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Heli-ski resort for the super rich pushes back amid public scrutiny

Massive $15M northwest B.C. property sits on ranching land that owners are reviving
Northern Escape Heli Skiing offers an exclusive package to super rich clients who spend the day skiing and are lodged at the secluded Skeena River Ranch. (Submitted photo)

Northern Escape Heli Skiing is pushing back against opposition to a new luxury heli-skiing package being offered at the Skeena River Ranch in Old Remo, just southwest of Terrace.

The massive property, valued at almost $15-million, looks like it blew out of the popular Netflix series Yellowstone, and it’s listed for sale.

The house sits on ranching land that the American family who own it are reviving, having brought in a young couple to do the work of getting hay ready this coming season, with plans to bring back cattle.

The ranch house was first built as a personal residence and needs to be rezoned to a Rural Resort Zone (RC1) to be rented out to Northern Escape. A regional district hearing is being held Feb. 1 to consider the application. Residents organizing against it are planning to attend and voice their dissent.

The house and surrounding property are also located within the Agricultural Land Reserve and will require the land reserve’s commission approval as well.

But contrary to what Northern Escape president and CEO John Forrest calls “fear mongering” about the impact of housing heli-ski clients, the deal will help keep the ranch running.

The owners approached Forrest looking for a way to make the ranch profitable in the winter months. The home offers the combination of luxury and wilderness appealing to Forrest’s elite clients.

The heli-ski package being offered starts at $79,999 for four days and costs a whopping $199,999 over 10 days for five people. Forrest says the exclusivity also means it will have “zero impact” on the ranch.

“They have 330 acres of land there surrounded by Crown land, it is a working ranch and a working farm. And they’re only looking to rezone the footprint which is directly underneath the house.

“Ranches and farms are pretty hard businesses to maintain and so one of the hopes is that, through leasing the building to us, the monies we’ll pay them for that lease will be able to help sustain the farm and the ranch.”

Some area residents have complained that rezoning the former Kozier Farm property is not aligned with the stated local food security goals of the City of Terrace and the Kitimat-Stikine regional district.

Charles Claus, a local market gardener and orchardist, said in a letter to the editor of The Terrace Standard the request is “in effect an attempt to redefine the use of this land from farm land… a move that makes the land much more valuable to the owners and supersedes its value as farmland that grows food for the northwest.”

“A proposal of this nature also threatens existing farms in Old Remo as it redefines the agricultural ambience of the Old Remo community and allows for helicopters to come and go harassing livestock on an ongoing basis,” wrote Claus.

While the request is now limited to heli-skiing, Claus and others argue a zoning change would in effect allow heli-tourism year round.

While Forrest agrees that a high-end resort for the super rich is an accurate description of the business, he said the rest of the arguments aren’t.

“That’s just simply untrue. If anything it will benefit the ranch and the land by helping making it more sustainable. No land is being taken out of the ALR. There’s no change in use of the land and rezoning is only for the footprint under the house.

“We are targeting super-rich people, that’s who will purchase this package. It’s very exclusive — one of the highest-end in the industry — we attract high-end people.”

The farm is on private property, surrounded by Crown land with no nearby neighbours to bother. But it is part of the ALR, meaning approval is needed from the regional district and agricultural reserve authorities.

Northern Escape only plans to use the property in the winter months and helicopters will fly in and out using routes already approved for air traffic. The Terrace area is already a high helicopter traffic region.

“There is zero impact of the helicopters coming in and out to anyone. We’re talking one flight out at 9 a.m. and one flight back somewhere around 5 p.m. It’s very minimal with only five guests there,” said Forrest.

Forrest stressed the importance of tourism to the local economy as a constant source of revenue as compared to “boom and bust” industries like logging and mining, adding that their operation is certified carbon-neutral.

“Tourism is a moderator for all those booms and busts and it’s also the government’s go-to to help diversify communities like this. Tourism is not an industrial base, it’s not a resource-based business,” he said.

“We don’t use resources, we bring people to the natural resources that we have and we don’t abuse them.”

READ MORE: High end heli-ski resort for the super rich threatens local farms


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