A remote stretch of Alaska mountains across Cook Inlet from Anchorage has become the center of a court fight between a heli-skiing company and the Trump administration, reports the Anchorage Daily News.
The company, Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, is accusing federal land managers of jeopardizing clients’ safety by issuing a permit to a competitor without proper review.
At issue are the peaks, ridges and valleys of the Tordrillo and Neacola mountains, which have long doubled as playgrounds for some of Alaska’s most daring adventurers and which until recently, attracted little traffic, mostly experienced skiers and climbers who would fly the 90 or so miles from Anchorage in single-engine planes equipped with skis or floats.
But the mountains have become increasingly popular with Alaska’s growing heli-skiing industry, in which helicopter pilots drop customers at the top of untouched slopes, then pick them up at the bottom.
The lodge, owned by a group that includes Olympic gold medal-winning downhill skier Tommy Moe, says the arrival of new users has increased risks of avalanches and helicopter collisions.
The suit also alleges that the action by the federal Bureau of Land Management has undermined the company’s business. In its legal filings, it says the government has allowed more skiers to access a “finite resource” — fresh powder.
“My fear is that there will be a fourth, a fifth and a sixth permit and it’s just going to ruin it all,” said Mike Overcast, one of the lodge’s founders and a veteran of Alaska’s heli-skiing industry. “There’s no other place that this kind of growth would be allowed in the U.S.”
Overcast’s company sued the federal government in March with the help of a Colorado-based law firm that specializes in ski-related litigation. It asserted that the Bureau of Land Management, an agency of the Interior Department, violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.
The lawsuit, according to observers, underscores the value of the state’s few remaining pristine areas for heli-skiing, which in other places, such as Thompson Pass, outside Valdez, have become increasingly crowded.
Officials at the U.S. Department of Justice, which is defending the BLM, declined to comment on the lawsuit. In its written response in court, government attorneys accused Tordrillo Mountain Lodge of using federal environmental laws in an attempt to “bludgeon a competitor from the market.”