Forums Splitboard Talk Forum Silverton Mountain heli-skiing expansion draws ire
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  • #782690
    797 Posts

    This is smack-dab in the middle of nice touring terrain. Someone should post a link to the BLM’s proposed action, which I can’t find online. Note that, even though the BLM lamely provided only a two-week comment period on the proposal, which closes on 17 July, they must consider comments received after 17 July (edit: or after 17 Aug — they’ve apparently extended it). Comments can be emailed here:

    Stories here.

    Silverton Mountain heli-skiing plan draws ire

    By Peter Marcus
    Herald Denver Bureau

    DENVER – Federal officials have extended the initial time to gather feedback from the public on a proposal by the owners of Silverton Mountain to diversify helicopter skiing terrain.

    The original date to gain feedback from the public was July 17, leaving just two weeks for what is known as a “scoping” period. Connie Clementson, field manager for the Bureau of Land Management’s Tres Rios Field Office, said Monday that the period has been extended to Aug. 17.

    Some Silverton-area residents and environmental interests expressed concerns to The Durango Herald on Friday that the public’s input was being limited. They also worried about limiting and diminishing the backcountry experience in the area outlined by the proposal. Some also raised fears over the environmental assessment.

    Meanwhile, San Juan County officials are working on scheduling a public hearing to discuss the proposal, which could come at the commissioners’ next meeting at 6:30 p.m. July 22, according to William Tookey, county administrator.

    The owners of Silverton Mountain – husband-and-wife Aaron and Jen Brill – made their proposal through Silverton Guides, the arm of Silverton Mountain that provides heli-skiing adventures. The request would diversify heli-terrain within the Alpine Triangle, a so-called “special recreation management area,” made up of more than 150,000 acres managed by the BLM.

    Silverton Mountain’s base – situated off County Road 110 – would be directly across from terrain under consideration. The new areas would include small patches to the south, west and north of the base area. The biggest swath would be southeast of the base area on the east side of County Road 2. It would run about six miles north-south and six miles east-west.

    Clementson is careful to note that the proposal is only a modification – not an expansion – of Silverton Guides’ existing helicopter permit.

    “No, we would not close terrain off,” Clementson said. “The areas currently authorized are also open to everyone – these are public lands open to the public.”

    She added that the current phase of the proposal is only a first step.

    “We’ll have several opportunities to get additional specific input as this is the initial scoping to get folks notified of the analysis process,” Clementson said.

    Once the scoping phase closes, officials continue through the environmental analysis, which would then be made public. That analysis would be site specific, including a 30-day comment period. While the Brills have requested the modification for the 2015-16 ski season, Clementson said the BLM does not have to make any changes in time for the season.

    The Brills have not returned calls left by The Durango Herald seeking comment since Friday.

    Silverton asks feds for diversified heli-skiing

    Neighbors worry about closing public lands

    By Peter Marcus
    Herald Denver Bureau

    DENVER – The owners of Silverton Mountain are asking federal officials for permission to diversify terrain for helicopter skiing on public land in time for the 2015-16 ski season.

    The Bureau of Land Management made the request public through a letter July 1. The public has until July 17 to respond to the request. Comments can be emailed to

    Some community members quickly expressed fears that the proposal would limit locals’ access to highly prized backcountry ski terrain in exchange for expensive heli-skiing that might attract tourists.

    “This is public land, but it’s just being given to (Aaron) Brill for his own private use,” Nicole Bellman, a property manager in the Silverton area, said of ski-area owner Aaron Brill, who owns the mountain with his wife, Jen Brill. “The land that he’s requesting is some of the best, secure, accessible lines in San Juan County.”

    The Brills did not return calls left by The Durango Herald seeking comment about the proposal.

    The request to the BLM was made on behalf of Silverton Guides, the arm of Silverton Mountain that provides heli-skiing adventures. Connie Clementson, field manager for the BLM’s Tres Rios Field Office, said there is no proposed increase in authorized use. The owners have simply proposed a change in terrain.

    “The BLM has received a request from Silverton Guides for a change in authorized terrain to provide more diversity in the skier experience and opportunity,” Clementson said. “We are looking forward to hearing from the community on this proposal-modification in the existing authorized use.”

    The request would diversify heli-terrain within the Alpine Triangle, a so-called “special recreation management area,” made up of more than 150,000 acres managed by the BLM.

    Silverton Mountain’s base – situated off County Road 110 – would be directly across from terrain under consideration. The new areas would include small patches to the south, west and north of the base area. The biggest swath would be southeast of the base area on the east side of County Road 2. It would run about six miles north-south and six miles east-west.

    The terrain is currently entirely above tree line, though the request would include terrain below tree line. The BLM said no tree-cutting would be required.

    “The purpose and need for the action is to provide an increased opportunity for a high-quality, diverse and challenging recreational experience,” the BLM notice says of the request.

    But the Brills may have to navigate a maze of concerned neighbors and environmentalists. It is not the first time they have had to wrestle with the community. When they launched plans for Silverton Mountain in the early 2000s, the Brills faced lawsuits.

    Skiers love the area, as it is one of the most extreme ski mountains in North America, with glorious soft powder. With only one chairlift, only advanced skiers use this high alpine environment. It is the highest ski area in North America, with a peak of 13,487 feet.

    Jimbo Buickerood, public lands coordinator for the San Juan Citizens Alliance, raised concerns with the BLM’s process.

    “The BLM’s outreach per the project is slow, shoddy and incomplete,” he said.

    Buickerood pointed out that the BLM’s notice only left two weeks for public comments.

    “This is what I would characterize as extremely poor public outreach and a ridiculously short scoping period,” Buickerood said.

    Bellman said attracting skiers to the area does not outweigh locals having access to public lands.

    “For what?” she asked. “He’s increasing tourism but totally defacing our mountains that we are living here for. At this point, it’s not about the tourism.”


    625 Posts

    Wow, letter sent. So sad to see that the Silverton area now has its own Wasatch Powderbird Guides and its name is Brill (Silverton Guides). Thanks for getting the post out!

    830 Posts

    Letter sent, hopefully you guys will I have my back one day.

    820 Posts

    Thanks @taylor for posting. I should of had it up. As the organizer of the Silverton Splitfest, this particular request from Silverton pisses me off to say the least. For Brill to say “there has never been conflict” is very misleading. The heli terrain they operate in today is a 10 mile snowmobile ride into, through multiple avalanche paths, and the terrain isn’t a good option generally anyways. I get why they are requesting the terrain, but to me its ridiculous.

    There was some confusion supposedly on Minnihaha, Prospect and Corkscrew, as those were not actually requested, but proposed by the BLM to satisfy what was requested, which is below treeline skiing.

    The terrain they requested I have splitboarded in quite a few times. Each of them is certainly avalanche terrain, with terrain traps as well. To me, I don’t see how they would ride it safely without bombing it, and I am unsure if they will be getting a bomb permit or not. But if they are (and probably if not), to me it means this terrain is going to be off limits to the public for the majority of the year.

    For reference, here are some of the runs this would remove:
    Turkey Chute – bye bye!

    Arrasta Gulch. Lots of avalanche activity normally in this drainage.

    Galena Mountain. This is when it is fat. Normally the bottom of this is a rock face. It is a large terrain trap. To me, this would need to be bombed to be skied.

    middle, same idea, large terrain traps at bottom.

    797 Posts

    Yeah, that’s my thinking too: To use the terrain, they’d need to bomb it. Bombing and the risk of track-out would deter the rest of us from using it (if not closing it entirely). And that’s to say nothing of bombing and flying helicopters all over federally threatened lynx habitat. (Sounds like ‘nam.) BLM and US Fish and Wildlife will need to analyze and authorize all of the associated activities, including bombing, in the context of permits and environmental reviews.

    I really wanted to see Silverton stick to its light touch, one-lift, no-runs ski area model. But that’s just been a gateway drug for more noisy, stinky, globe-warming industrialization of precious wild back country. What a bummer.


    34 Posts

    Bastards!!! Every backcountry user needs to email to oppose.

    93 Posts

    Thanks for the info, guys. Letter sent!

    Go that way really fast. If something gets in your way, turn.

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    31 Posts

    just saw this. Proposal “delayed” until further environmental review.

    797 Posts

    Silverton bums me out more and more.

    It’s bad enough to make this proposal in the first place, but it’s entirely another to try to sidestep review under federal environmental law.

    “Silverton owners Aaron and Jen Brill were trying to avoid the environmental review…”

    Apparently the Brills didn’t want the public to have any say in their plan to industrialize the public’s backcountry, which they see as their fiefdom. And they didn’t want any scrutiny of what impacts that plan might have on backcountry users or the environment.

    Aaron Bill is also on record in 2011 opposing Superfund designation for the Gold King mine site because of the “stigma” such a designation would bring — even though said designation could have provided resources to prevent this summer’s Animas River spill.


    625 Posts

    Sounds like he’s busy creating his own stigma (and marketing lesson) at the same time.

    On-mountain lodging and restaurant should be up next.

    820 Posts

    Yeah, everything about this was fishy. First, the news came something like 5 days before the public period ended. Then, I think the BLM was bombarded (thanks everyone) with emails once it was published by the durango herald. I assume there was a lot of backlash. I know all the guide companies opposed, and in general, everyone I know was opposed. We didn’t get full details from the BLM until we submitted a FOIA request. After what we saw on the spill, we wanted all details as possible. I found some details, which I posted on our splitfest page (

    So far, all we have is details of the special permit terms. It’s 11 pages, so tough to summarize in here (i’m also no legal expert). But really we wanted to know how many bombs and skiers they send up, and where. I believe they were required to report each bomb and person dropped. So it would be good to know how many people they send, and how much mitigation they do. This would help me understand the conflict it will create in these zones.

    In summary though, they would be able to do avalanche mitigation, drop skiers, after doing a visual fly by of the intended route. They also need to report I think weekly or monthly all bombs and skiers dropped. It should be public info (which would be cool), but we have yet to see anything along these lines.

    Brill has always been interesting. Talk to everyone who knows him and you don’t get very many positive reviews. It’s a bummer because that mountain is super rad, and there are a lot of people that work there that are really good people (Skylor, Mark, Scott in particular). I’ve had some of the most badass days of my life on that mountain, but its a bit frustrating the way the business is ran. But it is a business, and they do need to make money.

    I have heard rumblings of people feeling it will go through in winter 2016/17, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out. There are both positives and negatives if they allow this for backcountry skiers. I see more negatives, but also, if they do get it, we have the positive in terms of active avalanche control will probably be done from January to March, and theoretically persistent slabs are less possible. But that will only help if they published where all bombs are dropped and when.

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