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This former mining town comes with minimal bells and whistles. It's a hard-core powder hound's paradise, with accommodations to match. Intrepid skiers should plan on bunking at The Triangle motel (970-387-5780) or the Alma House (970-387-5336), a Victorian-era B&B.
7:00 AM A No-Frills Breakfast
Begin the day with a jolt of caffeine at the Avalanche Coffee House (1067 Blair Street; 970-387-5282). If you have the shakes, chances are they aren't from the joe, It's because Silverton is strictly for big dogs in peak condition.
8:00 AM Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid
The base lies at 10,400 feet, a sole chairlift ascends to a 12,247-foot ridgeline in the San Juan Mountains, and a further hike gets you to 13,300 feet. But altitude is the least of your concerns. The easiest runs at Silverton are pitched at 30 to 35 degrees, akin to double blacks at a typical ski resort. And the steepest pitch skied here is more than 55 degrees. Lift lines? No, and you can thank the Bureau of Land Management for that. They've limited the number of skiers to just 80 a day this winter, and the rule is guided groups only. So you'll pay $99 to $119 per person, per day, for lift-accessed backcountry skiing in this highly scenic but avalanche-prone terrain. It means that your North Face outfit must be accessorized with a transceiver, shovel, and probe, and that every day begins with a sobering safety talk. No obstacles are marked, the nearest hospital is 90 minutes distant, and self-arrest techniques are necessary. (If you're not familiar with "self-arrest"—expert skiers' shorthand for the ability to stop yourself when you fall—you don't belong here.) Then you're put into a group of eight according to your ability. Be honest, because once you ascend, you'll find yourself at the edge of a high-alpine cirque that drops into a series of rocky avalanche gullies, with a snowpack that averages 400 inches per year. Nothing is groomed. No runs have been cut. There is no easy way down. The average group skis four or five runs in a day, nailing 8,000 to 12,000 feet of vertical in open bowls, narrow chutes, and thick glades.
1:00 PM Brown-Bagging It
Lunch is that sandwich you remembered to buy this morning, your beverage is whatever's left in your Camelbak.
2:00 PM Racking Up the Verts
No postlunch soaks in the Jacuzzi here. This ain't Aspen. Afternoons will find you still on the slopes.
6:00 PM Unwind—and Collapse
Exhaustion at day's end is the usual state of affairs. The Miner's Tavern (970-387-5560) is good for the obligatory after-ski brews. Grill your own steak or tofu at the Explorer's Club (970-387-5006), or have someone else serve you pizza at Pasta La Vista (970-387-5352). Nightlife? A sixth Guinness, maybe. Or 10 hours of sleep. Your choice.
WHO SHOULD GO:
Hard-core experts. Period. No whiners.
On-the-edge action on the steepest, most difficult lift-served terrain in the Lower 48. Think of it as heli-skiing without forking over the big bucks.
Hike from the lift to Ropedeedope, a 2,200-vertical-foot run that's basically nature's version of a terrain park.