The BLM is considering permitting expanded heli-ski terrain in the Silverton, CO backcountry. The problem? The areas in question include easily-accessed frontcountry terrain (including groomed trails!) and popular backcountry ski areas. Local skiers are worried about being displaced from their favorite spots and are asking the BLM to think about ways to better balance heli-skiing with other backcountry uses. The BLM has released a preliminary environmental assessment and is accepting public comments on the proposal until December 12.
While we aren’t opposed to heli-skiing, and we’d like to see Silverton Mountain and Silverton Guides continue to thrive, we have serious concerns about this proposal. If the BLM allows Silverton Guides to expand their heli operation into the areas they’ve requested they will be heli-skiing in places that are already heavily used by backcountry skiers, Nordic skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers. This is certain to cause conflict and displace existing uses – after all, would you want a helicopter landing on top of you in avalanche terrain? We would like Silverton Guides to consider different, more remote, areas to expand into.
Comments are due December 10. Your comments should outline what your concerns are but also offer recommendations on how to improve or alter this proposal. This could include simply sticking with the status quo (the “no action” alternative). Don’t forget to include your: name, address, and familiarity with areas in question. The subject of your email to the BLM should read “Silverton Guides EA”
- Areas proposed for heli-ski expansion overlap with popular backcountry skiing areas posing safety risks and user conflicts. Areas close to town and easily accessible by human-powered recreationists should be avoided. There is plenty of other terrain easily accessible by helicopter that is too remote to access by foot and would therefore not create conflict between users. Recommend that BLM not permit heli-skiing in areas close to town that are used by human-powered skiers.
- Areas proposed for heli-ski expansion pose avalanche hazard directly over open county roads (CR110 and CR 2). Recommend that BLM not permit heli-skiing above open or groomed roads.
- Noise impacts from helicopter use and avalanche bombing in downtown Silverton. Recommend that BLM not permit heli-skiing in areas close to town.
- Minimal analysis of impact to Lynx and wintering Elk. Recommend input from Colorado Parks & Wildlife.
- Proposal does not add users days to Silverton Guides permits therefore economic benefits from additional tourism are overstated. Rather, negative impacts to backcountry skiing and snowmobiling may reduce tourism for these types of recreation. Ask that the BLM more fully analyze economic impacts.
- Recommend winter study to assess user impacts and avalanche hazards
- Recommend that Silverton Guides be required to post daily flight plan so backcountry skiers can avoid helicopter use
- Recommend that Silverton Guides be restricted from flying in popular backcountry areas on weekends
- Recommend that Silverton Guides be required to attach Recco reflectors to all bombs before dropping them so that unexploded ordinance can be quickly recovered
- Recommend a requirement that Silverton Guides staff be AMGA or otherwise certified