Home community Heli-skiing guides keep eye on Morgan County’s future

Heli-skiing guides keep eye on Morgan County’s future

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Have you ever wondered what it would be like to ski down the face of Francis Peak, one of the highest peaks of the Wasatch Range perched atop the border of Morgan and Davis counties? Mike Olson, a senior guide with Powderbird, knows. And the peak, at an elevation of 9,560 feet, he says, is famous for its windy conditions. For the truly adventurous, Olson serves as a heli-skiing guide on Francis Peak. Heli-skiing is off-trail, downhill skiing in areas accessed by helicopter instead of ski lift. Olson, a ski and mountain guide for 33 years, said he has the only Forest Service permit that allows a helicopter to temporarily land on Forest Service property on the peak. But he doesn’t get many requests to ski the area, which is far north of his regular stomping grounds of Snowbird and The Canyons, he told the Morgan County Council at their Nov. 18 meeting. But with Snowbasin’s plans for expansion, Olson said his company is keeping an eye on Morgan County. Over time this could become part of our business, Olson said. Not huge, but a part. Francis Peak was named in honor of Esther Francis, a pioneer woman who helped colonize the county and served as a practical nurse and midwife. In 1883, her husband, Samuel, purchased the 80 acres that became known as Como Springs Resort. Olson and fellow employee Kevin O’Rourke were on hand at the recent Morgan County Council meeting to participate in discussion of their use regulation ordinance, which governs use of the land. As the county planning director noted, heliskiing is more of an activity that touches the land, rather than a land use that requires a permanent structure. We have no permanent structures. Our helicopter is there for 30 seconds, a short load and unload process, Olson said. We don’t want to break any county ordinances, trespass, or do something no one knows about. We are just trying to be part of the discussion. County Councilmember Austin Turner noted that in a county with the highest percentage of private property holders, Morgan County could benefit from encouraging recreational use of the little public lands it has. There are a lot of amazing mountains around here, Turner said. And people like Olson are happy to guide adventurers through what he calls the state’s backcountry playground. In four decades, his company has discovered hundreds of great powder lines, wide open bowls and glades, and steep, playful couloirs. For more information, visit their website at www.powderbird.com.

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