Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

 
 

Heli-ski safety claim in question

 


Until Tuesday evening, Haines-based Alaska Heliskiing claimed on its website to be a member of the Alaska Helicopter Skiing Association, which does not exist, according to numerous industry operators.

In the safety section of the company’s website, under the heading “Our Safety Program,” Alaska Heliskiing claimed membership in an organization called the Alaska Helicopter Skiing Association.

“AHSA sets strict safety standards for Alaskan helicopter skiing operations and as part of our membership we are required to have our safety systems and procedures reviewed on a regular basis,” the site read.

Numerous heli-ski operators in the state said they had never heard of such an association and that it does not exist.

Scott Sundberg, owner of the Haines-based Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures (SEABA), said the association was a loose, unofficial group of operators in the early 2000s that “fell on its face” and “fizzled” by 2003. Sundberg said the group never set safety standards and was never responsible for monitoring or reviewing the safety protocols of heli-ski operators in Alaska.

Alaska Heliskiing removed the safety section of its website Tuesday after the CVN sent emails to company officials about the advertised affiliation.

Alaska Heliskiing’s website also stated, under the heading “Our Guides,” that “each of our guides meets or exceeds the requirements of ‘a guide’ as set by the Alaska Helicopter Skiing Association.”

Kevin Quinn, owner and operator of the Cordova-based Points North Heli-Adventures, Inc. for the past 15 years, called the website’s statements “not factual” and “fictitious.”

  “Of the 19 heli-ski operators in Alaska, there’s one member of the Alaska Helicopter Skiing Association. And that’s them,” Quinn said.

Scott Raynor, the owner and operator of Valdez Heli-Ski Guides, said he was not familiar with an Alaska Helicopter Skiing Association. Mark Kelly, of the Valdez-based H2O Guides, also said he “doesn’t believe it exists.”

Alaska Heliskiing’s safety protocols have come under scrutiny recently due to an avalanche last spring which killed an Alaska Heliskiing guide and client.

Haines Borough Mayor Stephanie Scott said the inclusion of false information on the company’s website could impact whether or not they are issued an operating permit for the 2013 season.

“When we’re reviewing their permit, if they’re making claims on their website that are erroneous, that would contribute to a negative review of their permit, I would think,” Scott said.

Alaska Heliskiing owner Vicki Gardner did not return phone calls or emails requesting comment. Orion Koleis, the company’s operations manager, did not return an emailed request for comment.