Hiking and Heli-Skiing Silverton Mountain

A lot has been written in ski magazines about Silverton Mountain, the ski area 6 miles away from Silverton, Colorado where lift tickets cost $140, there’s no running water, no restaurant, you’re required to have an avi beacon, shovel and probe, they only have one old double chair lift (which originally is from Mammoth) and no groomed runs. However, little has been written by what I’d call regular skiers with the exception of 32 and Below and Go Skiing. Wanting to add to the collection of regular skier stories here’s ours.

We first heard about Silverton in Warren Miller’s film, Children of Winter, and were definitely intrigued by a ski area where long hikes were required but if you got lazy there was an A3 B-Star helicopter to help you out. I don’t know where our ski-store owning buddy JF caught wind of Silverton but this past fall he sent out an invite for a late February trip. Almost immediately a bunch of us RSVP’d. As we got closer to the date plans for some folks changed but Shawn, Ming, Dave, Andre and I were committed to giving it a go.

Granted, I was a little cautious. The adventure wouldn’t be a cheap one (you need to fly from Seattle, to Denver, to Durango and rent a 4WD SUV to get to Silverton), the weather at least in the pacific north west had been awful (really awful), there have been a few negative reviews, but most importantly, would it live up to the hype?

We pulled the trigger on the trip pretty close to our planned departure. And to some degree got lucky since the mountain was fully booked the weekend we were planning to go (they limit the number of skiers per day to 100? so you need to book in advance if you want to be sure of getting up the mountain) but a large group canceled and we got our names down on the list for Friday, Saturday and Sunday with two heli drops on Saturday to mix things up.

Turns out we made a good call going to Silverton as it got even more hype over the Olympics because last year it was home to Shawn White’s Project-X (check out that link for some great videos of the area.)

We had an early morning flight out of Seattle, met up with Dave in Denver and then got into Durango around 1 where we loaded up our Dodge Durango:

And headed to Walmart and MacDonalds. We had a blast at Walmart (thank-you deli counter lady!) and of course bought way too much food beer (we never would have thought that would have been a problem).

From Durango it was about an hour to Silverton, a small town, with no stop lights and where driving a snowmobile is a perfectly acceptable way of getting around.

Shawn booked us accommodation at the Snowed In Lodge, which while seemingly pricey, turned out not to be that much more pricy than the rustic hotels on Main Street. Seeing as I never clicked on the links sent out about accommodation I was surprised to pull up to a log cabin that sleeps 16. Our guide the next day also told us its the second nicest place in town (the year before, Shawn White stayed at the nicest place in town :) ). Outside there were 5 Saab 900 Turbos owned by a Saab mechanic (why is there die hard Saab mechanic in Silverton??)

While the Snowed In had Direct TV they didn’t have MSNBC and their Internets are slow because they don’t have fiber so we went looking for a bar showing the Women’s gold medal hockey game and ended up at Mother Plucker’s.

Silverton Day 1

Here we go!

You start the day checking in at base camp which is nothing more than a tent. There really is no running water at this “ski resort” but they do have the ability to charge your credit card :)

Then you sign your life away several times:

Next you head to the parking lot with everyone else and the guide’s form groups of 8 and trying to form “moderate” groups and “fast” groups:

Once you’re paired up, meet your guide (“Ronbo” was our guide), you get a safety briefing. All this can take some time (be patient, wear warm clothes). Then you head up the only chair lift they have which was imported from Mammoth (they paid $20k for it):

At the top you load your skis on your back (bring a good pack) while your guide checks in and gets permission for where to ski (they carefully coordinate all the runs down to maximize the farming, powder and safety):

And start hiking!

On our first run, “Sunset”, Ming tragically lost his helmet cam. He had it mounted to his board but it popped off when he tomahawked.

And even though it hadn’t snowed in a week there was still plenty of fresh tracks.

At the base of almost every run you either take an old shuttle bus:

Or school bus back to the lift:

After a twenty minute hike for the first run, we did a major hike for our second run, all the way from 12,300’ at the top of the lift to 13,487’. It took us a little over an hour…

The hike had some scary bits, and for the steepest part they had a rope to hang on to. I got “lucky” at one point when the ski loop on my Dakine pack blew. I felt it go and was able to crouch down fast enough to prevent my skis from rocketing down 4000′ feet.

At the top we had lunch:

We ended our day with a run down 100 acres. So only three runs the first day but it turned out that was plenty with the hike being the highlight.

The second highlight was drinks in the now smelly base camp tent:

In the tent we were joined by our trusty guide Ronbo who loves Lindsay Vonn and never lead us down a bad line all day:

We ended the day again at Plucker’s who normally closes at 8:30 but we convinced to stay open late for the Canada hockey game :).

Silverton Day 2

We started off with a warm up run and then headed over to the heli:

After an epic run down Grassy Shawn thought a small feature had a snow landing behind it but got drenched when it turned out to be a creek:

We suited Shawn up with our spare gear and everyone tried to clean his pants off (including Jen one of the owners of the mountain who just happened to be waiting for the heli).

Fortunately the creek we e later encountered at the end of the day they had a small “bridge”:

Our guide, Rooftop, advised us on not just where the powder was but he gave us a game plan for the night.

We started with the rum distillery Montanya (which was packed but closed at 7!) followed by dinner at Pickle followed by drinks at Pride of the West. Needless to say, Silverton does not have much of a nightlife and at every venue we saw the same people everywhere.

Silverton Day 3

We had only booked two heli runs for Saturday but when Sunday rolled around we were still on a heli high and booked three runs because when you book three or more runs you get to go to “zone 7” which opens up a whole new set of landing zones.

After a warm up run down Delores, and a repeat of Grassy, our group plus a couple from Los Angeles met up with Aaron, the other owner of Silverton. Here he is surveying the scene:

He took our group up to the top of a couloir where we must have done okay because at the bottom Aaron pealed our group of four off (our guide, Rob, advised us that Aaron only likes to things: 1. Helicopters and 2. Powder), convinced us to do a total of four heli drops, in his understated way mentioned we were now on the “A Team” and preceded to take us to the sickest runs (tattoo, hero sandwich) I’ve ever skied.

When all was said was done Aaron tried to talk us into signing up for his Alaska RV + heli adventure in April. Tempting, but I think it’ll have to be next year.

Before leaving town we stopped to get our photo with the avalanche meter:

Thanks to Aaron and Jen for an awesome ski experience, Rob and Ron, our trusty guides, and everyone we ran into along the way (everyone in Colorado was very friendly).

Matt’s Quick Guide to Silverton

  • Keep your expectations in check and get ready for them to be blown away! If you’re hoping to do 30,000 feet of vert you’ll likely be disappointed. If you’re looking for a few quality runs, you’ll have a blast.
  • Hike up to Billboard at least once
  • Do at least 3 heli-drops so you get access to more landing zones and avoid the 1-dropper crowds
  • Ride with Aaron or Jen if you get the chance!
  • Don’t skip out on beers in the tent afterwards
  • The altitude will likely affect you if you’re from sea level like us
  • Be nice to your guides. Ours were awesome.
  • Bring lots of water, remember, there is no running water
  • Skip the Diamox. I tried it but it made me nausea.
  • Be prepared for sleepless nights. The altitude messed with most of our sleeping abilities.
  • I think two days is the perfect number of days to hit up Silverton. One day hiking, one day heli.
  • Saturday is their busy day
  • Last year they sold out almost every weekend, this year has had more availability


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