Saturday, March 01, 2008

Silverton... Wow

My last Colorado ski day was at Silverton Mountain. Silverton's a skiing experience unlike any other. The only thing I've ever done that came close was catching early tracks through Judah Bowl after hiking it the day following a storm. That was only a few hundred feet of fresh snow, though, and this was around two thousand.

Silverton has one fixed-grip double chair that runs from their base area, a tent and a school bus, both buried under snow, to a point just below a saddle in the middle of their ridgeline. Zach and I were on a guided trip, so from there we'd hike to the top of a run chosen by the guide, then put our skis on and do a nice, long, untracked to minimally tracked run to the road and catch a shuttle back to the base. We got five of those runs.

The first run involved what was described as a moderate hike to the top of a nice, long gully. It was pretty hard, but I'm not in as good shape as I like to be. We descended for a fairly short run across fall line above the first rollover to a point in some sparse trees. The powder was deep enough to feel bottomless. I was easily up to my knees on that run. It wasn't that steep, so I felt like I had to sit back a little to keep my tips from diving, but it was some of the best powder I've ever been in. The shoulder we went to was pretty wind-effected, but that's no problem on the Mantras. We descended through some trees for a while, then dropped into the gully proper for the last pitch back to the road. It was awesome.

The second run ended up being a little annoying. It started with moderate density trees, which were a ton of fun and well within my ability, but because the snow was so good the guide decided to continue in the trees as we got lower and they got denser. That part of the run has definitely made me a better tree skier. They were so dense that I was sometimes choosing lines that required me to hold my hands in front of my face to avoid getting battle scars. In the trees, we were instructed to make noise to help in locating one another and so that the guide knew everyone was okay. I almost never make noise when I ski, so it was an amusing addition. When the option was presented to bailout into a couloir to the side, Zach and I took it. It was a little bit more tracked from a group a day or so before, but with the overnight snow it was still some of the best snow I've skied on.

The third run had almost no hiking. In fact, the skiers in our party all traversed it rather than removing equipment. It was yet another moment when I didn't miss my snowboard. The traverse brought us to the top of a steep, open bowl. We descended it one at a time and it was awesome. I let my speed get nice and high and got forward over the skis and linked the best dozen powder turns I've ever made. At its best, powder skiing feels like flying. If I'd felt any more like I was flying, I'd have needed a pilot's license or a parachute or something.

The fourth run was going to be a bowl or something just past the ridgeline forming one side of the bowl we entered during our first run, but it had been a windy day and the guide got concerned about avalanche risks before we got there. Instead, we did the bowl from the first run, but we did the whole length of it, from the top, instead of dropping in near the bottom and using its gully as a runout. That turned out to be an awesome run anyway, so I while I don't know what we might have done if we'd reached the originally intended one, it was definitely awesome. I was getting tired at that point - the hike to the entrance felt longer than it had in the morning, and my quads were feeling pretty fatigued during the run down. I don't think I was tailgunning any more than I had to to keep my tips up, but I was definitely further back than I would have been on a groomer day. If I do end up putting Dukes on the Mantras, I'll probably get them mounted 1cm back of Volkl's mark. That short a distance seems to make a difference on my racing skis, and I like how they handle in everything but the super-deep that Silverton had. I still liked the handling, in fact, but I think I can like it better.

During the lift ride up for the fifth run, the wind started getting really heavy and the Powers That Be decided it was time to shut the lift down. So the lift ride took a very long time and involved some stopping, and then a fair amount of waiting at the top until the whole party arrived. After that, we traversed for a while and did a descent in some trees a bit less dense than the ones that bummed me out on the second run. It was a really fun descent, and as soon as we were in the trees the wind became less of an issue.

Driving out of Silverton may as well have been the sixth run, and I think Zach has learned a lot about winter driving. Silverton Mountain and the people who ski there totally kick ass, and I hope to go back next season. Zach and I were at the slow end of our group, which self-selected as being a moderate-paced group rather than a fast one. We're used to being in the top 3% or so of all skiers on a mountain at a given time, so it was pretty amazing. While I still wouldn't call anything we did at Silverton "extreme," I'd believe them if they graded a trail that way. Of course, they don't really have trails as such and there's no map with grading that I've seen. This is the kind of skiing I want to do more.

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