Sometimes I think the soul of skiing gets lost somewhere between the $62 lift tickets and the high-speed quads. High-class slopeside lodging, apres ski festivities, multi-million dollar “cabins” and spoon-fed courduroy–they all chip away at the true soul of skiing. What is the soul of skiing, you ask? For me, the soul of skiing is sharing a bottomless powder day with 2-3 of your closest friends. It’s hooting and hollering your way down a steep, powder-filled glade with a huge smile on your face. It’s being alone in the backcountry… that’s soul.
Unfortunately–because of the meager Utah snowpack and overcrowded resorts, I haven’t felt the true soul of skiing much this season. In fact, this season had really bummed me out until a well-deserved road trip that Kendall Card and I took to the beautiful San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado. Our destination, a small, high-altitude town called Silverton.
Silverton Mountain is a single lift operation that runs very similar to snowcat skiing outfits. You are lead by a guide in groups of eight skiers. Avalanche gear is required, but can be rented at the base. There are no base facilities, just a beer tent and a lift–all you need to ski the best runs of your life.
Situated at 9300-feet, Silverton is a quaint old mining town nestled between Red Mountain Pass at over 11,200-feet and Molas Pass at over 10,500-feet. Access to Silverton can get shut off at a moments notice by either avalanche or heavy snowfall. We happened to hit Silverton right in the middle of the best storm of the season and caught a glimpse of what the true soul of skiing is.
Wednesday, February 26
We leave the Salt Lake area after work, hoping to make it to at least Ouray, CO before we crashed for the evening. En route to Grand Junction, CO, we exchange phone calls with a POWDER Maggot who was making the pilgrimage to Silverton as well. While the cell phones worked, I frantically called motels in both Ouray and Silverton to determine if Red Mountain Pass was open or closed–it seems every motel in the area is hurting for your business during the winter months.
I call a Ouray motel and talk to the owner, who assures me that the pass is closed, so we’d better stay in Ouray. I then call a motel in Silverton and get the opposite response, “Hell, Red Mountain Pass sure is open… c’mon up. We’ve got one last room available!”
Who do we believe? Since neither Kendall nor I had been to the area ever, we just kept on driving–waiting for fatigue or CDOT to stop us dead in our tracks.
We made it to Ouray and kept driving. Ahh… Red Mountain Pass was open, so we continued and made it to Silverton. Our destination was the Triangle Motel where Stan will treat you to one of the cleanest rooms in town.
We quickly settled in for a night’s rest. Kendall was out like a light, but I tossed and turned–dreaming of bottomless pow.
Thursday, February 27
We awoke to hungry stomachs and a few inches of freshies. After a quick drive up the main drag, we settled on a small restaurant, Tiki’s, for a hearty breakfast. We were informed later that Tiki’s is the best breakfast in town and after three days, we definitely agreed.
Finally… Silverton Mountain. We arrived at the parking lot and quickly geared up for the day, then headed up to the tent to sign waivers and hear the safety information. We then headed to the bottom of the lift where we would be placed in groups of eight people with our guide. This day, our guide would be Jenny (co-owner of Silverton Mountain).
As we ride up the lift, Kendall and I are in complete awe of the spectacular terrain all around us. 14,000-foot peaks stretch to the clouds in all directions–with huge bowls, endless glades and monstrous cliff-bands, the San Juan Mountains don’t mess around!
Arriving at the top of the lift, we re-group for a quick bootpack towards a run called “4 Snag” which funnels into “Colorado”. It’s tough starting the day at the top of a 2000-foot vertical slope that’s steeper than anything inbounds at your local resort and without any warmup whatsoever. I drop in, hit a hardpack traverse and pre-release out of my binding. Geezzz… not the best way to start the day.
I ski the rest of the run with caution, but get out of it feeling pretty good. We hustle into a paddy wagon and are hauled back to the base area where it starts all over again.
Our next run would be down a treeless bowl that quickly chokes out, then opens up to an apron near the bottom. The run is called “Raff,” and it would offer the best turns thus far.
Next up was “Dolores.” This run starts with fairly well-spaced trees down a steep avalanche path, then funnels down to about a 50-foot wide gully before taking you back to the base of the lift. This run would turn out to be some of the best tree skiing of the trip.
After the fabled trees of “Dolores,” we were in for a real treat and quite possibly the best single run of the trip–“Waterfall.” This run starts with a 1000-foot bowl of untracked and steep POWDER! We skied this line one at a time and we all got to savor each other’s runs before or after our own. All I can remember is turn after turn of bottomless pow only to realize that there was still a few hundred feet left to ski. This is what we came here for!
After all the gluttony, we made it back to town and stuffed ourselves silly at a hip Italian restaurant called Pasta la Vista–home of the best Italian food and nicest people around.
Friday, February 28
We started the day in a familiar way–breakfast at Tiki’s, then off to the hill. Today, we can skip the waivers and safety instructions and head straight for the lift. Our guide would be John. He would lead us to the goods.
It would snow most of the day, so we would be confined to the familiar tree-lined runs we’d skied the day before. But with all the new snow, everything had filled in nicely and we were amped to be up again.
This time, our first run would be “Riff” with its open face that quickly narrows down to a choke, then a large, powder-filled apron at the bottom–what a perfect run to start the day!
Our next run would make everyone jealous as we were the first to track out the short, treeless runs just under the top of the lift. We were spooning and loving it! After the untracked pow at the top, we would traverse into some great tree runs, then back to the base.
On tap next was “Dolores,” but this time we skied the trees at the far skier’s left. Here, we discovered the fattest pow of the entire trip with widely-spaced pines and untouched powder for hundreds of feet. Oh yeah… it doesn’t get much better than this.
We rounded out the day with another run down “4 Snag,” then an encore performance of “Dolores.”
After 5 runs and just over 10,300 vertical feet, we were spent. This mountain had delivered the goods on every run. Every run boasted terrain that makes local resorts like Snowbird and Alta pale in comparison. This mountain has soul. This mountain has an attitude and it will kick you in the butt and slap you upside the head with its steep, relentless terrain.
It continued dumping snow like a nuclear blizzard all afternoon and into the evening. We returned to town in near whiteout conditions only to hear that Red Mountain Pass (our only way out) was closed and may not open until morning. We decided that staying in Silverton for another night was our only option, so we bought a cheap motel room then headed to Pasta la Vista once again for some Italian gluttony.
Saturday, March 1
We awake to bluebird skies, spectacular views and new snow everywhere. Our destination for the day would be Telluride Resort.
After slowly making our way over Red Mountain Pass, we make our way to Telluride by noon and ski the rest of the afternoon. Honestly, Telluride felt like Deer Valley, but with killer terrain. It’s definitely a great hill with challenging terrain, but it was the epitome of what Silverton Mountain was trying not to become. Don’t get me wrong… Telluride is a great hill, but skiing there after two soul-filled days at Silverton Mountain just left something to be desired.
Skiing provides energy for the soul. It’s more than high-speed lifts, slopeside latte’s and posh lodges–it’s about spending time in nature, skiing powder and hanging out with good friends. Silverton Mountain is the soul of skiing.