Should Heli-Skiing Be Allowed in Kachemak Bay State Park?

     

     The Kachemak Bay State Park and the State Wilderness Park have recently applied to operate commercial heli-skiing ventures, a decision that may lead to some controversy.

     Officially established in the 1960’s by mountain guide Hans Gmoser, heli-skiing has been quickly growing in popularity as a sport. It involves the use of helicopters to transport skiiers and snowboarders to downhill skiing areas that offer more favorable conditions than those found at ski resorts and are otherwise inaccessible by conventional means.

     According to Jessica Quinn, a heli-skiing guide and the owner of Points North Heli-Adventures in Cordova, heli-skiing provides skiing enthusiasts with an experience that simply cannot be recreated any other way.

     "There really is nothing like heli-skiing," said Quinn. "The way that the snow comes in and produces these massive amounts of snow ... and then 24 hours later, you're out skiing the most glorious ... powder."

     Despite the unique oportunites that heli-skiing provides, it is also a sport that has a fair amount of controversy surrounding it.

     In addition to possible safety and environmental concerns, the main issue raised is the marked increase in helicopter traffic, something that Roger McCampbell, the chief ranger for the South Kenai district and a liaison for the Kachemak Bay State Parks Citizens Advisory Board stated is primarily about the noise produced by said helicopters.

     "Helicopters ... always seem a little bit more divisive," said McCampbell.

     While the noise produced by helicopters is a concern, Quinn says that in operating her business she and the other guides of Points North make it a point of theirs not to disturb the citizens of Cordova.

     Recently, the Kachemak Bay State Park and the Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park have considered options to operate heli-skiing ventures. McCampbell stated that the options for operating such ventures have technically been on the table since 1995, albeit with heavy restrictions.

     He says it's been many years since park officials have looked at the regulations. A permit has granted to Maritime Heliciopters a few years ago to allow the company to land on Grewinck Glacier but the permit was never used.

     While the options for commercial heli-skiing have been proposed, McCampbell says that the process of testing all potential variables is being continually addressed and that they are seeking statewide public comment on the matter.

     "We're still in the process," he said. "We want to know how people feel about this throughout the state."

     Also, when asked if she had any comments or concerns about the desirability of the State Park and State Wilderness Park for heli-skiing, Quinn said that the one potential concern she has is the oceanside location of the parks and how that might impact the snow’s ability to accumulate, though she was quick to place her confidence in those exploring the options as well.

     To submit comments on the ongoing development of commercial heli-skiing in the Kachemak Bay State Park and State Wilderness Park, contact information for the Kachemak Bay State Parks Citizens Advisory Board can be found at dnr.alaska.gov.