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Silverton 3/4 LONG

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
Hi All,

First post, long time lurker. I decided to write about my trip in case it may benefit others. Please be gentle.

My friends and I were out in Telluride this week and decided to include a trip to Silverton so that we could test out the "Top Extreme Ski Experience" boasted by the Rocky Mountain News.

About our group of four, I'm the token tomboy . Three on sticks and one knuckle dragger. We are all reasonably fit and typically ski all day until the last lift ride. We are comfortable all over the mountain and we go where the snow is good, if that's in the steep and/or nicely spaced trees, all the better. For three of us, our home mountain is Squaw and for the fourth, Beaver Creek.

We arrived in Telluride on Friday night and skied Silverton on Sunday. So we didn't have many days to acclimate but everyone seemed to be adjusting okay, just a little winded when we exert physically.

We left at 6AM to make the two hour drive from T-Ride to Silverton. The ride was uneventful (except for the freaky twisty mountain pass!). When we got into town, we stopped at the market and bought some snacks. The guy at the counter said that Silverton was triple diamond skiing, that kinda made us nervous.

We continued the six miles to the ski area. The small parking lot is right next to the single chair lift. You have to pass the lift and walk across the bridge to get to the "lodge" where you sign in and sign your life away. We all rented the beacon, probe and shovel package. The boarder in our group also rented a pack and the rest of us used our own packs (as we'll find out later, he was the smart one).

We were told to meet by the lift at ten minutes to nine. There we put ourselves into fast-hike or medium-hike groups. We chose medium. We were then put into groups of eight and briefed by a guide. The other four in our guided group were 2 guys and 2 gals who had already skied two days at Silverton and several days at Crested Butte (i.e. they were acclimated!).

They shared that in their previous days at Silverton, it was very cold, very windy and bad visibility. Still they had a good time. That got our group in a good mood and a little bit less nervous about the triple diamond skiing. We then loaded onto the lift and met our guide at the top.

Here's where the fun starts, right? First problem we discover is that we needed to strap our sticks/boards to our packs to start hiking up. The three of us who brought our own packs didn't bring packs that were meant for carrying skis and we were not told of this requirement when we picked up our backcountry gear, doh! Though we tried rigging up some straps, it just didn't work and two of us ended up shoulder hoisting our skis. We started up the ridge.

The sun had come out by then and it got HOT . That plus the high altitude made the hiking a bit strenuous. The most difficult part though, was the slickness of hiking in ski boots on a fairly steep icy path. At one point, we had to hug a boulder while inching around a narrow ledge that was flanked by a sheer drop off.

Our guide had planned on dropping into "Fat Guy" but the other four in our group convinced everyone that "it wasn't all that great" and to hike up to Rope de Dope #3. Altogether, it was a 20-30 minute hike from the chair. Rope de Dope #3 was a medium width, short chute which opened into a bowl. The skiing itself was "OK". The snow was starting to set due to the rising temperatures and the condition was comparable to a Tahoe spring run.

It was after 11AM when we got down to the valley floor and our guide gave us a choice. We could take the run out and go back up the chair or we could hike up the other side of the valley and get to what he said would be the best snow of the day. He said the hike up would be short and not too steep. We decided to do the hike and our guide actually strapped the two pairs of skis that we were shoulder carrying onto his pack.

That hike ended up taking 2 1/2 hours! Our path took us through trees, steep snow banks, rock fields and more boulders. Five of us actually ran out of water and dehydration set in. Plus we did not stop for lunch and were only taking short breaks to breath.

At this point a I wasn't sure I had the legs to ski given the hiking and the dehydration but everyone held it together to make the run. The spot we finally dropped into was a wide open bowl, not steep, and the snow was what we called Sierra cement back home. We then skied down to the icy run out and tooke a bus ride back to the lift.

By now it was around 2:30PM. Two of my friends and I decided to sit out this run to rehydrate and consume some calories. The other group stopped because one of them had twisted an ankle on the last run. My snowborder friend was so peeved : about the 2 1/2 hour hike he was hell bent on taking another run so he went up with the guide and took one more. His verdict was that it was "OK but not great".

In retrospect we wished our guide had been clearer about the difficulty and distance of the second hike. I know our group was not acclimated but we did not put ourselves into a fast hike group for that reason. Also before the second hike, a couple of people in our group of eight were asking about water. That should have been a clue to our guide that a long hike was not a good idea.

It was also difficult for my friends and me to justify the expense and effort for the few runs that we got since the snow conditions turned out to be not that great and the runs not all that challenging. I guess the summary is that Silverton could be a good adventure but you need to communicate well with your guide.

Our triple diamond skiing adventure turned out to be a triple diamond hiking trip.
post #2 of 7

Thanks for the detailed TR. Haven't been there yet, but your report gives some valuable insight.

For some reason Purgatory (aka Durango Mountain Resort) closes 4/1. Was thinking about the unguided option at Silverton starting 4/5. Do they have any descent skiing right off the lift or in close proximity? Do you think it would be worth it? I think lift tickets are less than $50.

post #3 of 7

Extreme Hiking


Your experience is exactly why I prefer to only go to Silverton for "unguided" skiing, which is what they will have again for almost the entire month of April, although they will continue to have guided skiing on terrain closed to the unguided skiers. If you have your own probe, shovel and transciever it is only $50 and you don't have to do any hiking if you don't want to. I believe the chair goes to 12,300 ft. and you can hike another 1,000 vert above that. Hiking for extended periods at over 12,500 ft. on exposed terrain is something that anyone other than mountain residents does not usually include in their skiing experience. One of the "problems" with SM is that fairly major hiking is a standard part of the guided experience. I know litereally dozens of people who have done guided trips there and they almost all reported people dropping out before the end of the day, not because of the skiing but because of the hiking. I have hiked to Billboard at 13,200 at Silverton Mt. but I did it unguided and on my own terms. I realize that may not appeal to everyone, but if you feel comfortable in that situation without a guide then being able to hike at your discrection for a greatly reduced price is the way to go in my book.

As you found out, Silverton Mt. has some incredible ski terrain (and it sounds like you only got to experience a fraction of it), but it comes at a price of high altitude hiking and skiing somewhat at the mercy of your particular guide unless you go unguided.
post #4 of 7
Thread Starter 

Unguided at Silverton

Mudfoot, you are right. We were at the mercy of our guide. Several times during the hikes we would have been happy to stop and drop into a run but that didn't happen. Also on the second hike, he sent three people ahead and they went too far so we had to hike up to them and take a lesser run down the mountain .

Oh well, live and learn. Unguided at Silverton is probably a better option though after this experience I'm willing to pony up the dollars and go for a cat or heli .
post #5 of 7

I've been to Silverton once. One of my runs was completely below the chair and a really cool tree line our guide called Pillow Drop quite appropriately. We dropped just a bit below the chair then did a fairly long traverse skier's right then pretty much straight down.

post #6 of 7
merrydog, very interesting post; thanks for sharing it...

...and don't be a stranger around here! Welcome to EpicSki!
post #7 of 7
Long time lurker, first time poster. (Background: 41, Level 8ish skiier, (4x Jackson Hole Steep & Deep Camp alumni, still living to tell the tale...). Live in VA, but like to travel out West at every opportunity. Have been averaging about 14 days/year. Favorites: Jackson Hole, Powder Mountain, Squaw Valley.)

Skiied Silverton on 30-31 March, and had an outstanding experience. Went into it expecting a "partially lift served backcountry experience", and that's exactly what I got. I expected some hiking on every run, and in the 7 runs I got over 2 days, I only had one run that involved no hiking. Two involved short hikes with skis over shoulders (5 minutes), three involved 20-30 minute hikes, and one was just under an hour (Billboard; it was that long because I'm a slow hiker.) The downside was that I live at sea level, and regardless of my conditioning, hiking uphill with skis & pack at 12K+ ft when my day job involves sitting at a desk is a real kick in the pants. All but the short hikes had me seriously huffing, but I was in decent enough shape that I still had something left for the actual skiing.

The terrain itself was awesome. The best analog I can think of is OB at Jackson Hole, along the lines of Four Shadows. We were lucky enough to hit it on 2 powder days, and that made the whole experience. Had we gotten there a week earlier, it would have been a baked sun crust, and (understatement) considerably less fun.

My favorite part was every single run I was cutting fresh tracks in deep (knee deep) pow on super-steep terrain. Yes, the guides do ask you to please be considerate of others and not arc super G turns across the mountain, but they also insist that you have fun. Farm the powder? Yeah, to a certain extent, but nothing I felt offended about.

I never felt unsafe, since the guides are extremely avalanche saavy, but they also didn't seem to have any qualms about taking the groups into some fairly serious (no fall) terrain. The guides make a big point about how Silverton "is a bad place to get hurt" - getting you off the mountain would be a fairly serious production in even the best conditions. If you're the type that seizes up when faced with crutch moves, then this is probably not the place for you.

As far as guided vs unguided, I personally would have been extremely uncomfortable going unguided - especially if I hadn't skiied the place before. It would be very easy to get inadvertently cliffed out; if you were not very comfortable looking at a line and assessing avalanche potential, then you could easily invoke some bad juju very quickly. I found the guides more than worthwhile, extremely competent and professional, and generally good guys.

As was mentioned, the drive in from Montrose or Durango is a bit sporty. It's probably a good idea to stay in Silverton, rather than risk the drive if it happens to be marginal weather on the day you're supposed to ski.

Is it worth it? Depends on what you're looking for. If you want to "just ski", then this is probably not the place. I was in a "moderate hike" group, and we still hiked a bunch. We hiked right by what seemed to me perfectly good runs, in search of better runs. Were the runs better? Yep. Were they worth the hikes, when we could have dropped in earlier and gotten turns almost as good? Probably, but hey - this is Silverton, and you hike for the goods. If you want a "lift served backcountry experience" that gives you a 2K ft head start on your hiking, and want to drop cornices, 50 degree chutes, and other gnarly terrain, then this is the place.

For a sense of comparison to other areas, here's a pic of our "warmup" run - Colorado:
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