Heli Skiing Plan to Change Terrain at Silverton Mountain

Locals divided over potential shift in backcountry access

Skiers traverse the ridge at Silverton Mountain last season. PHOTO: Courtesy of Silverton Mountain Facebook
Skiers traverse the ridge at Silverton Mountain last season. PHOTO: Courtesy of Silverton Mountain Facebook

San Juan County Commissioners voted 2-1 Wednesday to support Silverton Mountain’s proposal to diversify heli skiing terrain. Aaron and Jen Brill, who opened the resort in 2002, have requested a change in their helicopter-access permit to swap northern terrain with high avalanche risk in exchange for adjacent areas with less risk. The proposal will not increase heli skiing on the mountain, but rather relocate it. The owners also stated their need to exchange terrain to compete with decreasing snowfall in the area they currently operate in.

The town’s 630 residents are divided on the issue; some viewing the modification as a chance to boost tourism, while others say the change would disrupt pristine backcountry and limit where locals can ski.

Silverton Mountain is one of North America’s highest ski areas, located at 13,487 feet, with an average total snowfall of over 400 inches. The mountain’s “all thrills, no frills” vibe attracts skiers willing to hike or skin to lines beyond the resort’s one double chairlift.

The Brills have requested the modification be made in time for the 2015/2016 ski season. At the request of the county commissioners, the Bureau of Land Management is currently assessing the proposal but is not required to meet that deadline.