Heli-ski requests pass cap


Alaska Mountain Guides, a company that has previously conducted its heli-ski operations mainly out of Skagway, is looking to move those operations to Haines.

According to its 2013 permit application to the Haines Borough, AMG is seeking 450 skier days. Last year, the company requested and was allocated 200 days, but only used five.

AMG is one of three Haines companies seeking commercial permits for the coming season. Its increased request raises to 2,850 the number of skier days requested by the companies. The borough currently caps skier days at 2,600 per season.

“There’s a logic to running all our business in Haines. I don’t want to say definitively until the borough makes their decision on the user-day allocation, but we’re very much hoping to bring it to Haines this year,” said AMG President Sean Gaffney.

Gaffney said he requested more skier days this year after another business approached the company regarding a deal that would increase the number of skiers interested in heli-skiing with AMG.

Gaffney said he did not want to specify the business until all the permits are issued and the details are worked out, but said the group operates in a capacity similar to a travel agency, acting as an intermediary funneling business to AMG in exchange for a commission.

If the deals and permits come through, Gaffney said, the company will have no problem using all 450 skier days.

While he enjoyed operating out of Skagway, Gaffney said he is very much looking forward to heli-skiing in Haines, where he also makes his home. Gaffney said he is very committed to operating his business in a responsible way that coincides with what residents in Haines want.

“We’re going to do what the community wants us to do. That’s it; that’s how the business works,” Gaffney said.

Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures (SEABA) and Alaska Heliskiing have also submitted their applications to the borough. Alaska Heliskiing requested 1,400 days – 90 less than the 1,490 requested in 2012. SEABA requested 1,000 skier days again, although it was allocated only 870 last year.

Whether Alaska Heliskiing will receive a permit in the wake of a season that saw the deaths of a guide and client remains to be seen, but the parents of the client have forcefully requested the borough deny the permit. Safety record is taken into account when determining whether to issue a permit and, if issued, how many skier days are allocated, said borough manager Mark Earnest.

Borough clerk Julie Cozzi is responsible for renewing the permits, while Earnest allocates skier days. “Clearly (Earnest) has some decisions he has to make,” Cozzi said.

Cozzi said she is engaged in a back-and-forth exchange of information with the companies in order to flesh out holes in the application, such as clarifying elements of the submitted operating plans and making sure contact lists are complete.

According to code, the police chief, tourism director and harbor master must review all commercial tour permit applications, including heli-skiing permits.

Cozzi said ideally she would have a decision on the permits by the end of this week, but whether or not that happens will depend on the rest of her work load.


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