Silverton Mountain isn’t like any other place you’ve skied in the U.S. For one thing, there’s a limit of about 80 visitors a day. And despite receiving a ton of press since opening in 2002 as a lift-served, guided, and expert-only ski area, the southern Colorado resort seems on track to stay unwrecked by the powder-hungry masses. Silverton’s ungroomed atmosphere, steep slopes, and restricted access provide sweet backcountry skiing at $100 to $180 per day—much cheaper than heli-skiing.
Getting to Silverton is an adventure in itself. The best course is via Continental’s Saturday-only direct flight from Newark to Montrose. From there, it’s 60 miles of white-knuckle driving, including 26 on the narrow, unguarded, 2,000-foot-vertical-drop road bisecting Red Mountain Pass.
At the mountain, the fifties ambience is at once charming and alarming. A wood-stove-heated Quonset hut that’s outfitted with folding chairs and bus-seat “sofas” doubles as base lodge and après-ski bar. An old bus holds the avalanche beacons, shovels, and probes every skier is required to carry. There are two outhouses and no running water, so you need to bring your own water and hot thermos or buy them on the mountain.
After the morning check-in and outfitting, the guides divide skiers into groups of eight. For the most control over your experience, it’s best to bring your own group. Failing that, you can have a guide to yourself for $425. While many skiers bring their own powder boards, on big powder days, it’s worth it to rent a pair of Silverton’s “super-fat” K2 skis for that great floaty feeling.
Runs vary depending on the day, quality and number of skiers, and avalanche-blasting activity. As advertised, the mountain is consistently steep, but it’s really the lack of slope grooming and maintenance that creates the feeling of extreme backcountry conditions: There are lots of exposed rocks and roots. The situation can get serious very quickly, although no one has been caught in an avalanche yet. For most people, even very good riders, the hiking required to get to the outlying trails at over 12,000 feet is enough to make the four-to-six runs feel like a full day.
The low-cost accommodations and laid-back vibe of tiny Silverton lend a bohemian feeling. The best bets for a nice room with breakfast and wireless Internet are the Inn of the Rockies at the Alma House (from $89; 970-387-5336), or the Bent Elbow (from $50; 970-387-5775). If you want something cheaper, the Triangle Motel is no-frills (from $35; 970-387-5780), and all rooms are nonsmoking.
If you don’t stay at a B&B, try the delicious steak and eggs at the Brown Bear Café—and be sure to fill your thermos at the coffee shop at Mobius bike repair. For carb loading, try Pasta la Vista. There are fireside tables and savory, slow-roasted prime rib at the Pickle Barrel.
Since there are only around 475 residents, every bar is a locals’ hangout. The tiny one in the back of the Pickle Barrel makes for a cozy retreat; at the old-West Gold King Saloon and Miner’s Tavern, it’s a sure bet that you’ll meet a few guides and fellow skiers talking about the day’s runs.
NOT TO BE MISSED …
With a daily cap of 80 visitors through the end of March—it increases to 475 after that—Silverton sells out weeks, if not months, in advance. Call now to reserve a slot for spring skiing (970-387-5706). Conditions should be good at least through May—and with this year’s record snowfalls, locals are hoping the season will last well into June.
Acclimate to Silverton’s altitude by heli-skiing near Telluride or Snowcat skiing near Durango. Contact Helitrax (866-435-4754) or the San Juan Ski Company (970-259-9671).
From March 31 until the end of the season, Silverton will open selected areas to unguided skiers and snowboarders at less than the cost of the guided plan.
If you want a unique ski, try ScottyBob’s Handcrafted Skis factory, known for the wood-veneered BobTail skis that are starting to get wider exposure.