Haines debates limits on heliskiing season

Tourism Advisory Committee to ponder possible compromise

Posted: Monday, July 02, 2001

Haines officials are figuring out the next step in addressing helicopter access issues, particularly as they relate to helicopter skiing.

The community has been asked by the state to comment about land use in the Haines area, a process that has raised questions about helicopter flights. A panel discussion about heliskiing and helicopters last week brought to together industry representatives, conservationists, land managers and biologists.

Chip Lende, a member of the Haines City Council and chairman of the Tourism Advisory Committee, said the question will go before the City Council on July 11.

"My guess is that the (tourism advisory) committee will come up with a recommendation to the city council that would be a compromise stance," he said.

The council will have an opportunity to approve or change the recommendations, he said.

Tourism Planning Committee member Darsie Beck said there appears to be room for compromise, but questions remain about the city's ability to regulate flights.

"We're trying to figure out if there's a way to impose seasonal restrictions to allow heliskiing in March and April and close it off after that," he said. "In theory it sounds great, but we're not sure if it's viable."

Scott Sundberg, co-owner of Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures and Juneau-based Alaska Heliskiing, said he was disappointed the meeting strayed away from a discussion about heliskiing. Operators already work with land managers to avoid sensitive areas and are willing to negotiate so they can continue to ski on the region's slopes, he said.

"I think the city is at a point where they need and want this winter and springtime industry," he said. "Most likely we'll work closely with the city council and the borough assembly ... so everybody's concerns are addressed."

Tim June, who worked on a 1996 petition drive and ballot initiative that called for limits on regularly scheduled commercial helicopter tours in Haines, said residents want to avoid growth in helicopter tourism experienced in Juneau and Skagway.

Ample opportunity for heliskiing exists in other communities and letting operators establish a small base would lead to growth, June said.

"If we let the industry establish its own level, that level will be whatever the market will bear. But we're not sure if what the market will bear and what the citizens of the valley will bear are consistent," he said.

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.

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