Deep in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado is a ski area that bucks the conventional trend of swanky hotels, restaurants, and heated gondolas. The resort boasts an average seasonal snowfall of 400+ inches, has no groomers, and requires hikes of 30+ minutes to access some of the most advanced skiable terrain in Colorado.
Of course, I am talking about the one and only Silverton Mountain. Home to heli-drops, deep powder snow, and some of the best inbounds hike-to terrain that I have ever experienced.
Silverton Mountain offers 26,819 acres of skiable terrain, which is accessed by one double chair, hiking, and a helicopter. The mountain stretches from a base elevation of 10,400 feet to a summit elevation of 13,487 feet.
The mountain averages 400+ inches of snow per year. The terrain is considered 100% advanced/expert and avalanche gear is required to ride the lift at all times.
Visit SilvertonMountain.com to view the heli-skiing, guided, and unguided schedule.
My expectations were sky high as we first pulled into the parking lot on the morning of Thursday, February 13th. The mountain had received over 3 feet of fresh snow in the previous 7 days and 6 inches since the resort was last open on Sunday, February 9th. Temperatures were in the single digits and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Smiles were from ear-to-ear.
After checking in with the mountain at 8:15 AM, our group of eight waited anxiously for our guide in the tent under the single double-chair. The "base area" is unlike any other ski area as it's really just a parking lot, tent, and an open area to gather with your group. The stoke was high and the other 50 or so skiers and riders that day were just as ready as our group to take on what this mountain had to offer.
Thanks to a friend in our group that had skied the mountain previously and who also lives in nearby Telluride, we were lucky enough to have Kim Grant as our guide for the day. Kim has been guiding at Silverton for over 15 years so we couldn't have been in better hands.
The safety briefing followed, which entails going through basic avalanche safety and how we should approach skiing the mountain with Kim and our group of eight. It was then onto the double-chair and up into the high alpine.
Normal resort days start with a quick groomer to warm up the legs but not at Silverton. Our first of five runs for the day started with a 30-minute hike to 'Rope Dee Dope #4', which is an east-facing run on the south side of the resort boundary.
The hike quickly gave us an amazing view of the San Juan Mountains and the endless possibilities of what there is to ski at Silverton.
Before dropping in, we had to wait for avalanche mitigation from the summit of 'The Billboard'. It was pretty amazing to have mitigation work done while you're only 50-100 meters away.
It was then game-on for our first run and the conditions did not disappoint. Kim dropped in for a few skier cuts before our group followed, one-by-one, into 4-6 inches of San Juan gold.
After meeting up halfway down the run, we were given the green light to continue down to the 'Exit Road', The turns only got better as we farmed fresh snow for another 1,500 feet.
Our group couldn't believe what we just skied and that was only the first run of the day!
From the 'Exit Road', we quickly skied down and picked up the shuttle for a quick 3-minute ride back to the base area. We knew that we wanted to ski for the entire day with minimal breaks so it was back up for run number two.
From the top of the chair, we scaled it back from the first run with a short 5-minute hike to the start of our second run. This hike lead us into the area between the east-facing runs of 'Waterfall' and 'Mandatory Air'. The farming of fresh snow continued!
After another quick run-out to the 'Exit Road' and the shuttle back to the base area, we all snacked on the lift in anticipation for our biggest hike and run of the day.
After buckling our skis and boards on our backs, we started the 45-minute hike to 'Pope Face'. This hike south along the ridge lead us past our first run of 'Rope Dee Dope #4' and up some fairly serious boot packing.
The wind was gusty at times but the view from the summit was incredible as we crested the ridge and made our final steps to the drop-in point for 'Pope Face'.
We had one group ahead of us so we waited patiently for them to clear the couloir. During the wait, Kim gave us all instructions on where to enter, exit, and meet-up after skiing through the couloir.
The pano image below might be my favorite photo from the day. Kim is giving us the lay of the land on the right side of the photo, while we all lineup and get ready for the drop in.
Once we were ready, Kim skied to the entrance of the couloir. We then dropped, one-by-one, into the couloir and enjoyed incredible snow. Couloir skiing and riding can be rare in Colorado during the middle of the winter due to avalanche danger and snow conditions so this was a real treat.
After we grouped up and let our legs rest from the burn down the couloir, we continued the theme of the day with more farming of fresh snow down to the 'Exit Road'. This run was truly special and one that we will all never forget.
Even though we had only skied three (incredible) runs, it was already well past 1 PM. After chatting with Kim at the base, we knew we could maybe squeeze in two more runs before the lift stopped running for the day at 3 PM.
We all enjoyed lunch on the 12-minute lift ride and made our way north along the ridge for run number four. As you might have already guessed, we continued to enjoy fresh lines and more farmed turns.
And last but not least, we jumped onto the shuttle and back on the chair just before 3 PM for run number five. It was hard to believe that we'd been skiing for over 6 hours but yet, our legs were cooked and it was time to enjoy one last run of San Juan gold.
The time was now 4 PM and our ski day at Silverton had come to end. We couldn't thank Kim enough for giving us the grand tour and I still can't get over how lucky we got with the snow conditions, weather, and available terrain.
Our group of friends is already making arrangements to continue this San Juan pilgrimage for the 2020-2021 season and hopefully, every winter that follows.
Visit SilvertonMountain.com for all lodging, event, and other ski-related information.
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