“Nickolay Dodov Foundation has busy year despite coronavirus” By Noah Berner, Calaveras Enterprise



“Organizations of all kinds have been hit hard by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and local nonprofits are no exception.
After shelter-in-place restrictions went into effect in mid-March, the Nickolay Dodov Foundation (NDF) had to cancel several events, including one of its main fundraisers.
Founded by Natalia and Alex Dodov, and named after their son who died in an avalanche in Alaska, the NDF is a leading provider of free avalanche awareness training in the Sierra. Over the past seven years, the NDF has worked to educate youth and all ages of mountain enthusiasts on how to stay safe in the mountains, teaching free avalanche safety presentations and workshops to more than 10,500 people.

The Dodovs hope to save lives through their work, and attend every event themselves. While the NDF had to cancel five presentations and three workshops due to COVID-19, they still had one of their busiest seasons so far.
“Before the pandemic started, NDF was able to present 18 free avalanche educational events to more than 2,500 ski and snowboard athletes, middle, high school and university students, coaches, teachers, parents and all-age mountain enthusiasts,” Natalia Dodov said. “All the events we had this winter were by request from the benefiting groups – ski and snowboard teams and schools, colleges and universities. There has been an increased number of organizations seeing the need for avalanche education and reaching out to NDF.”
The seventh annual Nickolay Dodov Slopestyle competition at Bear Valley was canceled this year following the closure of the downhill ski resort.
“We missed the opportunity to have a fundraiser during the Slopestyle,” Natalia Dodov said. “We are hoping the current situation will improve and people will continue to contribute in the future.”

Three additional avalanche educators joined the NDF this year, bringing the total to seven.
“We have been discussing with our avalanche educators different ways how to approach youth and all-ages mountain enthusiasts with online avalanche education,” Natalia Dodov said. “Even though we are hoping for normal times to return, as we are already planning many events for the next winter season.”
Natalia Dodov said that the work of the NDF has become even more important during the current crisis.
“Resort restrictions may unleash a flood of new users with no foundation of avalanche safety education and knowledge into the backcountry next winter,” she said. “The avalanche classes were already too expensive for many. Now, with the current economic situation, even more people won’t be able to afford them. Free avalanche education will be crucial.”
The NDF was founded to help winter sports enthusiasts safely enjoy the mountains, and that’s just what the Dodovs have been doing with their time off.
“In the last two months, living in Bear Valley, we have spent our time that otherwise we would volunteer towards avalanche safety presentations and workshops to backcountry ski and snowboard and oversee the safety around our backyard,” Natalia Dodov said. “So far this season we have had over 100 ski days – only about 20 days in the ski area – the rest were in the backcountry. With the high passes open there is more spring skiing to be had.”
Those interested in supporting the NDF’s work can send checks to Nickolay Dodov Foundation, PO Box 5035, Bear Valley, CA 95223, or donate through Paypal at nickolaydodovfoundation.com/donate. Donations are tax deductible, and contributors will receive an invoice for their records.



The Dodov Foundation… A ‘Beacon’ Of Positivity by Alex Silgalis, Local Freshies


“In today’s world, our own voice is the strongest it has EVER been. You can reach so many people through social media. Unfortunately, very few of us use this platform to do something bigger than ourselves. We post our opinions but don’t act upon them to make changes. And that’s where Natalia and Alex Dodov stray from the rest of us. Instead of sitting on the sidelines, they use their opportunities and energy to help kids learn about avalanche safety solutions.

Seeing The Dodov Foundation In Action

I’ve been good friends with the Dodov’s for quite a while, but it wasn’t until this week I came to the realization of what they are actually doing. I was given the privilege to step into a South Tahoe High School classroom and see their foundation in action. Looking around, I saw something that absolutely blew my mind. Attentive high school kids listening closely to an avalanche educator teaching them about avalanche safety solutions. The lyrics of the hip-hop group Jurassic 5 pounded in my head over and over again:

Are you part of the problem,

Or are you part of the solution.

Are you part of the problem,

Or are you part of the solution.

What’s your contribution to life?

Taking Something Tragic & Fueling A Mission

What would you do if your son, daughter, husband, or wife died doing something you love to do? Would you give up on that activity? Maybe sue the company or business? Well, a few years ago, Alex & Natalia lost their son in an avalanche during a heli-skiing excursion in Alaska. Instead of rage or seeking revenge, Natalia & Alex took a different route. They used their son’s tragic accident as a calling and created the Nickolay Dodov Foundation. Their goal is simple… to provide FREE avalanche courses to educate youth and all-age winter enthusiasts. While people living near the ocean need to worry about things like riptides, here in the mountains, the worry is avalanches.

Putting Their Money Where Their Mouth Is

Alex and Natalia work hard all summer long from sun up to sun down. Instead of living the pampered life and chasing powder to ski wherever it snows, they take that money and put it into the Dodov Foundation. Not just money either. Like monks of the mountains, they travel across the state putting on avalanche seminars. From schools to children’s ski academies and everything in between, they are trying to teach the next generation on how to stay safe when playing in the mountains.

Help The Next Generation

Right now, they’re doing this 100% on their own with only a handful of sponsors. Their goal isn’t to become famous but rather continue to expand the amount of kids reached. If you know a class, school, or organization that wants a FREE class, reach out to Natalia. Or better yet, if you think what they’re doing is awesome and have a few bucks to spare, consider donating to the foundation. Every bit helps to reach just one more kid. Either way, Natalia will make sure she gives you “buckets of hugs” for helping.”

“Bear Valley, CA Resident Teaching ‘Know Before You Go’ Avalanche Awareness to Californian Schools and Ski Resorts” SnowBrains Media-AvyBrains/September 10, 2018

We are reaching out with avalanche education in the light of our son who was killed in avalanche in Alaska

31243_1423302913167_2751218_n.jpgOUR 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

ALASKA LABOR STANDARDS AND SAFETY DIVISION NOTICE; Request for Stakeholder Input – Heli-skiing Industry



Occupational Safety and Health

3301 Eagle Street, Suite 305

Anchorage, Alaska 99503-4149

Main: 907.269.4940

Toll free: 800.770.4940

Fax: 907.269.4950/269.3723


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.

To comment in writing:


anchorage.lss-osh@alaska.gov (Use subject line: Heli-skiing Krystyna Markiewicz)


Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development

Occupational Safety and Health Section

Attn: Krystyna Markiewicz

3301 Eagle Street, Suite 305

Anchorage, AK 99503


907-269-4950 – Attn: Krystyna Markiewicz

For More Information

Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development

Division of Labor Standards and Safety/Alaska Occupational Safety and Health Section

907-465-4855 (Juneau)

907-269-4955 (Anchorage)

click on the link to see the actual AKOSH notice

Heli-skiing Industry meeting


Nickolay Dodov Snow Sports Safety Foundation Proposal to Improve Safety for the Heli-Skiing Industry in the US


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”


April 10, 2014 | Volume 44, Number 14

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 level specific 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.

Foe events and updates you can visit Nickolay Dodov Foundation website. www.nickolaydodovfoundation.com

For more details and information you can visit our blog alexnatalianickolaydodov at WordPress


To see the full article in Chilkat Valley News click on the link below

 Heli-skiing in United States Guidelines vs. Standards

“Haines heli-ski guide in critical condition after being buried in avalanche” Anchorage Daily News

Anchorage Daily News

Haines heli-ski guide in critical condition after being buried in avalanche


dkelly@adn.com March 15, 2014

A guide with a Haines helicopter ski operation was in critical condition after being buried in an avalanche Saturday morning, troopers said.

Aaron Karitis, 31, was buried under seven feet of snow after traveling nearly 800 feet with a snowslide in the Kicking Horse Valley area outside of Haines, said Beth Ipsen, troopers spokeswoman. He was unconscious when he was pulled out about 30 minutes later, Ipsen said.

The incident occurred around 11 a.m., as Karitis, a guide with Southeast Alaska Backcountry Skiing Adventures, or SEABA, was finishing a conditions check downslope from his four clients, Ipsen said. A helicopter had flown the group to the 4,000 foot-elevation spot on the mountain to ski. The mountain, called Tele 5 by hele-skiers, drains into the Kicking Horse River, Ipsen said.

Karitis had decided he didn’t like the conditions on the slope, and wanted to move the group elsewhere, Ipsen said. At that point, the avalanche triggered.

“He was the only one caught up in the avalanche and buried,” Ipsen said.

Karitis was wearing a locator beacon, which is how other guides called to the scene were able to find him, Ipsen said. He was initially unresponsive when he was pulled out, and a helicopter flew him to a clinic in Haines, where he was listed in critical but stable condition, Ipsen said.

Paramedics were preparing to fly him to Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage on Saturday night, Ipsen said. Karitis’ injuries were considered life-threatening.

SEABA, in a statement, pledged support to Karitis’ family and cautioned that big mountain heli-skiing had inherent risks. The company also planned to review the incident internally, the statement said.

According to his biography on the SEABA website, Karitis grew up in Bend, Ore., graduated from the University of Utah and has worked in the heli-skiing industry for 10 years.

He has been a SEABA guide since 2013 and logged nearly 300 days of heli-ski guiding in Alaska, according to the website. The site also notes international guide and avalanche certifications and an “excellent safety record.”

In March 2013, a 34-year-old SEABA guide died in a skiing accident on a mountain near Haines. That incident sparked a federal investigation into the unauthorized use of federal land by the company and led to a plea agreement in late December.

Reach Devin Kelly at dkelly@adn.com or 257-4314.


Current Conditions

Last Updated: Friday, March 14th, 2014 by Erik Stevens (Disclaimer | About This Page) Expires 11pm on March 16th, 2014 Click Here for an encyclopedia of common snow science terms from the FSNAC

H.L. Maritime Transitional Pass Biggest Threats – Solar heating on south aspects – Cornices – Wind slab in other areas

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Recent Weather Summary (Chart):

An unusually warm airmass moved in from Jan. 25th – 28th, with alpine temperatures hovering around 45 F, even at mountaintop levels. It was not raining during this time, but a massive wet slide cycle ensued. Very cold and dry weather returned through Feb. 14th, creating a solid ice crust.

Feb. 13th-15th brought 18-30″ of new snow to the mountains in three distinct storm layers (some upside-down). Winds blew from the south at times, and north at other times.

Cold and clear weather with north winds returned for the rest of February and into March.

March 8th-9th brought 3 feet of new low-density snow, turning warm and heavy at the end.  Winds started out northerly, and then turned southerly.

South winds on March 9th-13th raised snow levels to around 1500ft. Around a foot of wet snow likely fell above that level, with rain below.

One more weak weather front on Friday will bring a few more inches snow above 1000ft, with steady temperatures.

This weekend is looking to be rather nice, as the next storm just misses us to the south. Clouds will begin to clear Saturday, and Sunday should be mostly sunny. North winds will pick up some, but temperatures will remain near freezing. Another weather front will move in Sunday night-Monday.

High-Latitude Maritime Zones: Slopes near Haines

Danger: CONSIDERABLE See ScaleThere are two main concerns Friday-Sunday.

The first will be the potential for strong sunshine if/when the clouds clear up. Temperatures are expected to be a little below freezing, but the sun is getting intense on south aspects. Be on the lookout for strong solar warming, which quickly weakens wind slabs and cornices. If the sun comes out, the danger will rise to CONSIDERABLE with pockets of HIGH on south aspects: natural and human-triggered avalanches likely. Elsewhere the danger will be MODERATE: heightened avalanche conditions, especially on steep and windloaded terrain features.

Also, stay far back from cornices. This is a prime time of year for them to fall.

Besides the sunshine, the second main concern will be lingering storm snow weaknesses beneath the wind slabs that built up this week. The big storm last weekend dropped around a meter of low-density snow with a very weak storm interface in the middle, then it warmed up and we had four days of light precipitation with snow levels around 1000ft. This created a wet and heavy storm layer over the light and weak previous storm layer. South winds blew the new snow around above treeline, creating fresh wind slabs on north aspects below ridgelines, and on crossloaded east and west aspects. On steep slopes these lingering slabs may still respond to human triggering.

There is concern that avalanches may step down to a lingering weakness a meter or more deep — a buried surface hoar layer from 1-2 weeks ago. Keep this in mind, as the consequences of a slide this deep are extreme.

Be cautious out there this weekend. The new snow is not fully bonded yet, and the potential for deep slides exists. It will be very important to minimize your risk exposure this weekend. Cross/ski slopes one at a time from/to islands of safety. Remember that some treed areas that feel safe may not in fact be safe if a large avalanche occurs. Think about the potential for slabs to propagate wider than expected, and have a plan for what to do if you enter avalanche terrain. Always wear a beacon, shovel, and probe, and know how to use them.

Transitional Zones: Mountain areas seaward of interior passes

Danger: CONSIDERABLE See Scale



BC’s avalanche conditions are some of the worst in years. Here’s why

March 07, 2014By:

Photos and words: Erin Hogue

The coastal mountain region of British Columbia is experiencing a high-consequence snowpack this winter, resulting in larger more destructive avalanches with fewer warning signs. Avalanches are being triggered from up to 500 meters away, terrain that doesn’t usually experience activity is sliding, highway closures are constant and there are more burials than there have been in years. A deep weak layer coined “The Drought Layer’ has been blamed for the escalated activity.

The Drought Layer was caused by the serious lack of precipitation at the beginning of season resulting in the formation of weak layers near the ground. Over a month with only traces of snow, temperatures ranging from minus 25 Celsius to T-shirt spring conditions, wind-crusts, sun-crusts, surface hoar and faceting created a layer of weak, sugary snow. In a relatively short amount of time this weak layer was covered by up to two meters of fresh snow, at such a rate that the layers did not have the chance to properly bond together resulting in what Canadian Avalanche Centre forecasters are referring to as the “crappiest layers we’ve seen in years”.

I caught up with local Whistler pro Chris Rasman to get his perspective on the situation.

You’ve been sledding for seven years and have a lot of experience in the backcountry, reading the terrain and judging the conditions. How do the avalanche conditions this season compare to previous ones?

Well, to put it into perspective, we’ve had to be far more careful this year than any other year in the past. We’ve stayed clear of big faces, landings that are too long, and any sort of terrain traps. Not to say these are things we don’t usually avoid anyways, but we are far more timid and the guard is up big time. It seems that the bad layers that are spooking everyone this year are here to stay, and it stretches all over the Coastal mountains and the Rockies.

What signs have you seen that the snow pack this year is sketchier than in previous years?

I’m noticing a lot more natural slides and slides on faces that I have never seen go before. In January, myself and my crew were exploring some new zones near Revelstoke. We had posted up in one area and were sledding there every day for about a week straight. It warmed up a bit and created this weird hoarfrost layer on top of all the pow, and then continued to snow on top of that. It was a layer we were keeping a close eye on and was getting accumulation on top of it quickly. On the first day we decided not to go up a massive slide wiped out our single track into the zone. It was about a kilometer wide and had come all the way down to the valley, crossed a creek, and made its way up the next mountain a little, wiping out big trees as well. We saw these debris on the next day heading into the zone, and it spooked us enough to call the trip and go home. A few weeks later in Montana, we were watching everything slide with human weight on it. Short jump landings, small pillow fields, tiny little faces, even mellow pow runs in the trees were moving. We did not ride any lines or longer faces that trip.

Have you had any close calls this season?

In Montana myself and the iNi Team were hiking above a pillow line, ready to take turns riding it and all of a sudden the entire face ripped. It was a close on for sure. Other than that, so far, so good. It’s hurt a little bit to say no to some of the things, but I think we have been making the right calls.

What precautions do you take to accommodate for high avalanche danger?

To name a few, I read the reports every evening and ever morning before going out, stay away from terrain traps and any avalanche terrain when the warnings are high, take turns and watch each other closely when crossing avy terrain on our snowmobiles, and simply just be smart about decisions we make considering how we have seen this season go so far.

As a result of these conditions the CAC forecasters are advising people to wait longer than usual before moving onto larger, more aggressive terrain. Some runs might have to wait for a couple of weeks or more. Some might be out for the rest of the season. This is especially important for people in the coastal ranges who are used to waiting a few days to let things settle down, then going for it. The snowpack out there, especially the south coast, is like nothing many people have dealt with before. Don’t use your coastie tactics and expect them to work this season. Think more like the Interior or even the Rockies guys right now.



Our mission is to promote snow sport safety and awareness through fun, hands on educational programs and events. Our goal is to inspire children and enthusiasts of all ages to explore the beauty of the mountains and ocean, while maintaining a healthy and positive lifestyle.

The Nickolay Dodov Foundation is committed to carrying on Nick’s legacy and spirit with the hope of preventing future accidents.

The Nickolay Dodov Foundation is a registered 501 Non-Profit organization.




At age three, Nickolay Dodov started skiing. By six and a half, he could handle the runs of his home mountains by himself. At eight, he strapped on a snowboard and fell in love. Nick’s passion led to competition both in Bulgaria, where he was born and lived until age thirteen, and in the United States, after his family settled in the small, mountain community of Bear Valley, California. Eventually, Nick brought his passion and skills to the backcountry, sharing experiences, encouragement and the amazing outdoors with kindred spirits in stunning terrain.

In March of 2012, Nick was killed in an avalanche while snowboarding in Haines, Alaska.The loss of his life has borne the Nickolay Dodov Foundation and prompts us to look with great care and deliberation at snow sports industry safety standards, as well as “the human factor” in extreme sports. We believe that through continuing snow sports safety awareness education, an individual strengthens his or her ability to assess situational safety in snow sports activities.

Nickolay was a beloved son, athlete, teammate, artist and teacher. A shining light with a great passion for life, Nickolay lived with heart. We wish you the same and strive to help provide access to information and skills that will enable you to participate in activities equipped with outdoor readiness.

With your support, the Nickolay Dodov Foundation will participate in school and mountain-based educational programs focusing on snow sports safety and backcountry avalanche awareness.

*Check our website for additions & updates!



*Bear Valley Mountain Safety Week: January 18-24
Snow Sports Safety Talk & Information Booth
at Bear Valley Mountain’s Winter Explosion!

*Avalanche training with Mountain Adventure Seminars.

2nd Annual Nickolay Dodov
SlopeStyle Competition
March 8, 2014
Along with great prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd places, there will be a silent auction benefiting the Nickolay Dodov Foundation!

Tax-deductible donations accepted online or at the mailing address below!

Thank you for your support.

PO Box 5035
Bear Valley, CA  95223

We presented Nickolay Dodov Foundation at the Annual Winter Fest in Bear Valley Ski Resort, California the weekend of November 29th and 30th, 2013. Thank you to the great team of board members; Joel Barnett, Lauren Schimke, Stephanie Forbes, John Jackson, Cate Wallenfels and Mike Page! Thank you to John Jackson  who was signing autographs in support of the Foundation and sharing his love for snowboarding. Great to share the Foundation with so many people and see so many kids’ smiling faces! Thank you for all the love and support! Keep sharing our mission! The Foundation is grateful for all the support!


 Couple of days after the event start snowing

Dodovs Letter to U.S. Senators; US Heliskiing Association Letter to U.S. Senators; On March 3th, 2013 another heli ski guide was killed, two clients injured during commercial heli skiing in Haines, Alaska; New York Times Article “Extreme Grief”; Dodovs Petition to the Department of Natural Resources, Alaska

After Haines Borough avoided our allegations, State Authority and US Heliskiing Association didn’t wanted to get involved, we decided to write a letter to higher authorities.


January 22, 2013 Alaska;

US Senator Mark Begich, US Senator Lisa Murkovski, California; US Senator Barbara Boxer US Senator Diane Feinstein US Senator Tom Berryhill

Dear Senator,

Our names are Alex and Natalia Dodov. We are from Bear Valley, California. Our son, Nickolay Dodov, was killed, along with guide Rob Liberman, in an avalanche on March 13, 2012 while snowboarding near Haines,   Alaska. He was a boarding client of the commercial guiding service Alaska Heliskiing LLC. (AH)

We are asking for your assistance and intervention. We know that our son Nick’s death could have been prevented had there been stricter guidelines imposed. We have spent endless hours investigating the circumstances of our son’s death: we have dealt with the city government, the state government and the Heli Ski US Association to no avail. So far we have had no indication of further investigation into the death of our son considering the obvious gross negligence of Alaska Heliskiing (AH) nor an interest on the regulatory agencies part to improve policy and procedures that would protect the safety of future heli-ski clients and Heli-guides alike.

We are appealing to you.

In light of all that we have discovered, we request that Alaska Heliskiing be investigated and   held accountable for the death of Nickolay Dodov. We request that an independent and qualified party be brought into this investigation. We request that, due to an obvious conflict of interest, the permit issuing authority be taken from Haines Borough and assigned to an appropriate governing agency. We request improved safety infrastructure: standardize heli-skiing regulations in the USA, require drug screening policy for heli ski companies in the USA, require all the guides and clients of the USA heli companies to wear the latest safety equipment, establish avalanche research and education center in Haines, establish search and rescue in Haines, and upgrade Haines medical facility with advanced life support equipment.

The following is a summary of our investigation:

Winter season 2011/2012 had a record snowfall with high rated avalanche danger for Alaska. There was 3-5 feet of new accumulated snow the day prior to the avalanche incident. Wind storm the night prior to the avalanche had changed the snow pack. According to eyewitness’s statement, five days of storm meant “no economy that week” for Guide Company  Alaska Heliskiing LLC. (AH). On March 13, 2012, the company ignored the dangerous conditions, and an urge to make money pushed the guides and the clients to go ski. On the morning of the avalanche incident, the Haines Avalanche Information   Center recorded an avalanche warning rating of : Considerable; Dangerous avalanche conditions. Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making are essential. Snow condition when natural avalanches are possible; Human triggered avalanche likely. Haines Avalanche Information   Center reports “This very heavy new load fell atop a snowpack with at least three distinct, widespread weak layers, as well as its own “upside-down” storm-snow weaknesses. The top foot or so is loose and makes for great skiing, but poorly bonded and very reactive.”

Guide Company (AH) was aware of the unstable and dangerous snow condition (based on film footage from the morning meeting of AH on March 13, before the avalanche incident). Two avalanche forecasts were given (with and without wind deposit snow) by leading guide Rob Liberman to the heli guides. Liberman was aware of surface hoar growth the day before. He said if wind was to deposit snow on that layer, it would be a reactive layer, (If surface hoar layer is buried is potential avalanche danger). We have whiteness’ statement that after the morning meetings (including March 13), the guide members of AH routinely went to the shack in the premises of AH base where they smoked marihuana.

Our son Nickolay Dodov’s group was not informed about the dangerous snow conditions. “We are taking you to the bunny hill” indicating an attitude of casualness as client Dwell Bailey didn’t even take his 2nd safety device along, (air bag pack) , Bailey said “It wasn’t apparent to any of us /the clients/ that it was a danger”, was his statement. On the run prior to the avalanche incident, a snow pack evaluation was done. It showed dangerous conditions, and so the group was taken on an alternative route. Instead of calling the day off because of the dangerous conditions, Liberman told the group that the company was already paying for the helicopter, and persuaded them “lets go find better snow”. Guide Rob Liberman took them to a run called “Swanny”. The clients were concerned that the snow conditions looked suspicious. Liberman didn’t check the snow and assured them, “Don’t be concerned. It’s just an alpine bowl and the snow should be fine”; as documented on Go-Pro footage. (An alpine bowl with rolling hills and multiple gullies with steepness 25-40* with unstable new accumulated snow and wind slab that could break in long running fractures if they are over a weak layer is potential avalanches danger). This was the run on which the avalanche occurred.

AH rents inflatable airbag backpacks that keep skiers atop avalanches and could save a life. For safety in the helicopter, AH makes clients wearing the inflatable air backpacks to zip closed the deployment cord. There is a safety concern that the airbag might accidentally inflate in the helicopter possibly causing a crash. Rob Liberman wasn’t wearing any safety devises. (i.e. breathing device such as AvaLung and  inflatable air backpack).  Nor did he check the readiness of the client’s inflatable air backpacks once outside the helicopter before the run. Our son was wearing both devises; he was found under the snow with his air backpack deployment cord zipped up, inaccessible.

Nickolay Dodov was directed by Rob Liberman, “go to the right, there is better powder there”. This triggered 800 feet wide avalanche, with depth of the crown 16 inches to 6 feet. Search and rescue was slow and inadequate. AH operating permit states; To locate victim as soon as possible use all heliski groups already in the field. Sixteen people were at the scene of the avalanche; (5 clients and a guide on the top on “Swanny” Ridge, 5 clients and a guide in approaching helicopter when the avalanche released, and four survivors). Film footage is recording a guide named Nick Barlow waiting on some slope. His skis are off and it appears he is the guide with another group.  The film records the audio words coming over his radio from the helicopter approaching the scene, the words come over the radio from Gabe, “Rob, Rob do you copy? I need you to get on Robs’s frequency right now…and get a count ASAP. I want you guys to hold tight…there’s hangfire. I’m going to put myself on-slope I’m going in”. The first guide was dropped on the scene approximately 25-30 minutes after the avalanche released, according to eyewitness statement.  The group of the survivors didn’t have a radio to communicate to the base, as they should have according to the safety regulations. When a guide takes a group solo he has to have a client with a radio trained to take action in case the guide is buried in an avalanche. Survivor eyewitness Brandon Corbet, had his Go Pro camera on. He revealed that he had erased from the actual footage the search and rescue but kept only 36 still images. He revealed that only three of the surviving clients and two guides were involved in the search and rescue. He revealed the actual time line from the time the victims were buried until their bodies were recovered was 47 minutes. After 47 minutes the place was swamped with other guides. (A person located in the first 15 minutes has an approximately 90 percent chance of survival. The probability of survival drops off rapidly after that time. After 90 minutes, the probability of survival is approximately 25 percent).

Rob Liberman was flown straight to Haines Medical Clinic. Transportation of the unconscious Nickolay Dodov to a hospital was untimely: Nickolay was first taken to the base. According to eyewitness when Nick was brought to the base he was not responsive and that is when they stopped giving him CPR. Nickolay was dead. An ambulance arrived 37 minutes later. The ambulance was at the base for 28 min. Then Nick was driven 40 minutes to Haines Medical Clinic. It takes only 9 minutes by air from the avalanche site to Haines Medical Clinic. The total time from the time Nick was buried under the snow until his arrived in the Haines Medical Clinic was 2 hours and 32 minutes. According to eyewitness statement AH didn’t have adequate number of helicopters for the numbers of clients they had at the time to respond timely and sufficient to search and rescue operation. AH operating permit states; If necessary, the victim will be transported directly to Haines Medical Clinic or Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau for treatment. Somewhere on the way to the clinic, or in the clinic Nick’s heart was revived.

Nickolay Dodov arrived in Haines Medical Clinic 1.02pm on March 13, 2012. The Haines Medical Clinic revealed that they provide only 2 hours of life support. Nickolay was kept at the Clinic for over 6 hours. Nickolay Dodov was transported to a hospital in Seattle, WA, where he arrived 1.30am on March 14, and where he was declared dead. According to the doctors from Trauma Center in Seattle his actual death occurred in Alaska. Nickolay was transported out of the state of Alaska, to prevent a state investigation

The Medical Report from Haines Medical Clinic, from the time of accident to his arrival to the hospital in Seattle, is unaccounted for and it was not included in Trooper Bentz’s incident report.

AH knew that the avalanche danger was high, did not tell its clients about the dangerous conditions and instead persuaded them not to be concerned about conditions.  The clients were not adequately warned or informed of the inherent   dangers the day of March 13. The clients did not receive proper instruction on use of safety equipment. The trip was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The guide used bad judgment. The rescue was overly lengthy and complicated and lead to the death of the client. Permit requirements and compliance to policies, procedures, and protocols in the tour company’s Operations Plan were broken contributing to the death of Nickolay Dodov.

AH threatened the web site of Haines Avalanche Information Center. The avalanche reports from February 20 to March 14 were removed from its website. AH had the avalanche survivors sign papers that they would not discuss events of that day, while providing hamburgers. AH induced the filming crew that was filming at the time to cooperate for the “positive outcome of this accident” by “sticking to the original story line and NOT using anything related to this incident”, because “I want to stay in business so that is what is on the line for all of us”. The filming crew was warned if they don’t cooperate they have to deal with AH lawyer, “who is like a bulldog”.

Guide Rob Liberman’s autopsy report revealed high levels of marijuana type THC in his system / 2.8 nanograms per milliliter/. According to the lab, levels of THC run between 50 and 270 ng/ml after smoking a joint, and drop to less than five nanograms after two hours.  Liberman’s toxicology report also found “Carboxy THC,” a metabolized form of THC, in concentrations of 16 nanograms per milliliter, where the reporting limit was five nanograms. Levels of the metabolized compound range from 10 to 101 ng/mL, 32 to 240 minutes after smoking marijuana, according to the report. In an accidental death involving the presence of THC, city and state authorities should have conducted an investigation. Unfortunately this did not happen.

Rob Liberman was a paid employee of AH. If the company’s employee is criminally negligent, then the company should be held liable for their employee’s actions. Instead of an investigation, Alaska State Trooper Bentz concluded the incident “non-criminal”. State Trooper Bentz had the results of Liberman’s toxicology report, yet he withheld it from us and our lawyer. Trooper Bentz didn’t request all employees involved in the accident/rescue of AH Company be tested for THC and other illegal substances. Not investigating and letting AH continue operating until the end of season 2012 Trooper Bentz put other lives at risk. According to eyewitnesses’ statements after two deaths AH continued to operate with reckless behavior. At least one time AH was rotating seven client groups with one helicopter.

We have filed a complaint with the Alaska Bureau of Investigation against state Trooper Bentz regarding the handling of the incident report with controversial and false information. We requested that Alaska State Troopers to reopen the case. We were told by Lt Rodney Dial that they would not reopen an investigation into the heli-ski accident that killed two people.

AH did not file a detailed report of Rob Liberman’s death to the Workman’s Compensation Board. Instead, a $750 fine was paid by AH to the Board. By permit, AH is required to submit a detailed accident report to Haines Borough within 72 hours of the incident. Such a report was not submitted. 7 ½ months later AH filed a false accident report with the National Avalanche Center in Colorado.

AH has no current land use permit from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and has not had one since 2008. By definition of DNR regulations, AH is criminally trespassing on State Land. The incident happened on State Land managed by DNR.  AH not having a DNR permit has not been inspected and regulated for storing diesel, spill plan and prevention methods. Therefore, AH stored diesel fuel too close to the river.

AH has no current land use permit from the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and has not had one since 2005. If they had attempted to obtain a permit, the BLM would thoroughly screen AH. By definition, BLM is responsible to require and inspect operation and safety plans, perform extensive environmental analysis, perform monitoring, perform evaluations and on-the-ground compliance for any and all Special Recreation Permits.

AH’s operation permit (issued by Haines Borough) was 5 years outdated. AH’s 2012 operating permit (stamped and signed by Haines Borough) states: BLM  responsibility of administration of Alaska Heliskiing, LLC helicopter skiing operations include: inspectional of facilities and operation for compliance with the tour permit terms so that public health and safety are protected, and satisfactory public service is provided; Cooperation with Alaska Heliskiing, LLC personnel in avalanche safety with regard to the helicopter skiing program; a close working relationship with the Haines Borough and BLM is desirable. Because BLM had not issued AH permit since 2005, these administration responsibilities were not followed.

Based on film footage the owner of AH resisted giving GPS data requested by Haines Borough, due to out of bounds use. Instead of holding AH accountable for their criminal trespassing, the Haines Borough supports AH and lets them continue with their operation. According to the code of Haines Borough, AK; the Police Chief, Tourism Director and Harbor Master must review all commercial tour permit applications, including heli-skiing permits.

AH misrepresented its safety standards and activities, inducing deceased to use its services. AH claimed on it’s website to be a member of Alaska Helicopter Skiing Association, that sets strict safety standards, and the guides meet or exceed the Association requirements. In fact, AHSA does not exist, according to numerous industry operators. These claims were later retracted and removed from the AH website.

We submitted an “Assembly Action Request” with Haines Borough on 8/17/12. This request for investigation has never been on the agenda for public hearing. Instead it  has been held with the Borough attorney. Our request was for a review and investigation from Haines Borough, as they are the ones who administer the original, outdated Heliski operating permit.

We have eyewitness statement of criminal activity by AH: illegal dumping of fuel/jet waste by AH; hiring of illegal workers by AH; Federal Aviation Association  infractions by AH. None of these is relevant to our case, yet shows the negligence of AH company. We submitted details from the accident to the Heli Ski National Association for review and judgment.

We requested the current operating protocols (safety, search & rescue standards) that are required for all the US heli ski companies. We could not locate any standards on the HSUS website. We also asked where HSUS stands regarding drug usage of guides. HSUS declined to participate.

Thank you for your time and consideration

Alex and Natalia Dodov  





Dear Mr. and Mrs. Dodov:

Thank you for your recent request for assistance with a federal agency. Please be assured that your matter will receive serious attention, and that I will make every effort, consistent with federal law and ethics standards, to assist you. However, I will need to have your written consent on file before I can open a formal inquiry into your case. In most cases, such consent is required by federal law or regulation. Therefore, please send your written and signed request for assistance to: U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer 70 Washington Street, Suite 203 Oakland, CA94607 In your statement, please include your name, your address, your phone number, any relevant identification numbers (such as your Social Security or alien registration number), a brief description of your case, and your signature. In case of emergency please call my Oakland office at (510) 286-8537, and a member of my staff will assist you. Once again, thank you for writing.

Sincerely, Barbara Boxer United States Senator






Dear Mr. and Mrs. Dodov,

My name is James Peterson, Senator Feinstein’s legislative assistant for environment and public lands issues. I wanted to follow-up on Laura’s email from last week about the terrible loss of your son. We are eager to explore how we might be of some assistance to you and would like to learn more about the accident. Can you provide us with a phone number and a good time to contact you so that we can discuss this? Again, please accept our deepest regrets for your loss.

Sincerely, James Peterson ______________________________________________________________________________ James Peterson Legislative Assistant U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein 331 Hart Senate Office Building Washington, D.C.20510 Tel (202) 224-3841


January 30, 2013

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Dodov: Thank you for contacting Senator Mark Begich’s Office regarding Alaska Heliskiing, LLC, and the tragedy of your son’s death in Haines, AK. Sen. Begich sends his deepest regrets and has asked that I respond to you on his behalf. We regret to hear your son’s death could have been prevented and was not. We understand your desire to see a thorough investigation of this issue. We encourage you, if you have not already, to seek legal council if you are considering holding the involved company accountable. Unfortunately, our office is prohibited by law from intervening in legal matters and cannot interfere with an investigation. We believe legal council is best suited to advising you during this time. We regret we cannot be of more assistance in this matter.

Sincerely, Greer Gehler Office of U.S. Senator Mark Begich






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. Because we strongly disagree, it is necessary that I address several of the allegations in your letter:

Our decision not to investigate. You note that we have not undertaken an investigation of the accident that took the life of your son, but not that we declined to do so and explained why. We are a non-profit trade association representing approximately half of the heli-ski operators in the United States. Our mission is to promote helicopter skiing and we do this, in large part, by promoting higher operational and safety standards.

We are a voluntary organization – no one is required to join and Alaska Heliskiing (AH) was not a member. The operating guidelines we promote for our members were therefore inapplicable to AH and it would be manifestly unfair to apply those standards after the fact. Further, our organization has not conducted investigations in the past and has no procedures in place to assure that work would be carried out competently and fairly. Moreover, we have no legal standing to conduct an investigation – no authority to require witnesses to speak with us and no right of access to the accident site or records.

Operating protocols. 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.

Regulation of heli-skiing. I cannot 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. Second, to the best of my knowledge, the March 13, 2012 accident that claimed the life of your son and guide Rob Lieberman was the first avalanche fatality involving a heli-skiing operation in Alaska, ever. That is remarkable and in contrast with the rest of Alaska which regularly leads the U.S. in avalanche incidents and fatalities. Collectively, the helicopter skiing industry in Alaska provides between 7 and 10 thousand skier days each season and cumulatively as many as 100 thousand skier days were provided without an avalanche fatality. I understand that these statistics provide little comfort to you. What they suggest, however, is that 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

cc. Hon. Lisa Murkowski Hon. Diane Feinstein Hon. Mark Begich Hon. Barbara Boxer Hon. Donald Young Hon. Tom McClintock Hon. Sean Parnell

On March 3, 2013 another heli ski guide was killed, two clients injured during commercial heli skiing in Haines, Alaska. SEABA Heliskiing Company was operating out of bounds and ignored the local avalanche forecast warnings.


From Heather Lende’s blog, Haines, Alaska resident;

Heather Lende’s blog

Dark News on a Bluebird Day

Submitted by Heather on Mon, 03/04/2013 – 07:39

I am up too early. Sitting at the kitchen counter sipping coffee. The fire is popping in the stove, the radio is on low, with the news. Our news, that a heli-skiing accident yesterday killed one guide, and seriously injured two clients, hasn’t made the loop yet. But it will, I’m sure. I couldn’t sleep thinking about how our good news is someone else’s bad news. In the ski party of five (two guides, three clients) one guide was just on the other side of the crack that sent an avalanche crashing down the slope, and watched the whole thing. The other four were caught in it—including the terrific young man who is my daughter’s boyfriend and who is still sleeping upstairs. (It’s all I can do not to sneak in his room just to hear him breathing.) Bryan said he felt the telltale “whump” of doom and “knew” and pulled the cord on his red inflatable airbag as if it was a parachute and he was exiting a burning airplane. He had purchased the 1300.00 device with some money his grandmother left him. He wore a helmet my daughter made him buy this season. He tumbled along the top, and over and under and back up again—for about 1000 feet, he guesses, but still isn’t sure. The ride left the others battered and bleeding. Bryan doesn’t have a scratch. Not a black eye or a bloody lip. At the Haines clinic, they didn’t even realize he had been in the accident. He looked fine. His gloves were torn right off his hands, leaving only the elastic wristbands, but his hands look better than mine do. He has a cough from swallowing so much snow, and I’m sure when he awakes, now that the adrenaline has faded, he’ll be really sore. But he’s fine—fine! It’s a kind of miracle. Last night I went to bed so grateful and relieved that I nearly forgot about another family, the one whose son or daughter’s boyfriend won’t ever be sleeping safely upstairs again. Of course heli-skiing is dangerous. I don’t wear a personal airbag and a helmet when I walk the dogs on the beach. But you know, these mountains beckon. You should have seen the smiles Saturday night around here after Bryan’s bluebird day in the sun. The tales he told about it were thrilling, and for him, and all of them, it was crazy and fun. Oh mothers, what are we to do? Buy our boys one of those airbags. Tell them to wear a helmet. Remind them to be safe. Pray.



SEABA heli-skiing company has been trying to mislead the news by carefully avoiding the words avalanche and commercial heli-skiing.



Alaska heli-skiing guide killed in mountain accident

By Yereth Rosen | Reuters – Mon, Mar 4, 2013

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – A heli-skiing guide in Alaska was killed when he fell while traversing over the snow with two clients on a mountain peak outside Haines, one of the nation’s top heli-skiing destinations, authorities said on Monday.

Christian Arcadio Cabanilla, 34, died in what appeared to be a snow cornice collapse on Sunday afternoon, Alaska State Troopers said. The two clients with him suffered non-life-threatening injuries and were able to summon help.

Cabanilla was a guide with Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures, which described him on its website as an experienced back country snowboard guide and former commercial helicopter pilot who worked for many years in Alaska, Chile and Antarctica. He was also described as an avalanche and wilderness first-aid expert.

The case is being investigated and an autopsy is planned, said Megan Peters, a trooper spokeswoman.

Cabanilla’s death came a year after another accident in the Haines area that killed two helicopter skiers. In that accident last March, a guide with a different company, Alaska Heliskiing, and one of his clients died after being buried by an avalanche.

Haines is an increasingly popular destination for skiers willing to pay for helicopter flights to reach new and steep back country terrain. The city of about 2,000 is located at the northern tip of southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage and is surrounded by towering peaks in the Chilkat Range.




Deadly Backcountry Accident Likely Caused By Cornice Failure

By Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Haines |

March 5, 2013 – 3:02 pm

A few new details have emerged in the backcountry skiing accident that caused the death of one person and injured two others over the weekend near Haines.

Alaska State Troopers were in Haines on Monday, interviewing witnesses and investigating the incident that claimed the life of 34-year-old Christian Cabanilla. He was part of a group of five skiers on a commercial heliskiing tour Sunday with Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures (SEABA). According to troopers, the group was dropped off on a ridge near Garrison Glacier at nearly 6,000 feet elevation in the mountains near Haines. Troopers said the group was walking on the ridge to their start point when they described hearing a “whomp” sound. That’s when the snow under them collapsed and four of the five skiers fell down the ridge an estimated 600 to 1,000 feet. The guide of the group was not involved in the fall.

Troopers said the SEABA-owned helicopter was observing the group and responded to rescue the three injured skiers.

Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters said the incident was likely a cornice failure and not an avalanche. Peters said after the fall, the four skiers came to rest on top of the snow and appear to have been injured from the fall, not from being buried in snow.

SEABA helicopters flew the skiers to the HainesAirport where ambulances met the patients and transported them to the Haines clinic. Cabanilla was pronounced dead at the clinic. His body was flown to Anchorage for autopsy. The two injured skiers were transported to a Juneau hospital. One of them was later transported to HarborviewMedicalCenter in Juneau. Peters said troopers would not release the type of injuries and are not tracking their condition, but the injuries were initially described as “non-life threatening.”

Troopers are not releasing the names of any of the other skiers involved because they are considered witnesses in the death investigation.




From: Natalia Dodova (nataliadodova@hotmail.com] Sent: Tuesday, March 05, 2013 11:26 AM To: julie cozzi; mark earnest; stephanie scott; Kelley, David L (DNR); jeffrey kowalczyk; Bailey, Keith A (DOL); paul@heli-ski.com; cvn@chilkatvalleynews.com; Amdur, Neil; Peterson, James (Feinstein); Dial, Rodney L (DPS); Sullivan, Daniel S (DNR); info@alaskaheliski.com; General, Attorney (LAW sponsored); Long, Angella T (DPS); ben goduproduction; Joshua Clements Subject: another avalanche death in Haines

To Haines Borough and the Mayor of Haines;
Yesterday we learned about the fatal avalanche accident outside of Haines in the area called Kicking Horse Valley. The heli guide was killed, two clients were injured and one client survived without injury because he was able to deployed his air back pack.

Dark News on a Bluebird Day

Submitted by Heather Lende on Mon, 03/04/2013 – 07:39

In the ski party of five (two guides, three clients) one guide was just on the other side of the crack that sent an avalanche crashing down the slope, and watched the whole thing. The other four were caught in it.

Bryan said he felt the telltale “whump” of doom and “knew” and pulled the cord on his red inflatable airbag as if it was a parachute and he was exiting a burning airplane. He had purchased the 1300.00 device with some money his grandmother left him. Of course heli-skiing is dangerous.

Another heliskiing company ignored the wind slap conditions.  Eric Stevens, Haines Avalanche Information Center report.   Now that the most recent wind slabs have had to some time to settle and bond, many slopes are feeling more consolidated. That said, there are still wind-affected slopes in open areas where human-triggered avalanches are likely. Keep and eye out for hollow-sounding snow and hard wind slabs, and avoid these areas. Now that the sun is out in full force, expect slabs to soften some by afternoon, making triggering more likely. The danger may rise to CONSIDERABLE on steep south aspects with strong daytime heating. Also be aware of debris and loose slides coming down from cliffs. Observations from the pass Sunday found widespread areas of very weak layering in the snowpack, with whumphing/collapsing common. Natural avalanches were widespread on northerly aspects from the last storm. One group remotely triggered a large cornice break, which then caused a large slab avalanche below it (video can be seen here). Let this be a strong reminder of how dangerous cornices can be. Stay way back from them.
Last fall we filed a complaint to Haines Borough to investigate the death of our son. Mayor’s office and Haines Borough craftily ignored and denied our allegations. You decided to cover up gross negligence and criminal negligence.
We requested you involve a third party of experts to regulate and set new standards of safety operations and search and rescue protocols. By ignoring us you have missed the chance to change Haines into the best heliskiing safe place. This death is because of your ignorance and corruption.
Why Haines Borough hasn’t posted on their web site the Operating Permit that every heliskiing in Haines has apply for with the NEW safety standards and search and rescue protocols. We insist the Haines Borough and the Mayor’s Office to have the Operating Permit send to us and to have it posted on Haines Borough web site.   We are sending to you a safety proposal thoughtfully written down by experts, professional skiers and snowboarders, life time experience mountaineers and us.

Natalia and Alex Dodov




SEABA fined for landing at fatal accident site

May 16, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 19  | View PDF

The Haines Borough fined Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures (SEABA) $500 last week for operating on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property without a permit during the March 3 heli-skiing accident that killed a guide and injured two others.

Manager Mark Earnest, who can fine heli-skiing companies up to $1,000 per violation, said he decided on $500 because the company wasn’t merely operating on the border of the allowed area.

“I just looked at the circumstances and felt that that was justified… It rose to a higher level than being just a little outside of the map. So that was the decision,” Earnest said.

The accident occurred in the Kicking Horse drainage on a ridge near Garrison Glacier.

SEABA co-owner Scott Sundberg said this week he hasn’t yet spoken with Earnest about the fine, but he intends to. Sundberg said while he probably won’t appeal Earnest’s decision, he did find the fine excessive.

“I think it’s a little much. I think it was an error due to some confusing and conflicting maps… In my opinion, it was more of a minor deal. $500 is halfway to $1,000,” Sundberg said.

Earnest fined SEABA $200 each for two out-of-bounds landing violations on March 19, bringing the company’s fine total for the season to $900.

Sundberg has been in conversations with Department of Justice attorneys and BLM investigators for the past month regarding the March 3 unpermitted landing. Sundberg said he doesn’t get the impression the matter will become criminal or result in charges.

“They haven’t really dug too hard or done anything dramatic. They’ve just been more than anything doing an informative search. It’s not a criminal or litigated thing at this point. That is where it stands,” he said.

Department of Justice attorneys and BLM officials would not elaborate on the investigation. “We are continuing to investigate the matter in cooperation with the U.S. Attorney’s office, and given that this is an ongoing investigation, it’s inappropriate for us to comment any further,” said BLM public information officer Tom Jennings.

Sundberg speculated BLM involved the Department of Justice because a fatality occurred during the unpermitted landing, so BLM is trying to minimize any liability. “They are worried a little bit that that might come back to the feds,” he said.

Sundberg said he has emphasized during the conversations his desire to maintain a good working relationship with BLM, as he doesn’t want to jeopardize SEABA’s ability to get a permit if BLM land around Haines is reopened to heli-skiing.

All BLM land in the Haines area has been closed to heli-skiing for the past several years, pending approval of the department’s Ring of Fire Draft Resource Management Plan.

Sundberg said SEABA is presently collaborating with Alaska Heliskiing representatives to identify problem areas in the borough’s heli-skiing map. The two companies are working together to bring an amended map to the borough for consideration.

The assembly can amend the heli-skiing map annually by resolution. Proposed map amendments are due by May 31 and must include an illustration of the area and rationale for the amendment in fewer than 500 words.






Natalia and Alex Dodov

March 21, 2013 | Volume 43, No. 11 | View PDF

Haines’ reckless commercial heli-skiing operators, as well as corruption, incompetence and ignorance in both the mayor’s office and Haines Borough led to another deadly accident in which a heli-ski guide was killed and two clients injured.

After last year’s avalanche accident in which a guide and a client were killed in a commercial heliskiing operation, Alaska Helisking company (AH), with support by the local government, suppressed information and tried to cover up what happened. After the most recent deadly accident on March 3, 2013, SEABA heli-skiing company has been trying to mislead the news by carefully avoiding the words avalanche and commercial heli-skiing.

Last year’s deadly avalanche accident happened because AH ignored dangerous conditions and the avalanche warnings. With regard to the accident on March 3, 2013, SEABA ignored the local avalanche forecast, the guide used bad judgment, and the trip was at the wrong place at the wrong time. There are concerns that SEABA was operating out of bounds.

After last year’s accident, AH failed to submit a detailed accident report to Haines Borough within the 72 hours as required by permit.

Now, after the accident on March 3rd, the Haines Borough clerk is stating: SEABA is not required to submit a detailed accident report with Haines Borough; such a report has to be sent to the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

A couple of months ago, DNR manager Dave Kelley said that the DNR doesn’t have the budget and ability to monitor safety. Again, the Haines Borough is passing the responsibility to another authority. The borough signed and stamped the operating permits for all commercial heli-skiing operators in Haines for 2013. The Haines Borough posted recently on its website new safety standards adopted by AH. Why doesn’t the borough require such standards of SEABA?

Alaska Occupational Safety and Health (AKOSH) is the authority investigating the death of the SEABA heli-guide. AKOSH’s chief of enforcement Keith A. Bailey stated in email to us: “Natalia, I have an officer investigating this. I hope that there can be standards set that can produce safety protocol for this industry.” He also explained why AKOSH couldn’t investigate the death of Rob Liberman, the AH heli-guide killed in the 2012 avalanche, because the heli-skiing company did not inform AKOSH about the accident in the required time of eight hours. AKOSH found about it only by reading the newspapers. At that time, AKOSH sent investigators, but the AH facility was closed for the season and all eyewitnesses were gone. Thus, a detailed report and eyewitness statements were not submitted. AH lawyer reported to AKOSH: “Worker at a snow ski resort was buried under nearly eight feet of snow after an avalanche.” AKOSH fined AH $750 for failing to report their employee’s death.

AH has been operating with a state business license under “Arts, Entertainment and Recreation” with primary designation under “All Other Amusement and Recreation Industries” which doesn’t require a professional business license. AH operates from facilities, rents skis, rents air bag packs, has a guiding school and stores jet fuel. We strongly believe that AH has to have a professional business license as a ski facility. We also believe that SEABA has been operating without the proper professional business licenses as well. There is a reason for it not to have a professional permit – nobody wants to be monitor.

All the Haines heli-skiing operators have to be honest to their visitors and they should state on their websites: “We run an unregulated business. We have self-imposed safety standards. We work in a deadly environment where avalanches and snow slabs are more likely to occur. There is no safety, there is no search and rescue, and, if anything goes wrong, it is more likely that you will get injured or be killed. We don’t have a drug screening policy. Our guides take marijuana and Carboxy THC to ignore their fears and the dangerous conditions to be able to show you a good time. We don’t wear the latest safety equipment such as Air bag pack and AvaLung because we believe if our time comes, this is a noble death. We are part of Hollywood mainstream extreme ski movies that glorify the death you die for the ride of your life. You should ride like this is the last day of your life because if you die you’re gonna go to a place just like this.

The leading guides in the industry state in the movies: There is no room for “should of,” “could of,” “I wish I had,” because we have the life of the clients in our hands. Stuff can happen. We like your valuable visitor’s dollars and once you sign the release form, we are not responsible if you get injured or killed. If somebody gets killed, you should tell your loved ones they should not make a big deal, but if they decide to seek justice, we are the ones bringing business to this town, we run the show, our lawyers are like bulldogs and we have the local governing authorities in our back pockets. You are entering the Russian roulette of world of extreme; this is our Alaskan way.”

Deep condolences to Cabanilla’s loved ones. There is no glory to die so young because of the negligence of so-called professionals. What is left is nothing but extreme grief. For a whole year we have been trying to prevent such a tragedy from happening again, but no one from the governing authorities would listen. We request again to all Alaska authorities and Haines residents: Do anything possible in your power to make a visitor trip a round trip.




Extreme Grief
Published: March 5, 2013
One year later, even on film, the words are as chilling as they were that fateful day on the snow-covered mountain. Rob, Rob, do you copy?” the voice on the hand-held radio transmitter says alarmingly of events still unfolding at the time. Ben Clark’s decision to begin “The Alaskan Way” with the ominous scene that followed the March 13, 2012, avalanche and the deaths of the helicopter ski guide Rob Liberman and his snowboarding client, Nickolay Dodov, were motivated by the message that appears on a blackened screen near the end of his film: “Is living the dream worth risking it all?” As Clark’s 60-minute documentary makes the rounds of film festivals, the dream has become a recurring nightmare for families and friends of the skiers.
Alex and Natalia Dodov, whose 26-year-old son died, say they are still confused and angry about what actually happened that day on the west side of Takhin Ridge near Haines, Alaska. “We know that our son Nick’s death could have been prevented had there been stricter guidelines imposed,” the Dodovs wrote in a Jan. 22 letter to California’s two United States senators, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, and other Congressional representatives, requesting an independent investigation, improved safety conditions and standardized regulations for helicopter skiing in Alaska.
It has been equally painful for Katherine Gill, who is known as Kit, and Robert A. Liberman, the divorced parents of the 35-year-old who moved to ski country from Manhattan and found devoted friends and an identity as an accomplished ski guide. Liberman’s father, who has seen Clark’s film, said he was “still very tender” about his son’s death. “I think my son really needed to get those rushes in life,” Liberman said.“ They meant a lot to him, and he felt very good about it, but I would tell you I’m sorry I ever showed him a pair of skis.”
Clark, 33, who successfully scaled Mount Everest 10 years ago, met Gill at a memorial service in Telluride, Colo., after the accident. Her grief so profoundly affected him, he said, that he has given up extreme skiing and rock climbing, although he still hikes and runs. Gill, a former fashion model, has declined to speak publicly about the accident. “Even though I thought I had a sense of self-worth,” Clark said in a recent phone interview, “I had no idea until I talked to Kit the day before the memorial and understood, truly, what was left behind when Rob passed away. Kit started to unravel the past to me thinking that I might have some answers. I just looked at her and broke down in tears and thought to myself: Oh my god! Here is a deep loss that I can’t even begin to explain the empathy that I had for her. “I started to think about my own parents and about my own wife,” Clark added. “Now that I have a son, it’s sort of like, wow, my whole life could still completely screw up and I could become a terrible father. But I can think of nothing harder than just wanting to know something and losing them in this way.”
Headlines of skiers buried by avalanches and the deaths of the 25-year-old snowmobiler Caleb Moore in January and the 29-year-old freestyle skier Sarah Burke last year have overshadowed growing concerns of the increased risk-taking and lack of regulation in extreme winter sports and their impact on families. Clark’s film, and another documentary, “The Crash Reel,” by Lucy Walker, which is scheduled for HBO later this year, may help change this perspective. Walker’s film looks at the life of Kevin Pearce, an American snowboard champion who sustained a traumatic brain injury on New Year’s Eve in 2009 while training in Park City, Utah.
Granted access to many aspects of Pearce’s rehabilitation, including an emotional family get-together last Thanksgiving, Walker explored the divide between risk-driven, free-spirited young athletes and their supportive, but tortured, families. Having recovered after a long, often painful process, Pearce talked at the dinner table of feeling “100 percent confident” of a return to snowboarding. But he was confronted by a distraught younger brother (“I don’t want you to die”), a tearful mother who feared the likelihood of another traumatic injury and a father who equated his son’s passion to an addiction. “If I was smoking every day,” Simon Pearce told his son, “you wouldn’t feel good about me. If I said I’ll cut it back to one cigarette a day, then it would be two cigarettes a day. When can you realize you’re clumsier? For me, it’s hard, because I don’t see your awareness. … ” “That gets back to my point that I’ve had this entire time,” Pearce interrupted, “that you guys have no faith.” Pearce appears to have reconciled realities, and returned to the sport as a commentator and supporter of education and research on traumatic brain injuries.
In the case of the Dodovs, Kit Gill, Robert Liberman and friends of other families affected by fatal incidents, the transition has been more difficult.
Last month a 24-year-old German employee at Revel stoke Mountain Resort in Canada, enjoying a day off, skied out of bounds and was buried and killed in an avalanche. One week earlier, another German heli-skier died in Canada. On Sunday an enormous cornice failure — a collapse of overhanging snow — outside Haines in the area called Kicking Horse Valley claimed the life of another heli-skiing guide when the snow gave way beneath him. The Colorado Avalanche Information Center said 14 skiing deaths have occurred this year in the United   States. “There has been a steady increase,” Ethan Greene, the director of the center, said in a phone interview. “There is definitely an upward trend. It’s disturbing, but it’s people’s choices. With more people come more accidents.”
“Our media push to be extreme is a strong lure to young, athletic people,” said Marilyn Davis, a skier and close friend of the Dodovs in Bear   Valley, Calif., who has been assisting them in their appeal. “Nick was a young, athletic, very skilled person. It was not out of his capability to do what he was doing. But what we feel is that the regulations, what we’ve learned through this whole reading of this permit and operation and safety plan, is that the heli-ski industry imposes its own set of standards. They’re not governed or overseen by any monitoring agency. We feel that’s inappropriate.”
The Dodovs, who came to the United States from Bulgaria18 years ago, received a positive response Jan. 30 from Boxer, which said, “Please be assured that your matter will receive serious attention.” But in an indication of how regulations may differ across regions, the office of Senator Mark Begich of Alaska wrote, “Unfortunately, our office is prohibited by law from intervening in legal matters and cannot interfere with an investigation.”
No formal investigation is under way. Vicki Gardner, an owner of Alaska Heliskiing, which operates tours and a school for guides, and supervised the trip on the day of the March 2012 avalanche, said she had not seen Clark’s film and could not comment on the Dodovs’ charges that the group “was not informed about the dangerous snow conditions” that day and that the search-and-rescue response was “slow and inadequate.” She also declined to comment on conflicting reports about when and where their son had died and why his body was taken to a hospital in Seattle rather than kept in Alaska for an investigation.
The Dodovs claim that Alaska Heliskiing’s permit required the company to submit a detailed accident report to Haines Borough within 72 hours of the incident. “Such a report was not submitted,” they wrote in their letter. The Dodovs also claim the company filed a false accident report seven and a half months later with the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. Greene said the center had received the report, but that “we don’t make any judgments on the accuracy of the report.
I talked to the parents a number of times, and they certainly disagreed with a number of things in the report.” Stephanie Scott, the mayor of Haines Borough, said she had not seen Clark’s film. But she said the Dodovs’ 23-page letter, which was first filed as a complaint Aug. 17 and reported in the Sept. 13 edition of the Chilkat Valley News, “was distributed here.” In a Feb. 23 e-mail, she wrote: “I have personally expressed condolences to the Dodov and Liberman families. I too am the mother of young men and a daughter, and the suffering experienced by families when sons and daughters are lost is almost beyond imagining.”
Alex Dodov, who spent much of his career in the ski industry in Bulgaria and lives near Tahoe ski resorts, said: “The best skier, and the best snowboarder and the best mountaineer is the one who is alive because he has to tell the story. Only the wise people survive and enjoy this world of skiing.”
Liberman is a non skier who first took his son, at age 3, to a ski resort near their home in the Berkshires. He talked to him by phone the day before the accident, and he describes the world of extreme skiing as a kind of Russian roulette. “I don’t think it’s worth it,” he said.
Before the accident, Clark had been filming around Haines with the hope of producing a series of 8 to 12 instructional episodes on helicopter skiing. The documentary brought him full cycle from the confrontation he had with his own parents when he told them he was going to quit his job and attempt to climb Everest. “Until I spoke with Kit, it finally sunk in to me why my parents were upset,” Clark said. “It had nothing to do with dying, doing something you love or being willing to risk your life for something that thrills you. People think that’s admirable. But the people who think that’s admirable are not the people that were close to me, that I loved, that I left behind. We need to let people know that it is not just about you and the risk that you take, it’s about what you leave behind when you make this decision.”
After the accident, Philip Drake, a close friend of Rob Liberman’s, was designated to empty the remains from Liberman’s black 1999 Toyota Tacoma. Above the passenger visor, he found assorted holiday cards and letters. One of the cards was signed simply “Mom.” Drake was uncertain about the origin of the card until he received a thank-you letter from Kit Gill after the memorial for introducing her to Liberman’s friends. The signatures matched. Drake phoned Gill and relayed the episode. “She broke down and started crying, ”Drake recalled. “It’s just a tragic story from all angles.”
Link to the article in The New Your Times;

Ben Clark is a film maker who was in Alaska filming at the time of the avalanche accident and for a whole month before this. He was making a movie to promote Alaska Heliskiing Company. After his good friend Rob Liberman and client Nick Dodov were killed in the avalanche he transformed the movie to educate and bring awareness to the skiers and the snowboarders who are visiting Alaska and have misconceptions of this vast mountain.

Link to the post about Ben Clark’s climbing career and “retirement”
Haines Borough will not authorize Alaska Heliskiing LLC to operate within the Borough until they(AH) obtain a state permit allowing use of State Land for their commercial ski tour activities.
Link to the DNR Public Notice of issuing a state land use permit for Alaska Heliskiing

We filed a petition with DNR to deny a state land permit to Alaska Heliskiing LLC for operating for five years without a permit.


Tell Alaska Department of Natural Resources to deny Haines State Forest land use permit to Alaska Heliskiing, LLC.

By Alex and Natalia Dodov

To be delivered to: Christy Gentemann, Natural Resource Specialist I, Daniel Sullivan, DNR Commissioner for Alaska State, Mark Earnest, Manager Haines Borough, and Jeff Kowalczyk, Manager, Bureau of Land Management Petition Statement

We, as concerned citizens, friends, families of skiers, snowboarders and other interested parties, request that the Department of Natural Resources deny Haines State Forest land use to Alaska Helisking, LLC. We must act during this time of public comment through March 17, 2013, to prevent issuance of a permit because the Haines Borough has already issued a permit of operation to Alaska Heliskiing for season 2013 contingent on receipt of a DNR permit. This permit was issued in spite of allegations and proven misconduct by Alaska Heliskiing. We believe our appeal to the DNR is the best way to stop Alaska Helilskiing from exposing further clients, and its own guides, to the grave risks demonstrated by their actions leading to the death of client, Nicolay Dodov and guide, Rob Liberman in an avalanche in Haines State Forest on March 13, 2012. We witness the lack of a unified regulatory agency for helisking in Haines State Forest. This lack of monitoring has allowed Alaska Heliskiing to operate without accountability and consequence. We ask that the Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources pay close attention to their responsibility, as stated in Appendix X , Item 10 in the department’s management plan, to address Alaska Heliskiing’s operation/safety plan before issuing a permit.

Petition Background

In March 2012, Nickolay Dodov headed out for a dream adventure with Alaska Heliskiing never to return. On March 13, Client, Nickolay Dodov and heliski guide, Rob Liberman, were killed in an avalanche on Takhin Ridge, northwest of Haines Alaska. We believe this could have been prevented. Heliskiing is a known, dangerous activity. When critical data concerning weather, terrain, snowpack and safety protocols are ignored the clients and guides are exposed to grave risk. The Haines Borough has issued a permit of operation to Alaska Heliskiing for season 2013, contingent on receipt of a land use permit from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. This permit was issued in spite of allegations and proven misconduct by Alaska Heliskiing. We believe this indicates a reason for concern to the Department of Natural Resources. We, as concerned citizens, friends, families of skiers, snowboarders and other interested parties, request that the State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources, deny Haines State Forest land use to Alaska Helisking given the information listed below. David Kelly, Regional Manager of Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources, stated that safety regulation is not the concern of the DNR. However, a notation in Appendix X , Item 10 in the department’s management plan, specifies a regular review of an operation plan is to be taken into consideration when issuing a permit. Shouldn’t such an operation plan include a safety plan? There is no unified regulatory agency. Loopholes exist between the two permitting departments, Department of Natural Resources does not take into account safety regulations and, according to Julli Cozzi, Haines Borough Clerk, “…compliance with the submitted operating and safety plan is not included in the list of permit conditions in Haines Borough code. Alaska Heliskiing was not required to obtain a state permit if its operations were limited to no more than 11 persons per day on state land. This lack of monitoring has allowed Alaska Heliskiing to operate without accountability and consequence as demonstrated by, but not limited to, the following points.

➢ Alaska Heliskiing has broken Alaska state law, Haines Borough code and its own safety plan.

➢ Alaska Heliskiing failed to meet standards set by the Haines State Forestry Plan.

➢ Evidence exists to show daily flights with more people then specified in Commercial Recreation Day Use.

➢ Evidence exists of environmental violation regarding fuel storage.

Julie Cozzi states that there is substantial evidence to indicate that Alaksa Heliskiing was negligent in at least eight violations of permit codes. Guided by Mayor Stephanie Scott, Borough Manager Mark Earnest, and Borough Attorney Brooks Chandler, Cozzi submitted a 15 page memo admitting the truth of a number of allegations presented by the parents of Nickolay Dodov. In summary, there are the following permit violations, operating and safety plan violations and state law violations: The points listed below are taken from her report. *see appendix at end of letter stating evidenced allegations not recognized by Cozzi.

➢ Alaska Heliskiing failed to obtain a permit for use of state lands over multiple years of operation.

➢ Failed to submit a detailed accident report to Haines Borough within 72 hours of the incident. The accident report referenced in the operations plan was not filed with the Borough until December 31, 2012.

➢ Failed to submit a mutual aid agreement.

➢ Failed to file a report of employee death with the Workman’s Compensation Board of State of Alaska.

➢ Twice flew out of bounds after the accident, March 15 and 25th.

➢ Posted inaccurate and misleading information on its website relating to guide certification and company safety standards which, according to Cozzi, indicate “… inaccurate statements were specifically intended to attract customers based on false claims directly related to safety.”

➢ No snow pit or stability tests were performed at the site where the accident occurred prior to the run. Therefore, there is some truth to the allegation of a failure to evaluate snow conditions.

➢ Possible failures to follow additional requirements of operating plan requiring exercise of judgment as to safety of skiing prior to a run and post-accident procedures (failure to dig test pit or do ski test, failure to transport accident victim directly to clinic).

➢ Possibility that a company employee was guiding customers while under the influence of marijuana.

➢ These violations provided “a potential basis for permit denial,” Cozzi said. “Alaska Heliskiing is warned that the above past conduct will be considered in any permit renewal in 2014 and that continuing violations … may result in permit suspension or revocation. Cozzi admits several times in her report that she has “…a fairly limited range of expertise to examine details of whether a business operation meets standards for safe operation”, yet she is the responsible authority for issuing permits! Cozzi expressed in her decision that, “A single accident, even one that results in a customer death…… will not automatically result in a denial of a permit renewal application”. In an industry where much money stands to be made in a very high risk commercial business it seems a travesty that a Borough clerk is in charge of issuing the heliski permits. We seek a complete investigation of Alaska Heliskiing practices with the desire that such efforts will put in place unified regulation of operation and safety procedures which will prevent further illegal use of Alaska State Forest and further loss of life. We request that the State of Alaska investigate Haines Borough. The Haines Borough has signed and stamped an outdated permit for five years to Alaska Heliskiing. Haines Borough has allowed five years illegal use of Department of Natural Resources state land for commercial use. Haines Borough must also be held accountable for the misinformation on the permit that states BLM as the authority that screens and monitors safety protocols, search & rescue plans, etc. BLM has not issued land use permits for heliski companies since 2005. The citizens of Haines have been filing complaints with Haines Borough and writing articles (Chilkat Valley News and Anchorage Daily News) since 2004.These concerns have been largely ignored or not dealt with in a consequential manner. Rather, Haines Borough has rewarded the heli company’s with more user days. Clearly there is a need for a monitoring agency that will enforce the law and prioritize the need for Public Safety, as currently the issuing authority is more interested in “visitation dollars” generated by heliskiers. *Appendix: Despite the filed complaint to the Haines Borough from the parents of Nickolay Dodov with facts, evidence and support material, Borough Clerk did not admit the truth of the following formidable allegations presented by Alex and Natalia Dodov, parents of Nickolay Dodov.

➢ Nickolay Dodov was transported to a hospital in Seattle, WA, where he was declared dead. According to the doctors from Trauma Center in Seattle his actual death occurred in Alaska. In our opinion Nickolay was transported out of the state of Alaska, to prevent a state investigation.

➢ On March 13, dangerous avalanche conditions existed and Alaska Heliskiing did not adequately warn or inform clients of the inherent dangers. The trip was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The guide used bad judgment.

➢ The clients did not receive proper instruction on use of safety equipment.

➢ The rescue was overly lengthy and complicated and may have lead to the death of the client.

➢ Permit requirements and compliance to policies, procedures, and protocols in the tour company’s Operations Plan were broken and may have contributed to the death of Nickolay Dodov.

➢ Alaska Heliskiing filed a false accident report with the National Avalanche Center in Colorado.

➢ Evidence exists that guide Rob Lieberman had high levels of marijuana THC and Carboxy THC, a metabolized form of marijuana, which indicated the use of drugs before the accident.

➢ Alaska Heliskiing’s operation permit (issued by Haines Borough) was 5 years outdated. Because Bureau of Land Management had not issued Alaska Heliskiing a permit since 2005, administration responsibilities were overlooked. The BLM’s responsibility for administration of Alaska Heliskiing helicopter skiing operations include: o Inspection of facilities and operation for compliance with the tour permit terms so that public health and safety are protected and satisfactory public service is provided. o Cooperation with Alaska Heliskiing personnel in avalanche safety with regard to the helicopter skiing program. o Recommendation of a close working relationship with the Haines Borough and BLM as desirable.

➢ Based on film footage, the owner of Alaska Heliskiing resisted giving GPS data requested by Haines Borough, due to multiple out of bounds use. Instead of holding Alaska Heliskiing accountable for their criminal trespassing, the Haines Borough exhibits support for Alaska Heliskiing by letting them continue with their operation.

There are currently 339 signatures ( March 3th – March 24th)

#339 George Katzarski Mar 24, 2013 Victoria, Canada
I, George Katzarski, am a close personal friend of the Dodov family   and have witnessed the pain and suffering the experienced and are still   experiencing due to the negligence, unprofessional attitude and poor judgment   of Alaska Helisking LLC. On March 13th, 2012 the parents of Nickolay Dodov   lives changed forever when Nicholay died as a result of an avoidable accident   caused by Alaska Helisking LLC. I appeal to the Department of Natural   Resources to deny the use of Haines    StateForest   land to Alaska Helisking LLC. This should have been done immediately after   the death of Nicholay and it is unthinkable that other lives may. E   endangered by containing to lease these lands for the purpose of profiting   from disrespecting the safety and welfare of the clients who entrust their   precious lives with Alaska Helisking LLC. It is unthinkable that the Dept. od   Natural Resources continue to do business with such a company. Pride   yourselves in knowing that disassociating yourselves with Alaska Helisking   LLC will undoubtedly save the lives of other innocents.
#338 Hristofor Chernev Mar 19, 2013 Sofia, Bulgaria
#337 Arla Yost Mar 18, 2013 Vallecito, CA
#336 Peter Mushatov Mar 17, 2013 Montreal, Canada
#335 Gregory Payne Mar 16, 2013 San Francisco, CA
#334 Elizabeth Stefanova Mar 16, 2013 sofia, Bulgaria
#333 Mike and Adeline Bagwell Mar 15, 2013 Modesto, CA
#332 Amy Fitzpatrick Mar 15, 2013 Seattle, WA
#331 Angel Antonov Mar 15, 2013 Bulgaria
#330 Plamena Antova Mar 15, 2013 Bulgaria
#245 Krassin Petrov Mar 8, 2013 Sofia, Bulgaria
Alaska Heliskiing’s operation is obviously a gamble with death   and has to stop ASAP !!! There should be severe consequences for the owner of   the company and the people who let him run his game !!!
#193 Charlene Vine Mar 7, 2013 Sacramento, CA
As a person who sustained a life-long injury from snow sports   and I can see both sides of the story. Yes these activities are dangerous and   can be life threatening but there are also ways to factor out a lot of risk.   When a company is making money from packaging these sports I believe they   have a duty to minimize the risk as much as possible. I don’t believe that   happened in this case.

#160 Ken Schultz Mar 6, 2013 Leucadia, CA
From Haines Borough documents, it appears that Alaska     Heliskiing LLC routinely broke or ignored many of the rules governing their     access to public land for commercial purposes. Of most concern is the     statement that the guide on this ill-fated expedition was using marijuana     just before or even during the outing. This is unacceptable behavior. It     surely contributed to the cause of the accident. Please revoke their Alaska land use     permit. Thank you.

#121 Samantha Mar 5, 2013 Oakwood, CA
We need safer snow sports. in memory of Nickolay Dodov.

#117 Nickola Milkovski Sr Mar 5, 2013 Redwood           City, CA
Prison time, not jail–THEY ALL BELONG TO PRISON!!!
#116 Patricia Smalling Mar 5, 2013 Angels Camp, CA
Common sense, nothing more

#113 Mario Rojas Mar 5, 2013 Avery, CA
Safety First
#106 Cate Wallenfels Mar 5, 2013 Novato, CA
There have to be regulations and they must be followed or innocent people die bringing pain to so many. It is obvious on so many levels Alaska Helisking was negligent. Honor this and prevent them from doing more harm to others. Do what is right.

#93 Paula Li Mar 5, 2013 Bear             Valley, CA
Haines heliskiing is not safe

#90 Paul Barnes Mar 5, 2013 Stockton, CA
Safe and sane/rescue procedures a must/training of all guides to a higher level.Risk is guide liability.

#85 Mike Wallenfels Mar 4, 2013 Novato, CA
I want to sign this petition

#84 Bryan Pressnall Mar 4, 2013 Cold                   Springs, CA
Although there is always an assumption of risk with heliskiing, the level of professionalism and proper safety procedures by Alaska Helisking was sub-standard. The agencies that issue permits seem to be putting the responsibility of monitoring the permittees in the hands of the customers.
#81 Emma-Louise van der Blij March 4,2013 Bray, Nr Maidenhead, United                   Kingdom
Why is it necessary to have to go through such incredible pain to get the slightest attention!! Worst…why has an investigation not yet been actioned by the                 Authorities?

#71 nada sibley Mar 4, 2013 bear valley, CA
I sign this with the knowledge that yesterday March 3, 2013 another accident that caused a death in the Haines State Forest

#66 Janet Tittiger Mar 4, 2013 Lafayette,                      CA
this accident should be  fully investigated!

#63 Barbara Mar 4, 2013 Litchfield Park, AZ
take action!

#51 Marilyn Davis Mar 4, 2013 Bear Valley, CA
changes for the future and accountability for the past is what I hope                    for.
#48 Cheryl Divine Mar 4, 2013 Columbia, CA
Prevent further deaths

#46 Bob Smalling Mar 4, 2013 altaville, CA
too many businesses just want to get the money and don’t care for the safety of their customers or their employees…

#35 Konstantin                             Kouumadjiev Mar 4, 2013 Germany
my sign to prevent killing other people!

#30 Thomas Costa Mar 3, 2013 Arnold, CA
I hope many more sign this petition and agree with its cause

#27 LaurenSchimke Mar3,2013 Bear Valley, CA
This company must loose the permit. Very unsafe guidelines for clients and  too many mistakes made. No more lives lost!

#24 Richard                                   Fehr Mar                                   3, 2013 Piedmont, CA
Nick Dodov’s death was one “accident” which would have not occurred if the state agencies and helisking operator involved had fulfilled their responsibilities.

#21 Nancy Page Mar 3, 2013 Dorrington, CA
Despite the dangers inherent in heliskiing, this accident could have and should have been prevented. Alaska Heliski should be held accountable.

#20 Jamie Briggs Mar3, 2013 Port                                         Angeles, WA
The permit issued to Alaska Heliskiing should be withdrawn until resolution of allegations and proven misconduct by Alaska Heliskiing. We believe our appeal to the DNR is the best way to stop Alaska Helilskiing from exposing further clients, and its own guides, to the grave risks demonstrated  by their actions leading to the death of client, Nickolay Dodov and guide, Rob Liberman in an avalanche in Haines State Forest on March 13, 2012.

#13 Mike Davis Mar 3, 2013 Bear                                         Valley, CA
Don’t go heliskiing with Alaska Heliskiing! Dont take your money to Haines Alaska either!

#12 Jill wegenstein Mar 3, 2013 Bear valley, CA
How could a license be renewed when proven misconduct has been determined?

#7 Thea Schoettgen Mar 3, 2013 Bear                                         Valley, CA
No more. Alaska Heliskiing has proven its a disreputable company. Do not give them a permit to operate on Alaska’s public lands. Save client & guide lives, no more loss of lives. Do not give Alaska Heliskiing your money or patronage.

#2 Lynn Renn Mar 3, 2013 Sebastopol, CA
I have been a professional in the ski industry for 20 years. Now retired, I have young friends who are still thrilled by the thought of heliskiing. I am appalled by the events leading up to, and after, the death of Nickolay. There must be time to bring this company to task, and as I see it, there will be plenty of time if this permit is denied. I call for regulation of heliskiing in Alaska and Haines State Forest Land.
#1 Alex and Natalia Dodov Mar 3, 2013