Aerial filming pushes council to consider a permit system

Helicopter filming on Elk Ave. part of TGR ski film

By Aimee Eaton

An incident involving a helicopter hovering over Elk Ave. for about 30 minutes on Thursday, March 15 has prompted the Crested Butte Town Council to explore implementing a special permit system for commercial entities wishing to film or take pictures in town.

The disturbance happened at about 7:30 a.m. last Thursday— during the middle of Texas spring break—when film production company Teton Gravity Research was shooting a segment of its upcoming ski movie, in which Crested Butte plays a role. Still photos captured during the shoot showcased a darkly clad skier riding a dark horse down Elk Ave. In the days before the helicopter shoot, TGR had been filming at Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR), where among other things, they filmed a skier using the cables on the Twister lift for a rail slide.

According to Crested Butte/Gunnison Tourism Association executive director John Norton, TGR often collaborates with CBMR for its films.

“TGR is major mountain media company based out of Jackson,” said Norton. “They work in three primary locations, Jackson, Switzerland, and Crested Butte. The movie they were filming will open in 100 theaters next year, and have 100,000 viewers.

“Recently you were here asking how are we going to fix winter,” Norton continued during a March 19 Town Council meeting where the helicopter situation was called into question. “We can’t fix winter on our own. The TGR movie will go some distance toward helping the economy and the mountain.”

Norton said TGR had contacted the TA and CBMR about filming this winter, but as winter progressed, the production company was told not to come due to poor snow conditions. TGR persisted, saying they thought they could make it work.

“We said okay, but asked them to avoid the second week of March due to Texas spring break. We wanted the town and the peak to be featured,” said Norton. “Due to athlete schedules and other logistics, they ended up coming last week.”

Norton added that he thought there would be a premier of the movie in town in the fall.

Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt said that on the afternoon of Tuesday March 14, town staff was made aware of TGR’s request to film over Crested Butte. There was a back and forth conversation that involved chief marshal Mike Reily. On Wednesday morning, Schmidt said he and town manager Dara MacDonald discussed the situation of the helicopter hovering over town the next morning.

“I will take responsibility for saying okay, go ahead with that,” said Schmidt, noting that a town e-alert was sent out Wednesday explaining what the helicopter would be doing. “We have this love-hate relationship in town with tourism and tourists and sometimes it is difficult to make these decisions. If anyone wants to beat on anybody they can beat on me.”

Schmidt added that it was unfortunate that public comment and council review hadn’t been given to the request, “but it was one of those things where there wasn’t enough time,” and he apologized to “anyone who was put out in any way.”

Councilmember Jackson Petito said he wasn’t disturbed by helicopters—he likes them, and his kids like them—but the lack of process disturbed him.

“I have a problem with someone’s lack of planning becoming our emergency,” he told the council. “I don’t like the idea of shortcutting the process and skipping public comment and other important discussion. Next time this happens, if it’s a now or never decision that has to be made, I hope it’s never.”

Councilperson Paul Merck agreed with Petito but went one step further, saying that Schmidt did not have the authority to make the decision to allow the helicopter without discussing it with the council and the public.

“It was a mistake,” he said, directing his comments at Schmidt. “This isn’t something you had the authority to okay. You can’t take responsibility for it but you can say that you knew about it. There were quite a few people in the community not very happy.”

Susan Kerns lives on Gothic Road in town and said the helicopter was disturbing and too much.

“That was a brutal day,” she said. “I was shocked to have helicopters hovering over. Why couldn’t a drone have been used? That would have been so much less obtrusive. Haven’t we learned anything from Whatever and the need for process and public involvement? When is enough, enough?”

Town staff and legal counsel then suggested the town consider implementing some type of permit system that photography and videography businesses would need to participate in prior to shooting in and around town. According to staff, such a system is common in scenic locations, such as Crested Butte. The council requested staff gather more information and additional discussion at a future meeting.

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