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


Alaska Heliskiing loses 350 skier days


Citing Alaska Heliskiing’s 2012 safety record, Haines Borough Manager Mark Earnest cut the company’s skier-day allocation by 25 percent for the 2013 season.

Earnest this week allocated 1,050 skier days to the guide company, 350 fewer than the company’s request of 1,400. “It was based on safety record. And I made a determination I was not going to allocate the requested amount for that reason,” he said.

Alaska Heliskiing broke state law, borough code and its own safety plan during a 2012 season that included the deaths of a client and guide.

Sean Brownell, co-owner of Alaska Heliskiing, wrote in an email to the CVN that he was displeased with Earnest’s decision but will not appeal it.

“I don’t agree with the decision and think it’s unfair, but if it is the will of the public and that is what the borough has decided for me, I will graciously accept what I’ve been given and hope for the best,” Brownell wrote.

Brownell said his initial reaction was to appeal the decision, but said he changed his mind after further consideration.

“After some reflection, I have decided it would be more prudent to be grateful and respect the decision that has been made, and I hope that by doing so I can begin to regain the respect of those who have condemned me. I have some major concerns for the safety of the participants that heli-ski in Haines, and the only way I can someday be heard and taken seriously is if I can regain the respect I once had,” Brownell wrote.

Natalia Dodov, mother of the Alaska Heliskiing client who died in an avalanche last year, said a penalty of 350 skier days does not satisfy her demand for real change in industry standards here.

“How many accidents or deaths would (the borough) need before they implemented changes more than a penalty in terms of skier days? Will someone ever change something? Try to change something? We really want improved safety standards,” Dodov said in an interview.

Earnest this week also fulfilled the 1,000-day request of Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures (SEABA) and the 450-day request of Alaska Mountain Guides (AMG).

As 2,850 days were requested between the three companies – 250 days more than the borough’s 2,600 seasonal cap – Earnest decided to fulfill the requests of SEABA and AMG and take the difference out of Alaska Heliskiing’s request, he said.

“It could have been 1,000, it could have been 700, it could have been 1,200. But that was where I felt was an appropriate number and made the decision at that level,” Earnest said. The decision was “reasonable and justifiable,” he added.

Earnest also left 100 days unallocated. The remaining 100 days remain up for grabs to any of the three companies wishing to apply for them during the 2013 season. Decisions to allocate additional skier days is based on in-season performance and a demonstrated need for additional days, Earnest said.

In 2012, Alaska Heliskiing received all of its 1,450 requested days and obtained an additional 40 days after applying for more later in the season. SEABA received 870 of its requested 1,000 days last year, and AMG got all of its 200 requested days.

Code stipulates that in addition to safety record, the manager may consider the economic impact of the allocation on the company, the interests of the borough in the promotion of tourism, and several other factors when determining skier day allocation.