State approves heli-ski permit for Hatcher Pass

The state has approved a commercial snowcat and heli-skiing operation in Hatcher Pass.

In a notice today, the state Department of Natural Resources says it has granted a land use permit to Hatcher Pass Mountain Guides. The Willow-based operation had proposed using a snowcat — only on pieces of state-owned land already opened to motorized use — and a Robinson R-44 helicopter to get skiers and snowboarders into the Talkeetna Mountains in the Hatcher Pass area.

The company is allowed to start operating on Dec. 1.

Opponents of the plan, who gave public comment on the proposal, say there are already many other backcountry users in the area and adding snowcat- and heli-skiers is unsafe. They also say the helicopter noise will negatively impact the experience of anyone recreating in Hatcher Pass.

The permit, though, limits Hatcher Pass Mountain Guides to specific corridors, and the new guiding company is prohibited from using the busy Independence Mine Parking Lot area.

As for overcrowding or safety issues from dropping clients near other skiers, Hatcher Pass Mountain Guides has also said they will limit helicopter operations to the Willow side of the pass, farther from the state-maintained road into the pass and most other backcountry skiers and snowboarders.

While that is in the company’s operations plan, critics — as well as the state DNR, in its notice today — point out that the permit itself does not limit the helicopter from landing on state land, nor does it specify where clients can ski from there.