Silverton owner defends operation |

Silverton owner defends operation

Steve Benson

The owner of Silverton Mountain Ski Area, who is being sued by Aspen resident Jim Jackson for trespassing, claims he and his guides have never broken the law. Aaron Brill, the owner of the experts-only ski area in southwest Colorado, suggests Jackson is driven by personal, not legal, motives. “It’s not easy running a small business,” Brill stated via e-mail Sunday night. “It is especially hard when an individual has made it his goal to shut you down because of economic sour grapes.” Jackson, who filed the suit last week, began purchasing mining claims in the rugged area in the mid-1980s. He originally had plans to build a tram from the town of Silverton to the summit of what is now Silverton Mountain Ski Area. In 1999, while Jackson was still trying to raise funds for the endeavor, Brill sent a letter to Jackson expressing a desire to purchase his mining claims for the development of a ski area. Tom Kennedy, Jackson’s attorney at the time, suggested in a letter of response that Brill further identify his objectives and investors, and tender a real offer and contract. Both letters were sent to the Bureau of Land Management and San Juan County by registered mail.With Jackson hesitant to sell his land, Brill went forward with his plan, purchasing several adjacent claims and going through the necessary steps to acquire approval for a ski area. He was granted a temporary permit by the BLM, and in 2000 the mountain was operational. One lift – purchased used from California’s Mammoth Mountain – was erected up the slopes. The unloading area is just a powder turn away from one of Jackson’s claims. Other of Jackson’s claims stretch across sweeping bowls, while another occupies a drainage at the base of the mountain. Jackson has several photographs of ski tracks running through his property, and avalanche control work has been conducted regularly on or above his land, he maintains in the suit. Brill denies the allegations. “We have never taken our guided skiers onto his land, and Jackson’s concept of snow trespass in active avalanche paths is absurd,” Brill wrote. “If a single landowner can claim to stop avalanches from crossing natural active avalanche paths, Highways 550 and 110 would close down and the community would have no way in or out of Silverton.” In a news release last week, Jackson insisted this is not personal and not sour grapes. He said he is acting like any landowner whose rights have been violated. “It is regrettable that it has come to legal action, but as the largest private landowner in this immediate area, we just don’t feel like we can sit back passively as our property rights are continually violated by the ski area,” Jackson stated. “Our intention is not to shut down Mr. Brill’s business venture.”And Jackson’s concerns go beyond just the act of trespassing. “It’s not fair that he continues to expose us to liability for injuries to users of the area, particularly in steep avalanche terrain,” he wrote. Brill and Jackson had been in negotiations for months preceding the suit. “We have always wanted to purchase his land so this headache would go away, but Mr. Jackson decided to file suit instead,” Brill wrote. For years, Jackson had pleaded with the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office, the Bureau of Land Management and the county commissioners to put a stop to the alleged trespass. But his requests have fallen on deaf ears. In February 2004, the local district attorney declined to prosecute, citing a lack of evidence. “We are still interested in working out an agreement that would compensate us for the use of our land and protect us against lawsuits by other parties,” Jackson wrote. Brill said, “We will continue to operate our business as we have in the past regardless of his tactics, in complete compliance with the law.” Steve Benson’s e-mail address is