Jill Grahek and SKYTIME pilot Edward Roski fly over the Lakes Basin on Jan. 18 (before last week's snowstorms. Photo/Aleksandra Gajewski
“People ask why the Eastern Sierra is so awesome,” said Heidi Kanayan, a Mammoth Ski School assistant office manager and ski instructor. “Go on a helicopter tour and see for yourself.”
Thanks to SKYTIME, the Eastern Sierra’s newest helicopter tour company, locals and visitors can.
“It was amazing to see the Sierras this way,” Kanayan said. “The areal view of the typography gives you a different appreciation for the area.”
Kanayan has lived in Mammoth Lakes for over 10 years and before her tour with SKYTIME, had never flown over Mammoth Lakes.
“It’s a new gateway to appreciate the Sierra,” she said.
Edward Roski, one of the pilots for SKYTIME, was searching for a place to open a helicopter tour business.
Roski received his first helicopter flight lesson in Long Beach, 1987, and has been flying ever since.
Although a Los Angeles native, Roski grew up in June Lake. His family has owned a cabin there for 46 years and considers the Eastern Sierra a second home.
During his search for a location, Roski considered Los Angeles, Napa, Redding and Sonoma, among other places.
He did have his mind made up on two things before committing to any location: he wanted to stay on the west coast, and he wanted a location that can sustain business year round.
A friend one day asked him, “Why aren’t you doing it in Mammoth? And the greater Eastern Sierra?”
Without even taking his first trip, Roski knew it would be the perfect place to start a tour business.
Before jumping into starting the business though, he had to receive approval from his boss.
“The owner [of the company] has been flying forever,” Roski said. “He’s military trained and has flown around the world. When I took him out over the Eastern Sierra, his jaw dropped. If you can impress him, well … then I think we found a good place.”
With just that one tour, the owner approved and the Eastern Sierra welcomed SKYTIME.
The Eastern Sierra “is the most beautiful place I’ve flown over,” Roski said. “It blows away everywhere I’ve been.
“This is why Ansel Adams loved it here.”
SKYTIME uses a Robinson R66 model helicopter to chauffeur its customers through the Eastern Sierra sky.
The Robinson R66 is a five-seat turbine-powered helicopter designed and built by the Robinson Helicopter Company in Torrance, Calif.
“Its design is relatively new,” Roski said. “The one we use here is the seventh one off the line. It’s the 007 helicopter.”
According to Roski, the helicopter is designed to the latest and greatest FFA standards, and it’s extra powerful with a Rolls-Royce RR300 turboshaft. It’s also specifically designed to fly at high elevations.
“With less air, aircraft have less lift,” he said. “The molecules are more spread out and it creates issues for them.”
SKYTIME’s helicopter handles elevation with ease.
“It’s the Porsche of helicopters,” Roski said. “It’s not big or bulky, which helps with the navigation.”
The helicopter is also extremely quiet compared to its other aviation brothers and sisters.
On a recent tour, Roski landed the helicopter after spotting a bear.
“The bear didn’t even hear the helicopter,” he said. “We sat there for 20 minutes watching the bear.”
In addition to bears, Roski said he and his clients witness a variety of wildlife from eagles to deer.
“Every corner [of the Eastern Sierra] has something to offer,” Roski said. “What would take you days, we can get you there in minutes in a helicopter.”
SKYTIME offers a variety of tours and serves all of the Eastern Sierra. Those interested can choose to fly over Mammoth Lakes, June Lake, Lee Vining, Bridgeport, Bishop, Yosemite, and Bodie.
SKYTIME offers set tours for people to chose from, but the company can take its clients wherever they wish.
“Most people have an idea of where they want to go,” Roski said.
Jill Grahek, a massage therapist who’s lived in the Eastern Sierra for 12 years, flew over Mammoth Lakes, the Lakes Basin, and Crowley Lake for the first time with SKYTIME.
“Even after living here for over 12 years, there is still so much to explore,” Grahek said. “Within our 20 minutes in the air, we saw so much. It makes me want to go see other places. It’s addictive.”
“It allows everyone—young and old, able or not—to see our home,” Kanayan said. “Everyone can do it. That’s the best part. If you can afford to come to Mammoth, you can afford this.”