Clients Can 'Heli-Hike' the Canadian Rockies

BANFF, Alberta -- Clients yearning to hike the high mountain meadows of the Canadian Rockies can take the path of least resistance by booking a heli-hiking package with Canadian Mountain Holiday here.

"We like to encourage people to get out of their [tour] buses and cars," said Jane Hay, director of marketing heli-hiking for the company. The company also offers mountaineering and heli-skiing products. The company, which is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its helicopter-assisted hiking travel packages this summer, pairs high-mountain hikes with stays at small alpine lodges offering dining and accommodations. heli-hiking

Canadian Mountain Holiday, or CMH, was founded by Hans Gmoser 32 years ago. He teamed up with a geologist named Art Patterson, who had the idea of using helicopters to shuttle skiers to the pristine slopes of the Rockies. According to CMH, the skiers loved the idea so much they persuaded the company to build a lodge with a helicopter landing pad.

The 24-room Bugaboo Lodge, built in 1968, is one of four lodges equipped to house heli-hiking and heli-skiing guests. The Bugaboo, Bobbie Burns, Adamant and Cariboo lodges each accommodate nearly 50 guests, assuring small hiking groups and a less-populated atmosphere.

"Basically, there are 44 guests in the lodge at one time and they are divided into hiking groups with a maximum of 11 people," Hay said, "and what we plan for them depends on the weather that day and what they want to do."

Hay said that a longstanding relationship with Westport, Conn.-based Tauck Tours has taught CMH how to cater to the average consumer rather than just mountaineering aficionados and other special-interest travelers. "Arthur Tauck came up with the idea of heli-hiking when he was bringing one of his sons heli-skiing in one of our areas in 1977," Hay said. "He wondered what we did with our lodges in the summertime, so he phoned Hans Gmoser to ask about a motorcoach trip starting out with seven days in the Canadian Rockies, visiting Banff, Lake Louise and Jasper. Then they would go to the Cariboo Lodge for heli-hiking for two days."

Since then, the company has grown to accommodate 6,500 heli-skiers and 3,000 heli-hikers per year, he said, adding that Tauck accounts for about 2,000 hikers each year. Although CMH counts hard-core mountaineers and daredevil skiers among its clients, the firm also caters to guests who are novices at mountain hiking -- as long as they can clamber aboard a helicopter and have no significant health problems, they can enjoy the view from near the top.

"Having dealt with Tauck Tours for so long, we're really good at dealing with people who don't hike a lot," Hay said. "I had a couple -- the woman was 90 and the man was 92. For these groups, we would land them in spots that are level and easy for walking. We use the term walking [rather than hiking] a lot because it's basically walking in the mountains." Those with an aversion to high altitudes also can take heart because the hikes take place between 6,000 and 8,000 feet rather than in higher elevations. The guide-to-guest equation is one guide for every three guests on the more technical hikes and climbs.

CMH also caters to clients by providing hiking boots, parkas and other gear. The company also sells medical insurance that includes emergency helicopter evacuation.

Contrary to what one might expect with a special-interest travel company, CMH provides excellent support to travel agents. CMH launched a concierge service last summer that equips its clients with all they need for extended stays in the region. "If agents have an FIT client who wants to go heli-hiking and also wants to spend, say, two weeks in Vancouver, our concierge will book the hotels, the rental cars and the trains and we will give them the commisionable price back. What's happened in the past is that because the average stay is just three nights, travel agents say, 'Gee, all that work,' so we put the entire package together, and it really helps our business."

CMH also is a member of the exclusive Texas-based Allied Percival International consortium, which offers a certification program for U.S. agents selling adventure travel packages.

Canadian Mountain Holiday, Phone: (800) 661-0252 or (403) 762-7100, Fax: (403) 762-5879

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