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Honing the Arctic Edge.

Canadian Dave Loeks has a jump on other ecotour operators. He's been in business a decade.

The Far North isn't one of the world's easiest spots to start a business, especially when the livelihood depends on the land. But for those who like a challenge, the region certainly fits the bill.

In 1982, Dave Loeks launched Arctic Edge Ltd., an adventure travel business based in the Canadian Yukon city of Whitehorse, utilizing years of experience as a guide and skier, as well as business know-how. The enterprise he cultivated offers tours that blend the area's local wildlife, natural resources and cultures into an adventure lasting usually between 10 and 21 days.

Loeks, who earned a masters of business administration and a graduate degree in forestry science from Yale University, guided throughout his schooling and career. He continues to work as a consultant in natural resource management for the Yukon Territory and for private clients. Conserving the environment comes as second nature for Loeks, who is amused that rival wilderness tour operators recently have learned the advantages of marketing "ecotours".

Arctic Edge offers canoe trips on the Snake, Upper Liard and South Macmillan rivers in the Yukon and on the Keele and Mountain rivers in the Northwest Territories. The most popular treks are the 6- to 11-day rafting expeditions on the Firth River in the North Yukon National Park and the Tatshenshini and Alsek rivers in the Yukon and Alaska.

Energetic backpackers can select either a trek through the Donjek Valley or the Duke River Pass in the Yukon's Kluane National Park. And winter fare includes ski-hut treks through the St. Elias Icefields or dog sledding in the Yukon. Prices for trips range from less than $1,000 (U.S. funds) to more than $2,500.

Says Loeks, "We offer an elite itinerary. There's nothing second rate in there, unlike so many adventure wilderness tour companies dominating the field. To me, some of the other operators, who are based in California or Ontario and import their own guides, are like carpetbaggers, in essence. We're northern-based and employ guides who live in and know the area."

Arctic Edge has a stable group of guides, with plenty of knowledge of the Yukon, Alaska and the Northwest Territories. As many as nine employees work during the double-season year. The summer season, from June to mid-September, revolves around rafting, hiking and canoeing; in the winter season, from February to mid-April, activities include ski trips and wilderness treks by dog sled.

As in any small town, reputations -- good or bad -- travel fast. Loeks says he's built his firm's good name on his own authority in the field and the integrity of the product he offers.

Ideally, full bookings on all the tours for the 1992 season could bring in a projected $450,000, says Loeks. Air-charter expenses and trip overhead pare off roughly 45 percent of the gross, he notes. Another 20 percent goes for office overhead.

"One of the biggest expenses we have working in the Yukon is air charter, because we have to fly customers into tour areas. There are no options, since there are no major road systems available," says Loeks. Another necessary cost is marketing.

Customers are a mix of young and old from the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Women account for 40 percent of the rosters, and 60 percent of Arctic Edge's customers travel alone. The rate of repeat customers is a barometer of the quality of the tours and the company: about 35 percent of business. There's one client who tops the repeat customer list with five expeditions, reports guide Peter Neilson.

In addition to running Arctic Edge, Loeks has teamed up with Yukon resident Bill Klassen as partners in an international adventure travel company called TranSiberian Tours. The Soviet Academy of Sciences has joined with the Canadian wilderness travel team to offer treks focusing on biology, geology and cultures of Eastern Siberia.

One of the pilot trips last season was a two-week excursion on Siberia's Lake Baikal aboard a 100-foot vessel. Soviet scientists accompanied the group to provide history and scientific interpretation. Another pilot trip was a 21-day overland trek from Magadan to Urkutsk, a distance equivalent to an Anchorage-to-San Francisco journey, via van, jeep and riverboat.

Other tours in the offing include whitewater rafting amid the Altai Mountains or visiting the Kolyma gold fields with Russian geologists. The tours have been put on hold this season because of national unrest in the former Soviet Union.

If there's one aspect of being an entrepreneur that appeals to Loeks the most, it's the freedom. Loeks, who skis to work in the snowy months, says, "I like my boss. And I enjoy the creativity involved, of trying to make it all work. Having your own company is like taking apart an elaborate wind-up machine and looking firsthand at all the component pieces and how they function. It's a challenge."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:adventure and travel business
Author:Brynko, B.L.
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Mar 1, 1992
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