outside the confines of a resort.  CMH guided ski touring programs are designed to mitigate these risks, and are led by experienced guides steeped in the history of skiing these wilds.   They are the revered and admired characters in the great love story of the mountains for those of us who long for adventure in the hills. What they have skied, what they have experienced, is the stuff of our dreams.  Ski touring at the Bugaboos is a brilliant place to work on skills for all levels and deepen your knowledge of the mountains and how to safely navigate their wonder.  With access to world-class ski guides, diverse terrain and a heli lift home for tired legs, you can confidently engage and experience the backcountry to its fullest.

Photo: Taking in the beauty of the Bugaboos in April

For me this past week has also been reflective, soul cleansing.  By week’s end my spirit is fully renewed. Ski touring here has allowed me to notice all the little things again; the curves of the mountain, the crystals of the surface hoar coating the snow, the singing of birds overhead, the smell of pine trees, the hues of blue in the sky, the satisfaction in a deep breath.  Taking the time to take it all in.   Embracing the adventure that comes from the anticipation of what lies over the next ridgeline, over the other side of the mountain. There’s a great sense of accomplishment and pride when you summit a remote peak. Places like this, looking out on the seemingly endless Purcell Mountain Range stretching as far as the eye can see, are where you fall even more in love with the mountains. Where it becomes so much more than just great powder.  The roots of the mountains grow into your soul like an oak into the ground.  They become home.

Photo: Lunchtime refuel on a gorgeous spring day

Born anew from a shower and dry clothes, on legs of jello I make my way to the lounge in anticipation of dinner. Seated next to a crackling fire, margarita in hand, new friends at my side, my exhausted frame takes it all in.  This has been my first trip to Bugaboo Provincial Park and the world class CMH Bugaboo Lodge and I am in complete awe. Looking at Bugaboo Glacier and the Howser Spire which peaks at 3398m I am reminded that this top-tier climbing mecca was also the birthplace of heli-skiing in North America, when over fifty years ago a small intrepid band of skiers first explored the area from a 3-seater helicopter borrowed from a nearby logging camp.

It is now home to where I sit.  Embedded in a leather couch, one you can tell where so many have sat before me in similar states of bliss, I sink deeply into a corner pocket reflecting on the most incredible and special ski touring experience of my life. The Bugaboo spires stare caringly back at me, as if we have some sort of agreement, a relationship with one another, built upon the tracks I laid under its peaks.  It’s been a great adventure and a true privilege skiing here.  Yet there’s so much more to explore, and I soon find myself dreaming of my return.

Morgan Dinsdale is a former assistant lodge manager at CMH Bobbie Burns and is a guide-in-training. She currently resides in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. More on heli-assisted ski touring here. 

Photo: Touring amongst the impressive granite spires
Photo: The author, Morgan Dinsdale, taking a mountain selfie
Photo: Dinsdale celebrating an epic day in the mountains