GIRDWOOD, Alaska (KTUU) - For the past 20 years, Chugach Powder Guides has been the only company with a permit to operate snow cats and take people heliskiing in the Glacier Winner Creek area near Girdwood. Now, the Department of Natural Resources is trying to remove restrictions and allow more people to be operators there.
Joseph Joyner, Regulation Commissioner for the DNR, said that they made the decision because recently in 2018, another bidder, Silverton Mountain Guides wanted to be the permit holder out there.
He said that up until now, CPG has essentially been running unopposed for the permit since they first got it. Now, Joyner says they don’t have a process they could legally use to pick one over the other.
“It was anticipated that if there was more than one interested party, we would go through a qualitative assessment process that would rank the individuals and then subjectively identify which one the department thought was a better operator for the area,” Joyner said, “We’ve never had to compete to see who’s better.”
He said they contemplated getting an outside hire or training someone who could make the decisions for who was qualified to operate in the area, but it wouldn't be cost effective to do that for one permit.
This particular area is also the only area in the state that works like this according to Joyner and the current operator.
Joyner said they’re putting the proposed changes through a committee. On October 14, a public comment period ended. Joyner said there were 22 responses that were a mix of for and against the regulation change.
Channel 2 reporters spoke with Henry Munter, the General Manager at CPG, who said his primary concern with this isn’t over potentially losing customers, but compromising their safety and experience.
“If you end up in a situation where multiple operators are trying to ski the same run, there’s going to be some shortcutting to get there before the other person does,” Munter said.
He explained this increases the risk of avalanche and other hazards that come from snow cat operating and heliskiing.
Aaron Brill, the owner of Silverton Mountain Guides responded to messages from Channel 2 reporters saying, ‘Permits overlap all over Alaska and there has never been an incident recorded of safety issues resulting.’
While everything gets figured out, Joyner said that there’s no snowcat operation allowed by anyone since there’s no way to give anyone a permit.
Munter said not being able to operate that aspect of their businesses is hard on them financially, which is made even harder due to warming winters. He said he would rather the regulation get passed one way or another just so they can get ready for the season.
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