Brills & BLM thrash local San Juan backcountry users … again


The Brills

Denver Post

The Bureau of Land Management has approved an expansion of helicopter skiing terrain for Silverton Mountain.

Silverton Guides’ proposal to swap 5,556 acres of permitted heliskiing terrain for 16,252 acres of new terrain was approved by the BLM Wednesday after nearly two years of environmental review. The deal gives the operation more than 25,000 acres of helicopter accessible ski terrain in the San Juans in southwest Colorado.

Silverton Mountain and Silverton Guides co-owner Aaron Brill proposed the swap to meet growing demand for heliskiing with below-treeline terrain that reduced avalanche hazard by offering less-steep, more wind-protected runs.

“With few economic opportunities in Silverton, especially in the winter, this is approval is really important to the Silverton economy,” Brill said. “Lots of confusion existed regarding our proposal, and after listening to public input, the final product is one that is greatly reduced in scope and size. Skiing is rapidly being taken over by the mega ski corporations of Vail and KSL, which have become the Walmarts of skiing, which makes it harder for the independent ski areas to survive and we are thankful for the BLM approval.”

The proposal generated angst among backcountry users who feared the swap would push them out of easily accessible ski and snowmobile terrain. The BLM received more than 370 comments — most of them opposing the swap and arguing the helicopter skiing and explosive avalanche mitigation would disrupt recreation in the regions.

The BLM’s 59-page Environmental Assessment — studying what is the agency’s only helicopter skiing permit in the Lower 48 states — grants a five-year permit, but caps the number of annual user days at 600. It also establishes flight corridors and no-fly zones around the town of Silverton and confines landing zones to certain areas.

“Heliskiing is a very popular activity in the area that creates a significant boost to the winter economy of Silverton. This decision lets Silverton Guides fully utilize their allocated user days while having a minimal effect on other backcountry users,” BLM Gunnison field manager Elijah Waters said in a written statement. “It’s a win-win for everyone involved.”

Not really, said Jimbo Buickerood with the San Juan Citizens Alliance. The group opposed the expansion plan and filed a Freedom of Information Act request for details of each comment submitted and found that more than three-quarters opposed the plan, Buickerood said.

The backlash, Buickerood said, “definitely surprised” him.

“This is not about expanding skiing into backcountry areas. This is putting helicopter skiing operations in the frontcountry on top of users of the only two county roads in the area,” Buickerood said. “There is some extremely strong opposition to this. Backcountry skiers are just a little part of this. There’s the snowmobile community, ice climbers, people walking their dogs and people on skinny skis going for a tour. The BLM is completely negating very strong opposition to this expansion.”

Brill, along with his wife Jen, opened Silverton Mountain in 2002, offering a single lift to steep terrain that appealed to expert skiers. Six years later, the couple acquired an unused permit for helicopter skiing near their ski area from Helitrax near Telluride. Soon the Brills expanded their heliskiing operations into Alaska, where Silverton Guides now has permits for on more than 15 million acres across the state.

In 2015, Brill approached the BLM with a problem. During periods of high avalanche hazard, he could not offer heliskiing clients safer terrain below treeline. Winds blasting the higher terrain made avalanche mitigation challenging, increasing the risk for his guides and clients.

He proposed swapping five areas of skiable terrain for several areas with lower-hazard terrain. Brill noted that his ski area is the largest employer in San Juan County and his helicopter assists the Colorado Department of Transportation in rockslide projects on Colorado 550 and often assists local search teams on rescue missions.

The BLM, in its Final Environmental Assessment report issued Wednesday, noted that helicopter skiing “is an essential part of the business for Silverton Mountain … in terms of revenue it generates and the competitive advantage it creates when compared to other ski resorts in Colorado.”

The BLM said approving the proposal “would contribute a positive economic benefit to the economy and residents of the town of Silverton and San Juan County.”


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A controversial expansion of helicopter skiing terrain near Silverton was approved Wednesday by the Bureau of Land Management.

The BLM announced in its Final Environmental Assessment that it approved Silverton Guides’ request to swap 5,556 acres for 16,250 acres of BLM land in other areas of the San Juan Mountains around Silverton.

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Most who comment oppose Silverton Guides’ heli-ski land swap

Silverton Guides, an arm of Silverton Mountain, which is owned by Aaron and Jen Brill, now boasts more than 25,000 acres of helicopter ski terrain in the high country around Silverton.

The Brills purchased Silverton Mountain in 2002, and started to offer heli-skiing about six years later after the company acquired Telluride-based Helitrax’s permit for the activity in certain areas of the San Juan Mountains.

The company has since expanded service to Alaska.

In 2015, the Brills asked for the land swap, arguing that for safety reasons, they wanted to exchange high elevation, avalanche prone terrain for lower elevation areas with less risk of avalanche.

The Brills also noted that Silverton Mountain is one of San Juan County’s largest employers in the winter months, with a staff of about 45 people. The expansion, the Brills said previously, would increase that benefit to the community.

On Wednesday, Aaron Brill wrote in an emailed response that “with few economic opportunities in Silverton especially in the winter, this is approval is really important to the Silverton economy.”

“Lots of confusion existed regarding our proposal, and after listening to public input the final product is one that is greatly reduced in scope and size,” Brill wrote.

“Skiing is rapidly being taken over by the mega ski corporations of Vail and KSL which have become the Wal-Mart’s of skiing, which makes it harder for the independent ski areas to survive and we are thankful for the BLM approval.”

Wednesday’s announcement ends nearly three years of contentious debate surrounding the land swap, with critics arguing the exchange would compromise prime backcountry ski areas and pose an added risk of avalanche danger.

A public comment period revealed that nearly 85 percent of about 370 people who commented opposed the land exchange. The San Juan Citizens Alliance filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the public comments, forcing the BLM, which had refused to release them, to make them openly available.

Jimbo Buickerood, with the alliance, said the BLM’s approval “represents their continued disinterest in seriously considering the comments submitted by the public.”

“The vigorous opposition ranged from the Colorado Snowmobile Association to Silverton residents just wanting a quiet and safe place to walk their dog,” he said. “Most of us in Southwest Colorado feel that the priority use of our lands is for the public at large rather than for elite and private use. Obviously the BLM is clueless to that reality.”

The BLM, in its Final Environmental Assessment, attached regulations that include restricted flight corridors, no fly-zones near the town of Silverton and limits the annual user days at 600.

“Heli-skiing is a very popular activity in the area that creates a significant boost to the winter economy of Silverton,” Gunnison Field Manager Elijah Waters said in a prepared statement.

“This decision lets Silverton Mountain Guides fully utilize their allocated user days while having a minimal effect on other backcountry users. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.”

The BLM’s permit is for five years. The agency requires Silverton Guides to exercise standard operating procedures, including a thorough visual reconnaissance to assure the absence of hikers, backcountry skiers or snowmobilers, prior to any explosive use for avalanche mitigation.

Grouse Gulch, Cinnamon, Houghton, Poughkeepsie and Ross basins were removed from Silverton Guides’ recreation permit, and Illinois/Hancock, Southeast, Round and Minnie/Maggie gulches were added in the trade.

Scott Mercier, The Cyclist Who Refused To Dope, Now Champions Clean Racing ~ “A nice interview with friend and former U.S. Olympic team and pro rider.”


Scott Mercier before he quit professional racing.



~~~  LISTEN  ~~~

Scott Mercier made a choice 20 years ago: He refused to take performance-enhancing drugs. That decision ended his professional biking career and his slot on the U.S. Postal team.

That same team went on, with Lance Armstrong in the lead, to dominate seven Tours de France. Mercier went on to a long spell of anonymity. He become a financial advisor in Grand Junction.

While Mercier was working, raising a family and, at times, second-guessing his decision to turn down the drugs that were taking other professional racers to the heights of that sport, the world of professional road racing was flipped.

The U.S. Postal cycling team became enmeshed in a widespread doping scandal. Armstrong was revealed as the most egregious cheater in the history of professional cycling and stripped of his seven Tour de France wins. And, suddenly, Mercier’s name began popping up as the professional racer who took a principled stand and refused to dope.

Mercie has used that new spotlight to champion dope-free cycling. He has become a strong supporter of collegiate cycling and will deliver a keynote address — about essons learned in his unusual path through professional racing and his unlikely friendship with Armstrong — to cyclists gathering in Grand Junction for the USA Cycling Collegiate and Para Road Nationals.

Interview Highlights With Scott Mercier

On Making The Tough Decision To Drop Out Of Professional Cycling Rather Than Dope:

“For me, it felt like I would start getting this kind of addictive power, where you get addicted to the strength, and that it is one step on a merry-go-round that I could never get off of, or a toilet bowl where you are sort of circling and circling and circling. And I just thought, ‘I don’t know how this ends.’ And I knew that to take that step, there was no way I could get around having to live my life as a lie.”

On Whether He Feels Vindicated In His Decision Not To Dope:

“I don’t know if that is the right word for it. I certainly feel satisfied. You kind of reap what you sow. And we’ve seen that with what happened with Armstrong and Postal certainly. I guess I do sort of feel vindicated. I can’t lie. There were times when I wanted it to be exposed so you could really see what was going on. The other side of that, though, is that I know how much the riders today are suffering. I know how much the sport is suffering.”

On Whether Lance Armstrong Is Sorry For His Role In Doping:

“You know what he is sorry for, he is sorry for the way he treated people. And I believe him when he says that. He is not sorry that he doped, nor do I think that he should be because he was a 22-year-old kid facing a hundred years of institutionalized doping. Could he have changed it? Perhaps. You know sometimes it just takes one person to call ‘foul’ on something to change the culture, but I can’t put the entire sins of decades of problems in a sport (and I think there are doping problems in more than one sport: I don’t believe the deflated football is the NFL’s biggest problem). In some ways, I think he’s gotten exactly what he deserves. But in some ways he’s the fall guy for really an entire sport.”

On What He Tells Young Cyclists Just Coming Up In The Sport:

“I found that some of the lessons I learned in the peloton, particularly the ability to suffer — to just have some grit and to suck it up — can carry you well through life, whether it’s in your career or personal life, and certainly in endurance sports. Suffering is a key component to success…And I try to tell these kids to carry yourself with integrity.”

Chief Ouray Highway tour with Peter Lev

A splendid day touring the Hwy. 550 corridor from Ouray to Silverton with Peter Lev and talking about all those beautiful avalanche paths I enjoyed years ago.  Stopped in Chattanooga of course to visit the Tim Lane/Jerry Roberts cabins (employee housing) from the San Juan Project days.  They held the elected positions of dogcatcher and mayordomo of the settlement, population four and one dog.


Peter Lev & Django on the step of Señor Lane’s hut with a quote:  ” I’ve finally made it to where I’m supposed to be.”  rōbert photo


And into Silverton to wander the streets and visit the bars that the Chattanooga delegation frequented for many years.  Peter is practicing his decision making skills in the Pickle Barrel at the very table where don Tim last sat just prior to being thrown out for unacceptable personal behavior during his last ‘Roving Chile ambassador’ visit in 2004.

photo credit rōbert


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Former mayordomo de Chattanooga, rōbert & Django at his old hut.

Peter Lev photo

Smog In Western U.S. Starts Out As Pollution In Asia, Researchers Say ~NPR

This has been known for a long time.. In the winter of 2002, we (CAIC/CDOT) avalanche forecasters were digging snow pits on Red Mountain Pass and a horizontal dust line found in the pit wall was identified as having come from a Mongolian dust storm days earlier.  A local group of Silverton skiers/partiers and musicians named their group The Mongolian Dust Storm after this event and found fame in San Juan County.


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The U.S. is producing less air pollution, but smog levels are still rising in the western U.S. because of pollutants released in Asian countries that then drift over the Pacific Ocean. Researchers say their findings show the importance of a global approach to preserving air quality.

“Scientists found Asian air pollution contributed as much as 65 percent of an increase in Western ozone in recent years,” NPR’s Rob Schmitz reports from Shanghai. “China and India, where many consumer products are manufactured, are the worst offenders.”

The problem, scientists say, is that Asian countries’ emissions of nitrogen oxides — which sunlight then breaks down in reactions that produce ozone — have tripled since 1990. When those harmful gases circulate to North America, they offset gains in U.S. air quality that have come from cutting nitrogen oxide emissions by 50 percent.

The researchers say that as China continues to cut its nitrogen oxide emissions, “rising global methane and NOx emissions in the tropical countries (e.g., India) in Asia, where O3 [ozone] production is more efficient, may become more important in the coming decades.”

“A global perspective is necessary when designing a strategy to meet US O3 air quality objectives,” the scientists wrote.

The research was published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

The study looked at levels of ground-level ozone (the key component in smog) from 1980 to 2014. To determine U.S. trends, pollution levels in cities, rural areas and national parks were collated. Scientist Meiyun Lin of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration led the work, along with others from her agency and the Environmental Protection Agency.

They concluded that the spike in man-made emissions in Asia “is the major driver” of the rise in ozone levels in the western U.S. for both spring and summer in recent decades. The researchers cited data that ranges from Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California to observations in Denver, Colo., and the eastern U.S.

According to the EPA, high levels of ground-level ozone “can be harmful to people, animals, crops, and other materials.” The agency adds, “Ozone can aggravate asthma, and can inflame and damage cells that line your lungs.”

The study’s authors said their work was funded by NASA grants and also used ozone data that’s freely available online.

~ TIM’S LANE ~ you just knew he was gonna be a legend ~ Rōbert ~ Update with funny email exchange …


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~~~  WATCH TIM’S LANE  ~~~

email from Tim Lane to Mike Friedman and Rōbert this morning, 2/25/16..     Hola …Watched Tim’s Lane today (in Chile)… laughed a lot …don’t think I ever skied that shot …all the best, Tim


email response from Mike Friedman…  There’s a line in the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “when the legend becomes fact, print the legend”.


email from Rōbert…   So it goes… “I know it’s true, even if it didn’t happen.”  Mark Twain

Avalanche Zen ~ Tricycle



The Battleship path running near Silverton, Colorado.

Photo credit:  Jonathan Thompson

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Some folks sit on a cushion and count their breaths as though it were a matter of life and death. Others, like 68-year-old Jerry Roberts, a retired avalanche forecaster for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, meditate wholeheartedly on the intricacies of snow.

I do not use that word “meditate” lightly. As a forecaster, Roberts’s job was to rigorously and relentlessly observe the snowpack. That involved studying everything from weather systems swirling in the Pacific to the structure of ice crystals out the back door. His special awareness was then tapped by the Colorado Department of Transportation to help determine when to shut down the mountain roads around Telluride and Durango. Winter in the San Juan Mountains begins in October and ends in June, and the range often receives 300 inches of snow in a single season. It is a notoriously dangerous place.

Currently, Roberts does part-time consulting work with Mountain Weather Masters, an outfit he cofounded. The group’s logo—a sword-wielding samurai backed by a white cloud—reflects his longtime interest in Japanese culture. Roberts’s house in Ridgway, Colorado, is cluttered equally with avalanche maps and anthologies of haiku by Issa, Buson, and Basho. I met him there on a bright winter morning, and we sat by the fireplace, drank coffee, and talked. He showed me homemade chapbooks of his own free-verse haiku, many of which braid the languages of snow science, skiing, and mountain geography with the language of Zen.

Enlightenment? Roberts wouldn’t claim to know much about such an exalted state of being. Self-deprecating and quick to laugh, he jokingly referred to our conversation as “bullshitting.” Nevertheless, I could tell from his warmth and sincerity that talking about snow and poetry was, for him, an immensely valuable pastime. After my second cup of coffee, when I rose to leave, instead of offering a handshake, he smiled and told me, “Keep on enjoying life.”

–Leath Tonino


~ la puerta del misterio ~

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A UPI article

After nearly 15 years of investigation into the disapearance of US goverment material near Silverton Colorado …several of these articles were found in a small mountain comunity in the central Chilian Andes, tacked to the door of a rundown hut. Authorities still remain baffled. President and founder of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies, Chris Laundry commented, ” We’ve exhausted every lead ..even as far as Gulmorg on the Kashmir-Pakistan border. These signs and their investigation has cost the American taxpayer dearly …which almost brought our project to its knees.” The US embassy in Santiago is looking into this matter and hasn’t ruled out bringing in the FBI.