Almost 25 years after Aaron and Jenny Brill started Silverton Mountain ski area, the couple announced Wednesday that they have sold the business.
Andy Culp and Brock Strasbourger, the founders of Aspen-based Heli Adventures Inc., are in the process of taking over the operation.
The ski area has just one lift and offers a unique, big mountain expert-only experience. The area has 26,819 acres of terrain accessible to skiers, some of which must be accessed by hiking from the top of the lift or with the assistance of a helicopter. Patrons must ski with a guide through early March, at which time unguided skiers are allowed in the area as well.
“We knew about Silverton as a legendary spot and an amazing, gritty, authentic, soulful ski experience that just doesn’t really exist anywhere,” Strasbourger said.
The increasing volatility of the ski industry meant that area needed “a better capitalized owner,” the Brills told The Silverton Standard & the Miner.
Culp and Strasbourger founded their company seven years ago and offer an online marketplace for extreme adventure sports.
In an interview with The Durango Herald, Aaron Brill said he and his wife were not open to just any buyers.
“We had a few nonnegotiables,” he said. “One is that they had to totally believe in our team of employees and commit to 100% employee retention.”
The mountain is the largest employer in San Juan County, Brill said, and is considered a linchpin for the mountain town’s winter economy.
The second “nonnegotiable” was that the Brills were unwilling to entertain discussions with developers interested in real estate, “which is typically what you find in the ski industry,” Aaron Brill said.
He described the buyers as “hard-core, passionate skiers” who not only accepted, but supported the couple’s nonnegotiable requirements.
“Whatever plans they have for the future are gonna be skiing focused,” Brill said. “That’s what Silverton Mountain has always been about – focusing on the quality of the skiing and that’s how we’ve done well.”
Strasbourger said he and Culp intend to spend the first season doing little else but listening.
“We have our inclination as to what we think makes sense, but really the team and the internal brainstorming is where most of the stuff is going to come from,” he said.
The concrete plan they do have is to overhaul the building in at 1069 Greene St., in downtown Silverton, which is owned by the company. Citing a lack of hotel beds, Strasbourger said he and Culp intend to explore converting the space into a hotel.
The pair is also set on integrating themselves into Silverton’s tight-knit community. Strasbourger said he and Culp will spend most of the next nine to 10 months living there, if not longer.
Earlier this year, the mountain announced plans to install a second chairlift. The new chair would have opened up access to terrain previously accessible only be helicopter, Brill told The Colorado Sun in February.
That idea has now been put on hold, he said, because the mountain is unable to afford a new chairlift and they have been unable to find a suitable secondhand lift.
“It’s been an ongoing process, but something that we’re still hopeful that these guys will look at in the future,” Brill said.
Strasbourger confirmed he and his business partner intend to follow through on this vision.
“We’re not really doing anything at all besides listening and learning that first season,” he said.
Although he declined to disclose the purchase price of the mountain, Brill said he hopes the arrival of moneyed owners will mean that jobs at Silverton Mountain can increasingly become well-paid careers.
The couple intends to spend most of their time in Alaska, where they run a thriving heli-skiing business, but Brill says he will miss the team of employees in Silverton.
“I can honestly say that the people that work at Silverton Mountain are the very best people that I’ve ever, ever met in my life,” he said.
This story has been updated to include comments from Brock Strasbourger.