HATCHER PASS — Hatcher Pass Mountain Guides’ permit to operate two snowcats and a helicopter on the Willow side of Hatcher Pass was approved by the Department of Natural Resources in October.
After the public comment period for HPMG’s permit was extended, DNR approved the permit to allow HPMG to introduce Heli-skiing operations to Hatcher Pass. While Hatcher Pass famously had a rope-tow in the 20th century and snowcats had operated in the mountains of Hatcher Pass in the past, Heli-skiing was introduced in Alaska in the late 1990’s and has exploded in popularity among the world’s best alpine athletes, allowing skiers and snowboarders to reach terrain otherwise unavailable. The permit allows HPMG to begin operations on December 1.
“Hopefully mother nature cooperates,” Adam Cuthreill said.
Cuthreill, and Bryce and Farley Dean make up the trio that will run HPMG once the snow collects in Hatcher Pass. Cuthreill said that the community should be given time to offer their opinion, and that he and the Deans had been patient in waiting for the response from DNR. Those opposed to the permit said that HPMG may cause excess noise and possibly endanger other backcountry enthusiasts in the area. However, HPMG’s permit was issued for the Willow side of Hatcher Pass in an area already opened to motorized vehicles. Once enough snow collects, each Dean brother will drive one of the two snowcats for skiers and snowboarders to easily access some of the most challenging mountain terrain in the world. While other heli-skiing operations exist in Cordova, Valdez, and the Chugach Mountains, HPMG will be offering ‘heli bumps’ to those interested, flying in a Robinson r-44 helicopter to the top of mountains before sliding down on either one or two planks.
“We just want to get folks out and skiing and enjoying something that we all love,” Cuthreill said. “We’re very very fortunate to be able to get people out enjoying the mountains.”
The period for public comment on HPMG’s permit through DNR was extended through May 2 and awarded in late October. The HPMG operation is primarily confined to the two snowcats that will drive skiers and snowboarders to lower areas of terrain on the Willow side of Hatcher Pass. While snow is the main obstacle, Cuthreill said that he and the Dean’s will continue to meet with agencies in preparation for beginning operations in December.
“We’re going to have another meeting with all of the governing agencies, DNR, State Parks and just all have another sit down,” Cuthreill said. “Working with the DNR, even though it’s taken a long time, it’s been very good.”
An experienced former professional snowboarder himself, Cuthreill will be one of the guides taking backcountry enthusiasts to the best early season snow Alaska has to offer. Rather than focusing on the possibility for monetizing the desires of thrill-seeking skiers and snowboarders, Cuthreill is excited to share his love of the mountains with others.
“We’re super excited,” Cuthreill said. “This has been a dream for me since I was 15 years old to get paid to snowboard in the winter and fish in the summer.”