Friday, May 23, 2008

Taking adventure beyond the valley

Sun Valley Heli-Ski Guides becomes part of new global venture

Express Staff Writer

Sun Valley Heli-Ski Guides owner Mark Baumgardner, right, and Director of Marketing Sigi Vogl, left, shown here with paralympian Beth Livingston, announced the merger of their company with Chugach Adventure Guides to create a new international travel company, called Epic. Photo by David N. Seelig

A longtime fixture in the adventure travel business, Sun Valley Heli-Ski Guides, is taking off in a new direction.

While the nation's oldest helicopter skiing operation will continue to fly skiers into the Wood River Valley's backcountry, a merger with the Alaska-based Chugach Adventure Guides, also known as Chugach Powder Guides, will make Sun Valley Heli-Ski Guides part of a venture with a much bigger venture, called Epic.

The merger, which was announced last week, was the brainchild of Craig Pattee, president of the Washington, D.C.-based political consulting and lobbying firm Dutko Worldwide. In addition, Craig is also retained by the Heli-Ski U.S. Association to handle governmental affairs on behalf of the association.

"He's not so much a heli-ski enthusiast as an addict," Heli-Ski Guides Director of Marketing Sigi Vogl said of Pattee. "Craig is the visionary and CEO of Epic Worldwide and is a minority investor. A larger group of investors have a majority stake in Epic Worldwide, which has acquired CAG and SVHS in the first phase of the acquisition strategy of exciting adventure travel operators."

By acquiring and bringing the two iconic heli-ski companies together, Pattee has the foundation for Epic, an international travel company developing packages that offer not only skiing, but also watersports, international cycling, African safaris and expanded fishing programs.

Vogl said Epic, which will have its corporate headquarters in Jackson, Wyo., is working with well-known athletes such as surf legend Laird Hamilton and skiers Tommy Moe and Jeremy Nobis to create new adventure packages. Ketchum residents Zach and Reggie Crist will also have advisory roles, Vogl said.

Currently, Chugach Adventure Guides also provides rafting and fishing trips throughout central Alaska.

"Our goal is to build a multi-sport and international adventure company," Heli-Ski Guides owner Mark Baumgardner stated in a news release. "We have a tremendous client base, and they are craving new experiences and the best of what life has to offer. That is what Epic is going to be all about."

For the Ketchum-based company, founded in 1966, there is another goal as well.

"We're trying to be profitable right now," Vogl said of Heli-Ski Guides. "The state of the economy and the current trend of consolidation in the ski industry are making it harder to go at it alone. With the decreasing number of skier days in Sun Valley, there's a need to branch out and tie into a bigger entity."

This merger, according to Vogl, gives Heli-Ski Guides the benefit of becoming part of a larger enterprise while retaining its identity.

Vogl said that as part of the deal, which took around a year to complete, Baumgardner will retain an ownership share in the company, and that there will be no staffing changes as a result of the merger.

While no changes in infrastructure are planned either, Heli-Ski Guides will now be part of cross-promotional campaigns, a centralized booking process and packages that take clients to both Alaska and Sun Valley.

The larger company might also be able to take advantage of economies of scale by negotiating better rates for fuel and insurance.

"We'll still be operating separate companies for now," Vogl said. "Sun Valley Heli-Ski Guides will still be offering its custom, personalized service as always."

Also involved in the deal, the price of which remains undisclosed, was the Ketchum-based investment group Greyhawk Capital Management, which includes Heli-Ski Guides client Will Hovey.

"We're excited about having Hovey on Epic's board of directors, as he has an in-depth understanding of our operation in Ketchum," Vogl said.

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