It began with a radical idea. Aaron Brill dreamed of a new kind of ski area, where the terrain was steep and ungroomed, where skiers carried avalanche equipment and knew how to use it, where the mountains were wild and the skiing was wilder. In 2002 his dream became reality when he and his wife and business partner, Jen, opened Silverton Mountain six miles outside its namesake town, a mining berg in the rugged San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado.
Naysayers said it would never last. It was too rugged, they said. People want groomed runs, base lodges, and condos, they said. The naysayers were wrong.
Silverton, North America’s first expert-only, backcountry-style ski area, quickly gained cultlike devotees and generated an avalanche of praise from the skiing press. With no cut runs on its big mountain terrain, an average of over 400 inches of snow a year, and a base “lodge” that looks suspiciously like a yurt (and converts to a de facto bar at the end of every ski day), Silverton is for diehard skiers and snowboarders only.
The easiest run here would be the hardest at many resorts. Its antiquated chairlift tops out at 12,300 feet, but most skiers add on a bit of hiking for more vertical, more untracked terrain, and, if they’re bold, the 13,487-foot summit of Storm Peak, the highest in-bounds elevation of any North American ski area. It should come as no surprise that your first order of business upon arrival is signing liability waivers.
Besides the chairlift and unending swaths of untracked powder, the most important amenity Silverton offers is avalanche control. Colorado has an infamously touchy, continental snowpack, and much of the best skiing here follows avalanche paths that formed for a reason. (This is one reason, besides the committing terrain, that skiers are required to ski with a guide most of the winter.) Knowing Silverton’s ski patrol has bombed the slopes affords skiers and boarders the liberty to soar down its 22,000 acres of chutes, cirques, and open faces with, if not abandon, at least a healthy dose of glee.
No one doubts it anymore, but one thing hasn’t changed—there’s still no place like Silverton.