After a long day of ice climbing in the Ouray Ice Park, I noticed another vehicle in the parking lot with a unique yellow bat sticker, which is the trademark of the Texas Speleological Society. When I finally got to my car, somebody nearby piped up "So you're the Texas caver?" They noticed my telemark skis in the back of my truck, and the "Ski Taos" bumper sticker on the back , and invited me to ski with them at Silverton Mountain. Silverton Mountain is the only lift-served backcountry skiing in the country. There are no groomers, easy runs, families, or concessions at Silverton, just 3000' of steep powder snow. There is only one lift, and it serves only 2Xblack or Extreme routes.
Steep slopes in the San Juans
It's definitely a unique place; since the slopes are so steep, every skier is required to carry an avalanche beacon, snow shovel, and probe and every run requires at least some hiking to get to. Most of the ski season guides and reservations are mandatory to make sure skiers stay off the avalanche prone areas and hit the best untracked snow. Early season does not require reservations or guides, but you need to ski in groups so that someone can dig you out if there is an avalanche. Silverton Mountain is not a ski resort, it's a ski area. The base area is a tent, there is no running water, and the bathroom is a pit toilet with no TP and no lock. The only food and drink available is sack lunches and the mobile bar. This is where the real skiers ski, no newbies allowed.
The highlights of Silverton were the scenery, the skiing (duh), and the shuttle back to the lift. Since most of the ski runs don't lead back to the only lift, the ski area provides a shuttle back to the base area. The shuttle appeared to be a retrofitted early 80's Fedex van. 30-40 Skiers packed into the back of this van so tight that you can't even move. A few people were even hanging out the front door. Unfortunately I (and many other guys) am 2" too tall to stand upright in the van, so I had to crouch for a few minutes, or deal with a stiff neck.
The fedex van
The group I skied with were all locals, some of them had previously lived and caved in Texas. After the quick hike, I knew I was in for a long day trying to keep up. I managed to keep pace for the first few runs, but by the end of the day I could barely move. I hadn't skied in nearly a year, and my first run of the day was rated extreme, quite a warmup at 9AM. I ended up calling it a day early, and went back to the cabin early to recuperate.
I definitely recommend skiing at Silverton for the experienced skier who doesn't mind skimping on facilities, hiking alot, or riding in a Fedex van. And to top it off, the lift ticket during early season is only $50, compared to $95 nearby at Telluride.
See the complete Silverton Photo Album