There were eight of us standing on the ridge contemplating our next move. At Silverton, you contemplate your next move, and you ski in groups of eight. Along with a guide, who is a certified ski patroller, licensed avalanche guru, and all-around mountain badass. Courtney was ours, and he had already entrusted Dade to lead a portion of our initial hike. So the day was off to either a really cool start or we were headed straight for disaster. Anyway, there were eight of us (plus Courtney) standing at about 12,500 feet on March 4, 2016. We were at the top of a run called Nightmare. (And when I say “run,” here and elsewhere in this piece, please understand I mean that very loosely.)
“Why don’t you lead us off, JB,” Courtney said. “Take it to the road.”
I looked toward the road. He had pointed it out a few minutes earlier. It wasn’t close. At all. “You want me to ski all the way to the road?”
“Yep, just take it to the road.”
You’ve probably already figured out that Silverton is unlike any other ski operation in Colorado. Here are a few more details to drive that point home. There’s one lift and (for most of the season) one helicopter that accesses some 22,000 acres of mind-blowing mountain-scape. The two-person chairlift transports you to where the hiking begins. From there, it’s usually a 10- to 60-minute trek before reaching your drop point. Every rider is required to carry an avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe, and have a backcountry pack. Oh, and there’s no running water.
Another difference is that your guide gives a briefing before every run. What to expect, where to ski, etc. Courtney’s pre-Nightmare talk went something like this: “The beginning is sort of an hourglass chute. When you get around the tight rocks, there will probably be a dirt patch you’ll have to sidestep. Then head on out into the open space, and to that clump of trees just above the road. We’ll meet there. The chute is the spicy entrance. Or we can walk around this boulder and it’s more mellow. Anybody want spicy?”
I’ll give you three guesses whose hands shot up.
“Great!” Courtney said. “Why don’t you lead us off, JB. Take it to the road.”
Once I confirmed the destination, I charged. That moment had been building the entire season. Conquering our ski-all-colorado challenge rested on this day. Before we arrived, I had no real idea what we were getting into. Plenty of people had expressed concern; they wondered if I was concerned; and thought I probably should be at least a little concerned. I wasn’t. Not in the way they wanted me to be. But the unknown is unsettling. Now we were here, though, and now I was in a nirvana state in the midst of the Nightmare chute. I don’t think I even looked at the boys or said anything. I just pushed off with my poles and started making turns.
Roan’s description of that moment is probably best: “My dad went first and disappeared around the rocks. There’s nobody else skiing anywhere so we were just waiting for him to come out. It was kind of weird. But then he did and Courtney sent Dade. And then we saw my dad fall, which was pretty funny, and Courtney said, ‘Oh yeah, don’t go where JB just went. There’s a lot of avalanche debris through there. Real tough to ski on.’ Everybody was kind of looking around, like they were worried, but I was just laughing — and kind of hoping Dade would follow dad. But he didn’t.”
No, he didn’t, but he took it to the road. And then Roan brought it to the road. And I can’t tell you the last time I felt that much pure joy.
Picture one is at the top; that’s Courtney scouting the spicy route. The second shot is your SkiAllColorado crew on the road. Nightmare begins just below the ridge in the rocks behind Roan and Dade. Not those rocks, the ones farther back.
Smile, You’re At Silverton
Run number two started with a longer hike — 45 to 50 minutes — that ran along a scree field and required some tiptoeing around a rock face. Roan led this one, and let’s just say he wasn’t very generous with the rest time. As in, five minutes after arriving at a designated pit stop, he announced, “Okay, I’m going to go on up,” forcing the rest of us to gear up, too.
That walk took us to Rope Dee Dope #4, a more open area that allowed us to play extreme super G skiers (if we wanted) and, by about mid-way down, the chance to gang ski instead of deploying one at a time.
Back at the base, Courtney called lunch. It was 1:30 p.m., which is when I asked Michelle to be back. And her description of that moment is probably best: “I was a little nervous for J. He wanted that day to go well so badly, but there was no way to know how it would end up. He told me to be back early afternoon just in case the boys were wiped out. I saw them sitting at a picnic table. J must have heard the car because he turned around, and then Dade and Roan looked up … and I’ve never seen the three of them look happier. They had these incredible smiles. I just kept going to a parking spot because I could tell they weren’t leaving until they got kicked out.”
We did two more runs before the lift shut down, but nobody gets kicked out until after the “mandatory” après action at Grady’s Bar (there’s no running water, but there is a beer tap in the main yurt!). And like everything else at Silverton, the après scene is utterly distinct.
The camaraderie is tangible — everybody understands what everybody else accomplished that day — and nobody sports any expression other than those incredible smiles Michelle mentioned. Because that’s how it feels to take it to the road.