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This winter, an appealing, idealisticand, some say, perhaps dangerously naiveexperiment is taking place in Colorado's western San Juan Mountains, six miles [ten kilometers] north of the town of Silverton.
In early December, 30-year-old entrepreneur Aaron Brill plans to open a new micro ski area named Silverton Mountain based on an oxymoron: inbounds backcountry skiing.
To Brill, the concept means lift-assisted, patrolled terrainand that's it. No grooming, snowmaking, beginner trails, or blue cruisers. In fact, there aren't any cut trails at all, only tight couloirs, pillowy glades, and twisting avalanche gullies.
Access to these steeps is via a lone double chairlift that rises from the 10,300-foot [3,140-meter] base area to an open ridge at 12,300 feet [3,750 meters]. From there, skiers and boarders can dive in, but before getting on the lift, they should consider hiring a guide.
A snowboarder originally from Berkeley, California, Brill was inspired to start his own ski area after he spent a winter riding in New Zealand. There, like-minded folks form clubs, throw up a rope tow, and call it a ski hill. It's an approach reminiscent of skiing in the U.S. during the pioneering days of the 1930s and one diametrically opposed to today's megaresorts.
Brill plans to charge 1980s prices for lift tickets ($25) and will limit daily ticket sales to 475.
The rock in this powder dream, according to some skeptics, is the terrain that drew Brill to Silverton Mountain in the first placenothing less than 32 degrees in pitch, most of it in tender avalanche chutes.
Brill counters that there are ski patrollers to handle avalanche-control work, and customers must pass a written test to demonstrate basic avalanche-safety skills, as well as carry a transceiver and shovel. "All our terrain," says Brill, "is avalanche terrain. If you don't like to take responsibility for your own actions, don't come here."
Brill hopes to make a go of it by luring backcountry skiers who want to enjoy a dozen runs a dayrather than just the one they'd get if they hiked up a mountain like Silverton. He is thinking small to keep his vision intact and his expenses down. In order to break even, he needs 9,000 skiers to show up this winter to join his ride back to the future.
Click locations for ski guides.
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