It was five o’clock in the morning and pitch dark when iunior Patrick Lapera and I left Telluride, bound for the legendary Silverton Mountain. With a peak at 13,437 feet, Silverton is the highest and steepest ski area in North America. Silverton only offers one chair lift, but this lift offers access to numerous hikes, making more terrain possible.
Silverton uses avalanche blasting, allowing for steep backcountry skiing. Some weekends, like when we went, everyone on the mountain is required to be with a guide. Other weekends, the experienced are able to venture out by themselves. Everyone has to have a beacon, shovel, and probe with them at all times.
It was a nerve racking yet beautiful drive from Ouray to Silverton. It is a several hour trip on a one- or two-lane highway on the side a cliff. The drive continuously became more and more beautiful as we neared the mountain.
The last seven miles or so were on a dirt road with no cell service, and we began to really question if we were going the right way, but then we found the mountain. In terms of development, it isn’t much.
There is one rickety two-person chair lift, an old Silverton Correctional Facilities bus for picking up skiers, and a tent. We leave our skis at the lift and head into the tent. There, skiers check in, rent gear if needed, and meet their guides. Guiding groups are based off of skiing and hiking pace, and after a brief avalanche rescue and safety talk, we head up the mountain.
We reach the top of the lift, put our skis on our backpacks, and start hiking. After some hiking and traversing, we reach our run.
The run is a steep and deep chute off of the lip of the mountain. One at a time, we get our fresh tracks down this spectacular slope that would have otherwise not be skiable due to avalanche danger. It was hard and exhausting skiing, and I bruised a rib, but skiing Silverton was one of the most rewarding skiing experiences in my life.
I would recommend some backcountry experience before skiing at Silverton along with a lot of ski confidence paired with ability. But for the adventurous skier, this is the place for you. Try it yourself – get out on those slopes!