This is the final installment of a four-part series exploring Revelstoke heli-skiing operations.
It all started with a really bad snow year.
Legendary mountaineer Hans Gmoser’s heli-skiing operations in the Bugaboos were hurting in the winter of 1978/79 due to lack of snow in the East Kootenay.
But Revelstoke was enjoying the usual bumper crop of powder, and Regent Inn operator Fred Beruschi was about to become the beneficiary.
Through local connections, Gmoser approached Beruschi about hosting some of his guests at his Revelstoke hotel while they heli-skied in the area. It was meant to be a temporary solution.
Beruschi agreed: “I said, ‘We’ll give it a shot for a week or two, and see if your snow improves.’”
At the time, Revelstoke wasn’t really ready for the high-end European clientele. By Beruschi’s estimation, there was really only one restaurant in town up to standard. The entertainment scene was also a bit below the expectations of the hardcore skiers, some of whom saved up for a decade for their dream trip to B.C.
“There was only one liquor license where you could have spirits,” he said. “All the other bars you could only buy beer.”
But Revelstoke had the snow and mountains, and that’s what counted.
As the snow melted, Gmoser approached the local hotelier with an offer: “How would you like to do this again next year?”
Nearly 40 years later, Canadian Mountain Holidays’ heli-skiing offerings have multiplied in the region, including world famous backcountry lodges like the Monashees, Adamants, Gothics and Galena. But through it all, CMH’s operation based out of the Regent Inn in downtown Revelstoke has remained a pillar of their local operations.
Revelstoke’s done some growing up in the meantime; we’ve got lots of great restaurants and bars, for example, but we’ve also retained the diversity and charm of a forestry, mill, rail and highway town.
A diversifying product with better transportation connections
Steve Chambers is the CMH Area Manager and guide based in Revelstoke. In his long career with CMH he’s seen expansion, new lodges, and in the past several years, a real push to diversify the products they offer.
For years, CMH operations in the area were based on the week-long trip, using large helicopters carrying large groups of 11 skiers. Although they still operate their classic trips, they’ve diversified into many special programs. Many are based on smaller helicopters with smaller groups, which has been the trend for the past 15 years.
“The offerings, where do you start,” Chambers said.
They offer private trips, first-timer experiences, and family trips, to name a few.
Their Ambassador Program connects clients on exclusive excursions with big name skiers from around the world. Some Ambassadors for CMH this year include Shane McConkey Foundation Executive Director Sherry McConkey, three-time Winter Olympian Torah Bright and Winter Olympics Giant Slalom gold medalist Julian Mancuso.
Their Powder Programs includes tiers for beginners to the deep stuff, a masters program that gets advanced skiers as much as they can handle, and their girl powder program for female adventurers.
They’ve also got a freeride program split into big mountain riding, steep slope riding, and one dedicated to pillow drop skiing.
Another big improvement is improved transportation links. CMH operations in Revelstoke have switched from the Calgary International Airport to the Kelowna International Airport, cutting down the travel time by hours, and improving reliability.
Skiers can leave from some U.S. destinations in the morning and arrive for orientation hours later, making visits of just a few days possible.
“It’s a short trip to get them here and get them out in the mountains,” Chambers said. “We get them out skiing that first afternoon.”
The new offerings and transportation links has caused a shift in their clientele. They’re attracting more workers who couldn’t afford to take over a week off. The average age of their skiers keeps dropping. “We have watched it go down year after year,” Welch said.
Of course, the company still benefits from their massive swath of tenure, a benefit of being here when the tenure system was put in place.
The authentic mountain town experience
When I spoke with Fred Beruschi, he was just back from a ski trip south of the border, checking out the competition. People there know Revelstoke, he said.
“At the end of the day the Revelstoke is the epicentre of heli-skiing, backcountry skiing and CAT skiing in the world right now,” Beruschi said. “Everyone’s talking Revelstoke. Everybody knows that Revelstoke is a brand right now. It wasn’t 10 years ago.”
But through the changes, it’s the deep snow and authentic experience that keeps the guests coming.
“We want to sell the Canadian mountain town,” Beruschi explains. “Our guests from Europe need to see Canada. It’s not just all about the backcountry. The history of Revelstoke CMH is based around our operation is in a small town in Canada. That’s the way we fit into the whole equation.”