Utahns fight over flights

  A recent decision by a Utah county to permit backcountry helicopter skiing on a private ranch above Salt Lake City has mobilized opposition.

Heli-skiing opponents, including nearby residents and backcountry skiers, worry that the decision will open the door to more helicopter ski lifts along the Wasatch Front. The company awarded the permit is already talking about flights to another private skiing area while a different company that currently drops skiers on Forest Service land has just applied to renew its five-year permit.

Steve Lewis, co-founder of Heli-Free Wasatch, says his group is considering pushing for restrictions, or even an outright ban on heli-skiing: "We've now got the public screaming for natural quiet in special places like the Grand Canyon," he points out.

The companies are sure to fight back, says Forest Service ranger Mike Sieg. One helicopter operator told Sieg that if his agency tried to change things and make it harder for the operator to pursue a living, a "nuclear war" would start, he says.

In the meantime, backcountry users are trying to "track out" the area to discourage air tours. Says Lewis: "If a heli-skier sees other users have already made runs, he's going to ask himself, "Why did I pay $400 to take six or seven runs on a slope that's been carved up by a bunch of snowboarders?" "

" Chris Smith

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