As of this past week, the proprietors of Silverton Mountain are seeking approval from the Bureau of Land Management in order to “diversify” heli-skiing operations for the upcoming winter season. The permitting exchange includes modifying current permits, allowing Silverton Mountain Guides to operate their helicopters in terrain that is less wind affected and avalanche prone than what they currently offer. However, many locals fear the change in heli-skiing operations will mean limited use of public lands that belong to residents and visitors alike—Not just the jet-set, heli-skiing crowd.
Photo Courtesy of silvertonmountain.com
Still, the owners of Silverton Mountain, Aaron and Jen Brill believe the change in terrain will ultimately benefit the area, providing their heli-skiing clientele with a better overall experience. We recently spoke with Aaron Brill who explained their concern as owners; “the problem with the existing Heli-ski terrain is that it’s almost 100% high alpine terrain,” adding “the further you head south from Engineer Pass the less the wind affects the snowpack, which is why we have asked for some safer terrain.” Yet many locals feel as though this is an unnecessary move that would bring helicopter traffic closer to town, creating noise pollution, as well as conflict with human-powered backcountry travel. However, Brill claims, “We have never had a heli user conflict or noise complaint filed. The reason being, we try to be courteous and we avoid regions commonly used by backcountry skiers and if we see BC skiers about to drop into a run we go ski somewhere else.”
As far as the public is concerned, the forum for public comment was recently extended from July 17 to August 17 and so far the comments have varied. Currently, the proposed terrain is mostly above tree line opposite of the current base area and BLM officials have stated that no clearing of any kind would be necessary to accommodate the Heli operation. However, skeptics remain wary of the intrinsic effects related to such a change. San Juan Citizens Alliance’s public lands coordinator, Jimbo Buickerood recently stated in an interview with Unofficial Networks, “We would like to see first of all that the stipulations required in the original environmental assessment are being addressed.”
Overall, the general consensus amongst locals has been that the proposition came in hot and the scope of time is too short for a well thought out agreement to be reached by the 2015/2016 ski season. That said, the BLM has extended the public comment period and according to the Field Manager of the Tres Rios office, Connie Clementson, “We are looking forward to hearing from the community on this proposal modification.” She also added “the proponent has requested it by 2015 ski season… but that doesn’t mean that is the decision.”