Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Sun Valley OKs heli-skiing pad



Express Staff Writers

After receiving approval from the Sun Valley City Council on Monday, Jan. 7, Sun Valley Heli-Ski Guides is a step closer to a new and more convenient landing area for its helicopter landings and takeoffs.

The company obtained a temporary landing permit to use the site, about 100 feet behind the new Sun Valley Gun Club on Trail Creek Road, until May 1. However, Sun Valley Co. still has to give its permission as well.

"The city's approval definitely helps a lot," Sun Valley Co. Marketing Director Jack Sibbach said Tuesday. "We've been working with the Heli-Ski Guides for months and are not opposed to them using the site. We just need to work out some logistics."

Sibbach said by giving its approval, the city relieved Sun Valley Co.'s concern regarding liability.

"Let's do it for a year and see how it goes," said Sun Valley Community Development Director Mark Hofman.

Hofman said that if the operation out of Sun Valley goes safely and with a low impact this winter, then the heli-ski company could come back before the city for a conditional-use permit that would allow it to set up a more permanent "footprint" at the site.

If Sun Valley Co. gives its final approval, the Heli-Ski Guides will be permitted to store its sole helicopter at the gun club overnight for the next five months, as well as take off and land during daylight hours. Guide company owner Mark Baumgardner said its hours of operation are generally between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Baumgardner said the company will not refuel the helicopter at the new site this winter.

"We don't want to hold this up or interfere, as they've been working on this for a year," Hofman said during the meeting.

Hofman also said that if the company plans to expand its operation there next year, such as adding an office or a hangar for the helicopter, it will need a conditional-use permit from the city.

Former Sun Valley Mayor Jon Thorson, who has been shepherding the project, said the city's insurer has approved the plan without added cost to the city. He said he expects Sun Valley Co.'s risk management firm to also approve the landing site.

Thorson called the gun club site for the landing pad "a great venue."

In the past, heli-ski helicopters have landed in makeshift areas along Trail Creek Road, and also operated from a site near Baker Creek north of Ketchum.

The gun club site is within minutes of the resort's main grounds.

Thorson said medical-evacuation helicopters, which need no specific clearances for landings, could also operate from the site if necessary.

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