Alaska News

BLM seeks public input on future of permitting in renowned Alaska heliskiing zone

Federal regulators are considering how to manage the next decade of permitted heliskiing in an Alaska area that is among the most famous skiing destinations in the world, and they are asking the public for advice.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management on Wednesday announced it is starting a formal review of potential permit renewals and permit additions for guiding companies operating in the Valdez and Thompson Pass areas of the Chugach Mountains.

Those heliskiing adventures are what a local tourism website called Visit Valdez calls the “ultimate adrenaline activity.”

“Riding in a helicopter, landing on top of an untracked mountain and leaving fresh tracks in powder snow is the dream of many,” the website says.

Four companies currently hold 10-year permits to conduct guided heliskiing tours in about 150,000 acres of BLM-managed lands in the area, the agency said in its announcement. Those permits expire in May 2025, the BLM said.

The agency is now embarking on an environmental assessment of permitted heliskiing on BLM lands over the next 10 years, starting with a month-long scoping period.

Scoping — the process through which government agencies gather public input about issues to study during the permitting process — is to run from March 14 to April 12, the BLM said. The process will kick off with a March 14 public meeting in Valdez, and there will be opportunities to submit written comments as well through a project website.


Specifically, the BLM is seeking public comments on whether permitted heliskiing should be changed in any way, including possible expansions or new restrictions. The agency is also asking whether there are any user conflicts that have emerged and, in general, how people use BLM-managed lands in the heliskiing season, which usually runs from February to May.

The heliskiing operations based in Valdez also use federal land managed by the U.S. Forest Service, as well as some state land.

The history of heliskiing in the Valdez area dates to the 1980s. The first trips were supported by fixed-wing aircraft. With its abundant snow, steep slopes, stunning scenery and unspoiled terrain, the Valdez area has gained a high profile among the world’s adventure-seeking skiers and snowboarders.

The Valdez and Thompson Pass scene is a staple in ski movies, like producer Warren Miller’s 2015 feature “Chasing Shadows.” It has been celebrated for years in glossy magazines like Powder, Ski and Men’s Journal; in a 2022 article, the latter referred to the experience as “practically incomparable.”

Valdez’s success has inspired the development of heliskiing elsewhere in the state, including Southeast Alaska and Girdwood.

The Valdez and Thompson Pass heliskiing operations have also been touched by tragedy. There are avalanche risks in the area; in 2022 a veteran guide died in an avalanche.

Originally published by the Alaska Beacon, an independent, nonpartisan news organization that covers Alaska state government.