The Craziest Ski Resort in the USA (Holy S**t)
"I have survived," stands at the Wall of Triangle Motel Silverton. The sentiment is scrawled there, as if someone’s hand still trembled. In addition to the lucky survivors, a second guest has immortalized: "All I have to say: Holy shit".
"Are people here a little prone to exaggeration," I ask the woman in the tiny breakfast room which the same time serves as the motel office and reception. She just smiles and leaves me with my weak coffee and the thick toast.
In the U.S., the Silverton Mountain enjoys a legendary reputation: "Steep and Deep".
More than ten metres of snow annually transform the extremely steep and natural slopes of the mountain on powder days in a deep snow paradise for skiers and changing snow conditions a hell for those who overestimate themselves. "Tonight I'll know which category I belong to", I think as I drive through the deserted Main Street.
The first rays of sunshine awaken the snow-capped San Juan Mountains. The minus 20 degrees cold air is crystal clear, so that each peak stands in sharp contours from the deep blue sky. For days it has not snowed.
There are no groomed slopes and no markings. Skiing in Silverton is a blend of resort-skiing, heli-skiing and ski touring. It runs from the summit to the valley and has to cope with everything depending on weather and snow conditions, from deep snow to ice slabs and breakable crust, of wide slopes above narrow couloirs to dense forests.
Before my trip I picked up my ESTA visa through ESTAFastrack (more on ESTA here). ESTA allows European tourists like myself to travel to the US for up to 90 days on a visa waiver.
The Greatest Adventure in a Skiers Life
The area is open only from Thursday to Sunday. Normally, skiers are divided into groups of up to eight people along with a guide (to one of the greatest adventures of your life). And this adventure starts with the check-in.
Instead of a posh lodge there is only a small tent as a base station. This is crammed with furniture from the dump: Old sofas, rickety chairs, a few crooked tables, a battered bar counter and a stained carpet. Some call it quaint, others filthy. A small Boiler stove heats the tent – up to a cosy minus 15 degrees. My freezing fingers fill out the required forms; giving up in writing all claims in the event of an accident. I trudge through the snow in a stepped staircase to the hire shop which is located in one of those old U.S. school buses. You can’t fit more than two people in at a time. Skis and poles are whirled wildly. The rental guys cope with chaos. "Here we have a perfect order and strict rules," they assure me. The most important is stated in bold letters above the door: "If I sleep with you tonight, it does not mean I’ll ski with you tomorrow"
With wide all-mountain skis and poles in hand, I slither with the slippery boots down the icy stairs to the tent. Should skiing be this hazardous I wonder as our guide gets going with his safety briefing. "Silverton will be different than anything you have done so far," said Jeff. "Imagine the most difficult run in your home ski resort -. That will be one of the easier here," The degree of inclination of runs is between 35 and 55 degrees.
As Jeff also explains the correct behaviour in the event of an avalanche, the last colour wanes from the already frozen blue faces of the group. "The nearest clinic is 90 minutes away, a bailout can loosely take as long as three hours," Jeff says tersely and exhorts: "So follow my instructions, don’t piss about, and we will have fun!".
With a slight tingling in my stomach I get into the two-seater. The lift from the 1960s may be ancient, but the locals lovingly call him "Chair to Heaven".
Viagra Against Altitude Sickness
From 3169 metres, it goes up to 3749 metres. The lift opens up a skiable area of 7.36 square kilometres. "For most departures, we must still rise," explains Jeff. Some are between five to 50 minutes climbs all the way up to 4111 metres.
The air is thin, my lungs are burning. Some guests get headaches, Silverton Mountain website recommends some drugs, including Viagra to avoid altitude sickness. Our first gentle climb takes only 20 minutes, but after a few hundred metres there are already gaps in our group.
A snowboarder from Boston has overestimated the height and also his fitness. Jeff keeps stopping and quietly giving the Boston courage courage: "We have all the time in the world," says the guide.
Today the mountain was crowded with only 80 people on the mountain. On a total of 89 square kilometres of navigable area that’s nothing.
After a breather we dive on the first turn into fantastic deep snow. No wonder the runs have names like "Nightmare" or "Hell's Gate". The slope does not worry me, but the changing snow conditions and terrain challenge me.
From the powder it goes on hard snow, wide slopes into narrow gorges and forests, where I whip branches against the helmet and my ABS Avalanche Backpack remains. Further down I slide over a few treacherous ice sheets before I relax into the valley.
A disused prison bus saves us the long walk back to the lift. Over an hour took our first departure. For the obese Boston it was also the last.
On the last climb I am also on last legs, after all, we have hit 5 amazing runs. "That’s a good average," Jeff says après-ski in the tent. It may not have running water but the beer flows freely.
Just the thought of today’s skiing makes by buttocks clench and my stomach tingles at what another day in Silverton may bring.
Finally after 5 days skiing I’m on my way back for a short stop at the Triangle Motel. I decide to sum up my feelings on the guest board. The woman at the desk smiles as I write: "Holy shit, so I have survived!"