Come Fly With Me, Eh?

Cold Front

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Eleven years ago, Canadian entrepreneur Dan McDonald decided to try his hand at heli-skiing. So, like every other aspiring operator, he filed a permit request for a parcel of public land and waited for an answer. Ten years later, he was still waiting. It was taking, on average, between six and eight years to get approval, says McDonald. The government had done studies that found that heli-skiing had great business potential, but it was reluctant to proceed on anything.

What a difference an election makes. In 2001, a new administration took office and immediately mandated that Land Water British Columbia (LWBC), which oversees public lands, make decisions on land applications within 140 days. The result has been the proliferation of heli-ski operations in the province. In addition to McDonalds one-year-old Mica Heli Guides, four other heli-skiing companies have opened for business in the last two years, and permit applications for a half-dozen more are currently under review. Considering the doom-and-gloom economy (and the fact that most seven-day heli-skiing packages start at $6,000), you have to wonder if theres enough demand out there to keep these operations in the air.

The answer seems to be a resounding yes. Last year Mica had 5,500 clients, says McDonald. Right now we have 5,500 visitors booked per month for the upcoming season. Whats more, established heli-skiing operations report that theyve had no drop in business since the arrival of new competitors. Were not losing our guests, says Michelle Langfeltd, marketing director at 16-year-old Great Canadian. And were booked pretty solid already for next year. For now, it seems the only thing that will slow down the rotors in British Columbia is the size of the territory. Theres still plenty of demand for operators, says Dave Bacon, commercial recreation manager for LWBC. I dont really know where the market threshold will be, but sooner or later we will run out of snow.