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My mom is crying—no, sobbing—happy tears but I can’t hear her over the chop-chop-chop of the helicopter’s rotor blades. We’re just lifting off from the parking area where our tour bus dropped us off and headed to CMH Bugaboos lodge for some hiking. The heli-hiking operation has opened the door so a whole new non-skiing audience—like my mom—can connect with the mountains of British Columbia.
The first time I visited CMH at their Kootenay lodge in Nakusp, B.C., I had an out-of-body experience while skiing. I literally could not understand how this swath of perfect terrain and snow had resided just to my north for my entire life, and no one had considered explaining the sheer perfection of it until now. My first thought was that I needed to share this with everyone and anyone I could, even strangers. I considered standing in the center of Vail Village on a Saturday and shouting from the top of my lungs, “You guys are doing it wrong! Go north to CMH!”
What I really wanted though, even more than preaching the heli-skiing gospel to strangers, was for my friends and family to experience the same level of bliss. For some people it was an easy sell: They’re skiers who love chasing pow and have the means to put together a trip to Canada. For other people in my life—whether it was because heli-skiing is just straight-up expensive, or the minor detail that they weren’t actually skiers—it wasn’t a reality. But I still dreamed about sharing the experience with all of them. Especially my family.
Which is how I found myself on a Bell 212 helicopter headed to CMH Bugaboos lodge with my mom, in August. After years of preaching about the Great White North, we found a compromise in heli-hiking. Most of my family would never get to a level of skiing where they would enjoy or justify a heli-skiing trip, but heli hiking is accessible to all of my family members.
My mom, Connie, is already totally overwhelmed by the excitement of what we are doing. She’s crying on the helicopter because she can’t believe it’s really happening. After watching me adventure all over the world for years as a writer and photographer, she was finally getting a chance to share one of these amazing experiences. Also, she’d never been on a helicopter before and it’s thrilling, to say the least.
After getting settled at the lodge we jump back into the helicopter for a bump to the alpine, where we’ll begin our first hike of the trip. The hiking isn’t hard, or fast (in our group at least), but it’s utterly beautiful. Alpine flowers are thick in waves that wind through a landscape carved by eons of wind and water. We make our way through them gingerly leaving only the lightest footprints.
The CMH Heli-Skiing Experience: Cariboos Magic
If I’m being honest, hiking isn’t my first pick of activities. I much prefer faster-paced options laced with a hint of adrenaline. Trail running, in this case, would have fallen far above hiking on my preferences list— but mom doesn’t run and this trip isn’t about me. My goal is to give her the same kind of once-in-a-lifetime experience I’d had at my first CMH lodge. So, we hike. Slowly.
Mom lives in Chicago, and to say she is experiencing a kind of culture shock would be accurate. Or maybe nature shock is a better way to put it. She would have been happy sitting in the grass at the lodge taking in the view, dropping her high in the alpine was altogether mind-blowing.
At dinner, we sit next to Annie and Art, a couple who were in our hiking group, who instantly strike up a conversation with mom. I realize halfway through my glass of wine that they are really, really, connecting. After spending the day filling your cup so full, the shared experience creates a sense of bonding between the people you spent that time with. Their cups are overflowing and they’re floating on cloud nine, just like I did on my first CMH trip.
In fact, every time I’ve been on a heli-skiing trip or big mountain adventure I’ve had this same experience. It feels like you’re walking away with ten new best friends from all over the world. I didn’t expect this to happen here because hiking, for me, falls nowhere near the level of skiing on my internal excitement meter. But I didn’t consider that mom’s threshold for adventure is much lower than mine. For her, Art, and Annie, this experience was off the charts, and they felt the thick connection that comes from sharing deeply meaningful experiences.
It hasn’t even been 24-hours since we arrived, but I can already float off to sleep knowing that my mom is going to bed completely blissed out. And exhausted. And having the same amazing experience I’d longed to share with her. Tomorrow, we get to do it all over again.