Just say ‘no’ to heli-tourism
January 17, 2016
You have arrived at a quiet, pristine place in the mountains. You got there by hiking, skiing or biking. How do you feel when a sightseeing chopper roars in with a payload of camera-snapping tourists and breaks the spell?
If you feel like I do, the words are unprintable in a family newspaper. That's what could happen with Aspen Heli Charter, which promotes motorized airborne access to places most of us are happy to reach on our own power.
Aspen Heli is trying to establish itself as a luxury component to the Aspen experience. By resolutely saying "no," the community can refuse their service and preserve the integrity of our mountain experience.
The words on the Aspen Heli website violate the honored values of the mountaineer. Desecration is spoken in rhapsodic overtures for how easy it can be to invade any coveted place and how the ease makes it meaningless:
"Helicopter flights get you right into the action, flying low over oceans of wildflowers, or between mountain peaks or the walls of the Black Canyon, or hovering over herds of elk in a hidden meadow."
A bird's-eye view of the Maroon Bells becomes a set piece as the chopper takes you over the heads of those who hike and climb them. Wanna see elk? Have the chopper scare up a herd.
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"And if you need a closer view than even a helicopter can provide, we are happy to arrange remote landings. Aspen Heli Charter can get you and your party — and plenty of gear — into just about any part of the southern Rocky Mountains that a helicopter can land. A helicopter flight is often the fastest way to a mountain destination — sometimes, the only way. Without a doubt, it's the most luxurious, most beautiful way to travel."
Without a permit, the chopper cannot land on the White River National Forest. Wilderness prohibits them by law. While your favorite mountain lake may be spared a landing, there's no protection from those who levitate in luxury, despoiling the purity of mountain air and the sought-after values attached to that experience.
Heli-tourism is way out of line in Aspen, where carbon emissions are scorned and wilderness values are lauded. Similar issues surfaced in the Grand Canyon, where sighteeing choppers were banned. With heli-tourism, the silence is no longer sacred, thanks to fossil fools who pay to violate others' aesthetics for their own convenience and fun.
"From the picturesque hunting camp, to the beautifully decaying mining town, to the secret fishing spot three days' hike from the trailhead, the Rockies are full of great places that are nowhere near the beaten track. To get to them, you'll need some air support."
With "air support" overhead, your trail through redolent pines will be invaded. The murmur of the wind through a quaking aspen grove will be drowned out. The mood of the mountains as they bathe you with beauty and serenity will vanish in a roar. Goodbye to the inherent values of wilderness as a Valkyrie wop-wops overhead.
"The remoteness of Rocky Mountain destinations is part of their charm. … Getting to them, not so much. There's only one vehicle that gets you to the nearly inaccessible quickly, and it does it with the most amazing views of any means of transportation."
It's all about views through the windshield, a dividing barrier between you and the real world. The same results could be achieved with a virtual-reality headset and control glove, never having to leave the ground.
"Sometimes, time is a luxury you can't afford. We get you where you're going quickly."
This is the clincher. It says volumes about the target clientele — people in a hurry. Speed attempts to conquer time and space. Speed shrinks the natural world and diminishes it. Speed is the technological response to reaching destinations, only to miss the journey.
Heli-tourism is a commercial enterprise. Its investors hope to profit off public lands while denigrating the sacred nature experience of others. Only community pressure can stop the blight of aerial voyeurism and the sensory assault that comes with it.
Paul Andersen's column appears on Mondays when he's not flipping off a chopper up the Fryingpan. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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