OUR Nick was killed in avalanche on Thankin Ridge, Haines, Alaska on March 13, 2012. Nick was heli snowboarding under the supervision of Alaska Heli-skiing Company out of Haines. From our investigation we discovered that AH ignored obvious red flags. Recent five feet snow storm, wind storm over night prior to the avalanche and rapid warming. Profit over safety. AH didn’t follow any of its own safety protocols. The AH Company didn’t have drug screening policy. Nick’s guide Rob Liberman, who also died in the avalanche autopsy reveled that his THC levels were 3 times higher than normal background. Therefore he was stoned. Nick was buried under the snow for 1 hour and 27 minutes. Search and rescue began 47 minutes after the avalanche happened. Nick had an Avalung in his mouth, if they would recover Nick under 1 hour and 15 minutes he would survived. He also carried an Air backpack, unfortunately he couldn’t use it, the rip cord was zip in. The AH guides didn’t wear air backpacks and were talking sarcastically about them and quoting that when there time comes this is fine by them. This why they didn’t have the practice t check the readiness after get out of the helicopter. On the top of the fatale run the group of clients was insured that they should not worry everything will be fine this is just an open alpine bowl with rolling hills with steepness between 35-45*…. in considerable conditions. We have a go pro footage of the time frame from all the events and the witnesses stamens. There were two groups of clients and two guides at the scene. Only the two guides end four survivals from Nick group took place in the search and rescue. After they recovered Nick he still had a heart beat, they didn’t fly Nick to the medical center, he was dropped at the base at AH , 33 miles from Haines to wait for Paramedic car… and the most cruel thing AH, Medical center, VOGA Insurance and the Trooper Department and Haines Bureau did it was to cover up their mistakes by sending Nick to Seattle to die in another state to prevent investigation. AH didn’t file an accident report neither to the of Alaska or to the National Avalanche Center until six month later and it was falsified. We started with free avalanche educational project with the hope that by educating the next generation we can prevent future fatalities
It is very hard to find the words to describe our lost.
Nickolay was not our only son, he was our best friend, our beast team made, our teacher in many ways. He was very special young man, his light was so bright, everyone who had the opportunity to know him, was amazed of his talents, wisdom, his big smile and huge heart, always ready to help everyone.
My husbands Alex and I with the help of good friends have started Nickolay Dodov Foundation four years ago… We started reaching out with free avalanche educational programs with the hope that by educating the next generation we can prevent future fatalities… and save lives!
The mission of the Foundation is to spread avalanche awareness to all who enjoy the snow mountains… but the most to our youth… Our Foundation is brought up from our love for Nick!… From our love for the mountains!… From our love for skiing in the backcountry! In the last three years we have reached out with the avalanche awareness program KBYG to close to 6000 ski and snowboard athletes, middle, high school and university students, coaches, teachers and parents…..With the hope that by being able to reach out with avalanche education we will save lives!
The movement and the progress of reaching to youth with free avalanche education is so meaningful for us… feels like Nick is right next to us. … with his big beautiful smile….The Foundation gives Alex and me a huge powerful positive purpose…We are VERY THANKFUL to be connected with Karl Birkeland, Doug Chabot, Craig Gordon, Richard Bothwell, Bruce Tremper, Paul Diegel, Don Triplet and all avalanche educators… we feel like Nick is orchestrating it all.. Powerful good feeling!…We are so very passion about spreading avalanche education especially to youth…. we feel like all the kids we reach out to with KBYG are our kids now .. and we always will encourage them to go and play on the mountains…and will continue spread avalanche awareness and educate them to travel safe in the snow…especially to youth….together with our love for the mountains…for life… for hikes, skiing, snowboarding, windsurfing, skateboarding…sharing good moments… good food with friends..as our Nick did…
We live in a small ski resort Bear valley, California and we ride the mountain every given day. We have 100+ ski days … half of them in the backcountry… ALWAYS FIRST CHAIR on POWDER DAYS! My husband Alex was a professional athlete in ski and snowboarding, rock climbing and mountaineering. He was for two years in Mountain Alpine Division. We used to run private ski and snowboard school and Alex worked with the first heli ski company in Bulgaria. In the Summer time Alex had a Sky Genie business; working on sky scrapers, factory chimney, power towers and bridges using his climbing belaying skills. Our son Nick was a member of Bulgarian National Snowboard Team. He competed in the Junior World Cup in Telluride in 1999. After we moved to California, Nick competed in Tahoe Series, US National Series and US Open in slalom, boarder cross, slope style. For over seven years Nick was living in Truckee in the heart of the snowboard industry. He was sponsored by different companies, having 100+ snowboard days half of the days snowmobiling and split snowboarding backcountry adventures. Nick was very well know as a very good snowboarder and the one always looking for the safety for himself and everybody else. Nick was also an avid surfer and amazing artist…..We will continue to encourage and teach as many as we can to play on the snow and be safe!…We will continue our Foundation work in the light of our Nick!…www.nickolaydodovfoundation.com
During the course of the lawsuit Dodov vs. Alaska Heliskiing we didn’t take the insulting settlement. We closed the lawsuit against Alaska Heliskikiing in the Federal Court as a self presented without prejudice. The lawsuit again Alaska Heliskiing in Alaska State Court was administratively closed and it can be reopen at any time with no statue of limitation. Statue of Limitation for Fraught is ten years.
Alaska Heliskiing is operating with low coverage Insufficient insurance advised by WOGA (Worldwide Outfitter & Guides Association). US Heli Association stated in 2012 on it’s own website that is part of WOGA insurance.
The non profit organization Alaska Avalanche Information Center is operating with Kevin Quinn (The President of U.S. Heli Association) as Manager, and Eric Stevens(The Haines Avalanche Forecaster) as Secretary.
The lesson to be learn from the deadly avalanche in Haines
Parents of an Alaska Heliskiing client who died in a 2012 avalanche said this week they are dropping their civil suit against the company.Natalia and Alex Dodov filed the suit in state court in February 2014, claiming Alaska Heliskiing “sought profit above safety” and failed to avoid the fatal avalanche that killed their son.The case was moved to federal district court in July.
Nick Dodov, 26, died in a Takhin Ridge avalanche while snowboarding with Alaska Heliskiing in March 2012. Company guide Rob Liberman, 35, of Telluride, Colo., also died in the accident.Natalia Dodov said she and her husband dropped the lawsuit because it wasn’t going to result in what they wanted: more rigorous and enforceable safety regulations in the largely unregulated heli-skiing industry.
Dodov said the case devolved into discussions of a settlement between her lawyer, Juneau-based attorney Mark Choate, and lawyers from Alaska Heliskiing’s insurance company. “The terms of the settlement are against our will. It only supports the insurance company to release every party involved from their responsibility,” Dodov said.“We were never after money or anything like that,” Dodov said. “We never wanted to settle this and release them from responsibility and just get money.”In September, the Dodovs sent an email to Choate telling him they weren’t interested in a settlement.
“We sued Alaska Heliskiing because we thought that it would bring to light Alaska Heliskiing’s unsafe practices which led to our son’s death and help bring much-needed safety regulations to the heli-skiing industry. We decided to drop the case when we and our lawyer disagreed about the direction of the case and we were asked to sign a settlement agreement that went against all our principles and felt to us as if we were selling out our son,” the Dodovs said in an email this week.
According to court documents, Choate said he wrote to the Dodovs on Jan. 6 and told them he could no longer represent them because of a “breakdown in communications” between his office and the Dodovs.Choate said the Dodovs needed to find themselves new legal counsel, and if he didn’t hear from them by Jan. 27, he would move to withdraw himself from the case.Choate said he sent the letter to the email address they successfully used for prior communications. He also sent the letter via mail. “I’ve heard nothing from them and cannot continue to represent them given this breakdown in communications,” he told the court.He moved to withdraw himself on Feb. 4, and the judge granted the withdrawal.
Natalia Dodov said Choate removed himself because she and her husband weren’t interested in signing the settlement. On Jan. 27, Dodov sent Choate an email telling him they wanted the case dismissed.Choate did not return calls for comment. Dodov said she hasn’t heard back from him regarding her Jan. 27 email requesting the case’s dismissal.The Dodovs don’t intend to hire a new lawyer. Dodov said she is not upset with Choate or her legal representation. “It’s all about the system. It’s nothing against the lawyer.”Dodov said the lawsuit was an avenue toward getting the heli-skiing industry to strengthen its safety standards.
The couple also launched a backcountry ski safety program and has aggressively pursued stiffer heli-skiing laws and permitting in discussions with the Bureau of Land Management, Alaska Occupational Safety and Health department, Alaska Department of Natural Resources, and U.S. senators and congressmen.“This was another way we tried,” Dodov said.Natalia Dodov said she was naive to think that filing a lawsuit would result in a more complete investigation of Alaska Heliskiing’s operations and bring focus to heli-ski safety standards.
The Dodovs claimed Alaska Heliskiing’s negligence led to their son’s death and that the company failed to properly assess snow conditions, failed to make a full disclosure of risk, marketed efforts emphasizing affordability (implying cost-cutting at the risk of safety), failed to exercise judgment required of a competent guide, failed to provide a second guide, failed to timely execute post-accident procedures and inadequately trained clients in avalanche search techniques.Tim Lamb, an Anchorage-based attorney for Alaska Heliskiing, said he hoped the case would be dismissed but that he couldn’t address details because it’s officially active.“It’s truly sad. My heart goes out to the Dodovs, as does Alaska Heliskiing’s. For everyone involved, it’s a tragedy,” Lamb said.
Request for Stakeholder Input – Heli-skiing Industry
The Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Occupational Safety and Health Section (AKOSH) has scheduled an informal stakeholder meeting to solicit comments on how to prevent accidents, injuries and illnesses during heli-skiing operations.
The meeting will focus on existing AKOSH regulations applicable to heli-skiing operations, industry recognized standards and best practices, and a discussion about whether additional safety regulations related to the permitting process would reduce injuries.
AKOSH plans to use the information gathered at this meeting to explore development of new or revised policies, procedures, or guidelines for heli-skiing operations.
The meeting will be Wednesday, May 21, 2014 from 1-3 p.m. at:
Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development
3301 Eagle Street, Conference Room 104
To comment by phone, call 907-269-4955 no later than May 20 to add your name to the roster for planning purposes.
On May 21, commenters should call 800-315-6338 and enter the code 6002#. The phone line will be active from 1-3 p.m.
Speaker order will alternate between those in person and calling in. Depending on how many wish to provide input, verbal comments may be limited; written comments are highly encouraged.
All heliski permits should be issued and administered by an independent 3rd party. This party should be unified with the top experts in the field and a government body to set the industry mandatory standards & policies.
The most respected and experienced guides input should be included for this government standardization process.
Safety plans, Search and Rescue protocols must be standardized for all of the Commercial Heliskiing Operators in US and must be monitored and enforced by a Federal Authority.
Safety plans, search and rescue protocols must be submitted to the US Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Liability release forms must have a clear understanding to hold the heliskiing operator responsible in case of gross negligence and criminal negligence, as well as clients must have a clear understanding of the inherent risks.
All the Commercial heliskiing operations in the US must introduce their Heli-Ski clients to the existing weather pattern, snow pack and how it relates to the surrounding mountains. Clients must be advised regarding the possible dangers.
All Commercial heliskiing operators in the US must collect, observe and discuss weather, snow reports and avalanche conditions from all sources available each day. All Heli-Ski clients must be involved in the discussions of: weather, snow reports and avalanche conditions. Heli-Ski Clients will be part of the discussions and in the decision making of each day before they sign the daily release forms.
Every Heli-Ski client should be required to have at minimum a Level I Avalanche course completed and Wilderness First Aid Class
All the guides and the Heli-Ski clients must wear & use the latest safety equipment; Air backpack and breathing device AvaLung.
All guides must check the readiness of each Heli-Ski client’s safety devices before leaving the operations base and before each run.
Snow observation i.e. a test pit and ski cutting must be required on every exposure. The Heli-Ski clients must be informed of the result before they are allowed to ski the run.
Two guides must be required for each group of Heli-Ski clients for all Commercial heliskiing operations in the US. One of the guides must ski the chosen terrain before all of the clients. One guide must wait at the top and ski down after the last Heli-Ski client completes his or her’s run.
When an avalanche occurs every guide and Heli-Ski client available must participate in the search and rescue mission.
Search and Rescue Centers must be establish in a central location where heliskiing operations are present. Each Heli-Ski Operation must contribute to it and participate in case of emergency.
All Commercial Heliskiing operations in the US must have adequate numbers of helicopters to respond in a timely manner when an emergency or a search and rescue occurs.
Every injured Heli-Ski Client or a Guide must be transported to the nearest hospital.
All Commercial Heliskiing Guides must participate in on-going training. All Commercial Heliskiing Guides must practice Avalanche Safety, Search and Rescue procedures and protocol & First Aid drills throughout the Heli-Ski season.
Every new Heli-Ski Guide must apprentice and train for a minimum of two years before he or she is allowed to guide & lead clients.
All Commercial Heliskiing Guides must carry a memo log, and complete all snow observation results each day. Radio communication must be available to all clients, guides and the base of the Heliskiing Operation.
Radio communication must be recorded and GPS data available in case of accident.
ZERO tolerance of drugs and alcohol.
All Commercial Heliskiing Operators in the US must have a drug screening policy for their employees.
A standardized code of conduct should be adopted by Heli-Ski Operators in regards to the Heli-Ski Client, i.e. consumption of drugs or alcohol while clients of a Heli-Ski Operator.
All Commercial Heli-Ski operators must be responsible for the information on their websites and printed materials. All information must be true, accurate and up to date.
We wish to all the clients and guides heli-skiing in the US many happy and safe spectacular days.
Heli-skiing in the United States – Guidelines vs. Standards
by Natalia and Alex Dodov
The recent March 15th Haines avalanche death is the fourth fatality in conditions rated “Considerable Danger.” It shows an obvious pattern of profits over safety: In 2012, Nickolay Dodov and guide Rob Liberman were killed in a massive avalanche after five feet of new snow, growing surface hoar, an overnight strong wind storm that overloaded the mountain bowls and the gullies with wind deposit snow. In 2013, guide Christian Cabanilla was killed after an overloaded cornice collapsed that set off an avalanche. In 2014, guide Aaron Karitis was killed in an avalanche after three weeks of unusually dangerous conditions.
Unregulated heli-skiing industry in the United States, ruled by its own insurance, left the door open for negligence. US Heli-Ski Association, instead of setting mandatory safety standards and protocols, has recommended safety guidelines based on self imposed safety standards and self certified heli guides. US Heli-Ski Association mission is; “To ensure and protect the future of helicopter skiing in the US”
Canada is the worldwide leader in heliskiing industry. They have been highly regulated by the government since the early 1970’s.
If the multimillion dollar heliskiing industry in the US was serious about regulating their safety standards, they would have adopted the US Army’s Tenth Mountain Division strict safety standards years ago.
Two years ago, after our son was killed in an avalanche in Haines, we requested from the US Heliskiing Association to see their strict safety standards, as this was stated on their website. Their response was a letter to the senators stating that they did not want to be regulated, and refused farther discussion of the matter.
“Fatal accidents like the one last spring (2012) 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.”
This is the extend that the heliskiing industry in the US is willing to go to; casual self regulation instead of mandatory safety standards.
Policies consist of high level mandatory statements
Standards consist of specific low levelspecific mandatory controls
Guidelines consist of recommended,non-mandatory controls
Every heli skiing operator in the US, member or non- member of the US Heli-Ski Association, have stated on their websites and operating plans that they have been operating under strict safety standards. This information should be considered fraudulent. Heliskiing in the United States has never been regulated. Therefore no state or federal authority has set safety standards for this industry.
It appears that the Heliskiing industry insurance company supported by law enforcement, labor safety, land managements, local authorities, avalanche forecasters, main stream media were able to suppress and cover up information and details of the events related to the deadly incidents.
We are concerned that desperately needed changes will not happen in the foreseeable future. This leaves us with a dangerous environment for the clients and the guides in the US heliskiing industry.
We have started Nickolay Dodov Foundation for snow sports safety. The foundation’s mission is; To promote snow sports safety and awareness through educational programs and events. To encourage children and enthusiasts of all ages to safely explore the beauty of the mountains and to inspire a healthy and positive lifestyle in the light of Nickolay Dodov.
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
“Changes to U.S. Heli Skiing”
By Devon O’Neil, October 9, 2011
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.
Volume 78 #4 December 2013
“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.
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.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org wrote:
Natalia and Alex Dodov via heli-ski.com
Name: Natalia and Alex Dodov Email: email@example.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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.