Silverton: Adventure in a vodka bottle
Vail, CO Colorado
SILVERTON ” With persistent reports of southern Colorado getting hammered with snow, Elna and I decided that we needed a break from the big-city living of the Beav’. We packed up my truck ” who goes by Larry, (which is short for Lariat) ” and headed to a little place called Silverton.
After a good night’s sleep at a gracious friend’s house in Ridgway, we headed over the notorious Red Mountain Pass. We were lucky, the pass was open, and the only thing on the road was the light snow that was falling. This made the European style curves ” i.e. no guard rails with cliffs ” a little bit more tolerable. ‘
After about an hour’s drive from Ridgeway we pulled into Silverton proper. Silverton is a cool little mining town that has been kept alive by the scenic railway that runs up from Durango in the summer time.
I had come through town about six years ago in late winter, when lift-access skiing and riding was just a rumor. Then the town was completely asleep. But, to my surprise, this time the town was about 20 percent awake with a few new businesses to boot.
We paid $1 for a big cup of coffee at the general store ” no Sixbucks here ” confirmed our directions, and headed northeast out of town.
The pavement soon turned to dirt as Elna and I headed up the holler to the mountain. Larry felt like like he was at home on some back road in Virginia. After a few miles we started to see ski and snowboard tracks coming out of the woods on the right, and then there it was, the one lone double chair of Silverton Mountain.
We pulled in and parked only yards from the lift and commenced to getting our gear on, as to be ready for our 8:30 a.m. check in. Check in takes place in a large hut across the creek, which acts as the base lodge, rental shop, after ski bar, and the home to a warm pot belly stove.
This place not only has skiing, but no running water and an outhouse too. Yeehaw, this boy has found redneck ski heaven. I just hoped Elna liked it.
After making sure we were on the list, Elna and I made our way back to the bottom of the lift to be split into groups.
The lead guide welcomed us to Silverton Mountain by pointing to the run under the lift and stating that “This is our easiest run, and if it seems a little steep, then this might not be the experience you were hoping for.”
To give you a reference the “Liftline” slope is a bit steeper than the runs under the Pallavicini Chair at Arapahoe Basin.
Our host split the groups by not only skiing ability, but overall fitness. I have heard horror stories about people who joined groups with skiers who were to strong ” or too weak ” for them.
The fastest skiers and riders were told to go stand by a big front-end loader, which I think doubles as their groomer. I convinced Elna that we belonged in the fast group, so we made our way over.
Our guide for the day, Alex, then casually strolled up with K2 Pontoons in hand. By the way, Pontoons are the most popular rental at Silverton. Our 88 under foot Atomic Snoop Daddy’s did the job for the trip, but as we looked around we realized we still had the skinniest skis.
At first Alex was a little stern. He made sure all our beacons were working, that we had the necessary backcountry equipment, and that we knew what we were getting into. The statement that struck us the most was that about avoiding injuries.
“If you are injured, it will be four to five hours before you will see a doctor.”
He gave us some good advice that I will keep with me forever ” “Never ski at more than 90 percent in the back country.” Alex and the boys then fired up the lift, and our adventure began at 10,400 feet. Everyone at Silverton is a liftie, and the chair only runs when groups need a ride up.
At the top terminal, which sits at 12,300 feet, we strapped our skis on our packs and headed up the ridgeline for the first of our four 45 minute hikes to almost 13,500 feet.
There are no escalators and chocolate chip cookies waiting for you here. All you need is a pack for all your avalanche gear, food, liquids, and a strap system for your skis for a good time.
All the hiking is boot packed, so there is no need for skins, or alpine trekking gear, though the compact, lightweight crampons that I left at home would have been nice.
The trek up the ridge is very similar to that of the bowl at Aspen Highlands. There are a couple of step sections, that were a little sketchy for me. I took advantage of the security of the safety ropes, while Elna charged right up.
Now it was time to strap ’em on and head down the hill. Conditions were epic. Plenty of knee-deep powder. Oh yea it was snowing on us, and clear on the other side of the valley.
Alex called this his favorite condition “bluebird dumping.” Big bowls to ski-length couloirs is the lay of the land on the east face of the mountain. Besides a tree run down the north face for our last run of the day, this is where we did our skiing.
Our first run was down Pope Face. This was a wide open 35-degree warmup for steeper and tighter chutes. Below Pope Face we entered some chutes, whose name I cannot repeat in this PG-rated article, but I can tell you not much political correctness was put into the naming of the runs.
After a successful first decent by the group we skied the only groomed run at Silverton ” the Exit Road to the bus, which took us back to the lift. On the ride back to the lift, you could tell that Alex started to lighten up a little bit. He was smiling and talking about the goods that he was about to take us to. So, back up the chair, and up the ridge we went.
I will have to say the next two runs through the area called the Vodka Shots, bought back fond memories of scaring myself in Chamonix. Warning: Skiing or ridding these shots requires hop turns and minimal air , though there is big air if you want it.
The Absolut Vodka Shot ” so named because of its similarity in shape to its namesake’s bottle ” was the thrill of the day.
Upon entering the top of the bottle I caught a worried look on Elna’s face. But, Elna just jumped right in and with sluff-slides coming down around her Elna ripped a couple of hop turns and was out of sight before I knew it.
As she finished up the bottle and came back into sight 1500 feet below me, I could see here smiling back up at me.
I don’t know if it was the hard-core viking girl coming out in her, or maybe she was inspired by the fact that Absolut Vodka is brewed in her southern Swedish hometown. Maybe a little bit of both.
Our fourth run, which turned into our last, was supposed to be a killer blast through the trees on the north face, so we could get back before 3 p.m. to catch the last lift. This is where ran we into our first and only snag ” a lost ski.
A young man in our group decided to take a tight line that required about 15 feet of air time. He was successful at everything except keeping his ski on. We looked for his ski for almost an hour, with no luck.
The rest of our journey down the tight trees and deep powder was a riot for the rest of us, but a test of balance and endurance for that young fellow’s right leg. Needless to say, if we had headed back up the mountain for another one, I would have strapped on my powder cords.
By the time we returned to the base, I think the whole group was tuckered out, and we had no problem heading to the after-ski hut to tell stories to the other groups.
In the end our gang sacrificed the amount of runs we did for steeper pitches, fresh powder and more verticle.
Kevin Roop is Beaver Creek’s alpine group lesson manager.
For more information on Silverton Mountain, visit its Web site at http://www.silvertonmountain.com.