by: Mark Gerardy - 17th January 2012

  • 4
  • Beginner
  • Intermediate
  • Expert
  • 4All-Mtn. Terrain
  • Family Friendly
  • Aprés Ski
  • Terrain Park
  • Overall Value
Steep, steep, steep
Wait for a great powder day, icy conditions suck

Full review

Silverton Mountain is a hard-core obsessed ski mountaineer/60's hippie/backcountry skier's playground. The resort appears to be ran on a shoestring budget, with a schoolbus shell converted into a building with a 60's peace symbol spray painted on the side, plastered with skiing stickers, and a semi-permanent tent which serves as the ticket window. This is true Level-9, serious/no-messing-around, no-nonsense, OMG extreme terrain - the kind of skiing that most ski resorts would close or never permit. The top line of the legal agreement that skiers have to sign states "You Could Die Today"...actually, a 25 year-old women fell 1,500 feet to her death on the very same day that I skied Silverton. Their heli-skiing helicopter doubles as also flight-for-life, which can shut down heli-skiing at a moment's notice. The typical Silverton Mountain regular is a hard-core backcountry/big-mountain skier or snowboarder, who might spend 6 hours hiking to get in one perfect run. He might live in his car or a tent nearby and is very self-reliant, independent and in many cases, a loner or have a small tribe of fellow comrades. A lot of ski-bums, spiritual seekers, thrill seekers, and adrenline junkies flock to Silverton. Silverton is a place ran by hard-core hippie backcountry skiers, not corporations. It appears that Silverton is ran by big-mountain skiers, as a privilege for other big mountain skiers, but not necessarily for profits. Aspen and Vail are at one end of the spectrum, Silverton is at the other end of the spectrum - bare bones, primative, rustic and no bull - take it or leave it. Trail signs are written by hand. The "ticket" to heli-ski is a single loop of duct tape around the forearm of your ski jacket. Extremely low-tech to the quaint point of occasional disbelief. I am a bona-fide Level-8 skier, assessed by several ski instructors. I have skied for 34 years, I frequently bomb ski runs down the fall line and have been GPS-ed at consistently-verified speeds of over 55 mph. There are no double-black ski runs that I cannot handle at the ski resorts in Summit and Eagle Counties. I carve around gates and am up for anything, even in bad snow conditions. I own three pairs of skis. While I am not a huge backcountry skier, still I am no idiot. Yet, Silverton Mountain humbed me. Friend of mine and I heli-skiied and made it down two runs, in very icy, rocky, snow brick chunk conditions, and it was harrowing. The ski runs here made Beaver Creek's Golden Eagle look flat by comparison. Breckenridge Imperial Bowl is a blue run by comparison to Silvertons OMG off-the-charts steep drops. I did one heli-drop and one run unguided skiing. You catch the helicopter at the top of the mountain, requiring a 15 minute hike from the lift, up about 45 feet in elevation. Pay attention when getting off the lift - it is a sharp 45 degree drop that will wake you up real quick. This is not a groomed resort, this is Grizzly Adams on skis. The dense glades are full of downed trees, stumps, underbrush, exposed rocks and plenty of things to tear up a pair of skis or a person. If you can ski ANY and EVERY double-black diamond with relative confidence, and if you have been assessed at Level 9 skier, and if you like to hike, then Silverton is your place. If there is plenty of snow coverage across Colorado, and after a medium to massive powder dump of at least a foot or more, then a Level 8 skier can handle Silverton. Anyone below a Level-8 skier is truely courting death if they attempt Silverton. The easiest open ski runs are 45-50 degree angles. I have no doubt that there are 65 degree slopes, as well as cliffs at 90 degrees. All go on down the span of the entire mountain, very long and very steep. At times, I was in disbelief that they were letting people ski some of the most wild and extreme conditions. You need to make sure that you can handle it. Also, Silverton Mountain is recommended only for people who live at an altitude of least 5,000 feet, not for out-of-state lowlanders. Hiking at 12,000+ feet requires some good lungs that can handle the thin air and lack of oxygen. Tips: ------ 1) Honestly assess your skiing ability or better, have a ski instructor assess your level. This mountain is not forgiving. If you hit a patch of ice on a 50 degree angle slope that rockets you over a cliff and land you on top of a rock field - then you are toast and will die a very painful death, and there is simply nothing that you can do or how hard that you can edge. Choose your line carefully. If you are afraid of steeps, then this is not the place for you. A big bad ass ego is not worth dying for. 2) If you have backcountry experience, ski hike-to-terrain and big mountain skiing, and know your shit, then this is your playground. 3) Wait for a deep powder day to prevent the above from happening. With runs this steep, you really need some snow to grab onto to for your edge to grab and stay in control. 4) Ready and study their website, every tab and page - there is really good stuff in there. 5) Plan your trip. If you live on the front range, Silverton is a 7 hour drive. 6) Bring your fat skis and preferably A.T. ski boots with A.T. bindings for hiking. 7) Bring your Go-Pro helmet cam and take a ton of pictures and videos to blow away your lowlander friends. 8) Be self-contained, bring your own water, food and anything that you will need. Do not rely on anyone. No one is going to take care of you. 9) Do not expect too much in terms of a "ski area". Silverton Mountain not a resort. Silverton staff are generally nice - but can lose their patience very quickly and are simply not in the mood for anyone to cross them. If you want "customer service", then go to a resort. The staff are not in it for the money, and have nothing to lose. You will not win an argument with them, just be patient and know that you have what you have, it is what it is. 10) Arrive early in the morning, preferably between 7:00 am to 7:30 am; afterwards, it gets to be a real cluster-cluck while people fill out forms and move from line to line. 11) If possible, try unguided skiing first so that you can do your own thing - just research the mountain well and choose your lines carefully. 12) Listen and pay attention. 13) Make sure that you know how to self-arrest (stop sliding down the mountain if you fall). 14) Have fun, be confident, but be safe. Stay safe.
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