Opinion: The Hypocrisy of Helicopter Skiing

#ActOnClimate…but it’s still okay to get in the bird and fly to the summit, right?


When I was 21, I packed up my life, put my car on a ferry, and landed in Haines, Alaska, to work for a heli-skiing operation. At the time I was seeking adventure, I was looking for something to shake up my life, and shake it up it did.

As a rookie you get very little time in the bird and lots of time sitting on the tarmac, fueling the choppers for stoked clients who just had the best ski run of their life. I figured I had to put in my time, just like everyone else, so I sat in the van and fueled the whirly birds day after day. Down days were spent bushwhacking through thick alders to ski the dense powder above, with occasional forays at the snow cat hill. I even got up high a few times and gawked at the sea of stunning mountains.

While there, I started to become more aware of my surroundings and my life in general. My parents hadn’t taught me about climate change, they taught me to love life and chase my dreams, but we ate at McDonalds and participated in what some would call redneck activities. No one can deny that it’s a riot to rally around on a dirt bike or a snowmobile, and shooting guns in the woods is a hootin’ good time. That was my childhood and I whole-heartedly embraced every minute of it.

The fall after my first season in Haines, I went to Churchill, Manitoba, on a whim. A mentor of mine ran an organization called Polar Bears International and invited to me to come up and volunteer. I didn’t have anything better to do at the time and figured it would be really cool to see polar bears and try something new. What I didn’t know is that my time in Churchill would change my life in a big way, transforming me from simply a nature lover to a full-on environmentalist.

HARD LESSONS
I learned a lot about climate change that fall. I learned that unlike some endangered things, you can’t put a fence around it – climate change knows no borders or boundaries, and it affects everything, everywhere.

This made me think twice about returning to Haines to work in the heli-ski industry, but I went anyway. I’d groveled so much the previous year, dispatching from the tarmac, fueling helicopters, and doing any and all grunt work I could find. I hadn’t made a dollar, and I wanted to reap the rewards of my groveling. I wanted to go back and actually get paid. I wanted to ski in the magnificent Chilkat Mountains, and part of me wanted to do it for the ladies because at the time there were no female heli-ski guides in Haines.

So I returned, but it didn’t feel right.

I was fueling the helis one day and asked the pilot how much fuel they consumed. “Oh, roughly 45 gallons of Jet A per hour.” Wide-eyed, I replied “Oh, that’s a lot,” and put my head down. It seemed ridiculous to waste that much fuel and contribute that much carbon pollution to the environment for skiing, for pure recreation with no real purpose. It could be called frivolous at best.

Despite diving back into the grunt routing, I’d barely skied since I arrived that season. Then my cabin burned down and a friend and fellow guide died in a terrible accident. “The universe is telling me something,” I thought. After a long eight weeks, I packed my car and left. I haven’t touched a helicopter since.

WALKING THE WALK
I may be tainted from the accident, or perhaps just jaded in general, but using helicopters to ski doesn’t seem worth it to me. I get it. I’ve been there. Jeremy Jones was there, too. He saw the mountains changing, he saw winter disappearing and he decided to do something about it. He stopped snowboarding via helicopters and started doing all his projects via his own two feet, human powered. A handful of other athletes have done the same, myself included, and it’s cool to see.

But there’s still a strong contingent of professional snow athletes and film companies who emit huge amounts of carbon pollution every year by using helicopters to get photos and footage, negatively impacting the sport that is their livelihood and is vanishing before our eyes.

Spring 2014 felt especially poignant to me. It was a rough snow year in the Lower 48 and athletes and film companies were hurting for shots and the turns they had been lacking for much of the season. April rolled around and it seemed like everyone was up in AK. Instagram and Facebook were flooded with heli-skiing images.

Day after day, post after post, the flood of Alaska pow shots went on, and I couldn’t help but think, “Don’t these guys get it? We are having the worst winter we may have ever seen, and they’re dumping carbon pollution into the air like it’s their job?” Oh wait, it is.

It was especially ironic on April 22, 2014…Earth Day. A handful of fairly big players in the ski industry posted Instagrams about how much they loved the mountains and the earth…but the photos they posted came from helicopters. On top of which, some of those who posted heli-ski photos on Earth Day have also advocated for Protect Our Winter’s #ActOnClimate project and Climate Reality Project’s I am Pro Snow campaign.

What I want to know now is when will we as a culture be willing to sacrifice our frivolous joys for the sake of the future? It’s great that the ski industry is talking the talk, but when will everyone, companies and athletes included, choose to walk the walk? And what’s the line? Is heli-skiing okay if you only do it a few time a year, but the rest of the year you act as an environmentally aware citizen? Is it okay if you offset the carbon burned? If you use the images you gather to warn others about the effects of climate change?

I don’t think so.

Getting out in nature is more important than it’s ever been, and so it skiing. But blatant disregard for the impact of climate change throughout the environment is unacceptable, and people of influence should live by the values they preach. I’m trying to do that in my life, even when it isn’t easy, and I encourage others to do so, too.

Photo by Kt Miller

 

Kt Miller is a skier, photographer, and environmentalist. See more of her work at ktmiller.photo.
Showing 55 comments
  • Mike
    Reply

    You’re totally on point here. Reminds me of a friend who’s constantly talking about climate change and posting articles about it, yet he drives around in a huge, heavy, gas-powered V8 Land Rover (probably the most inefficient car you could buy) – just him and his dog. People want *other* people to take action. Our biggest failing as humans is how short-sighted we are, we don’t see the big picture – ever. The ski industry is contributing to their own demise. Whistler Blackcomb is running a pilot project this winter to mitigate or slow the recession of Horstman Glacier on Blackcomb Mountain … by … wait-for-it … making more snow. Making snow is very energy consumptive; how’s that for hypocrisy.

    • Kt Miller
      Reply

      Thanks for your thoughts Mike. I think we are all hypocrites in some ways— especially with regard to climate change (myself included). But I think questioning it is important, and in doing so, perhaps thoughts turn to action and sacrifices become worthwhile. Your comment about the Horstman Glacier is certainly interesting…

      Cheers,
      Kt

  • Jeff
    Reply

    This argument is interesting to me.

    Growing up in Alberta I spend a lot of time around people who work in the oil industry. There’s an interesting observation I’ve made where people seem to think they have to choose between having a high paying job to provide for their families or protecting the environment. A lot of these people choose the job despite being aware of climate change and feeling bad about what they’re doing.

    I think that the whole “heli skiing is evil” thing really is that exact same conflict. Do I sacrifice my environmental convictions for the sake of work/living passionately? It seems that some people are willing to work and come up with other ways of making it happen but even then we have a long way to go before skiing becomes anything remotely sustainable. Look at what we wear – gore tex and synthetics which are super hard on the environment to create. The skis and boots under our feet are giant chunks of plastic. The amount of energy put into making a pair of skis must be incredible. We’ve got a long way to go before this industry even resembles something “green” in some really big ways. While I understand and respect what you’re saying to me it almost feels unfair to point so hard at heli skiing when skiing in general is so much more massive and polluting and wasteful.

    I do however look forward to seeing what solutions people come up with for this.

    • Kt Miller
      Reply

      You’re completely spot on Jeff. I too look forward to seeing what solutions arise. It seems we need an entire paradigm shift on so many levels to solve such an immense problem. Currently convenience is king.

      Thanks for your thoughts,
      Kt

  • Joe
    Reply

    Great article, and you bring up some interesting points that I have often thought about myself. It does bother me when people preach in a negative way to others about climate change and how people’s behavior is affecting it, when every single person in America, unless you’re living like a seventeenth-century pilgrim and completely off the grid with no possessions, is contributing to it. It’s like those ignorant, moronic, and hypocritical “occupy” protesters from a couple years ago, railing against corporate greed and so on with an iPhone in one hand and a Starbucks latte in the other. It’s selective outrage, and nothing pisses me off more, like the hilarious outrage over cecil the lion dying while untold people are dying from terrorism and other tragedies across the globe. I think the media should be held to a higher standard, but even though I’m a subscriber, on this issue Outside magazine has pissed me off for years because they’re so hypocritical. The whole ethos of their magazine is very liberal and about protecting the earth and stopping climate change ect, yet if you watch their TV channel and also in their magazine, they glorify heli-skiing time and time again, sometimes on the same page with an article about climate change and the usual crap of how you should feel guilty about your carbon footprint.

    Jeff makes some great comments though overall about the snow sports industry, and the outdoor industry as well. We love our gear, but we replace our gear too often for the newest greatest thing, and none of it is helping the environment.

  • Michael Roberts
    Reply

    45 gallons of fuel per hour is a lot of fuel. Is heliskiing a frivolous use of that fuel? No more frivolous than other activities (e.g. 45 gallons per hour to heat your house is not frivolous, but it is a much larger waste of fuel). We do things because we have to or because it brings us happiness. These judgment calls often put people on the defensive as they feel they need to justify their lives because someone else thinks their job/hobby/decision is considered “frivolous.” If something isn’t important to you, it’s trivial to lobby for it’s eradication, but for others, it’s an attack on what makes them happy.

    I’m far more excited to read about a helicopter engine that runs on 20 gallons per hour than I am about how 1/2 the number of people are going heliskiing. That should be our goal: to live our lives and seek our happiness while minimizing the damage we do. If our goal is to never change our environment, we’ll soon learn that everything has a negative impact and that we’re really bad at levitation.

    • Kt Miller
      Reply

      You have an excellent point Michael. It’s been very interesting to see the responses from this piece, especially from my friends who I worked with at the heliski operation in Alaska. It seems that some people see the helicopter side of the article most, when the intention in fact was to look more at those who tout green policy yet make exceptions for themselves. It was meant to incite debate and introspection, which it did in a much bigger way than I anticipated. I don’t mean to say that heliskiing is right or wrong necessarily, but rather if you are a climate advocate or an athlete for an environmental non profit perhaps it’s worth questioning. On the flip side if you are NOT an athlete representing climate action and publicly identifying yourself as an environmentalist then it doesn’t necessarily go against your values, so that wouldn’t make you a hypocrite. I think the helicopter side of the story definitely strikes a tender cord with some folks and has initiated some interesting dialog.
      *
      I love your final comment about levitation!! I’d like to think that our future consists of alternative energy, a cultural paradigm shift towards less wastefulness and consumption, and technology that removes carbon from the atmosphere and transforms it into a non destructive substance.
      *
      Thanks for your thoughts,
      Kt

  • Jim Jones
    Reply

    Well said. Although I see Jeff’s point about the energy needed just to create ski gear, it’s not really apples to apples. Once I purchase my gear, it should last me at least a few seasons, hopefully over 100 days. Heli skiing on the other hand, is a per use cost (both financial and environmental) that is just too high environmentally to justify doing anymore. Especially when the people we see doing it supposedly care about the environment. It’s time for people to wake up.

  • AC
    Reply

    Other than the fuel burn rate, I don’t see a difference between driving to the slopes vs taking a heli. I agree heli use is excessive. Turns should be earned.

    • Colin
      Reply

      Flying, in a heli or in an airliner (even divided by the number of passengers in a 777 or 787) is by FAR the most carbon intensive activity you can engage in. Driving isn’t even close.

      I mean, I take your point, but they’re orders of magnitude different.

  • D
    Reply

    I will take it one step Higher, Deeper, and Further. If you are truly worried about the environment DO NOT ski, travel, or recreate at all. I mean all those toys and travel impact the environment. If you are truly worried about the environment DO NOT have kids. This planet is over populated already. We should prove how serious we are about this issue by agreeing to end our toxic impact on this planet. The only answer to this problem is a mass suicide.

    • Kt Miller
      Reply

      I LOVE your comment D. Really, I’m not kidding. We are all hypocrites (myself included). The reality is that we live in a word where convenience is king. I used to feel that there was no real solution to climate change, that we would be the cause of our own demise. Sometimes it seems like the only way to stop emitting carbon is for everyone to return to a hunter-gatherer state; the reincarnation of the cave man, right?! Through a lot of time reading about and speaking with climate scientists and polar bear experts I’ve developed a new lens. I think (my personal opinion) that the solution to climate change includes: alternative energy, a carbon tax, a global cultural paradigm shift (less wastefullness and consumerism), AND technology that can remove carbon from the atmosphere and turn it into a non-harmful substance. There are already pilot projects working on this (In Iceland they are sucking carbon out of the atmosphere, injecting it into volcanic rock, and burying it in the ground). I think creativity is going to be key and that there truly is a way to be responsible citizens of the earth in the technology driven world that we currently exist in.
      *
      Many thanks for your thoughts,
      Kt

      • D
        Reply

        See- Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Project. The issues with this is injection underground can lead to other issues.

        Every living thing on this planet has an impact, deer, bears, and rabbits all have an impact. The question is what is the acceptable standard for each of us?

  • Oliver
    Reply

    Yes! Great article, been saying this for years. Snowmobiles are also a travesty in the mountains, not as severe a polluter as helicopters but still awful, especially when factoring in the rig that gets it to the trailhead. The noise pollution from either is enough to drive any sane person attempting to enjoy the winter wilds furious, not to mention absolutely terrifying the wildlife and in turn destroying their habitat. It’s far past time we recreated much more lightly and sustainably in the mountains.

  • Dan Murphy
    Reply

    Wait, wait:

    “I hadn’t made a dollar, and I wanted to reap the rewards of my groveling. I wanted to go back and actually get paid.”

    Seriously, you didn’t get paid for working there?

    Anyways…
    Like anything else, we’re talking about a huge grey area. What is acceptable to one person may be grossly damaging environmentally to another. Good luck sorting this out.

  • Evan
    Reply

    We have a choice to slide on the snow with as little of an impact as possible. My livelihood depends on snow, as a backcountry ski lodge operator in BC. We don’t tout ourselves as having a small footprint, we just try and walk the walk; micro hydro power from the small creeks near our lodge (with no impacts to local ecology) generating all of our electricity needs and heating our buildings with the excess with no carbon foot print. Using a snowcat to get in and out of the lodge once a week which runs for 4 hours total. Firewood harvested on the spot or on our access road. Composting and recycling everything we can. Local products, local materials, etc. We can’t always do it perfectly but we try and that is an element of every decision we make in the business. Our business depends on it!

    On the contrary, so many of my peers make their living flying to magical places on the whirly bird with skiers and riders. And one thing is clear, we might gain even more protectors of our winters from these operations as people who may not have been inclined to access the wild places get to see and taste it and find a passion for recreating and protecting these places.

    In the end as always the power is in the consumers hands and riders and skiers feet. Make a choice, as a recreationalist, professional or whatever to walk the walk or do the best you can and encourage others to do so.

    • Kt Miller
      Reply

      I really appreciate your response Evan. Thank you for sharing your story. I think it is a great example of being aware and running your business very intentionally. We can’t do everything, but perhaps someday it will be possible for you to run an electric snowcat— I don’t think that’s an unreasonable thing to see in the future. I would think we will see electric snowmobiles and possibly even electric helicopters in our lifetime.
      *
      I also agree that it is more important than it has ever been for people to get outside and connect with nature. In order to protect something you have to love it.
      *
      Cheers,
      Kt

  • HS
    Reply

    Great, great article. KT you nailed it. Ski uphill!

    • bart
      Reply

      Its just that she lives nowhere near the life she is promoting. Here i got an idea, lets talk trash about other skiers while I am out traveling the world to take photographs. France, Slovenia, Greenland, Manitoba. Hey KT, 747’s burn a gallon a second! Oh, but its okay because you are an environmentalist not an athlete. And it’s not in a helicopter, so that makes you better?
      People called you out on your blog about the shifitng ice movie, and you replied with at least we didn’t burn any carbon soon as we got there, and right there in your photo is a zodiac running with an outboard. Are you blind? And deaf?
      It seems like you need to work out some insecurities before you write another essay.
      Shifting Ice and Changing Tides- a story on how some people burned a bunch of carbon to show you that we shouldn’t burn carbon. YOU ARE THE HYPOCRITE KT!

      here is your quote KT
      “But blatant disregard for the impact of climate change throughout the environment is unacceptable, and people of influence should live by the values they preach.”

  • Britt
    Reply

    I wish someone would have done a write-up like this about TGR’s Fantasy Camp, wherein a boatload of pro skiers who claim to be environmentalists are dumped in remote AK by helicopters to set up the equivalent of a 5 star hotel and light off fireworks every night… wondering where all the snow went. We STILL don’t get it. Thanks for bringing this all too serious issue to light.

  • Jeremiah
    Reply

    This isn’t black and white. Of course everything we do has an affect on the planet and of course our gear to just be outside in the elements and sliding down the hill consumes energy to be created.

    But that’s why its important to put units on it and figure out what cost-to-joy ratio you’re willing to accept. No one here is going to seriously say: kill yourself (and actually lead by example, D). But I think that genuinely looking at your actions and the things that make you happy vs. how much environmental cost those actions have – especially when the two are actually linked as is the case in powder-snow-skiing – is something that people choose not to do because the answer when they really run the numbers is something they would rather not accept and act on.

    Ultimately, enough individuals will probably choose that “if ‘they’ are going to do it anyways, no reason for me not to too.” And I suppose that’s why governments exist. To make hard decisions that piss people off so that the collective whole of humanity, or at the least the citizens of said country, can live in a better world.

    • Kt Miller
      Reply

      Thanks for your thoughts Jeremiah. You make some really good points. As I said to D above ***I think (my personal opinion) that the solution to climate change includes: alternative energy, a carbon tax, a global cultural paradigm shift (less wastefullness and consumerism), AND technology that can remove carbon from the atmosphere and turn it into a non-harmful substance. There are already pilot projects working on this (In Iceland they are sucking carbon out of the atmosphere, injecting it into volcanic rock, and burying it in the ground).*** There is just no way everyone is going to return to a hunter-gatherer state and stop the destruction of the planet willingly. I’m optimistic that our children’s children will still be skiing with the implementation of some creative solutions to climate change.
      *
      Cheers,
      Kt

  • ced
    Reply

    the heli business is the very small tip of the iceberg in the outdoor industry if you ask me. Everything is made off oil and in asia using vast amount of toxics. (no more clean fresh water lake/river in the entire china). Asia are now shipping via new route thru the north pole. the industry is eager to market gore tex or all form of plastic to mosly “fair weather” outdoor people. Is it really necessary? not to mention force feed everyone with new stuff everyone must own each year. newest, lightest, whatever. Should i start with the electronics including gopro which will end up on beach somewhere in bengladesh? the pros of every sports are using planes sometimes to do a round the world powder hunt in less than 15 days. Is this reasonable? constantly promoting far away exotic location as the “thing” to do may not be the best? these days it looks like everyone is on a trip somewhere. Every one is taking a picture of their huge amount of gear before they pack it, the glorious picture of extreme consumerism, everything barely 1 month old and all made in asia. jeremy you are mentioning was using helis to film on all his movies, even in nepal. the ceo of VF corporation (north face) was a big donator of money to Mitt romney who denies global warming. maybe it gives a good idea of how the industry is thought about . anyway, to me , if the industry would promote “made in local” “ski local” “you dont need gore tex when its sunny” “you dont need new skis every year” “you dont need new gear/clothes every year” “you dont need 3 gore tex and 5 wind stopper” , promote base layers made off crab shell waste (they do it in alaska), or wool…it would be a huge step. and the heli ski industry in AK is just a drop in the ocean. nothing to worry about i dont think. most people cant afford it.

    • Kt Miller
      Reply

      You couldn’t be more right Ced. Happy to stir the pot a little bit and get folks like you talking. Keep it up. 😉
      *
      Kt

  • Bill Byrne
    Reply

    Some good thoughts here. I’ve had similar opinions on surfboard construction and the ocean.

  • Tobin
    Reply

    “Earn your turns” – by your legs, not machines.

  • CL
    Reply

    It’s hard to accept that we’re going to get snow only at higher elevations.

    Valemount BC is getting a ski resort built up in high country to bring guests from Australia and Europe.

    People who can afford to burn CO2 are going to ski high and burn lots to get there.

    • Kt Miller
      Reply

      Thanks for your comment CL. I think the combination of a carbon tax and technology to remove carbon from the atmosphere could potentially stop something like this. But the question is— will it be soon enough?
      *
      Thanks for reading,
      Kt

  • Johny photo
    Reply

    Hm
    I wonder if KT has a car, I’m sure Jeremy Jones has one. I’m sure those guys drive to put their skins on? Or do they skin strait from their homes? Are these homes powered by solar? Are these cars solar charged electric vehicles ? If not then what’s the carbon footprint of their exhistance ? If KT is living in a state or Provence that burns coal to create electricity then it’s worse. This article is increadiably naive. Unless KT is living off the grid growing his own food and getting everything else from a 100 km radius he really doesn’t have an argument !

    • Kt Miller
      Reply

      Thanks for your comment Johny. You’re totally spot on (although I actually do skin from my house). The reality is that we need an entire cultural paradigm shift to solve this problem, right?! And the reality is that we as a society are not going to return to a hunter-gatherer state. It’s just not going to happen. So then, are we just doomed to destroy the planet? I still have hope that we can come up with a solution but I think (my opinion) that we are going to have to get really CREATIVE. I think that one thing we will see in the future is a method to remove carbon from the atmosphere. This could potentially reverse some of the damage that has already been done and compensate for the things that cannot be altered to be ‘sustainable.’ Add alternative energy and a paradigm shift to the equation and our children’s children might still be skiing on snow.
      *
      Part of the intent of the article was to cause some questions and conversation, which it has done in a far bigger way than I ever anticipated.
      *
      Thanks for your thoughts,
      Kt
      *
      P.S. I’m a ‘she’ not a ‘he’ 😉

    • D
      Reply

      Finally someone who live in reality. Hip Hp Hooray.

      • Johnnyphoto
        Reply

        Hi KT,
        My apologies on the gender error.
        I’m afraid we are doomed to destroy the planet! I’m not sure how much global traveling you’ve done but even if we in the first world make a shift in the right direction the second and third world need to follow suit. Hollywood and the Internet/global village have brought the American Dream to the third and second worlds.
        I was in China more than twenty years ago and everybody rode bicycles, now they drive cars. India’s the same. How do we convince them to go back to bicycles ? How do we tell them “oh you can’t have all that western materialim because …..”
        I sincerely hope you are right and we can reverse some of the damage done. Until then I’ll keep riding my skateboard to the grocery store all summer long and loading my sled into my truck to skiing in winter.
        I’m glad you can still skin out of your back yard. I can’t. Well I can but its no longer pow!

  • Bart
    Reply

    This might as well be titled “The Hypocrisy of you writing this” I do believe I saw a film about “shifting ice and changing tides.” A story of how some girls flew in a jet to Greenland or Iceland, i forgot, and then got on a motorboat to go skiing. Playing along that they were on a sailboat, (which was never shown under sail, so barely sailing at most) taking a zodiac with an outboard to shore and then skinning up. Getting back on the motor driven dingy to the motor driven sailboat and then back on the big jet to fly back halfway around the world. AND YOU WERE TRYING TO TELL PEOPLE TO SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT!
    From what I have heard, an A-star b2 will burn closer to 60 gallons an hour, about a gallon a minute. However there are 5 people in the helicopter (not including the pilot) That turns out to 12 gallons an hour per person. On a really big day of heliskiing a group will put on 2 hours of flight time. That is 24 gallons of fuel per person. Yes that is still a lot of fuel, but enough to go on the attack against people you associate with and some whom you call friends? It seems like you are writing this because you feel guilty about your own escapades. Flying in a jet to save polar bears? Heliskiing is not environmentally friendly, that is no secret, but the joy people get out of being in those mountains may just allow them to go home and want to be more environmentally conscience. Maybe similar to your joy of seeing polar bears and opening your eyes to climate change.
    There are a lot better ways of helping the environment than calling people out.

    • Kt Miller
      Reply

      Thanks for your comment Bart. You are 100% spot on. At least we didn’t fly to Greenland, fly around in a helicopter all day for two weeks and then fly home. That would have *really* increased our carbon footprint… and we actually sailed over 1500 km, but yes we motored in the fjords. I was so seasick that I couldn’t take many pictures. 🙂 I will be interested to hear what you think of the documentary. Please let me know if/when you see it. My email is ktmillerphoto@gmail.com. When the time comes I’d be happy to pay your admission to a film festival near you.
      *
      Cheers,
      Kt

  • Roman Dial
    Reply

    You should only use a helicopter ti fly into the mountains if you are a climate change earth scientist, right?

  • solomon
    Reply

    from a perspective of the pilot that spends a lot of time in the helicopter and sees the worst wast and the most saved by the heicopter i have to chime in on this….. yes 45 gallons an hour for fun is “conspicuous consumption”= a small rich minority using more that an equal share of the worlds resources…… but just like solar panels that are more expensive than coal burning power plants…. or the electric hybrid car the has a larger total carbon impact on the global environment…..use is worth the the wast to develop a better world………if the helicopter does not have the support of the wast full time it is used, it becomes un-available for the time it is used for the best impact to change the world……… after the Alaska helicopter ski season in 2013, i went on to fly most of the rest of the year on an infrastructure project; helped set up the LA basin to swith over, a large portion of the power grid to wind power( (TRTP) from coal burring plants: with out the winter fun there is not enough work for operators to be available for the great work that we all benefit from; The helicopter industery( EMS, Wild land fires, surch and rescue….ect ect.) use it wisely;) i know i am A bias perspective……………..if you can afford it spend the money wisely and smartly spend money on things that deserve our support i feel the helicopter have/are done/ding much more good than harm.and heli skiing is one way we spend our money that in the big picture is a wash in support of global heath…… so enjoy it!!! if you can afford the solar panles buy them!!! if you can drive an hybred SUV buy it; buy a zero electric motorcycle…… be the first on on your block to own a TESLA home battery ……… we all vote with our money….. support industry that is moving us in the right direction even if its 100% yet…….. helicopters are so good and save so much becaues of what they can do i feel its never a wast ……….

  • Mark
    Reply

    Just to be clear, in an 8 hour+ day of heli skiing the heli only flies 2.5-3 hrs and there are five guests per ship so if you do the math and compare this to sitting by yourself in your SUV in stopped bumper to bumper traffic for many hours on I70 it is not that great of a difference, that of course does not make for a grabby headline or spur conterversial conversation though.

  • Paul
    Reply

    I think the author would be shocked to know how much fuel is burned on a daily basis by military aircraft around the globe, or even the amount of fuel that is dumped into the skies from military aircraft in order to safely land. A burn rate of 45 gallons per hour for heli-skiing is a miniscule drop in the proverbial bucket of fuel burned by helicopters.

  • Mark
    Reply

    If talking about heli skiing vs resort you would also have to factor in the diesel powered or electric powered lift, diesel snow cats, heated lodges and condos, parking lot snow removal, ski patrol and snowmaking snowmobiles etc… Heli skiing makes an easy target until you look at the whole industry. Live in a snow cave, wear natural fibers, use snowshoes and hand carved skis made from already fallen trees then come talk to me. ?

  • john bass
    Reply

    Having worked several years as a heli-ski guide and then owned and ran a heli-ski company, all I can say about the article is,… Yes, that would be me.
    Sorry,.. but i honestly had no idea at that time (’80’s) how fast we were approaching the true point of no return in regards to the long term sustainable existence for humans on the earth. And now, I am afraid, we are well passed that point. We are nearing 8 billion people with over 50% of that population moving into the high resource consumption and polluting levels of ‘middle-class’. With humans needing a population of less than 2.5 billion humans living at a European standard of consumption in order to achieve a sustainable place on this planet, we are not going to make it. We can’t even come close to sustaining 8 billion people for 15 years!!!

    In truth, there is no turning the clock back. The people, the governments and all economies of the world continue to measure SUCCESS in money terms related to mass consumption, along with its resulting pollution. And that is NOT going to change. Until the discussion evolves into changing all definitions of SUCCESS and human species health, becomes the number ONE topic all day, everyday for everyone, everywhere, we are doing nothing more than just setting new standards for attractive STYLE points within our culture. ‘Looking’ environmental is the current stylish fashionable power point. (Yes,.. I religiously use my recycle blue bins, and have dramatically lowered my time driving and traveling. Looking Good!)

    Of course, I wish we were at a point where we are all joined together all day, everyday in a unified focus on making the human existence on the planet 100% sustainable and compatible with all other environmental systems. But guys,.. that is just NOT going to happen. So, in an effort to maintain my important style points, ( Hey, I made no children!).. Sure. Ground the frigging helicopters.

    Wasn’t it Nero who fiddled as Rome burned? Personally, I think I would rather bag as much POW as possible. Thus, the hypocrisy.

  • Bruce
    Reply

    Great article and spot on. While we are at it consider the rampant use of snomachines by so many backcountry skiers for access, especially the AT crowd.
    And a thought to Roman (whose journeys often inspire me), rescues only?

    • Roman Dial
      Reply

      This particular flame is likely out by now.

      But it’s very, very difficult to see our effects when we are so removed from the source. How much carbon do we truly burn when we add it all up from source to where we play?

      I mean the gear (the shipping of the gear’s materials, the making of the gear), the going, the coming home, the telling the story here where I am burning still more joules.

      It may be very difficult to really tally the carbon spent to get an accurate accounting.

      Maybe the dirtbags have it right: the less you spend, the less you consume, the less greenhouse gas you release? Could it be true that the less you spend, the easier you are on the environment?

      If you have to spend to display your status, maybe spend it on art, or software, or music, or other stuff that is made mostly of ideas and not amass object that must be transported and and that is manufactured from other things with mass that must be transported (especially by air because that heavy mass has to be lifted higher than many of us can really walk/climb/ski)? Transport of food, too, and wine and beer and consumables in general, right?

      I don’t have any real answers for you, Bruce.

      I make my choices and read stuff like this, feel guilty and try to live with it. I recognize my own hypocrisy (part of being a parent). I listen to my wife (she’s far more frugal than me and a practicing enviro while fiscally conservative).

      She once reminded me that my neighbors with five or more gas-consuming toys (ATVs, Snowmachines, bush planes, river boats, ocean boats) probably burn less than I do in a year when I fly to Oz.

      Maybe so. Maybe so. And they don’t call themselves environmentally aware, yet I do. At least they are honest.

      So again, I try not to get too grumpy and hateful and holier than thou or claim that biodiversity can only be saved by kicking us out of Nature.

      Environmentalism is looking more and more a like new religion — Forgive me Mother for I have sinned, but I will try not to.

      Truthfully, I have always wanted to go heli-skiing. And have worked out of helicopters, but “paid for it” only once when I did heli-boating in NZ and would likely do it again (see forgive my sins above). Also my share of fixed wing travel into the bush. And overseas travel to see wilderness — yes I am a hypocrite (see Forgive me, Mother, above) and I also drink Aussie wine and lots of CA veggies even though I live in AK.

      We all have to wrestle with out “love” for nature. I try to remember that love really means giving something up, too, for the thing that you love.

      How much you give up is up to you, and until someone has a complete accounting of our impacts from a carbon and consumables POV, maybe just spend less. Be a working dirtbag, in both senses of the word working.

      • Steve Casimiro
        Reply

        Yes, spend it on ideas…

        • roman dial
          Reply

          someone said that they’re cheap, so light on the Earth

  • DanO
    Reply

    Unless you are GORAN (RIP) and you bicycle to Everest, climb it and bike back to Sweden, you have no standing to tell people how outraged you are over THEIR use of fossil fuels as opposed to your own. Environmental snobbery at its finest.

  • Joel Serra
    Reply

    As someone who has worked in the Heliskiing industry for more than 20 years, I respectfully request that we get the math right. Yes, an A-Star B-2 burns around 45 gallons per hour, but people need to understand that an “hour” in helicopter time means an hour on the Hobbs meter, which runs only when the pilot pulls up on the collective – I.e. the helicopter is flying. Standard practice in the industry is to average 1 hour per group, per day. Divided by five skiers, that is 9 gallons, per person, per day. Private charters and film crews will sometimes use more, but that is a small percentage of overall utilization.

    We all make choices in our lives and those include how we utilize energy. As noted in one of the comments above, driving to our favorite ski area will often burn as much energy as Heliskiing for a day and flying cross-country, whether on a ski vacation or for business will burn much more fuel than a week of Heliskiing. Is it unacceptable to drive to the mountains to ride our mountain bikes when we could just ride road bikes nearer our homes? What about my choice to drive several hours to fly-fish a stream, when there are closer places, but I don’t think the fishing is as good? In relative terms, my choice to drive further might be deemed wasteful, but what about folks who unload a motorcycle after that drive or who launch a power-boat? The point is that we all make these decisions and it is our overall consumption of carbon fuels that is important, not a single day’s activities.

    Heli-skiing is simply a choice. Many heli-ski companies offer carbon offsets to customers, purchased through non-profit enterprises which utilize the funds to help subsidize solar and wind power sources and some others simply build the cost of the carbon offsets into the price of a day’s skiing. The Heliskiing industry is strongly focused on protecting the environment in which it operates. Guides are trained to assure that customers leave behind only tracks, the flagging used to mark landing zones is bio-degradable and wildlife and other back-country users are given wide berth. In the context of the many hundreds of decisions we make that influence our carbon footprint-print, focusing on Heliskiing makes little sense.

  • Cam
    Reply

    Kudos for the article. I’ve evolved towards the same philosophy. I have gear yes, but I’m trying to use it to it’s limit, and beyond. I love the new gear coming out, I’m a total slut for jackets – but you know, my existing gear still works. I have SUV’s, but I commute year-round on my one mountain bike or one road bike (in Anchorage) as much as I can, which is honestly 60 – 70%. I try to limit my use, not eliminate the use.
    Essays like this give us pause, and a place to start. To the folks who say “You drove your F-150 to the harbor to unload you plastic kayak, to protest drilling for oil/plastic in the arctic! Your arguments are therefore null – and – void” miss the point. That is the infrastructure that we have to travel with, we really have no choice if we want to participate in our current society. What I think is being said is: We can do better. Let’s focus our energy – intellectual and caloric – to energy progress. What’s so scary about that, that we have to personally attack the writer sharing a thought? BTW, sailboats are incredibly more efficient than power boats when under power.

  • Randyt
    Reply

    Interesting to note that Hans Moser-who started Heli Skiing said that if he knew what is was going to become he would not have started it.

  • David
    Reply

    Its a tragedy that these discussions so often degrade into “well we shouldn’t do ANYTHING because EVERYTHING has a carbon footprint” or the old “we should all just kill ourselves”. The discussion should really be “how far can we go to reduce our impact without crushing the ability to have an enjoyable life”. Clearly walking uphill on skins is a lower impact alternative to a heli, but even if you take the bus (the new Bustang service looks promising) up I70 to a ski area that sources windpower to spin the lifts, it is still a much lower impact than a heli. Just do what you can to reduce your impact, don’t hate on the people that are out there trying to make a difference (we’re all on the same team), be civil, and protect the resources that we all care about to the best of your ability.

  • DanO
    Reply

    Thank you Joel Serra for introducing the MATH FACTS above.

    Yes, we can all do better on using less fossil fuels and, in fact, all resources. I just don’t want someone to tell me my use is excessive while they neglect to “remove the oil derrick from their own eye”.

  • Jonathan Shaw
    Reply

    Millions of people use 15 gallons of fuel a week commuting back and forth in traffic to meaningless jobs 50 weeks of the year, heating their oversized houses with electricity from burning coal. For a lot of people taking a helicopter ski trip would be a highlight of their whole life. Which is better or worse? I haven’t done it myself but I would not begrudge that experience if someone else did it because I know how the sublime beauty of the mountains can give one a sense of flow and place. Big wide open experiences and the friendships you create while having them give life meaning. Me – I built myself an electric bicycle, walk to work, telecommute and put solar panels and solar thermal on my one bedroom super insulated house a 10 minute drive in my 38 mpg car away from some decent backcountry on Mt. Shasta and earn all my turns the old fashioned way. But I’m far from perfect, I build up “credit” of my own accounting of how frugal with fuel I am being and then every other year I fly somewhere really epic. Last year I went to Patagonia. In some ways being alive and being an environmentalist is hypocritical. I am an environmentalist but I am also human and imperfect just like everyone else. Sometimes I burn fuel to get inspired and go to places where the world seems like it is young again and the threats seem a long way away. 9 gallons per person isn’t a while lot of fuel for a memory that will last a lifetime.

  • Greg S
    Reply

    I guess I rationalize working intimately with the heliski industry (along with many other OPEC-friendly operators) by hoping that I’m exposing high-net worth individuals to places and issues they otherwise wouldn’t consider. A visit to a heli lodge along the BC border might bring attention to Transboundary river/mine issues. A trip to Bristol Bay to a fly-out fishing lodge can bring to light the Pebble Mine. A yacht trip in SE AK explores the Tongass and roadless legislation. Hopefully there are lasting impacts from visiting these places that help on voting day & loosen up the wallet to non-profits working on important issues. Thanks to KT for starting the discussion.

  • Aidan
    Reply

    Great Article! I work as a kayaking guide up in AK in the summer, and we burn an incredible amount of fuel getting clients out to glaciers and back. It always in the back of my head when I am showing people how rapidly changing these glaciers are, and how much they’ve already disappeared, that my bringing these people there is part of the problem. But as others have said, there is a hope that once they have seen these places up close they will have more of a desire to change and protect them. I will be going back to AK for my last season and then trying to get into a more conservation focused career. Someone recently pointed out to me the difference between non racist and anti racist. And i think that applies just as well to environmentalism. I recycle, I compost, I avoid unneccessary waste, but that just makes me a “non”, to be an “anti” I need to actually work to change those around me, society as a whole.

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