Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing generates $6 – $7 million per year in payroll taxes, business taxes, fees and other revenues for government, according to Mike Wiegele.
However, very little of that money comes back to support the community of Blue River.
“The government must invest in rural areas continuously in order to see them grow,” the Blue River heli-ski operator said.His business employs about 240 people in winter (including those working for the helicopter contractor). That number drops to about 80 in summer.
“When we interview people for jobs, people also interview us,” he said. “If they have a family, the number one item on the agenda is not benefits but school. Then healthcare and recreation. Then housing and shopping.”
The various levels of government do little to make Blue River a more attractive place to live and work, he felt.
During the 1970s and 1980s the government made available low interest loans for businesses in rural areas.
“I paid every penny back, but it allowed us to build our business,” Wiegele said. “That financing helped a number of businesses, such as Sun Peaks, get into their next phase.”
The heli-ski operator said he often attends meetings with government officials but he is the only businessperson there.
“I only see bureaucrats there, federal, provincial and local,” he said. “Other businesspeople from the North Thompson Valley, such as the Wadleggers, they don’t bother to attend. They know nothing will come out of it. The bureaucrats need to change their thinking 180 degrees.”
No more snowmobile rescues
Although there has been some resolution over the past few years, snowmobiling continues to be a source of aggravation to Wiegele.
Most of the problem sledders come from the Prairies, he felt.
However, he also blamed a few local operators who attract the snowmobilers to the area but then do not do enough to make sure they obey the rules or to help them if they get in trouble.
“The people of B.C. pay for their recklessness,” he said. “I think this is wrong. Very wrong. The snowmobile operators should be responsible to look after their own affairs.”
In the past, crews from Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing often have gone to rescue snowmobilers who have gotten into trouble.
“I have not seen a commercial snowmobile operator at a rescue in 40 years,” Wiegele said.
When going to a rescue they always use two fleets of helicopters, he said, one to do the rescue and the second as backup in case something goes wrong.
“We have never been compensated,” he said, “and we refuse to do it this year.”
Wiegele pointed out that Alberta has some of the strictest snowmobile regulations in Canada, while B.C. has the laxest.
Recently there was an incident in which two snowmobiles were parked on a landing site in the Cariboo Mountains, forcing a helicopter to abort its landing. They moved off while the helicopter circled, allowing it to land. However, the snowmobilers rode away when approached by a heli-ski guide who wanted to talk with them.
Other complaints include removing or moving landing site stakes, deliberately riding on ski runs, and riding on the Blue River airstrip.
Wiegele noted that an understanding with the snowmobilers was discontinued in 2007. He asked that it be reinstated.