Air of Controversy


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Alaskan heli-ski operators, guests, and ski filmmakers were shocked at the passage of a special-use designation (SUD) in November by the state’s Department of Natural Resources. The SUD limits individual operators to 1,000 skier days, defines specific flight corridors and elevations, and limits access to certain state lands due to wildlife, residential, and environmental concerns.

“(The legislation) was pretty much railroaded through,” says Julie Cozzi, executive director of the Haines Chamber of Commerce. “They heard from a lot of people in our community who spoke for heli-skiing, but Haines has a well-organized group of environmentalists, and they have the ear of some very powerful people.”

While filmmakers, visiting skiers, and heli-operators are all affected by the decision, the town of Haines may be hardest hit of all. “We probably spent $70,000 last year in Haines on meals, lodging, and travel,” says Chris Owens, of Wyoming’s Teton Gravity Research production company. “It kind of forces us into a position where we have to say, ‘Let’s skip Haines this year.'”

Hope for the local heli industry may be on the horizon, however. It just so happens that when the SUD was being “railroaded through,” a new city government was also being elected. And on January 23, 2003, the new Haines Assembly proposed that the SUD be revised to include an additional 140 days for commercial ski filming. A vote is expected this spring.