Monday, March 9, 2009

Silverton or Bust!

See my photos of our trip here: PHOTOS

See my videos of our trip here (first 4 videos): VIDEOS

This past weekend, Erich, Tom and I traveled more than 330 miles to Silverton, CO in the South West part of the state for some extreme guided skiing at Silverton Mountain. This ski area is not for the beginner, or even intermediate rider. 100% of the terrain is expert, there is only one lift, the majority of the runs you need to hike to, everything is guided in groups of eight or less, a beacon, shovel, probe and knowledge of how to use them are required and the annual snowfall is 400+ inches. We were excited, to say the least!!

We headed out from Denver on Saturday morning and traveled through Morrison, over Kenosha Pass, past Fairplay to Buena Vista, over Monarch Pass to Gunnison, along the Blue Mesa Reservoir (largest body of water in Colorado), into Montrose, past Telluride, through Ouray, over a treacherous, but beautiful, Red Mountain Pass and into the sleepy little town of Silverton. The town came to life in 1860 with the bustle of miners. Now it is kept alive (barely) in the winter by the ski area and has an active summer life with hiking, biking, camping, fishing and four wheeling.

After checking in at the Triangle Motel, where our key was hanging outside the office door with a note that said, "Will be back at 4" (it was past 5), we sauntered on down main street to see what it had to offer in the way of food and libations. Not much was open. It looked like there were almost enough bars/saloons and restaurants for each household in town, and the majority of them were either boarded up or dark with a closed sign hanging in the window. I was on the lookout for the Silverton Brewery, to add to my list of Colorado Breweries visited. We found it, but once again, closed. A small note left by the proprietor stated that they would be open "circa 4 p.m." It was well past 5. So we headed into the bar next door were a sign claimed that Wyatt Erp had worked there back in the day. We grabbed some beers and headed to the the pool table out back. After a few games, we decided to check out the base area of the ski hill so that we would know where we were headed in the morning.

About six miles out of town, we came across a small plowed lot full of old trucks and busses and a camper half buried by snow. The lone lift was at the end of the lot, pointing up the hill into the darkness and light flurry of snow. We prayed for a healthy dumping of the white stuff that night and headed back to town.

Dinner consisted of some OK chicken sandwiches at "Mother Kluckers" and then we stopped by the American Legion bar (almost the only other one open) for some more brews and pool. Realizing that we were going to loose an hour of sleep and needed to wake early for our day of adventure, we headed back to the Motel to catch some z's.

Bright and early Sunday morning, we headed up the pass to the lone lift. Not quite the dump we wanted, but there was about four inches of fresh overnight. We arrived about the same time most of the guides were showing up. In the main lodge tent, we signed our wavers, checked our gear and waited around the pot belly stove trying to warm our chilled fingers.
Some mountain stats:
  • Chairs: 1
  • Peak of elevation: 13,487’
  • Peak of Chair: 12,300’
  • Base elevation: 10,400’
  • Annual snowfall: 400’+
  • Skiable acres: 1,819
  • Lift Serviced Vertical Drop: 1,900’
  • Hike-To & Helicopter Accessible Vertical Drop: 3,087’
  • Trail Classifications: Beginner & Intermediate: 0% Advanced & Expert 100%
  • Average daily skiers: 80
At about 9, we got into our groups, listened to the safety speech, checked our beacons then headed up the lift. It was a bit chilly to start, but after the first hike and turns down 1,900 vertical feet to the base, we had warmed up nicely. Guided skiing is something the three of us had not experienced before. A bit different than heading out with your friends into the backcountry or even at a resort. The guide sets a line and you follow just to the left or right, depending on where he feels the snow is stable and where they want to pack the slope for future snowfall. We ended up taking only four runs on the day, but were exhausted as if we had skied 10+.

Each time up, we would discuss with our guide and group where we would be headed to next on the mountain, what the terrain and snow conditions were like and how we would get there. Most were fairly short hikes of about 5-15 minutes. The longest, about 30 min. or so, took us to some amazing terrain and a chute called Rope Dee Dope #1. Amazing views were all around us as we caught our breath after the steep hike from 12,200 ft. to about 12,600 ft. We could even see the bottom part of a halfpipe in the valley below. Our guide let us know that the pipe was Shawn White's own personal and private pipe for training and photo/video shoots. Lucky him! His own halfpipe at the base of some 13,000 ft. peaks with heli skiing all around.

As we continued to ski down into the valley, we heard avalanche blasting from bombs being dropped by the helicopter across the valley. Later on in the day, the heli took groups of people, who each paid $150 a pop for a ride, to the top of the tallest peaks around us. We'll have to try that next time!

We wish the snow was a bit better, mostly dust on crust, but we did get some great turns on some amazing terrain. As the day progressed the snow got a bit softer and there was some nice powder turns in areas. It'll just leave us craving more next year!

See my photos of our trip here: PHOTOS

See Erich's photos of our tip here: Erich's Photos

See my videos of our trip here (first 4 videos): VIDEOS

Thanks to Melissa, Julia and Jen for this incredible Christmas gift! **