EDEN — A proposed heliport at Powder Mountain is drawing questions and concerns from some, worried variously that it will disturb the calm of the area and that it caters to too narrow of a demographic.
“It’s just a lot of disruption for the wildlife,” said Dan Harris, a retiree who farms a plot of land in the Eden area, where Powder Mountain is located.
Among other things, he worries that the proximity of helicopters to the Middle Fork Wildlife Management Area south of Powder Mountain will spook wildlife, counter to the mission of the wildlife zone. “It seems like anymore there’s not a lot of consideration given to the needs of wildlife,” he said.
Dennis Maher, an outdoor sports enthusiast from the area, echoed that, concerned helicopter traffic will scare moose and elk. He also cited potential risks posed by hauling helicopter fuel on the narrow roads of the area to the heliport site.
Dave Martin calls the notion of a heliport “way over the top,” suggesting with dismay that its appeal would be to a high-end market of visitors, not locals living in the Ogden Valley and Weber County areas. “It’s not something everybody can take advantage of,” he said.
Powder Mountain, through SMHG Village Development, has applied for a conditional use permit allowing it to operate a heliport on the southeastern portion of the main ski resort complex area. The facility, actually to be operated by a partner firm, Whisper Ridge, would house a helicopter to be used used to haul skiers, mountain bikers and anglers through much of the year to remote areas of the rugged zone that would otherwise be inaccessible.
Representatives from the two firms have said the proposed heliport would give adventure sports enthusiasts access to new terrain and unique experiences. And in an email Friday, a Whisper Ridge representative said potential impacts of the heliport have been front and center as planning has progressed.
“Rest assured, we do have the utmost respect for anyone’s concern of negative environmental or community impact that could result from such a development. We would like to be clear in stating that prior to any of our operations we proactively and carefully examine our private land with regard to environmental concerns,” said Pete Tapley, the Whisper Ridge creative director.
Proposed flight paths cross only Whisper Ridge and Powder Mountain land, “avoiding residential developments by a significant buffer,” he continued, while company officials are listening to public concerns brought to their attention. In its application, Powder Mountain said any “detrimental effects” of a heliport — noise, dust, vibration and more — could be “substantially mitigated” via implementation of special measures.
Powder Mountain spokesman J.P. Goulet also noted that helicopters wouldn’t fly near homes and said flights would be limited. The helicopter “will only be picking up riders once in the morning and dropping off once in the afternoon on Powder Mountain property. There will not be any back and forth happening around Powder Mountain resort,” he said.
The permit request, to the Weber County Planning Division, goes before the Ogden Valley Planning Commission for consideration at its meeting next Tuesday. The meeting starts at 5 p.m. and will be held at the Weber Center, 2380 Washington Blvd. in Ogden.
‘ENOUGH IS ENOUGH’
Whisper Ridge offered heli-mountain biking services on a trial basis earlier in the summer from Powder Mountain and said on its website that the response was “overwhelmingly positive.” The plans face continued tweaking, but the initiative moves forward.
“We would like to express our gratitude to the people and landscape of Utah — its extraordinary outdoor adventure and biking community, its diversity of terrain and the unique quality of Whisper Ridge’s cool and shady high-country. These all work in concert to create an amazing opportunity for heli-MTB right here in our home state,” says the Whisper Ridge website. Whisper Ridge leases some 70,000 acres of land adjacent to Powder Mountain in Cache County, where it offers backcountry skiing, heli-mountain biking and more.
Whatever the case, some in the area are not convinced.
On the surface, the idea of a heliport for sports enthusiasts sounds “very cool,” said Clay Christiansen of North Ogden. He runs a company that plans sporting events and he spends a lot of time in the Ogden Valley.
But he worries about helicopter noise and the potential change it would bring to the ambiance of the area. Noise “really tends to echo through the valley and disturb the peaceful atmosphere that is so desirable out there,” Christiansen said.
More generally, the heliport critics voiced concern about continued development in the area, home to three ski resorts and increasingly popular among recreational enthusiasts
Martin doesn’t like the idea of expanding human activities to the untouched corners of the area. The areas where the proposed helicopter would haul customers are remote, and the zone “ought to stay that way,” he said.
Likewise, Harris suggested that development in the Ogden Valley is reaching a tipping point. “I think a lot of people are starting to feel enough is enough,” he said.