AMG: Chilkat Guides will remain separate
Alaska Mountain Guides owner Sean Gaffney and operations manager Eli Fierer closed the deal on their purchase of Chilkat Guides last week.
The sale included all of the rafting operations out of Skagway and Haines, extended expeditions along the Tatshenshini and Alsek rivers, the guide house in Skagway and the warehouse property on Sawmill Creek Road in Haines.
It also includes 48 percent ownership in the Haines-Skagway Fast Ferry.
Gaffney said the business isn’t going to be absorbed by AMG, but will remain an autonomous entity named Chilkat Guides. Tours offered will remain the same at least for the first year, he said, though changes – including expansion of the longer expeditions side of the business – will likely come in the future.
“It was the reason I came to Haines in the first place,” Gaffney said of Chilkat Guides, which owner Bart Henderson founded in 1978. “I came to work for Bart in the late 80s and it was an incredibly high-impact experience on my life, and I respect and admire everything that Chilkat Guides has done.”
Henderson recently sold off his Glacier Point tour to a Skagway-based operator. He said talks with Gaffney and Fierer gave him the impression that business will continue as usual and that the 50 to 60 seasonal employees Chilkat Guides hires each summer will still have jobs.
“There won’t be any changes. Because they bought the entire company as the company, they will continue to run Chilkat Guides as Chilkat Guides. The way it operates and the way the employees are being hired back is the same. The only thing that changed is who owns it,” Henderson said.
Henderson said the business has employed four people during the off-season, including himself and co-owner Lenise Henderson-Fontenot.
“The jobs are seasonal and I’m sure that all those that want to come back are going to be able to put their applications back in and come back to work. I’m sure the new owners are going to want as much continuity as possible in the guide pool,” Henderson said.
Andy Hedden, Chilkat Guides’ director of operations, said he has been in discussions with Gaffney and Fierer about keeping his job. “I have yet to have an offer to continue,” Hedden said. He’s worked there more than 15 years.
Because AMG is a bigger company and has better infrastructure for selling the longer expeditions on the Tatshenshini and Alsek rivers, Hedden says he expects that side of Chilkat Guides to expand while the shorter rafting tours are maintained.
“(The longer trips) have played second fiddle to the cruise ship business, but AMG has a much more developed expedition program, more infrastructure to develop and expand those,” Hedden said.
Gaffney said he doesn’t plan changes to the fast ferry. “I think that at this moment, the fast ferry is in a strong place and is running well in terms of its sustainability... My intention is to take the successes they have had and worked hard for and build upon them,” he said.
Henderson, who said he sold the business because he is retiring, doesn’t have many plans aside from laying back and relaxing. “I have no other plans other than just enjoying my life,” he said.