John Steinbeck never skied Silverton. The mountain didn’t even exist in his lifetime. But if he had strapped on some old-school 210′s back in the mining days… he probably would have said: “Silverton bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.”
If you’ve never been… or even heard of it for that matter, it’s tough to grasp its awesomeness in words. It’s one of those places that you just have to visit to truly understand its magical appeal. An anomaly in the ski industry, there’s not another town or ski “resort” like it. You won’t find any corporate stores, Starbucks or fast food restaurants in its 10×10 block grid… just old-fashioned Mom n’ Pop shops. This is one of the last true ski towns left. Located in the middle of nowhere Colorado, sandwiched in between Durango, Ouray & Telluride, it acts as the Bermuda Triangle of the West – freakish weather patterns that give it more white, fluffy stuff than most other Colorado resorts. This little town perched at 9,318 feet above sea level is home to 250 year-round residences who can probably ski a lot better than you can. If they can’t, then they can definitely drink you under the table. Needless to say… there’s not much else going on in the winters. A town frozen in the late 80′s with more watering-holes than restaurants, intricate multi-colored Victorian homes, steep & deep terrain, a badass brewery and a skiing addiction like no other.
We were the chosen few. Invited over for an all day heli-skiing adventure in this beautiful backcountry mecca. I found out I was going on Wednesday. Bad idea. I was completely worthless at work for the rest of the week. I spent the rest of the 9 to 5 watching the snow report, waxing my skis, Facebook stalking their Fan Page and most importantly, bragging to my co-workers.
Saturday, we packed up the essentials in Telluride, drove the always exciting/sketchy Red Mountain Pass, arrived in Silverton and checked into our condo at the Triangle Motel. The perfect ski bum’s motel – on the main drag, across the street from the only liquor store (crucial), walking distance to everything and affordable. We unpacked, cracked a Bridal Veil Pale Ale and took a stroll down the “other side” of Silverton – the infamous Blair Street. Back in the mining days, this street was the notorious home to forty saloons and brothels… with half of them still standing today. The Wild Wild West at its finest. The rest of our evening consisted of our typical pre-backcountry rituals: feast –> booze –> food coma –> sleep. Our dinner at Mother Cluckers was like an episode of Epic Meal Time – a couple endless pasta & meatball bowls, chicken fried steak, mash potatoes, green beans, a New York strip, 10 Raspberry wings (delicious), 2 pieces of cheesecake and 3 pitchers of PBR (props to Bebe for downing two cheesecakes to the face). Next up, celebratory whiskey shots at Grumpy’s in The Grand Imperial Hotel, The Hangover reruns on a 14-inch motel TV (still funnier than ever) and the much needed 9:00pm pass-out. Big day ahead of us.
Didn’t sleep much at all… we were like twelve-year-olds the night before Christmas. We headed down to the Avalanche Cafe for coffee, packed the car and headed to the mountain. At the Silverton Mountain “base camp” – a small yurt tent with couches, indoor fireplace and a keg in the corner – we signed our life away, packed our avi gear, met our guides and headed up the one-and-only recycled chair lift onsite. You can’t really call it a “resort”… there’s nothing posh or glamorous about it. Just one, two-seater chairlift transporting you to some of the gnarliest and at times, deepest hike-to terrain in all of Colorado. Don’t think you won’t have to work for your powder turns… (well, that’s unless you get chauffeured around in their million dollar whip) six runs on their mountain is considered an “epic day”.
While they were firing up the bird, we took a warm up run down Colorado and hitched a ride back to the yurt in a rigidity, old school bus with “Silverton Correctional Facility” plastered on the side. Fitting. We were all powder delinquents, anyways. Next ride up we hopped in the heli and took off over an endless sea of white. The backcountry terrain they have access to stretches for miles and miles. It’s incredible. Everywhere we looked we asked, “can we ski that?!”…. the answer was “yep”. “How about over there??”… “oh yea”. Each run: 2,500-3,000 feet of delicious, untouched vertical. Adrenaline took over for the next 6 hours… almost a complete blur. Hopping in and out of the helicopter, dropping off 13,000+ foot high cornices, skiing great early-season powder, getting back in the “red limousine” and repeating numerous more times. Extremely surreal. Our guides were awesome – taking us to some of the best stashes, pointing out surrounding peaks, giving us history of the area and more. It was here that Shaun White set up his private half-pipe to prepare unheard-of tricks for the Vancouver Olympics… and we all know how that went. They also pointed out where the epic Red Bull Cold Rush takes place… Freeskiing at its finest. Even the owner of Silverton Mountain was out taking laps with us. Aaron’s known for working his butt off so others can enjoy their experience. Working the chairlift, patroling, shoveling snow, doing avalanche control… he takes pride in his job – the way a ski resort’s CEO should act (hint, hint TelSki).
Our legs were spent, faces burnt and in need of an après drink stat. By the perma-grins on everyone’s face… I know for a fact it was one of our better days messing around in the San Juan backcountry. Afterwards we shared celebratory beers with the entire crew, ski patrol and the twenty-ish other people who were on the mountain that day. Big thanks to Alex, Michael, Jen and Aaron and the rest of the crew for setting us up. No doubt we’ll be back. Silverton bites deep… and skis even deeper. It’s a must-do bucketlist item for any avid skier. Thanks to Patagonia for keeping us warm, Line skis for helping us rip, the Triangle Motel for putting us up… and most importantly, Silverton Mountain for a trip we’ll never forget. For more information, visit: www.silvertonmountain.com/page/experience/heli. Better yet, hit me up and i’ll drop everything I’m doing and head over again. It’s that good…
~Hart Roberts, HartRoberts.com
All Photos Courtesy of Hart Roberts