Sep 01 2010

Heli-skiing comes to Tahoe

It looks like heli-skiing will be an available option for Tahoe area skiers this winter (by the time there’s enough snow, probably 2011). The last time heli-skiing was offered in the Sierra was in the early 1970s, near Mammoth. This will be the first time ever in the Tahoe area.

According to Dave Rintala, owner of Pacific Crest Heli-Guides, “PCHG will expand their successful snowcat operation in Coldstream Canyon to include freshies in a zone north of I-80, south of the Sierra Buttes, and west of Mt. Lola and Castle Peak. An A-Star helicopter, courtesy of Heli-Tahoe, a Lake Tahoe sight seeing company, will shuttle skiers from Truckee airport to secret stashes on the weather side of the Pacific Crest with typical snow depths more than six feet.

Two attempts to bring helicopter skiing to the Sierra since the 1970s have been unable to obtain permits from the Forest Service who bowed to protests by backcountry skiers, often led by Snowlands Network.

“We chose the land we did for a couple of reasons, said Rintala.

“First, we wanted to avoid any confrontations with other users, so we steered clear of popular backcountry areas. Besides, those areas tend to be dedicated wilderness areas, or on forest service land. Secondly, we wanted to avoid the permit system.”

Indeed, getting a permit is a risky, expensive process with a history of failure in Socialist California’s save-the-planet, control-everything atmosphere.

Unlike their predecessors, Pacific Crest Heli-skiing will use a patchwork of private lands, not public forest service land. Obtaining permission to use the land is a perfect example of how private parties can come to an equitable agreement faster than a committee, or worse, a government bureaucracy.

“They make a little money to help pay their property taxes, and we get to make fresh tracks on their land. It’s a win-win for everyone,” said Rintala. Those agreements give Pacific Crest Heli Skiing access to more than 100,000 acres. The total acreage for all 14 skier areas surrounding lake Tahoe is less than 25,000 acres.

It sounds impressive, but from a backcountry skiers perspective this poses little threat; it isn’t prime territory due to an overall low elevation, and the distance from trailheads. The land PCHS will be accessing is north of I-80, south of the Sierra Buttes, and west of Castle Peak.

Marcus Libkind, founder of Snowlands Network agrees the land appears to be legally inaccessible without the property owners permission, and is not in an area frequented by skiers or snowshoers.

Personally, I hope they’re successful and can give a lot of folks luxury access to fresh tracks.

The operation will be limited to a maximum of 16 guests per day with a ratio of one guide per four guests. The cost structure will be based upon flight time rather than vertical feet allowing like-minded guests to customize their experience based on their budget, their desire to ski/ride as much vertical as possible and/or their desire to explore a variety of different zones. Full day trips will start at $899 per person.

See the Pacific Crest Heli-Guides program here

—Craig Dostie

  • http://www.thompsonpass.com Valdez Telehead

    Rintala remarks about avoiding conflict ring hollow up here based on his ABA operation. He has trashed Thompson Pass. Of course that is why he avoids/opposes permits that restrict his ability to make money “over” backcountry skiers who just want some areas left for earning turn and the ability to also enjoy the “luxury of untracked”.

  • https://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    Don’t doubt your experience of his operation at Thompson Pass. Where he plans to fly in the Tahoe area is pretty remote and low in elevation. It has very little practical appeal to the majority of backcountry skiers who prefer higher elevations (deeper snow, longer runs) and closer trailheads.

  • http://www.thompsonpass.com Valdez Telehead

    I can assure you that it will have an impact on adjacent land users. They fly back and forth for logistics, fuel, and they fly low. Someone should at least question their fly routes to their “un-permitted” areas. A-Stars are the loudest choppers in the sky and their rotors echo for miles in canyons and valleys. They can make a large vast area seem very small. Good luck.

    BTW…hi Craig!!

  • mlibkind

    Craig, I believe that you incorrectly referenced me. My comment was that it seems impossible for the company to operate on the private lands without ever going on Forest Service lands. Every other square mile is Forest Service land and it seems hard to believe that the helicopter is going to land on private (SPI) land, the skiers are never going to cross Forest Service land, and then the helicopter is going to pick them up on SPI land.

    Also, heli skiing was tried on Freel Peak back in 86-87 and didn’t pan out.

    Marcus Libkind

  • https://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie


    Went off of notes and may not have discerned the detail you just pointed out, i.e., can’t help but cross Forest Service land in a 1 mi. square checkerboard pattern. Thanks for the clarification. It will be interesting to see how this actually pans out.

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