The Bureau of Land Management will meet in Silverton on Tuesday over a hotly contested request from the owners of Silverton Mountain to swap backcountry terrain for its heli-skiing operation.
In July, the BLM made public the request from Silverton Guides, the arm of Silverton Mountain that provides helicopter skiing. It immediately drew opposition from community members who felt the exchange would compromise prime backcountry areas solely for attracting 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 at that time. Brill owns the ski operation with his wife, Jen Brill.
“The land that he’s requesting is some of the best, secure, accessible lines in San Juan County.”
Silverton Mountain is off County Road 110, about six miles north of the town of Silverton. The ski area offers some of the most extreme terrain in North America, with only one lift that brings adventurists to remote areas that require additional hiking.
Six years after the ski area opened in 2002, the Brills purchased Helitrax, and heli-skiing became a major source of revenue for the small operation. The proposed swap would essentially open a larger area for that use.
The areas in question encompass Hancock, Maggie, Minnie and Prospect gulches; Arrastra, Cunningham and Minnehaha creeks; as well as three other sites along County Road 110, north of Silverton. The Brills currently have a special-use permit with the BLM, and wish to swap its northern terrain for adjacent areas.
The Durango Herald reported that at a July meeting in Silverton, Brill said the request not only removes avalanche danger but also adds terrain in the face of lighter snow years.
“Guests go home and ask for a refund,” Brill said at that time. “They have a bad time, and they go home unhappy and don’t end up returning to ski. It wouldn’t be fair when there’s perfectly good adjacent terrain.”
San Juan County Commissioner Pete McKay wrote in an email there will be no formal decision at the 10 a.m. meeting at Silverton Town Hall.
“This is not a chance to pack the room with the greatest amount of people for/against or shout the loudest but just the opposite,” he wrote. “It is opportunity to have a coffee (with) the Public Lands, Silverton Mt. and anyone wanting to participate in calm productive dialog.”