Heli-skiing east of Kaslo in the Purcell Mountains.

Heli-skiing east of Kaslo in the Purcell Mountains.

LETTER: Heli-ski application would cause conflicts

I am writing to express my concern and opposition to the application that Kootenay Heli-Ski Inc. has submitted for a new heli-skiing tenure.

Re: Proposed heli-ski tenure application borders Kokanee Glacier Park

I am writing to express my concern and opposition to the application that Kootenay Heli-Ski Inc. has submitted for a new heli-skiing tenure on the crown land which surrounds Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park. The issues that I have with this tenure application are as follows:

Helicopters are extremely loud and obnoxiously noisy. Due to the fact that Kootenay Valley Helicopters (the same company as Kootenay Heli-Ski Inc.) is located so centrally on Nelson’s waterfront airport, citizens of Nelson will be forced to endure an unacceptable increase in associated helicopter noise if Kootenay Heli-Ski Inc. is permitted to operate.

Kootenay Heli-Ski Inc. does not plan to operate out of a remote lodge, and instead plans to base their operations out of the existing Nelson airport. Because of this, the citizens of Nelson will be forced to witness and listen to all of Kootenay Heli-Ski Inc.’s ongoing helicopter activities throughout the duration of each winter.

The nature of heli-skiing is that the helicopter is essentially constantly in use during its daily operations, with frequent fuelling requirements and non-stop guest flights. With a tenure area that is proposed to be so close to the city of Nelson, it will be extremely distracting for the residents of Nelson with so much extra air traffic noise going on in the immediate area if this proposed business gets running at full capacity. We all know how noisy it gets in Nelson with the constant drone of helicopters that are associated when an occasional flurry of forest fires happens in the area, now imagine that happening all winter long!

Another of the main conflict issues is that most of the area which Kootenay Heli-Ski Inc. has applied for overlaps with areas that are regularly used by locals for backcountry ski-touring / split-boarding, and also snowmobiling. This application therefore will cause much conflict with local users as heli-skiing uses up much greater amounts of terrain in much shorter time periods than ski-touring does.

This effect in turn drastically diminishes the quality of experience for local ski-tourers who work much harder to get to these same places to ski and board, and essentially then displaces locals who partake in ski touring here (which is basically their backyard), and who potentially will never be able to afford the enormous costs of going heli-skiing.

Recent market research shows that self-propelled snow-sports such as backcountry ski-touring and split-boarding are the fastest growing sector in the winter recreation industry, while mechanized winter recreation (heli-skiing, cat-skiing etc.) are noticing gradual declines in growth. It doesn’t seem logical to deny locals access to the opportunity to partake in an environmentally sustainable and rapidly growing sector of recreation, while instead offering increased access to a shrinking market available for the elite only.

If given approval, Kokanee Heli-Ski Inc. will go and cut large tree-free cleared areas both on summits, ridgelines, and in valley bottoms to act as helicopter landing and pick-up zones in the very sensitive environments which are immediately adjacent to Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park. These areas which border the park should be left as buffer zones for sensitive wildlife species such as wolverine to roam. Instead these animals might be threatened by losing their habitat due to the constant influx of helicopters picking up and landing in their valleys.

The overall tenure area that Kootenay Heli-Ski Inc. has applied for is actually relatively very small for a typical heli-ski operation. What this means is that Kootenay Heli-Ski Inc. will be forced to heli-ski these areas at a greater impact level and frequency, which will result in an inordinately higher degree of crowding for local backcountry ski-tourers / snowboarders, snowmobilers, and of course wildlife.

I was recently working as a ski-guide up at Nelson’s prized Kokanee Glacier Cabin, and there was an unauthorized fly-over by an unknown helicopter which occurred while my group of guests and I were ski-touring up Cond Peak.

On this perfectly clear day we could hear the resounding blare of the machine approaching us for a few long minutes before we were even able to see the helicopter come into our field of view. After having experienced this event first hand I cannot bear to imagine how the decrease in the quality of the experience for ski-touring guests coming to the Kokanee Glacier Cabin with a helicopter operating for heli-skiing in the areas which immediately border this pristine park. The majority of the proposed tenure area of Kootenay Heli-Ski Inc. is in full eyesight and earshot of most of the areas accessed by guests to the Kokanee Glacier Cabin, which is Nelson’s world renowned and prized Alpine Club of Canada backcountry ski-touring destination.

In conclusion I would like to say that as a rule I do not have a problem with new heli-skiing tenures being granted, given that they are in appropriate locations. During the winters I myself work as a professional heli-ski guide as well as a ski-touring guide. The main issue that I have with Kootenay Heli-Ski Inc.’s application is that it is asking for too small a tenure, in an area that is too highly populated by recreationalists who also rely on using this same terrain for their quality of life, well being, and livelihood (ski-touring guiding).

As it stands, from someone who lives in Nelson and has been working as a professional guide in the backcountry ski industry for over a decade; I can say with confidence that there are already more than enough mechanized skiing tenures (heli-skiing and cat-skiing) in the West Kootenay to meet the present market demand. We should be looking ahead to ensure that there are places still available for self-propelled winter activities to occur in the future, as this is the direction which is showing the most continued potential for growth from the backcountry ski industry, and for the well being and sustainability of our beautiful backyard environment.

Please make a comment on this issue at: http://arfd.gov.bc.ca/ApplicationPosting/viewpost.jsp?PostID=48586

Lee Johnston, ACMG Ski Guide, RN