Silverton Mountain- Don’t Believe the Hype

(Last Updated On: June 8, 2009)

“Silverton- The place to go when you want to be seen” -Ben F., spring ’09

“That was like downing a bottle of viagra, going to the strip club, and then going home with the dudes” -Ben F., spring ’05

Both times I have gone to Silverton, I went with my friend Ben. The first time, back in 2005, we went guided. This remains one of the most disappointing ski days I have ever had. Despite a fast group, we were only able to get 4 runs in, and not a single one was in good conditions, although there was good snow all around us. That snow was for someone else, I guess. That’s where the viagra quote comes from- we saw great snow and great terrain, we just didn’t get to touch any of it. Our guide was completely overmatched by our group, and fell on a number of occasions, including losing all his gear at least once. Nobody in our group, even the telemarkers from Vermont who should have been blown away, were at all impressed.

This year, I decided to give the place another chance, this time unguided. With 22″ reported in the last 48 hours, we decided it just had to be good. We arrived to a few inches, perhaps as much as 7″ on the top. I had always wondered if Silverton exaggerated their reports, and at least on this day, it was very much the case. The skiing was OK, but I couldn’t help but continue to feel that Silverton’s marketing as the steepest ski area in CO/the US/sometimes even North America continues to be way overblown. Is it steeper than Vail? Yes. Is it steeper than Crested Butte? Not even close. It wouldn’t be a problem if there wasn’t so much hype, but that’s all the place seems to be- empty hype.

Which leads to the first quote above. The uber-cool hippster who just moved to Santa Fe(because he/she read in a magazine that Santa Fe was the hippest place to be) because a magazine like Outside/Men’s Journal/National Geographic Adventure told him/her that Silverton was the place to be will probably love the place. They’ll drive there in their genetically unmodified organic SUV that runs on vegetable oil (since the magazines told them it was cool). The magazine probably says that Silverton is the most euro-like place in all of the states, so he/she will probably bring an ice axe, because the magazine said that’s some bad-ass cool stuff to bring to the gnar of Silverton. Like this moron, with his upside-down ice axe ready to stab him in the butt:

I was reminded of all this last night when I was reading my first issue of National Geographic Adventure. It was a cheap subscription, and the article on Everett Ruess (disappeared in the desert SW in the 30’s) made the magazine, but the rest was just junk. Magazines like this love making cheesy little lists, and there it was, at #19: Ski Scar Face “Fewer than ten skiers a year attempt Scar Face at Silverton Mountain, the nastiest run at America’s Highest [sic: both Loveland and Breckenridge are higher], steepest [yeah right], and funkiest ski resort. This is a good thing. With its blind entry, impossibly narrow chutes [clearly it is possible], deadly cliff bands to sidestep, and a pitch that pushes 60 degrees over 2,200 vertical feet, Scar Face is more a prediction than a description.” Whatever. As Public Enemy famously sang, “Don’t Believe the Hype”

Public Enemy’s “Don’t Believe the Hype” (embedding was disabled so you’ve got to hit the link)

Youtube link

Frank Konsella

Frank loves snow more than anything... except his wife.  He ensures his food is digested properly by chewing it 32 times before swallowing.He is a full-time real estate agent serving Crested Butte and Gunnison and would be honored to send you his monthly newsletter.

Latest posts by Frank Konsella (see all)

Frank Konsella

Frank loves snow more than anything... except his wife.    He ensures his food is digested properly by chewing it 32 times before swallowing. He is a full-time real estate agent serving Crested Butte and Gunnison and would be honored to send you his monthly newsletter.

20 thoughts on “Silverton Mountain- Don’t Believe the Hype

  • June 8, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    I’ve never been to Silverton, although I’ve wanted to check it out, and your post highlights kinda why I’ve never been. Since I bought a splitboard my desire has waned even more.

    Also, I agree about the NGA magazine. The Ruess article was why I bought it, the rest was lame. If you liked the Ruess story you should check out “Everett Ruess: A Vagabond for Beauty” by By W. L. Rusho. Great read.

  • June 9, 2009 at 9:07 am

    but, but…but…

  • June 9, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    Rick- Ruess was certainly an interesting character, I’ll have to check that book out sometime, Thanks!

    But what, FZ? 😉 🙂 I had a feeling I’d get a rise out of you on this one. I know you love the place, and you’re not even a trendy moron which seems to be the basis of the Silverton clientèle. Brittany still hasn’t been, so I’m sure I’ll get dragged there a third time– if it’s a third strike, I’ll definitely be out. I still love the idea of a Silverton, it just doesn’t work in reality, at least not for me.

  • June 10, 2009 at 8:02 am

    It’s all timing. You can’t go right after a storm because nothing is open. You have to be a couple days after the storm has quit so you can be the one getting openings.

    Steep – No
    Fun – Can be. I’ve had good times there. Unguided.

    Quote heard at the bar after a day of skiing.

    Local “This place is steep”
    guy from crested butte “No, this place is flat”

    Everybody stops talking and looks over in disbelief.

  • June 10, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    But… I don’t think it’s easy to get over initial impressions. Or at least it takes something of the opposite to bring the balance back.

    If the first time I had thrown down on a trip to JH had been like one of the other times when it flat out sucked bullet-proof all week, I doubt I would’ve ever gone back. There’s places I’ve never returned to just because of some initial suck factor, and now 20, even 30+ years later since I’ve been there I know they’re completely different I still won’t motivate to go (well, maybe if it was free).

    Breckenridge back in the mid/late 70’s for a race with total dumpage. At the time I could only find one little face that was steep enough off the turning poma. – haven’t been back since.

    Vail, Keystone, Winter Park… just as flat as Breckenridge (at the time) – haven’t been back since.

    T-ride. You just look around and know it would be killer with a dump, unfortunately I’ve never had it happen, but I think the reasons I don’t go back here are the cost isn’t worth it and I can’t stand to see what’s become of the once “funky” and cool town.

    ARockahoe basin… I just hate wastin a pair of skis. Been back for 2 runs since about ’82.

    Which brings me to CB and it’s rock pile. Fun hill, if you possibly hit it when it’s good, but tough on sticks. For me that’s been far inbetween, only once out of the maybe 8 times I’ve been. Now that a “deal” is next to impossible to find I have no desire to bend over for what usually has been mediocre for me.

    When a place is your local hill, we all tend to get the good days – and know wher not to turn ’em. Look at me. I ski Monarch for crist sakes. Maybe we start comparing everything else to that that we have under our feet.

    As for the “hype.” Could be the “Hipsters” are the ones the marketing works for for Silverton. They probably have enough money for the hill. I don’t in general. But I dig the place when I’m there. More so during unguided when I can explore on my terms (in general). But I like the “plan” (or at least can live with what’s left of it) and know of no other place where the vibe is in the air like Silverton.

    Maybe sometimes skiing is like hammering with your left hand. You just miss the nail a lot.

  • June 10, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    I meant to say something about the 22″ in 48 on your trip this year too.
    That was the middle of april wasn’t it?

    C’mon. Be fair. You can watch the fresh drop like a rock in the San Juans even in Feb. since every day is bluebird, windless t-shirt weather.

    🙂 😉

  • June 10, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    Here’s a case in point, Tom. When I went to Las Lenas the Marte chair was perhaps open for 2 days of the 3 weeks that I was there. If you’ve ever heard anything about Las Lenas, then you know that the place is all about the Marte chair. But even without the premier chair open, we were still able to hike to other terrain that was everything everyone ever said about the place- steep powder runs on par with anywhere on the planet. Despite the Marte chair sh*tshow, I’d go back in a heartbeat.

    My trip to Valdez was similar- we only got to fly 2 days out of 2 and a half weeks, and the heli even crashed on us, but the place was still everything it was advertised to be. It’s the steepest and best skiing in the world- it’s not like I heard all kinds of great things and then arrived to 30 degree boring powfields.

    Then there’s Silverton and their “Got Balls?” bumperstickers and their stick-figure falling off a cliff bumper sticker and all the press like the little quote above and there’s a level of expectation for some pretty serious steep skiing. Then you ski Tiger Main and it’s like… “uh-huh, where’s the steeps?” That’s all this post is about- for the person who is expecting to be scared all day like they’re in La Grave or something, that’s just not the case. Truth in advertising kind of thing… like snow reports (and no, it didn’t settle THAT much…)

    As for CB, it’s the rocks that keep me interested. If it weren’t for the technical skiing that CB delivers, I’d be way too bored to work as hard as I do just to get a chance to ski every day in the winter.

  • March 8, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    I just got back from Silverton after hiking/skiing for 2 days. The first day was tough (altitude). The second was the greatest experience I’ve ever had. Got to ski the Grande Coular and get in 2000 vertical ft. in one run with over 100 waste deep powder turns! It was perhaps the greatest day in my life and I’ve skied all over the world.

    Sorry you had such a rough experience. Perhaps the right attitude would have landed you better runs from your guide. Silverton most definitely lived up to the hype for me and my entire group.

    Conditions; 1st day – no new snow. 2nd day – 2″ new snow.

    I shall return, and soon!

  • March 23, 2010 at 1:36 pm


    Glad you enjoyed your time in Silverton. It’s a great place for a lot of people, just not me, at least so far. Others agree with me, as seen on the same post on my blog

  • April 20, 2010 at 10:42 pm

    Maybe if you weren’t such a pussy you’d strap some skins on and hit the backcountry where theres always freshies instead of bitching about how crappy resorts are. Oh yeah, riding a lift is easy. Man up bitch!

  • April 22, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    Thanks for the laughs on so many levels, chris.

  • August 7, 2010 at 1:18 am

    i as well have had only great times at silverton, for 4 years in a row now. i usually go up during the spring season, and have only had about 2 bad experiences on the same run (waterfall). last time i went was by far the best skiing ive ever had (beside for true backcountry) after hitting the grand coular in 10 foot deep snow, drops from the billboard and just great conditions and terrain all around.

    im sorry about all the bad experiences and maybe go out again for a possible good experience there, because they are really, really great.

  • December 2, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Hmm. It’s really unfair to try to characterize SM by Tiger or by the hyperbole spewed by some journalist.

    Yes there are runs as steep and steeper elsewhere (let’s not try to enumerate the top 100 steepest gnarl…) but it’s a different kind of place.

    I hope you’ll be back.

  • December 2, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    there’s awesome stuff to be had. just go after the mountain closes, then you can ski wherever you want, and afford it, too!

    all the stuff back by grande is pretty much tits, but easier to get to without using the chairlift…

  • December 3, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Ironic that this old post gets a bunch of attention on a day that I’m in Silverton. As someone posted on my identical blog entry, it’s all about expectations. I’ve been there twice, both times with high expectations, and both times Silverton came up well short. Which isn’t to say Silverton is bad- on the contrary it’s quite good, it just isn’t as good as some people might have you believe.

    Meanwhile, Silverton (the town) is at the center of a hub of valleys, all of which offer big, steep descents all over the place, many of them easily accessible with a sled. When it’s good, it’s some of the best in the lower 48, without a doubt.

  • February 28, 2017 at 9:35 am

    This is a ridiculous and naïve post. What you want is resort skiing. Please don’t measure Silverton Mountain based on your in-area requirements for a good day of skiing. I’ve skied and climbed all over the world and Silverton Mountain and their guides are very good at what they do, in particular with snow management long after significant snowfall events. The mountain is steep with world class terrain. Skiing outside of resorts means being comfortable with skiing in all varieties of snow conditions, from crud to sastrugi to blower pow, and most importantly… working for your turns, which requires hiking. It is commonly place for resort skiers to complain about 4-6 runs per day. A typical day in the backcountry only yields a handful of runs in a day. There’s a reason we ski with a beacon, shovel and probe at Silverton… it’s not a ski resort with a manicured snowpack and avalanches at Silverton are a real hazard.

  • February 28, 2017 at 10:48 am

    Hi Matt, thanks for your comment. I stand by my post. Silverton is OK, as long as your expectations are set low, or if you’re a moderately good skier. Expert skiers can find better terrain without the hassle at plenty of other resorts, or ski backcountry. Better choices with a similar lift accessed experience would include Granite Canyon at Jackson, Bear Creek at Telluride, and outside the gates at Whistler/Blackcomb.

    The town of Silverton is one of my favorites, and the backcountry off county road 2 and 550 is some of the best in the world. Hopefully Silverton (the mountain) never ruins the Cty road 2 skiing.

  • February 28, 2017 at 11:06 am

    Silverton is the only lift-access area in the CO Rockies where you can safely ski steep, untracked avalanche terrain in mid-winter conditions for several weeks after a snow cycle. Keep in mind that the CO backcountry snowpack is incredibly unstable with multiple weak layers that persist until spring nearly every year. While the Silverton area along County Rd 2 and 550 have great backcountry terrain, skiing such steep avalanche terrain in mid-winter comes with additional risks that Silverton does a great job of alleviating.

  • March 4, 2017 at 11:06 pm

    ….most of your blog is so off base its almost laughable. But that’s the way life is….two people two diffrent stories to tell. CB, Tellu or Silverton….Silverton for me hands down.

  • March 5, 2017 at 7:01 pm

    It is funny… the people who take Silverton seriously.

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