CMH operates in an area three fourths the size of Switzerland. Roughly 75 per cent of that is in caribou habitat. (Photo by Grant Gunderson/supplied by CMH)

Future of heli-skiing unknown with caribou recovery plans

CMH presented to Revelstoke city council this month to outline its impact on the community

Heli-skiing could be heavily impacted with upcoming caribou recovery plans, especially around Revelstoke.

Earlier this month, Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) presented to city council an overview of their business and its connection to the city.

In 1965, Austrian guide Hans Gmoser, founding member of the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides, gathered clients in the Bugaboos mountains south of Golden, B.C. He used helicopters to ferry them to alpine glaciers for unskied lines. One article, describes the operation as cumbersome, slow and clients were lucky to get two runs a day. They stayed in uninsulated plywood cabins in an abandoned sawmill camp, sharing kitchen duties. However, it was the beginning of the world’s first heli-skiing company CMH.

Today, CMH has 11 distinct ski areas and lodges, with over 3 million acres of ski terrain, which is one-third the size of Switzerland.

Out of all that, CMH said Revestoke is the company’s epi-centre.

Dave Butler, director of sustainability, told council that the company has 84 seasonal staff in Revelstoke and 21 year-round with an average salary of $85,000.

Butler continued CMH spends roughly $2.5 million yearly in the city through local supplies, accommodation and helicopter services. They were a sponsor of the hospital heli-pad and skate park.

Heli skiing uses helicopters to access areas for skiing that usually hard to get to otherwise. CMH ski packages cost usually more than $8,000 per week. (Photo by Grant Gunderson/supplied by CMH)

“We always talk of Revelstoke,” said Butler.

When it comes to caribou, the future of heliskiing becomes murky.

READ MORE: ‘We’re concerned’: hundreds attend caribou meeting in Revelstoke

Currently, government representatives are traveling the province to gather feedback on two draft agreements to protect endangered caribou.

According to the B.C. government, caribou in the province have declined from 40,000 in the early 1900s to less than 19,000 today.

Under the Species at Risk Act, action is required by law to protect caribou however it’s not known what that protection might entail.

“It’s uncertainty for us,”said Rob Rohn, general manager of CMH. Roughly three fourths of CMH’s ski terrain is in caribou habitat.

READ MORE: Caribou plans could have big consequences for Revelstoke Community Forest Corporation

It’s possible the company will continue operating as-is, but unlikely.

“We all have to make changes,” said Rohn.

The company has an application for another ski lodge by McBride, but that project is on hold until a resolution on caribou.

Butler has a background in forestry and has worked with caribou for over a decade. He said the issue isn’t black and white or the choice between saving an endangered species and the economy. The best would be to find a place in the middle.

The company uses the Regent Hotel in Revelstoke for guests. (Photo supplied by CMH)

Now, if CMH sees caribou, they close that area to skiing for at least 48 hours.

“We want to share these places with the animals and make sure they’re successful,” said Butler.

Butler notes it will probably come down to herd specific plans. For example, in a draft document for the Frisby-Boulder-Queest herd, it allows present operating standards for heli-skiing and cat skiing. However, the document also calls for a curtail of snowmobiling and logging in “core” caribou habitats. Specifications could be different for each of the 54 B.C. caribou herds.

READ MORE: Caribou maternity pen project nears its end by Revelstoke

As an industry, Rohn said heliskiing is booming and the demand exceeds supply.

The reason heliskiing is so good around Revelstoke, said Rohn, is because of tree cover. The trees provide visibility, markings and depth for helicopter pilots in bad weather. That and the deep snow pack.

Combined with the safe political atmosphere of Canada, said Rohn, Revelstoke is one of the best places to heli-ski in the world.

“Compared to places like Kazakhstan, where you have some of the same factors but politically it’s a little more adventurous there.”

*This article was updated to include information on the Frisby-Boulder-Queest herd



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