H2O Guides has been heliskiing the Chugach Mountains out of Valdez, Alaska for over two decades, but founder and skiing pioneer Dean Cummings has more than guided trips on his mind this year.
Currently in Phase 1 of planning, Cummings hopes to build the highest vertical tram lift in North America, opening up as much terrain as Whistler and Blackcomb combined, skiable all the way into September.
by Brian Peech
“It’ll get you out of the bears, bugs and bushes because it’s the high alpine, where it’s user friendly and beautiful,” he says. “We’ve always enjoyed sharing remote places. We’re pretty fortunate that we’ve developed our program to be more of a remote mechanized guided aircraft operations company.”
“We’re not just running a heliski business anymore; it’s more about protecting this lifestyle, protecting Alaska.” —Dean Cummings
“When you fly 40 or 50 miles, to where it would take you two weeks to walk out, the complete silence weighs on you, and you look over your shoulder at the people and their eyes are as big as silver dollars,” he says. “They can’t even talk, because they’re just in awe to be so remote.”
Cummings hopes the tram will expose more people to the wonders of Alaska’s environment, while shifting the local economy away from mining, drilling and logging.
“Our guests experience something very few people have ever touched before,” he says. “And they gain a profound respect—by seeing it and experiencing it—of why we need to protect these remote places.”
The proposed lift would open more terrain than Whistler and Blackcomb combined.
Valdez has always operated as a resource economy, and Cummings has seen firsthand how it’s impacted both the town and the environment.
“This town is wrapped up in its oil,” he says. “That hasn’t changed in 40 years. But this glacier, it’s a long, never ending boost for this town, unlike other things that run out, or have environmental issues.”
Cummings has hired Doppelmayr Garaventa to design the tram, and the city has brought in a company to run a feasibility study on the project. The proposed base will be located right in town, under a kilometre from the cruise ship dock and the ferry terminal.
“The ferries are going under here,” he says. “So drawing people from Alaska’s biggest cities, like Anchorage, would help keep them running, which would in turn help a lot of communities who rely on the ferries.”
Cummings hopes provide an attraction for anyone who wants to go up and touch a glacier, pick berries, view wildlife and take in the vistas.
“It’s for the future of our kids and the future of Alaska,” says Cummings. “Instead of muscling to get another pipe line built, or another mining company coming in to rip the mountains down, I believe that if we create diversification, then we can really help what happens after an economy crashes like it has in Alaska. If we don’t do something like this, we’re going to have an overload of drilling and mining and logging.”
While the approval process for projects of this magnitude can take years, Cummings is focusing on the big picture.
“We’re not just running a heliski business anymore; it’s more about protecting this lifestyle, protecting Alaska.”
For more on H20 Guides, check out: http://www.alaskahelicopterskiing.com/#alaska-heli-ski
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