Southern Comfort: Silverton

Colorado’s toughest mountain puts skiers through the wringer—and hardly pampers them when she’s done.
Silverton Skier Ian McIntosh

Every time I get home from a ski trip to Silverton Mountain, I buy new ski boots. It’s not because Silverton is a monument to conspicuous consumption—far from it. You won’t find a posh shopping district there, or a row of boutique stores or even a homey little ski shop, although the mountain’s Quonset-hut base lodge does sell baby jumpers that say, “I Like Dumps.” Nor will you find any Michelin-starred restaurants or private on-mountain lunch clubs, though you can buy oatmeal pies, Cheez-Its and Red Bull along with turkey sandwiches with mayo packets at the hut. In other words, Silverton is not a place you go to shop or dine. It is a place you go to ski. Indeed, with 3,000 of some of the most challenging vertical feet on earth and around 400 inches of snow a year, it is the kind of place you go to ski harder and better than you do anywhere else. This is why so many people travel so far to test their mettle there and why most leave with their egos slightly battered. The fierce, fun, steep, choppy mountain demands you bring your A-game. Big time. You may have thought, before visiting the place, that your A-game was good enough. You may have thought your boots were aggressive enough to handle anything. You may have been skiing all season, in all sorts of conditions, and your thighs may have, through serial isometric lunch-break training, attained the girth of full-grown Sequoias. And when you get to Silverton, head up the chair for your first run, hike out the sharply corniced whaleback ridge toward an invitingly open bowl, put on your skis and descend through the first 500 feet of unmolested powder—amazing, soul-feeding, superhero powder—you may still believe you brought your A-game. But when you hit your first patch of frozen crud, you might reconsider. And when you encounter that first smattering of sun crust and then some edge-chattering hardpack, and when you ski—all in one grueling descent—vertical chutes, open bowls, natural halfpipes, thick trees—everything except, well, easy stuff—and when the already-steep slopes get steeper and narrower as you go, and your first run of the day takes an hour and a half, and at least one member of your group decides one run is enough for the weekend—that’s about the time you’ll realize this is no ordinary ski area. Everything about Silverton, from the aromatic outhouses to the lone double chair to the old shuttle bus with “Silverton Mountain Correctional Facility” scrawled on the side, is humble. In fact, even the skiers are humble—or, more accurately, humbled by the mountain. In places like this you need every advantage you can get: fat skis, a functioning powder skirt, lots of water and energy bars, a guide who finds you the best snow on the mountain…and some really burly boots. ●