Deep in the heart of the San Juan Mountains in Silverton, Colorado, lies a skier’s (and boarder’s) paradise
Sometimes, the best ski towns are the hardest to reach. And sometimes, they are the smallest and most quaint of all. Silverton is that place.
Competing with popular Southwest winter ski destinations such as Telluride Ski Resort, Purgatory Resort and Wolf Creek Ski Area, Silverton is often overlooked. But this tiny mountain town offers some of the best skiing and snowboarding on this side of the San Juans. Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly ski hill or an epic backcountry shred session, Silverton’s got a little something for all ability levels.
Pick Your Pass
Not ski pass, but mountain pass. Just getting to Silverton is an adventure in itself, as the only way in and out of Silverton in the winter is on Highway 550, also known as the San Juan Scenic Byway. From the south, travelers must drive over both Coal Bank and Molas Pass to get to town. From the north, Red Mountain Pass is as daring as mountain passes come. Fear of heights? Don’t look down.
While both routes might require a deep breath and a little nerve, the views on the drive are epic. Coal Bank and Molas Passes are studded with multiple 13- and 14,000-foot peaks. Meanwhile, Red Mountain Pass climbs out of Ouray through a narrow canyon with sheer walls on each side before opening up to excellent views of Red Mountain 1, 2 and 3.
Kendall Mountain Ski Area
For those wanting to stick close to town while taking it nice and easy, Kendall Mountain Ski Area is an excellent and affordable family-friendly ski area minutes from downtown Silverton. The one double chairlift takes you to a summit elevation of 9,656 feet, where you have the option to ride their four groomed trails or check out several tree runs on your way down.
Kendall Mountain will also offer night skiing on February 8 from 6-9 p.m., allowing you to get a few bonus turns under the lights before you call it a day.
If you’re looking for a challenge in Silverton’s backyard, look no further than Silverton Mountain. With an average snowfall of over 400 inches (that’s not a typo), Silverton Mountain provides a thrilling adventure for the advanced skier or snowboarder looking to escape the lift lines at other nearby resorts.
Like Kendall Mountain, Silverton Mountain has only one double chairlift; but that’s where the comparison ends. Silverton Mountain’s chairlift takes you to a summit elevation of 12,300 feet and provides you with an endless opportunity of bowls, glades and steeps, all ungroomed. Both guided and unguided skiing is available.
If you’re looking to get the full experience, then you have to check out the heli skiing. Silverton Mountain is the only place in the contiguous United States that offers single run heli drops, allowing you to access over 29,000 acres of skiable terrain for an experience you will never forget.
Red Mountain Alpine Lodge
Heated floors, flushing toilets and chef-prepared meals are words not commonly used when describing a backcountry hut; but the Red Mountain Alpine Lodge is far from the norm. Hit the backcountry in style, and experience the backcountry without sacrificing luxury or comfort.
The Red Mountain Alpine Lodge is only 15 minutes north of Silverton on Highway 550, and sits at the summit of Red Mountain Pass at an elevation of 11,000 feet. From the door of the Red Mountain Alpine Lodge, you’ll have access to the stunning and remote terrain that is Red Mountain Pass: untouched tree glades, high alpine bowls, steep couloirs and much more.
Guided and unguided options are available, with guided tours conducted through San Juan Mountain Guides. At the end of the day, return to the Lodge and share your epic lines with friends and family over a drink at the Lodge’s licensed on-site tavern.
Big lines with big mountain views — that’s what Silverton Powdercats is all about.
Located on Molas Pass about 10 minutes from downtown Silverton, Silverton Powdercats offers access to a wide variety of terrain. Their warm, enclosed cabins make for a comfortable ride as you travel through over 6,000 skiable acres of San Juan backcountry in search of the perfect line.
Lunch and water is provided on this tour, along with any avalanche gear that you may need. And the best part? Unlike many other cat skiing companies, your last line takes you all the way back to the Silverton Powdercats headquarters, so that you spend more time on the snow than in the back of the cat.
Craft beers are the key to winding down after a long day of shredding and exploring.
Luckily, Avalanche Brewing Company offers a quality beer selection along with a mouthwatering menu. Grab a Sultan IPA or White Out Wit while you reminisce about the epic turns you just took. If you’re hungry, then ordering the pizza at Avalanche Brewing is highly recommended. They also offer wraps, salads and delicious daily specials — but their pizza and beer combo is where it’s at.
Main photo courtesy of Silverton Mountain.
TIONA EVERSOLE is an outdoor enthusiast based in Durango, Colorado. Look for her on the slopes or exploring the local trails with her pup, Sgt. Pepper.