Get ready for the best ski day of your life.
Advertisement

"Unique" doesn't quite capture it. Still, neither do any of the other adjectives often associated with Silverton Mountain, including the repeatedly shouted words like "isolated," "rugged," "hardcore," "daunting," and the two-for-one special of "steep and deep." It's hard to define this Colorado mountain because it's unlike any other ski destination on earth, and it's a far cry from the likes of mega-mountains nearby in the best possible way.

At Silverton Mountain, a lone double chair transports you to 12,300 feet. From there, your legs do the work, hiking well above the tree line followed by long, powdery descents. Repurposed school buses covered with stickers ferry you back to the lift for another run, and at the end of the day, the dirt parking lot doubles as a Silverton-style après — tailgates drop and coolers packed with PBRs and PB&Js appear.

"The mountain is clearly utterly unique, but so is the whole experience," explains Adam Brown, a guide with 13 years of experience at Silverton Mountain. "It's all thrills, no frills. It's down to earth, grassroots, and rough and tumble."

Snowshoeing Downhill Silverton Mountain
Credit: MaryAnne Nelson/Getty Images

Skiing in Silverton is simple in the way your childhood ski hill was likely simple — you show up, ride all day, scarf a flattened sandwich, and ski some more. There isn't a $20 a day concrete parking structure, heated chairlifts, or a base area lined with hipster restaurants and high-end resorts.

"You're not in traffic here, it's easy to find parking," says Jen Brill, one of the mountain's founders. "We don't have Starbucks and you can't get points at your hotel." Here, she says, "we get the people who are passionate about skiing and snowboarding."

If that's you, you're in for a treat. For most of the season, you'll only find 100 skiers on the mountain at a time — 100 very lucky skiers who disperse over a mountain the size of Vail (in other words, you'll have the entire run to yourself). Then there's the mountain's private helicopter operation, a service that transports you beyond the lift-accessed stuff to untouched fields of powder.

A group of backcountry skiers summit Silverton Mountain in western Colorado.
Credit: Draper White/Getty Images

Silverton Mountain is also home to the highest ski area peak in North America, sitting at 13,487 feet, and boasts endless expert terrain (think amped up double black diamonds). There are no beginner or intermediate runs and there's no "easy way down." Caleb Leland, a guide with seven years of experience at Silverton Mountain, says, "you should be competent on any run at your local ski area" and "ready to be at elevation and take on big runs."

The terrain is so wild and avalanche-prone that everyone is required to pack a shovel, beacon, and probe (available to rent). And, for most of the year, you have to ski with a local guide — like Brown and Leland — who will show you all the powder stashes and keep you safe on what can be a treacherous mountain. A short unguided season runs over select dates in March and April.

Although Silverton is considered extreme, Brill notes that you don't need avalanche training (that's where your guide comes in). And while she says you should be "comfortable on black diamond runs, you don't have to look pretty getting down it. You just have to get down it."

If you've got the chops and the courage to take on what will easily be one of the greatest ski days of your life, read on.

Panoramic View Of Snowcapped Mountains in Silverton
Credit: Seth Ryan/Getty Images

How to Ride

It's $219 for a lift ticket and guide during the mountain's early guided season (December through January) and $249 during the peak guided season (February through mid-March). If you want to forgo the guide, the unguided season runs mid-March to mid-April, and lift tickets are $99.

If you can swing an extra $184, you can add a heli-ski onto your day — and if you get hooked, a full day of heli-skiing (six drops and a guide) goes for $1,190.

Where to Stay

The Wyman Hotel nails the intersection of hip and historic. Set in a 1902 landmark building that once housed everything from a mercantile to a gas station, The Wyman Hotel now boasts 15 fresh rooms with mid-century modern touches and a unique twist. (For proof check out the bunk room.)

To experience the Silverton of the 1880s, book a room at the Grand Imperial Hotel (known locally as "The Grand"). The hotel has stood the test of time and retains its old-world feel with opulent Victorian decor, old black and white photographs from the area's mining heyday, and a stunning lobby that will make you feel like royalty.

Snow in downtown Silverton, CO in the Winter. The town is virtually a ghost town in the Winter.
Credit: David Toussaint/Getty Images

Where to Dine

Good food and caffeine are essential to start any ski day. Brill says her perfect ski day begins at the Coffee Bear, a bright coffee shop right on Main Street. "I would grab a famous square breakfast burrito. They also have great coffees. I like a plain drip and maybe a blueberry muffin."

After a day on the mountain — preferably following a big storm — Brill says, "usually I'd go to the Avalanche Brewing Company or Eureka Station." The former is a local favorite with a selection of beers that tell a story (see here) and a menu packed with pizza, tacos, wraps, and salads.

For a more high-end feel, settle in at Eureka Station, which has hearty servings and dishes like three-cheese bison lasagna and Cornish pasty (pronounced pass-tee).

Where to Après

Silverton is a tiny town, so don't expect Aspen-like après. But, that being said, the locals know how to party, and not just from their tailgate in the Silverton Mountain parking lot. Both Avalanche and Golden Block Brewery are solid post-ski options (the latter also does karaoke), and The Wyman Hotel hosts an après party in their courtyard every Saturday.