A case of government-backed thievery in Silverton
If someone were literally throwing bombs on your private property, you might be a little aggrieved. Mind you, this is not in the figurative sense, where someone launches a verbal or written assault. This is a documented case of repeated and systematic trespass by a commercial venture on a man’s private property, where the trespassers light the fuses of hand-held plastic explosives, heave them in the air and watch them explode. After the explosions subside, a horde of trespassers then cross the man’s property boundaries whooping and hollering. This has happened routinely for the past seven years, and this bomb-throwing and trespass has the blessing of the U.S. government, the local county government, including the district attorney, the sheriff, the county commissioners and the Colorado state courts. And now, after this repeated abuse, the county has decided to take the land from its rightful owner.Outrageous, no?This extraordinary situation is not merited by, say, national security interests, where the military needed a new training area. No, it’s not even close to that level of importance. It’s all for recreation.I happened to meet Jimmy Jackson last week when I was working up in Aspen and had been invited to eat at a friend’s ski condo. Jimmy was there, and though I’d never met the man before, I had never seen someone so obviously upset and emotional.Jackson had just received news of San Juan County District Judge Gregory Lyman’s decision in Jackson’s suit against Jenny and Aaron Brill of the Silverton Mountain Ski Area. Jackson was awarded $1 in damages for the above-mentioned outrages, the perpetrators of which were given a perpetual easement across his property. At the conclusion of the court proceedings, he was served with condemnation papers from San Juan County, which is seeking to steal his 155 acres of mountain land from him.The situation has been 25 years in the making and it’s fairly complicated, but I think I can boil it down to a few essential elements.Jimmy Jackson has been kicking around the ski world for 30 years or more as a racer, downhiller, ski patroller and promoter. Back in the 1970s, Jackson spotted the site of Silverton Mountain as he was flying out of Telluride, and used the Silverton area to stage the World Speed Skiing Championships, of which he was founder and co-producer. He subsequently began buying up mining claims in the Silverton area with the eventual goal of building a $22 million tramway and a ski resort. Eventually he gathered up 155 acres of mining claims and got to work on his due diligence, producing a detailed $25,000 surveyor’s map of all the local mining claims and working on proposals to build his ski area. He met with county government officials and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials who administer the land surrounding his mining claims, and the county and feds endorsed his proposal.As Jackson put together funding and the proper permits for his ski area, he received a letter in 1999 from an upstart in the ski business, one Aaron Brill. Brill sought to buy Jackson’s mining claims from him. Brill had essentially the same idea as Jackson – building a ski area at Silverton – but his business plan was radically different. Instead of building an expensive tramway and going first-class, his idea was to go low-rent. He purchased a used two-seater chairlift – the kind that Aspen and other resorts have taken down by the dozens – and installed it on the mining claims that he had bought on Silverton Mountain.If you’ve ever been to Silverton, you’ll agree that it’s a very remote, tough town. The surrounding San Juan mountains are steep and forbidding, and it’s tough to make a living there. The local hard-rock mine, the Sunnyside, had just shut down, and prospects were bleak. Brill’s proposal to open a 100-skier-a-day powder resort for thrill-seeking expert skiers looked pretty good to local politicians, which might explain why the county commissioners and the BLM rubber-stamped Brill’s proposal, which was based, according to Jackson, on a $4 hiking map.To hell with the dozens of other property owners, the largest of which is Jimmy Jackson. The BLM and San Juan County approved a ski area boundary that encompassed dozens of mining claims that didn’t belong to Aaron Brill, absolutely guaranteeing that these other properties would be trespassed upon by skiers who had paid Brill for a lift ticket.If you’ve ever been to the Great Plains states, you’ll know that county roads are placed on one-mile grids. A “section,” or 640 acres, is one square mile. A quarter section, therefore, is 160 acres, or 880-by-880 yards. That’s a lot of real estate, about a fifth of the skiable acreage on Aspen Mountain. The average suburban neighborhood is platted for six lots to the acre, so imagine a suburb of 960 houses, and you can imagine the extent of Jackson’s property.Jackson sued Brill for repeated trespass on his property by avalanche-control workers (throwing bombs) and by skiers, and for unjust enrichment in Brill’s profiting from selling lift tickets to skiers who were using Jackson’s land without permission.In today’s climate of eminent domain, in which the U.S. Supreme Court recently decided that it’s fine and dandy for a governmental agency to take one person’s private property to enrich another, Jackson was served with condemnation papers on his 155 acres as he left the courthouse after the hearing on the trespass case.I don’t know if this is a Democratic issue or a Republican issue, but I damn sure know a greed issue when I see one. It is simply outrageous that the BLM and San Juan County conspired to permit others to trespass on Jimmy Jackson’s property. It contradicts all the principles on which this country was founded for a government to take a man’s property from him for the lofty purpose of recreational skiing.Jimmy Jackson has been wronged, and the persons complicit in this chicanery should be in jail, not in any cushy office, because that’s where thieves belong.Gary Hubbell and his wife, Doris, own OutWest Guides, LLC, in Marble, where they outfit summer horseback rides and autumn elk and deer hunts. Gary is a freelance writer and photographer and a native of Carbondale.
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In the 1960s The Red Onion as the Aspen Ski Club would host an annual ski fashion preview, which in addition to clothing also included live music and a strip auction.