It was not the news environmentalists were looking for. Just as they were celebrating the cancellation of the an independent power project on the Incomappleux River, word came in of a proposal for a new heli-ski operation that would largely use that drainage for its tenures.
“This area is so ecologically unique it needs to be protected in the form of a provincial park to protect the area from future development like IPPs and heli-ski operations,” said Mike Watson, who actively campaigned against the IPP in the area.
The proposal was placed on the province’s website for land-use applications on Monday, Nov. 13.
The proposal is by Icefall Lodge, which currently operates a ski touring lodge in the Rocky Mountains north of Golden. It calls for a 350-square-kilometre heli-skiing tenure that would operate out of the existing Mountain Hostel (to be renamed the Incomappleux Lodge) near Beaton. Part of the tenure on Battle Mountain would also be used as a ski touring lodge. The operation would be called Battle Heliskiing, after the Battle Range of the Selkirks.
“It’s big mountains and deep snow. It’s an incredible skiing area,” said Larry Dolecki, the owner of Icefall Lodge, when asked why he’s eyeing that area for his tenure.
Most of the proposed tenure area is to the west of the Incomappleux River, from Glacier National Park in the north to Pool Creek in the south. There are several pockets of tenure to the west of the river. Part of the tenure is already used by Selkirk Tangiers Heliskiing, Canadian Mountain Holidays, Purcell Heliskiing, and Battle Abbey Lodge.
The operation would offer week-long heli-skiing trips based out of the Incomappleux Lodge and week-long ski touring trips based out of a yet-to-be-constructed lodge on Battle Mountain.
Ann Sherrod, a researcher and past chairperson of the Valhalla Wilderness Society, expressed concerns about the impact of another heli-skiing operation in the area.
“Our concern is that as more and more companies are overlapping the same area, obviously ski parties are going to be spreading out more and more, occupying more of the habitat,” she said.
Sherrod said the lower elevation areas might be used by caribou in the early winter and spring, and that it is also considered wolverine and grizzly habitat, something that could be an issue when the bears wake up in the spring.
“Right now the Incomappleux is an area that still has a great deal of very high biodiversity values and wildlife values even though it has already one layer of heavy impacts on it, and that is logging,” she said. About two-thirds of the river length has been logged so adding additional impacts such as IPPs and even recreational use, that’s going to get much worse for wildlife.”
Dolecki believes the new proposal will be a relatively low-impact operation. No new roads would be built and an existing lodge would be used as the main base of operations, he noted.
“You certainly don’t make any big changes to the landscape and you’re operating at high elevation when there’s snow on the ground,” he said. “I’d say the biggest impact is noise. I plan on using small helicopters so it will be less than using your standard heli-ski machines they use.
Valhalla is lobbying the provincial government for a provincial park to be established in the area and the proposed heli-skiing operation would overlap the proposed park’s boundaries.
“Putting a new heli-ski operation in there, it would be very unwanted,” said Sherrod.