Backcountry Skiing News Roundup — Silverton and Black Diamond

Post by blogger | July 15, 2015      
Heli lands.

Helicopters and human power can mix, but in limited ways such as rescue and backcountry access.

I continue to be amazed that heli skiing can exist in Colorado with our terrifying snowpack and high altitude. Really, compared to what they do in Alaska and Canada it appears a bit silly. Thus, my eyes widened a bit when I saw Silverton ski area is requesting an expanded heli permit. It makes sense they’d like to use lower altitude terrain that’s less wind affected, but I’ve no doubt that means they’ll encroach on human powered ski touring. Frankly, we’d like to see strict limits on heli skiing here in Colorado. It’s impractical, not to mention an impactful and elitist use of public land that’s often pristine winter backcountry. More here.

I know many of you, like us, are fans of Black Diamond Equipment. With its roots in Yvon Chouinard’s piton smithy of the 1960s, BD is still core and still a player in a variety of mountain sports. Old news is the company ownership and organization changed some time ago. New news is yes, it is being purchased again by a mysterious buyer whom we all are incredibly curious about. We’ll know the answer within a few days or weeks. The rumors are fun; we’ve heard mumblings about possible buyers being everyone from Yvon himself to a mysterious Chinese consortium with nefarious plans for world carabiner domination. Main thing is I was told by an analyst that this sale will possibly result in a cash infusion that’ll be healthy for the company and translate to more innovative gear we can use for ski touring. This article sums up the current state of affairs.

Outdoor Retailer (OR) summer trade show is coming up in August. While somewhat of a yawner for ski touring gear, the summer show is still a must-stop for WildSnow dot com to check out a variety of gear as well as socialize with our industry friends. News for OR is they’ve changed the date range of this coming winter’s 2016 show to early January 6-10. For you dear readers, what’s interesting about this is the European ISPO show is January 24-27. While this will make it easier to attend both shows, it also means that new products will perhaps be more likely to debut at Outdoor Retailer. Check out our history with Outdoor Retailer, it’s scary.

Uphill skiing activism continues to challenge resort operators. Latest is down under in the NZ, where Coronet Peak managers banned two uphillers from the slopes and had them hauled away by the police. To be fair, it sounds like Coronet has an uphill skiing policy of sorts, but the nixed glissers were disobeying the rules. Nonetheless, always amusing to see resorts that can’t accommodate uphilling to a greater extent. Why not welcome all skiers and simply figure out a way to monetize? Reminds me of the early bans on snowboarding. (Broken link removed 2017)

Heading north to summer, it’s been interesting to watch North American ski resorts figure out how to go year-around. The evolution has been on for decades now and they’re figuring it out. We like what we’re seeing of this in Colorado. Our resorts take limited acreage of our public land (compared to the vast federal holdings in our state), and while they (hopefully) profit from it and drive local economies, they also provide all sorts of recreation and sometimes excellent public access. My favorite example is the Aspen gondola running all summer, giving us a quick ride to a beautiful sub-alpine area with all sorts of hiking and mountain biking. Article here.

You take limited doses of alpine ski racing news? I like this article recapping the winter of “comebacks” and covering Tina Maze taking next season off. Good read for coffee break, gets you amped for some spectating next winter. Check it out.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


18 Responses to “Backcountry Skiing News Roundup — Silverton and Black Diamond”

  1. chris blatter July 15th, 2015 1:23 pm

    Lou- Thanks for the coverage & comments regarding Silverton Guides request to gerrymander his heli lease boundary. As you may recall I am in process of building a cabin in Prospect Basin and would very much NOT like to share the BLM land that surrounds my mining claims with Aaron’s heli operation. The right to control avalanches with aerial dropped explosives that comes with heli ski operators is one real concern for us poor folk skiers that may be in the runout chute below when he drops the bomb way up on the ridge. Kudos to the BLM for extending the public comment period until Aug. 17th. For anyone interested here is link to BLM permit under which SG’s presently operates.

    I am especially intrigued with the section that discusses SG’s requirements when using someone else’s dogs to hunt lions. cheers Chris

  2. Lou Dawson 2 July 15th, 2015 2:45 pm

    Thanks for Chiming in Chris. Indeed, I’m truly not comfortable at all with these heli operations in Colorado. I hope you guys can get it limited. I’m actually pretty surprised that Aaron is going after this. As I said before, it all seems nothing less than silly, or are they trying to horn in on low angled timbered terrain between 9,000 and 11,000 feet elevation that’s in that sweet spot for less avy danger but still yields turns? Very little of that in Colorado.


  3. M Mayer July 15th, 2015 3:57 pm

    I think you are being close minded Lou. I live in Telluride and am a frequent customer of Telluride Helitrax. I love to tour, but heli has its place too and it works well in the San Juans. Helitrax is run by avid ski tourers that have been around for years and regularly avoid using terrain that is in their permit area to leave it to the touring community. Most of the terrain they use is rarely reached by tourers as it is one or two basins further in from where people start. There will always be those who say no helicopters should be allowed, but Helitrax has done a great job taking touring into account and finding a balance. Also, I have been out heli skiing with them and had the day cut short because someone was injured in the back country and they had to fish them out. That is a service they get little credit for.

    I think you should hit them up for a heli day and before making a judgment. Let me know when you are coming, and Ill be happy to join you!

    P.S. Helitrax has most of their terrain in the high alpine between 10 and 13.2k.

  4. Lou Dawson 2 July 15th, 2015 4:01 pm

    M, thanks for chiming in. It’s a blog, so I have a take, but always willing to stand corrected or adjust my take.

    I do appreciate the rescue service.


  5. rich July 16th, 2015 3:55 am

    Well in Switzerland Alpine Helo landing spot licenses for Heli-skiing are managed by relevant gov. authority. Currently there are less than 33 landing areas (planes and helo) allowed for HS operations.
    Tendency is to reduce them and many are on glaciers.
    Result is that landing areas are very busy. Why bother then?

  6. Mark Worley July 16th, 2015 6:36 am

    Running the risk of oversimplifying, I think heli skiers should just get after the touring more. And I’m okay with some alpine racing news. Watched some of World Alpine Championships on the mountain last season here in CO and it was stunning.

  7. Naso July 16th, 2015 8:29 am

    “Heli-no we won’t go!”…NIMBY’s to the fore!!!!!!

    BD has gone the way of The North Face and others….a coherent global strategy to make money with china-made gear. The good thing is that this has opened up room in the market for smaller companies here in the US and some of the European companies who refuse to cave in to the MBA’s and still make gear in the home country.

  8. Matt Kinney July 16th, 2015 10:02 am

    Common marketing hype by the heliski industry in that “you’re also lucky in that we can rescue people.” That’s like me driving down the highway with my WOFER card telling other drivers with a sign that they are lucky I’m on the road to help them of they crash.

    In Alaska we do fine 10 months out of the year when the heliski industry is not around thank to Alaska Mountain Rescue and other local resources. I find this claim by the heliski industry juvenile and belittling to the BC community at large. I prefer the humble approach of the Good Samaritan Rule the best. The heliksi industry has never been a humble participant in the mountains.

    As our snows disappear over a warming planet from carbon, why support a branch of skiing that pollutes more that any winter recreation pursuit. Get a clue, get skins.

  9. aemono July 16th, 2015 12:21 pm

    Matt just about hits it on the head. “Hey, we rescue people once in a while” that more than makes up for the Blakk-Hawkz-dropping-Bombs-on-the-Mountains-on-a-regular-basis scenario, no? And yes there surely is a place for lazy heliskierz ..maybe somewhere in the middle of the Antarctic?

  10. Lou Dawson 2 July 16th, 2015 12:44 pm

    Yeah, let’s be realistic. The rescue is a nice service but not some sort of payment to the human powered community for using the snow… I like it, but get tired of it being used as PR… Lou

  11. Wookie July 17th, 2015 2:22 am

    I’ve never been heliskiing, and while I admit that sometimes I’d like to, in all likelihood, I will never afford it. What sounds like a personal gripe is really the problem with the whole heli-ski industry – it is, by any measure, a type of recreation that is completely beyond the reach of more than 99% of even the skiing propulation.
    It seems to me that any activity which benefits so few people while having such a large impact on the environment must be judged fairly critically. Beyond global concerns, there is the disturbance of wildlife, noise pollution, and deforestation for landing sites.
    We’ve had debates here about whether or not these are significant, I know, but in my mind there is no doubt that the minuses outweigh the plusses. Why should we, and our politicians, support an industry from which so few gain? I mean, even the operators are, relatively speaking, small fry in our communities.
    In the few places in Europe where it is allowed, I find it annoying. In North America – in some places the noise was enough to put a dent in my enjoyment.

  12. Kevin S July 17th, 2015 8:08 am

    Wookie- I will admit that I gave up a trip to ski the Haute Route to go heliskiing in Canada instead. This decision came down to time constraints and I enjoyed the trip but doubt I’ll ever go again. Now, you speak of deforestation for landing sites and that is not a problem as landing sites are minimal if you think about the space necessary to land a helicopter. Having seen Search and Rescue land in small spaces as well as heliski operators landing spaces this is a non-issue. The real issue in my mind is with respect to the large permit area Brill is seeking and the impact on the public. I will say that back in the 80s here was a heli operation in summit County Colorado and we would poach their lines after they controlled them and that was rather enjoyable and my 20 something guilt was minimal… let’s hope this permit is denied as currently submitted!

  13. Sam July 19th, 2015 11:32 pm

    Just to chime in about Coronet Peak from down under…

    Though I’m not a local, the impression I got from friends who lived in Queenstown was that uphill skiing at CP was allowed, established and extremely popular, to the point that they were half-jokingly complaining it was bad for the local backcountry scene, as everyone kept just going uphill skiing in the resort instead of doing more ambitious tours!

    From the article, they say uphill skiing is restricted between 6am and 6pm so as not to clash with grooming operations. Well, “Concrete Peak” does need all the grooming it can get.

    Much bigger Southern Lakes access issues have been the closure of the Cardrona back bowls for cat skiing or resort expansion, and the ongoing resort expansion at the Remarkables.

  14. Ian Dee July 20th, 2015 3:24 am

    Re Coronet Peak:
    Health and safety in this country (NZ) keeps gets tighter because of knee jerk reactions to the minority of poor business operators. The majority of us pay for it in some way. I’ve been told that even though they (NZSki) only have a lease to run a skiing operation on a recreation reserve they may now be able to do what they like because of holes in the health and safety law. I get the feeling that getting the police involved and serving these guys a trespass notice was to show this and get it into the paper. Legally who knows if they can. No ones going to fight it, no one’s got the money.
    Have you guys had to get political to get access to public land?

  15. Lou Dawson 2 July 20th, 2015 6:26 am

    Ian, we have access disputes and issues constantly, all across our fair land. This is due in part to our strong private property ownership rights, but also due to inattention and downright apathy of both government and individuals. Here in the western U.S., we have quite a bit of access that crosses private land but is not restricted until a (usually new and wealthy) property owner decides she doesn’t want the unwashed multitudes crossing her land. Then suddenly, signs go up and fences are built.

    To be fair, sometimes the new land owners just want privacy and are willing to work with government or simply leave part of their land unposted. But that’s the exception.

    It’s a huge problem here, as quite a bit of our public land is totally blocked from access by large areas of private land. Adding to the insult, the land owners often use the public land adjacent to their holdings as a private fiefdom.

    Again, various agencies both public and non-profit do work on access issues, but this doesn’t happen near enough. And sometimes, adding to the insult, the public agencies close off access if land owners whine loudly enough and play what we call the “elk card,” meaning they’ll come up with how badly our overpopulated elk herds need a given area for calving, for example a bicycle path, which will be closed.


  16. XXX_er July 21st, 2015 3:46 pm

    you can’t buy good weatehr or snow, just cuz Cat/Heli skiing costs more doesn’t mean it will be better so i will continue to ride lifts or hike and with the money I don’t spend … I buy more skis

    I was recently told the focus group of the average heli ski customer who comes up to BC is the skier who can afford to either take the whole fam skiing at Aspen where he may or may not have fun OR spend a week heli skiing for less coin

  17. Sam August 4th, 2015 12:43 am

    While Kiwis complaining about knee-jerk health and safety overregulation definitely have my sympathy, coming from the overregulated overpriced nanny state of Australia, NZ is still very much the wild west with plenty of commonsense and personal responsibility going around. I’m sure most international visitors would agree after having experienced the average NZ ski field road. E.g. last week driving down the Mt Hutt road we found an excavator doing some work on the road, just one guy in the machine, no other people holding signs, no reflective tape, he just stopped and waved us past from the cab.

    Ian Dee you and your fellow kiwis please hold on to the ACC insurance scheme, club fields, and mountain hut systems tightly with both hands and don’t let go.

    More on the resumption of public access to Soho Basin by the new resort and cat skiing operation:

    “While SSAL [Soho Ski Area Limited] does not wish to exclude public access at this time it does intend to exercise a degree of management of the area and access to it…Avoid use of the areas SSAL are using for its Cat skiing operations as far as possible. Respect the desire for SSAL customers to have an unencumbered experience ie. Please do not poach lines, do not stop or congregate at the cat pick up points, remain as scarce as you possibly can. Please respect that there is no right of public access onto this land.”

  18. Jim Milstein May 8th, 2017 6:26 pm

    I commented on the Silverton Heli expansion to the BLM, which the BLM just okayed. They informed me of this by Certified Mail™, which cost taxpayers $5.29 postage. I suppose I’m not the only one. Notably, an email with the same message came several weeks ago. Its marginal cost was $0.00. And, by the way, the BLM’s EIS determined that expanding the heli operation would have no environmental effect. That is similar to the Forest Service determining that Red McComb’s Village at Wolf Creek (elevation 10,600 feet above mean sea level, traditional number–soon to be outdated), when built out at 8,000 people, would also have no environmental effect. It would become the highest city in North America, populated largely by people from near sea level. What could go wrong?

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