THE ALASKAN WAY – End up with Tragic Incident that Killed a Client and a Guide

alexnatalianickdodov

Last season some of the top guides of  Alaska Heliskiing, LLC left for good.   The co-owners of Alaska Heliskiing LLC, Vicki Gardner and  Sean Brownell, left Haines, Alaska. Now, they live in Canada. Vicki Gardner lives near Vancouver, BC. Sean Brownell lives in Carcross, Yukon. We have been told that on the fateful day of March 13/2012, the day when both a client and their guide were killed, it was just an accident. Why then did Vicki Gardner and Sean Brownell have to leave the country? What was their concern if this incident was only an accident?

 The Alaska Heliskiing website is still open for business both to take clients out heli-skiing and to educate future guides. On what standards and regulations  this company is allowed to certified heli-ski guides? Their top guides now are Tim Thomas and Gabe Gioffre.

After the deadly incident mentioned above, Tim Thomas has shared that the company was aware of the dangerous conditions the…

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THE ALASKAN WAY – End up with Tragic Incident that Killed a Client and a Guide

Last season some of the top guides of  Alaska Heliskiing, LLC left for good.   The co-owners of Alaska Heliskiing LLC, Vicki Gardner and  Sean Brownell, left Haines, Alaska. Now, they live in Canada. Vicki Gardner lives near Vancouver, BC. Sean Brownell lives in Carcross, Yukon. We have been told that on the fateful day of March 13/2012, the day when both a client and their guide were killed, it was just an accident. Why then did Vicki Gardner and Sean Brownell have to leave the country? What was their concern if this incident was only an accident?

 The Alaska Heliskiing website is still open for business both to take clients out heli-skiing and to educate future guides. On what standards and regulations  this company is allowed to certified heli-ski guides? Their top guides now are Tim Thomas and Gabe Gioffre.

After the deadly incident mentioned above, Tim Thomas has shared that the company was aware of the dangerous conditions the day of the accident. Gabe Gioffre was the guide in the helicopter at the scene of the avalanche. He didn’t start search and rescue until 35 minutes after the avalanche came to rest.

Alaska Heliskiing ignored the dangerous conditions (which included growing surface hoar, an overnight strong wind storm that overloaded the mountain bowls and the gullies with wind deposit snow, shooting cracks in the snow, snow stability check that showed dangerous snow conditions and Rob Liberman was guiding under influence of THC marijuana) that led to the death of a client, our son Nickolay Dodov, and the AH guide, Rob Liberman.

Who made the call to take three groups of clients to Alpine Bowl with rolling hills and multiple gullies with steepness of 25-40 degrees in such a dangerous conditions?  Alaska Heliskiing was taking all the clients to ski the same hill. It was inevitable that someone would get in trouble that day.

http://vimeo.com/skithehimalayas/the…

The Alaskan Way The Alaskan Way http://vimeo.com/skithehimalayas/the… 

“SEABA agrees to pay $21K to BLM” by Tom Morphet

CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS

SEABA agrees to pay $21K to BLM

by Tom Morphet

January 9, 2014 | Volume 44, Number 1  | View PDF

A Haines helicopter skiing company has agreed to pay more than $21,000 in fines and fees for flying on federal lands closed to the activity 54 times during 78 days of operation during the past two years.

Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures signed a plea agreement containing the allegations, which was filed recently in federal district court in Anchorage. The case stems from a federal investigation of the company triggered by the heli-skiing death of Christian Cabanilla March 3.

The company also agreed to a two-year probationary period. A federal court judge must still approve the plea deal.

“This investigation revealed that despite knowing that SEABA was not permitted for helicopter skiing on BLM-managed lands in this area, SEABA operated commercially on BLM-managed land on approximately 54 dates in 2012 and 2013 out of 78 total days of heli-ski operations in these two seasons,” the plea agreement says.

In a statement from attorney Tracey Knutson this week, SEABA described the encroachments as “minor, infrequent and inconsequential.”

“(A recent news article) intimating that 54 incursions over a 78-day period had occurred was misleading,” Knutson said. “In reality, a similar number of client ski day land boundary infractions occurred over a couple year period so that transit into federal lands was infrequent. The boundary intrusion most often was only for helicopter access with the actual ski runs occurring on state land,” Knutson said.

Cabanilla and four others were skiing on federal lands closed to commercial heli-skiing when the fatal accident occurred. Two of the other skiers were seriously injured. The trip in the Kicking Horse drainage was a non-commercial outing led by SEABA guides.

The accident occurred on a ski-run on BLM-managed land that the company had named for one of its frequent customers. It had been included on a map SEABA had submitted for a 2011 BLM permit that was not approved.

SEABA officials have previously complained that the BLM is holding up the company’s use of the land.

According to the plea agreement, the company had a permit for operating on BLM land from 2002 through 2006, then allowed the permit to expire. Following expiration of the permit, BLM closed the land to heli-skiing “pending an environmental study to determine the impact of increasing the amount of permitted heli-ski operations. SEABA applied for a new permit for these closed area in 2011. SEABA was informed of the closure and did not obtain a permit.”

According to the plea agreement, after the fatality the BLM initiated an investigation that involved interviews with SEABA employees, a review of the company’s log, maps and GPS flight data collected in accordance with its Haines Borough permit.

“Based on a percentage of SEABA’s gross revenue and the percentage of time SEABA operated commercially on BLM lands in 2012 and 2013, SEABA owes a minimum of $11,556 in user fees to BLM,” according to the plea agreement. Under the agreement, SEABA also agrees to pay a $10,000 fine and would be placed on two years’ probation during which it would be required to submit GPS data to the agency to prove compliance.

The plea agreement says SEABA could have been fined up to $200,000, with five years’ probation.

Former Haines Borough Assembly member Norm Smith, an industry critic, said this week that the borough should revoke SEABA’s permit. “Fifty-four times is not just an out of bounds issue. Shades of Dave Button,” he said.

Assembly member Jerry Lapp said he’d oppose such an idea. “I wish (SEABA) would watch themselves a little more closely, but I blame it on the BLM. They’ve taken way too long to do whatever they say they’re doing (in closed areas). Why are they closed? Why shouldn’t they be open to the public? If I had my way, it would all be open to heli-skiing except the critical habitat area for (mountain) goats.”

Lynn Canal Conservation president Eric Holle said the federal investigation “verifies what we’ve been saying for years. SEABA doesn’t pay attention to the regs. They operate as though they are above the law.”

“The significance for the borough, I would hope, is that they need to step up their monitoring for compliance. It was like pulling teeth to get Mark Earnest to do spot checks on these guys. Last year he only did two spot checks on SEABA and two on Alaska Heliskiing. Undoubted there were violations on state land (during the same time). The borough is in charge of that. They should look,” Holle said.

Interim borough manager Julie Cozzi said this week she’d include information about the plea agreement in information to assembly members, but said she was not planning at this time to make recommendations concerning borough management of the industry

“Heli-Skiing Regulations to Take Flight?” by Devon O’Neil

Two articles by Devon O’Neil about US Heliskiing standards and regulations were published within two years of time. October 2011 for ESPN  an article titled “Changes to U.S.Heli Skiing” and  December 2013 for Ski Magazine an article titled “Heli- Skiing Regulations to Take Flight?”.  For the article in ESPN ,October, 2011 Kevin Quinn and Paul Butler stated that they are on a mission to standardize one of the nation’s most radical industries, which surprisingly remains unregulated. The next step, Butler said, is to align with the American Mountain Guides Association and have the AMGA certify guides through its courses, a huge departure from how it exists now. “We’re promoting the gold standard,” Butler said.Yet there remain about 20 non-member outfits in the U.S., whose practices carry implications on the industry as a whole, especially in the event of an accident. “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when somebody’s going to get it,” Quinn said “And when that happens, it’s going to affect all of us.” 

In the recent article by Devon O’Neil in December 2012 issue of Ski Magazine, the current president of HSUS, Kevin Quinn said that they have decided for the first time to release their Heli-Skiing Safety & Operating Giddiness. “We have been sitting on these guidelines for so long, they are so good, why we are guarding them?” This fall in the wake of the two accidents and the rise in scrunity the Heli- skiing US Association decided for the first time to release its HSOG. AFTER SEVERAL FATALITIES, THE U.S. HELISKING INDUSTRY WORKS TO STANDARTIZE SAFETY PROTOCOLS – BEFORE THE GOVERMENT DOES

ESPN

“Changes to U.S. Heli Skiing”

By Devon O’Neil, October 9, 2011

New standards will be implemented at Cordova, Alaska’s Points North Heli Adventures, shown here. 
In a movement that dates back to the early 1980s and has recently picked up momentum, a handful of America’s top heli-skiing operators are on a mission to standardize one of the nation’s most radical industries, which surprisingly remains unregulated. While most ski resorts lease public land and must abide by government-imposed safety laws, heli operations use much larger swaths of public land yet are governed primarily by their insurance carriers. Kevin Quinn, an Alaska native and owner of Points North Heli Adventures in Cordova, is among those trying to change that. He has spent the past four years infiltrating the good-old-boys club that is the Heli-Ski U.S. Association, in essence trying to break up a fraternity. “In the past, they’d just get together and drink beers at their annual meeting and talk about their season,” he says of the organization known as Heli U.S. and modeled after the widely respected HeliCat Canada. “It was something I longed to be a part of for 10 years, and finally I just got fed up and said, ‘Are you guys a club, or are you actually an official association, as you claim?’ I really shook the tree.” The result has been a reshuffling of the association and its goals. This summer, Paul Butler, co-owner of North Cascade Heli Skiing in Washington, was elected president of Heli U.S., succeeding longtime president Joe Royer of Ruby Mountains Heli Experience in Nevada. “We’re streamlining the organization,” Butler said. “Tightening things up, taking a look at where we want to go.” Heli U.S. counts eight members that pay an annual fee of approximately $7,000. When a new operation joins, it’s strictly audited so as not to dilute the membership. “We’re promoting the gold standard,” Butler said. Yet there remain about 20 non-member outfits in the U.S., whose practices carry implications on the industry as a whole, especially in the event of an accident. “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when somebody’s going to get it,” Quinn said. “And when that happens, it’s going to affect all of us.” In addition to its eight operators, Heli U.S. recently added a guide membership and now counts 84 individual guides who are rated Level 1, 2 or 3 based on their experience. The next step, Butler said, is to align with the American Mountain Guides Association and have the AMGA certify guides through its courses, a huge departure from how it exists now. “They’re looking long term at having a mechanized ski guiding course in their program,” Butler said of the AMGA. “I think it’s just a matter of time before that happens.” Royer, who oversees Heli U.S.’s membership reviews, believes the organization’s revamped efforts are direly needed. “Nobody’s setting a precedent; there’s no regulation,” he said. “It’s not like the Forest Service is saying, ‘You have to do this.'”  If Quinn gets his way, however, that could change. “It’s going to come down to: ‘You want a permit? Are you a member of Heli U.S.?’ That will weigh heavily,” he said.
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SKI MAGAZINE
Volume 78 #4 December 2013
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“HELI-SKIING  REGULATIONS TO TAKE FLIGHT?”
 by Devon O’Neil
AFTER SEVERAL FATALITIES, THE U.S. HELISKING INDUSTRY WORKS TO STANDARTIZE SAFETY PROTOCOLS – BEFORE THE GOVERMENT DOES
For nearly 50 years the American Heli-skiing industry has operated like a man who lives on  a deserted island. Which is to say; by its own rules. Aside from local, state and federal land agency that issue permits to the operators and periodically attempt to keep tabs on them, there has never been any blanket regulation of Heli- skiing in the United States.
U.S. Senators and land agency are taking a new interest in the sport spurred largely by a victim’s parents. There is a talk “of getting everyone in the same sheet of music” as Department of Natural Recourses.
Nearly 20 outfitters are either members or  prospective members of Heli-skiing US. That’s about half of the total number of American heli-skiing business.(To become a member a company must spend two years on probation, pay $3000 and pass rigorous safety reviews.) In past years there has been friction between members and non members, with members unwilling to share their Heliski Safety Operating Giddiness (HSOG).
This fall in the wake of the two accidents and the rise in scrunity the Heli- skiing US Association decided for the first time to release its HSOG. “We have been sitting on these guidelines for so long, they are so good, why we are guarding them?” Kevin Quinn said.

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Here is a link to the full article
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In November 2012 we contacted US Heliskiing Association assuming by their title that they are an established leader in American heliskiing business. We assumed that as an American leading heliskiing association  they would be interested to learn about the avalanche accident in Haines that killed two people: our son Nickolay Dodov and the guide Rob Liberman.
We asked US Heliskiing Association if there are any safety standards set for all heliskiing companies in US.
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OUR EMAILS WITH PAUL BUTLER, THE FORMER PRESIDENT OF US HELISKIING ASSOSIATION AND KEVIN QUINN, THE CURRENT PRESIDENT OF US HELISKIING ASSOSIATION

On Nov 10, 2012, at 7:17 PM, nataliadodova@hotmail.com wrote:

Natalia and Alex Dodov via heli-ski.com

Name: Natalia and Alex Dodov Email: nataliadodova@hotmail.com Phone: 209 753 2828 Message:

Hi Paul and Kevin,

My name is Natalia Dodova, I am mother of Nickolay Dodov, who was killed in the avalanche on Thankin Ridge, Haines, AK. With my husband, Alex Dodov, we are experienced ski mountaineers; our son was an experienced backcountry snowboarder. We have been investigating and we have a lot of information regarding the accident. Would you be interested to look at it and help us with your professional opinion? We would like to ask you if there are any safety and search and rescue standards that the heli companies in the US should operate under? Have you been working with the Alaska Heli Company, Haines? Is Alaska Heli Company member of the HSUS? Do you know who authorized Alaksa Heli Company to have a heli guiding school? Did you know that the autopsy finds THC higher than the background levels in the guide Rob Liberman’s blood? Where HSUS does stands in this matter regarding drugs?

Thank you very much Natalia and Alex Dodov

November 14, 2012

From Kevin Quinn

Hello Natalia-

My deepest condolences to you and your family, truly!

I cannot comment on the operation in Haines as I have no real knowledge on them aside from the fact they are not part of HSUS.

Please look at the HSUS web site as we have our mission listed there. www.usheliskiing.com

I do know that Rob Liberman was a very good ski guide. The THC levels is not something I can comment on. All of this is very unfortunate.

Again, my deepest condolences to you and your family. I believe our President of Heli US will be in contact with you shortly.

Best,

Kevin

North Cascade Heli (info@heli-ski.com)

11/12/12

From Paul Butler

To: nataliadodova@hotmail.com

Hi, Natalie and Alex: I am sorry about the loss of your son and extend you my deepest sympathy and condolences. I have a son myself, age 12, and I cannot begin to imagine how you both must feel. I would rather discuss this over the phone if you were okay with that. I am somewhat familiar with the incident. Would sometime tomorrow work for you? Please let me know. If we cannot talk over the phone then I will respond in more detail by email. As a member and current president of Heli Ski US, I am obliged to differentiate my personal opinion from that of representing the association. I hope this is understandable.

Again, I am truly saddened about your loss.

Sincerely,

Paul Butler

info@heli-ski.com (info@heli-ski.com)

11/17/12

To: nataliadodova@hotmail.com

Hello, Natalia and Alex: I have been in contact with the members of Heli Ski US, and from our discussion we have crafted our association’s reply as seen below. I would still like to speak with either of you over the phone if you are still interested in doing so.

Sincerely,

Paul

Paul Butler North Cascade Heli Mazama, WA http://www.heli-ski.com

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Dodov,

On behalf of Heli-SkiUS, allow me to begin by telling you how sorry we are for the loss of your son, Nickolay. As members of the larger mountain community, I know that we all feel a sense of loss when one of our own is injured or killed in pursuit of the mountain lifestyles that are so central to our identities. I don’t know what words I can offer that might take away the pain of your loss. Having experienced the death of close friends in mountaineering, I have watched as survivors have chosen to return to the mountains again. I can only say that there is something compelling and healing in those places and I hope that you can find the opportunity take solace among mountains again.

In response to your questions, Alaska Heliskiing is not, and has never been, a member or our organization and I do not know of an organization that would have sanctioned its guide school program. Heli-Ski U.S. Association, Inc. represents approximately one-half of all helicopter skiing operators in the United States. While promoting safe operating practices is part of our program, membership in our organization is voluntary – those standards would not have been applicable to Alaska Heliskiing. Importantly, no set of standards, no matter how carefully conceived or implemented can eliminate all of the risks that are inherent in backcountry skiing and snowboarding.

Without in any way diminishing the gravity of your loss or own concern for safety in helicopter skiing, we do not believe that Heli-Ski U.S. would be serving the needs of our member companies or the industry by becoming involved in an investigation of your son’s accident. We must therefore, respectfully but firmly decline your request to become involved in this matter.

I wish you peace though what is undoubtedly a very difficult time.

Paul Butler

President

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From Paul Butler’s letter  to Alex and Natalia Dodov and U.S. Senators

HELISKIING US ASSOSIATION

January 27, 2012

Alex & Natalia Dodov,

Bear Valley, CA

Re: Your letter to Congressman Young, Senators Murkowski & Begich, et. al.

Dear Mr. & Mrs. Dodov:

I write in response to your recent letter to Congressman Young, Senators Murkowski and Begich and to others. On behalf of Heli-Ski U.S. Association, Inc. (HSUS) and its member firms, I again offer my deepest condolences for the loss of your son, Nickolay. I am certain that your sense of loss is profound and your desire for answers is acute. While those feelings are understandable, I respectfully request that you be more circumspect in your communications, which unfairly paint our entire industry as lacking in competence, professionalism and integrity. I assure you, that is not the case.

I can not agree with your call for regulation of the helicopter skiing industry. First, I note that many recreational activities involve risk and are not regulated by government agencies, despite accidents that sometimes result in loss of life. For example, horseback riding, mountain biking, whitewater kayaking, scuba diving and parasailing all include significant risks, but none is regulated by government.

At the close of your letter, you note that you were unable to obtain a copy of our operating protocols and that you could not locate them on our website, suggesting that they do not exist. Given AH’s references to the apparently non-existent Alaska Helicopter Skiing Association, your cynicism is understandable, but incorrect. Our Heli-Skiing Safety & Operating Procedures (HSOP) guidelines are extensive and substantive. More important, the operations of our member firms are periodically audited for compliance and applicant firms must pass a thorough audit before they can become members. We do not publish or otherwise release the HSOP guidelines because, in our view, the impact of doing so would be precisely the opposite of our goal in creating them. Because of its level of detail, the HSOP could be used by persons wishing to enter the field to create a credible operating and safety plan, notwithstanding a lack of experience and technical resources. We would, in essence, be facilitating the creation of unqualified operations. We make the HSOP available to firms that have been in the field for at least two full years, provided they sign an agreement to be audited and pay a modest fee and the audit expenses. We believe that this is the best way for our organization to promote safety in the industry.

Your focus should be on the events of March 13, 2012 and those involved, not the rest of the industry. I want to be clear that no set operating guidelines, no matter how well drafted or rigorously implemented can remove all of the risks of helicopter skiing and snowboarding. These are inherently dangerous endeavors and the release and waiver forms that clients sign make this known to participants. Our organization will continue to work inside the industry to promote safety and professionalism and our goal will always be a zero accident rate. I am truly sorry that your son was lost in pursuit of the joy that riding and skiing in the backcountry can bring. I hope that you can find peace in this very difficult time

Very Truly Yours,

Paul Butler, President Heli Ski US

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CHILKAT VALLEY NEWS

January 10, 2013 | Volume 43, No. 1

National Heli-Ski Group Focuses on Standards

by Karen Garcia

Dean Cummings, owner of Valdez-based H2O Guides for ; Dean belonged to HSUS for 12 years. Cummings helped craft the association’s safety document, but bowed out because of what he perceived as a “lack of direction” and the association’s failure to rotate leadership.

“I think they are doing okay. They’re more of an exclusive association where they handpick their members,” Cummings said.

Cummings also said that the association, while nationwide, “distances itself from Alaska.” The industry, he said, would benefit immensely from a similar statewide association that focuses solely on Alaskan heli-skiing, which he said is different than heli-skiing in the Lower 48.

“Fatal accidents like the one last spring only increase the volume of that clamor. But people need to remember”, Points North owner Kevin Quinn said, “heli-skiing is an inherently risky activity. And not even a litany of rules and regulations can guarantee that nothing will go wrong. Being a part of heliski US wouldn’t have saved those people,” Quinn said. “Not even kind of.”

HSUS’s critics point to the cost of membership, which can be prohibitive, and the association’s club-like exclusivity. According to Quinn, members pay a one-time $5,000 fee, plus $1,500-$2,500 in annual dues.

Here is a link to the full article

National heli-ski group focuses on standards

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We have learned that the multimillion dollar heliski industry in United States is an unregulated commercial business without strict safety standards for every operator.

We have asked Karen Garsia and Devon O’Neil if they have seen the US Heliskiing Association Heliski Safety Operating Giddiness, both answers were “No”.

We haven’t seen the US Heliskiing Association Heliski Safety Operating Giddiness yet either. You can not find them on any website.

Dodovs Complaint to Federal OSHA
Here is a link to the complaint
Federal OSHA response
Here is link to the Federal OSHA response