Thursday, June 13, 2013

Silverton Mountain Spring Ski Trip - A Review of Sorts

Santa Clara, CA - The ski season started off pretty damn good this year.  We got storm after storm in Tahoe right up to about New Years.  Then it just stopped.  There was hardly a dusting in January.  So, our group of skiing and boarding friends started thinking about this year's non-Tahoe ski trip.  I think it was Marc  who mentioned Silverton Mountain and the rest of the group quickly fell in line.  Tickets were booked, lodging rented, and my family's winter road trip to Colorado expanded.

Silverton Colorado
Silverton Mountain is a very unique ski resort (using resort in the very loosest of terms) located in the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado.  There is only one ski lift there, the lodge is a tent and the equipment rentals are done in a school bus.  That said, it is an incredibly beautiful mountain with some seriously amazing terrain.  Most of the terrain must be accessed by hiking anywhere from 10 minutes to 1 hour or more, depending on you and your guide.  From January 17th to March 30th everyone is required to have a guide.  Before and after that, it's highly recommended.  The number of skiers are limited and the mountain is managed so that there will still be fresh tracks available days after a storm.  Guided groups are kept to 8 people or less.  Basically the owners are trying to provide as much of a back country experience as they can and still safely run a resort.  The whole thing sounded pretty damn cool, we were in!

Our Silverton Cabin
A Review of Sorts

Before I share my opinions about this resort, I must mention that we were there in the spring and the days we skiied were far from ideal.  We arrived March 13th and stayed for 3 days.  It was quite warm and snowed only once on the afternoon of our 3rd day.  Our group had mixed opinions.

We picked March because that is when we had time available, and in my experience, tends to be a pretty good time to visit Colorado resorts.  However, my experience, prior to this trip, was mostly in Summit and Eagle Counties.  From what we heard, at Silverton, the snow tends to be better in January and February.  The last time it had snowed, by the time we arrived, was Saturday the 9th of March.  However, the resort is closed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, so when we arrived on Thursday there was still plenty of un-skied mountain available (actually there was still a fair amount available 3 days later when we left).

Our group was made up of five guys of somewhat similar fitness (Arturo puts most of us to shame) and skiing/boarding ability.  I drove out to Colorado with my wife and daughter about 2 weeks earlier to visit friends and family.  Arturo and Marc joined us in Denver a week later to do some skiing at Keystone, Vail and Beaver Creek.  Bill and Regis flew into Durango one day ahead of time (not recommended as the elevation at the top of the ski lift is at 12,300 ft.)  Bill, Regis and Marc were taking Diamox.  None of us are back country skiers and this kind of skiing was a first for many of us.

Sites along the way to Silverton from Denver (left to right): View from the Road, Monarch Pass, Blue Mesa Reservoir, & The Ice Climbing Park in Ouray.

The morning we arrived it was quite cold and I was slightly under-dressed as I knew it was going to warm up.  Our first hike took about 45 minutes and I was plenty warm by the time we reached the drop in point.  I found the hike to be relatively easy at the pace we were going, which surprised me.  What also surprised me was how hard I was breathing after the first few turns of my first run.  This tended be the theme of the weekend for me.  Hiking was ok, but I was working way too hard for my turns (due to a loose base and heavy, wet snow).  But for all my huffing and puffing, I was really enjoying the fresh tracks, beautiful views, and interesting lines.

First Morning in Silverton:  Silverton Mountain Correctional Facility Bus & Checking Oxygen Levels.

The Lodge (photo by Marc)
It's here that I should mention that we really lucked out with our guide.  Well, not so lucky for some and lucky for others.  A few folks from our group had booked a number helicopter drops (at $150 a piece).  However, due to conditions, number of bookings, or whatever, the owner of the helicopter had decided to pack up and leave for Alaska a bit early.  Marc, who had been to Silverton before and considered the helicopter part of the experience a definite highlight, was not happy, and let the folks running the show know about his displeasure.  The owners of the resort were very gracious and not only refunded the money, but also agreed to provide us with a private guide (which normally would have cost a group our size about $1400).  This was great for me, who could not afford the heli-drops and had no intention of booking any.  Not only did I not have to listen to the helicopters flying and being jealous of my friends, but I got free beer and didn't have to pack a lunch.  Win win. Also, having the private guide was great.  No worries about slowing folks down or being stuck with intermediate skiers.  However, I'm sure wouldn't want to pay for that privilege.

Silverton Colorado - Photos from Day 1

The first two days we were there it was cold in the morning and way, way too warm in the afternoon.  This meant the snow was less than ideal.  Out guide however, did a great job of getting us to the right place at the right time to find the best snow possible, and I have to admit I was quite surprised by how good it could be.  Day 3, the skies clouded over and things didn't warm up as much.  We expected the worse.  However with a bit more hiking we still found some lovely stashes.  Crusty at the top, then wonderful, then heavy, then down right slushy.  I was working hard all three days, but thoroughly enjoyed every run (of course some were better than others).  Again, the views, the terrain, and the uniqueness of the experience more than made up for the lack of freshies for me.

Photos from Day Two

Photo by Marc
Others in our group were not as enthused.  Marc was definitely the most vocal about his displeasure.  Marc had actually been to Silverton before and had had a fairly epic trip with great snow (Here is a link to his post about that trip:  Silverton Mountain 2008).  This trip already had two strikes against it before he even got on the mountain.  First off they canceled the helicopter drops and secondly there was no snow in the forecast.  On the bright side he said he felt more fit and less affected by the altitude this time around.

Regis, on the other hand, is not one known to complain much.  He however, was having a pretty rough time with the altitude.  He had flown in to Durango directly from the San Francisco bay area the day before and was having a hard time finding the energy to either hike or turn.  Bill had done the same, but was much less affected.  After a day and a half of feeling as if he was working on less than a full lung, Regis decided to forfeit his 3rd day and ski somewhere lower.  I don't think he considered his weekend totally blown, but I do think he wishes he could have taken more advantage of such a lovely mountain.

I hope I'm not off base here by sharing the opinions of others.  They are more than welcome to correct me  in the comments.  I'd love to here Bill and Arturo's thoughts as well.  Also, you can also check out Marc's report of the trip ( from his blog.

Photos from Day 3

Including out hike to the Billboard.

Last Run on our Last Day.

So would I recommend Silverton?  I guess I'd have to say... it depends.  It would have a lot to do with who was asking the question.

Speaking of questions, if anyone has one, feel free to leave a comment below.

Here is link to a slideshow with more photos:

Silverton Ski Trip

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Pic of the Day - May Roundup

Santa Clara, CA - Our daughter, Keira, just started going to pre-school 3 days a week and I managed to tweak my right shoulder in a rope-swinging accident, So I'm thinking I might have a bit more free time available in the next few weeks.  That said, I should be using that time to work out more and to look for work, but doing a little catch up on the blog does sound appealing.  We will see.  I'm still waiting to see how bad the shoulder is.

In any case, I managed to find a little time today to do another pic of the day post.  As far as blog posts go, these are about as easy as they come being relatively small in the time commitment category.  So, without wasting anymore of mine or yours.  Here are the Pics of the Day from May 2013:

For larger pics and captions please click through to the slide show below.  Catch you all next month!

Pic of the Day - May