Guided skiing in Colorado’s wildest mountains.
Silverton guide Rob Roof drops into a chute below Rope D3. Because I’m hauling a big DSLR camera, I’ve been told to follow. Which means plunging between two cornices onto the slope below. Based on my elevated heart rate, I estimate the pitch at greater than 40 degrees. The rest of the group will descend one at a time on Roof’s signal. The idea is to ski the gut of the run, and therefore stay well clear of the cornices if they happen to release.
This is the Silverton experience at its essence. That morning, our group met in the icy parking lot—the only ice we saw all day—where about 80 skiers and snowboarders were divided into groups of eight and assigned a guide. I’d say Silverton is gathering an international following judging from the French and German I heard. After a snow safety briefing, we rode the repurposed double chair (it once lived in Mammoth) up to 12,300 feet for a steady, 30-minute hike along the ridge. Now, we drop when our guide says drop.
When Aaron and Jen Brill opened Silverton Mountain 14 years ago, some people thought they’d last a season. The idea was outrageous: A lone chairlift, a ratty yurt that’s more beer tent than base lodge, and an exacting plan to guide clients over the steepest, most avalanche-prone terrain in the state. Remove the lift and pull the tent stakes, and you’d hardly know the place was there. No runs, no groomers, no clear-cut swaths through forest. Other than a tiny bit of thinning in the forest, the terrain is au natural. Think of Silverton as backcountry skiing—with a 1,900-foot bump from the chairlift. That’s fairly accurate, except that, unlike the backcountry, here a team of snow safety professionals bootpack, ski cut, and bomb, bomb, bomb the Continental snowpack in a never-ending avalanche control war. More recently they added heli skiing to the mix.
Outside of La Grave, France—which was Brill’s inspiration—Silverton is a unique lift-served ski experience. But the guides make it accessible. If you’re a reasonably fit, confident skier, then Silverton will embrace you. Take me for example: I’m no great skier; I just like to challenge myself. But the guides matched me with terrain I could handle, even if I had my doubts. They assess the level of a group and tailor the day accordingly. Sporty groups ski chutes and trees. Those who aren’t as hard charging ski more open runs, but even the easiest are 35-degree pitches—double black diamond terrain at a “resort” and thrilling by any standards.
If you go: Guided skiing only from January 10 to March 30 for $139/day. Ski unguided in December, early January, and April for $49/day. Avalanche gear is mandatory; rentals available. Heli skiing starts at $159 per drop or $999 per day for six runs in a 22,000-acre tenure. Visit silvertonmountain.com for more information. —story and photos by Dave Cox