Get elevated with Park City Helitours
Guests walk right onto the runway of the tiny Heber Airport and onto a small wood pallet. The pallet is hooked to a small tractor, about the size of a driving lawnmower, and on top of the pallet is a white/navy/purple/pink Bell Jet Ranger helicopter with "Park City Helitours" painted on the side.
Dave Thompson, co-owner and lead pilot, must take off into the wind, "just like a plane," but is already 10 feet in the air when he does so. Then the group is off, cruising at 120 miles per hour and at elevations ranging from 800 to 7,500 feet, turning left and right, but with "no real sensation of height or speed."
After seeing deer, elk, moose, Robert Redford’s house, a couple of golf courses and plently of scenery, Thompson lands the chopper softly back on the wooden pallet, completing the ride.
Pam and Dave Thompson, Park City residents and owners of the sightseeing company, opened Park City Helitours seven months ago. Previously, the couple had been living in Texas, but wanted to try something new. They had a love for flying and a home in Park City, "so it was obvious," Pam said.
"We just wanted to do our own thing together," she said. "Dave had done helicopter tours in Orlando and he’s great at it. We started looking around at different places where there were a lot of tourists and a lot of money and where no one else was doing it."
Dave learned to fly as a hobby during his 16 years with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in Orlando because he "didn’t want to retire from the police force and become a security guard."
He moved from Orlando to Dallas where he met Pam, who was working as a nurse on emergency helicopters similar to LifeFlight.
"You go to wrecks and pick up people," Pam said. "It’s not for everybody, but if you like it it’s fun. It was something different every day."
The couple met, courted and married, both of them mid-career and cruising along. Then Pam got bored.
Although she loved working in the medical industry, she knew it had its problems. She watched doctors lie to patients and take advantage of people. Despite those experiences being the minority, she wanted to help clean up the practice; she wanted to stop "the bad guys." So she went back to school.
At 41, she enrolled in law school at Southern Methodist University, graduated and began working as a medical malpractice attorney.
"It was a challenge," she said. "I had done nursing for so long it wasn’t really hard anymore. This was something new. Most attorneys are really smart, so I got to be the dumb one all over again."
Meanwhile, Dave had his own schedule flying medical helicopters. The two barely saw each other. That’s when they discussed opening their own business.
They came to Park City and opened Helitours with Dave as lead pilot and Pam as president and CEO.
"It’s fun," Pam said. "It’s much more varied than what we first thought it would be. People have asked us to do everything from helping find a lost horse to just taking a scenic tour."
Even though the pair said they each love what they are doing, Pam missed the medical world and decided to become a professor. She is in her first year teaching at Brigham Young University.
Dave has also expanded what he originally thought his job would entail. The Thopmsons acquired a carrier certificate so they can fly farther, longer and with more passengers. It also means they have to answer to the Federal Aviation Administration, unlike many other sightseeing companies.
"If you don’t have a carrier certificate the pilots have no real regulations," Dave said. "A pilot could be out partying until 3 a.m. and then flying in the morning. Having a certificate, we have sleep regulations and are inspected regularly."
Because of the certificate, Dave can fly chartered flights, such as shuttles to and from Salt Lake International Airport. He is also trying to start a heli-snowmobiling service.
"People love to snowmobile, but they don’t want to drive all the way to Strawberry Reservoir," he said. "So far we’re getting a great response."
The tours, however, are still the most popular, with four options to choose from ranging in price from $100 to $30 per person.
"The helicopter is a lot of fun, has a lot of power," he said. "It travels over 120 miles per hour. It’s a blast. You’ll be hooked. We’ve had a good response since we’ve been here. We haven’t had a noise complaint, which is nice."
"It makes for a real good real estate tour, too," he continued. "You get to see all the new and old subdivisions from a different point of view. Some things, like Robert Redford’s house, you can only see from the air."
He said most of the tours stick to the backcountry rather than fly over Park City, "which just looks like a busy town." Wildlife can be seen on almost every tour, or, during hunting season, "a sea of little orange dots." Either way, Park City Helitours is taking the new Utah slogan, ‘Life Elevated,’ to a whole new level.
Park City Helitours can be reached online at http://www.parkcityhelitours.com or by phone at (435) 654-0755.
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The Park City police responded to a series of accidents involving drivers and wildlife, indicating at least one of the animals was killed during a collision.