Last Update: Jaunary 16, 2012 12:08 P.M. MST — Video embedded at bottom of page.
"Hey Henrik, you want to go to Silverton?"
Those were the words uttered by my co-worker Zach Berman early in December, and without blinking an eye I was quick to say, "Hell yes."
As a main sponsor of the sixth annual Beating Film Festival, slated for January 7, 2012, we needed staffers on site to assist in the production of the show, and to ensure all attendees were properly taken care of (i.e. received tons of free swag and had plenty to drink, etc). Having obliged Zach's request, I became the fourth and final member of the travel team which included Berman himself, Freeskier Sales guru Greg Wright and Jon Glass of Snowboard Magazine.
Having never before visited Silverton, I had only in my head images from the various films, magazine clippings and more recently the media coming out of the Red Bull Cold Rush. Those mental images included the vast and picturesque San Juan Mountains, ski terrain of the most extreme nature, as well as über deep snow and helicopters. So when Berman informed me that we'd also be heli skiing for a day, you can imagine the anticipation brewed strong.
Weeks and many daydreams later, the four of us were renting a minivan (yes, we rented a minivan) and loading up the trunk. Seven hours on the road and two fast-food stops later, we pulled into Silverton under the cover of dark.
ROAD LIFE: MINIVANS AND McDONALD'S
Our home base for the weekend was the Villa Dallavalle Bed & Breakfast, located just off of Main Street in town. The cozy stead was chock full of historic paraphernalia, calling attention to Silverton's rich mining history. Once in bed, thoughts of miners who inhabited this very building (formerly a grocery store) more than 100 years earlier flooded my mind. I wondered what sort of remedies one might have sought just one floor below after a long day of inhaling soot, deep within the confines of a mine shaft.
By the time the sun shed its first morning light on the uppermost peaks in the area, we were already gearing up in the Silverton Mountain parking lot. It became quickly apparent that Silverton was quite like any other ski area I'd visited. The double chair was the only one in sight, and I would soon learn that it was in fact the only lift, period. The next stop was the base lodge. And when I say lodge, I mean yurt. Once inside, we were greeted by the staff and secured our lift tickets for the weekend. To access the lift, in addition to purchasing a ticket, skiers must sign a release waiver and also carry a beacon, shovel and probe. Needless to say, the Silverton experience is of the no-bullshit sort.
As some of the crew lacked the beacon-shovel-probe trio, we snuck around the side of the yurt to the rental shop. And when I say rental shop, I mean hollowed out school bus that's run into the ground. This truly was the ultimate bare-bones establishment. All the more exciting, if you ask me. Silverton is about one thing and one thing only—gnarly skiing—and they're quick to let you know.
Once on the hill, a combination of iffy weather and snow conditions limited our options. We opted for a hike up to the famed Billboard Summit, clocking in at 13,487 feet. The trek proved to be a fairly straight forward and upward march for the most part. Although at times we encountered segments that caused gut-wrenching uneasiness, where a slip from a foot-hold would result in certain disaster.
After summiting and shredding back down to the base area by way of the Pope Chute, we made for town as The Beating drew near.
THE BOY BAND POSES AT THE BILLBOARD
Grumpy's Saloon & Restaurant, home of Film Fest, is situated inside of the Grand Imperial Hotel. Established in 1882, the bar—like our hotel—is laden with mining artifacts and other fascinating relics. I took a special liking to the bar-back, a monstrous mahogany structure carved with precise and intricate patterns. Curious about its origins, I questioned the bartender about its history. As it turns out, the backing was crafted in England in the 1870s. It was transported to the U.S. via ship, and destined for an upscale hotel in California. After arriving on the East Coast and trekking cross country (a transport feat in itself, being as this bar-back is PFB), the piece arrived only to be dismissed by the owners of the hotel, which had gone out of business just days earlier. Thus, the bar-back was split into three even pieces. One third lives in Grumpy's, one in Telluride, CO, and the other in Flagstaff, AZ. A random story, perhaps, but just one of many that give the town of Silverton its unique appeal.
As we loaded up on burgers and fried foods, the locals began to stream in. When it came time to kick off the screenings, it appeared as though the entire town of Silverton was in attendance. That being said,'twas a relatively small group. There were plenty to fill in the arranged seating area, however, and many others were left to stand in the back of the room. I suppose "cozy" would be the appropriate adjective to describe the setting.
THE SCENE INSIDE GRUMPY'S
What the group lacked in size it more than made up for in genuine stoke. As the short films began to roll, hoots and hollers ran amok as the attendees showed their appreciation for the various face shots, cliff hucks and spills. Of the 20+ short films that were submitted, we selected 12 to be shown over the course of the evening. Although many of the videos were well received, one stood out from the rest invoking wild laughter and garnering a massive roar as the screen faded to black. Due in part to the overwhelming crowd response, but more importantly due to the creativity and sound execution employed in the making of the short film, Austin Wilson's Down the Mountain with Style took top honors. Wilson earned himself a free heli drop at Silverton in addition to a new Contour HD camera. Contour cameras were also awarded to the makers of the videos that placed 2nd-5th.
A handful of lucky moviegoers also received a great deal of product. Raffle tickets were sold throughout the night—proceeds benefitting the Silverton Mountain High School Scholarship Ski and Snowboard Program—and the winners walked away with all sorts of loot, including fresh threads from The North Face.
Once we declared a wrap on the screening we enjoyed drinks and mingled with the locals until the day's activities caught up with us. Too tired to continue, we retreated to the Villa Dallavalle to get some much needed shut-eye. After all, heli skiing was on the Sunday docket.
1. Down the Mountain with Style by Austin Wilson — VIEW
2. Stoke Embodied by Mike Alcott — VIEW
3. Puppies! by Goodie Pocket Films – VIEW
4. Just Keep Skiing, A Story of Perseverance by Evolutionary Antics — VIEW
5. By Any Means by Alex Mueller — VIEW
DOWN THE MOUNTAIN WITH STYLE BY AUSTIN WILSON
Our alarms sounded at 8:00 a.m. and after devouring delicious breakfast tacos, we headed up to the ski hill to meet our guide, Alex Hunt. Once together, we assembled in the yurt as a group to discuss our options for the day.
We had six heli drops at our disposal. Given that snow conditions weren't ideal, we opted to fire up the bird for one single lap, just to satisfy our cravings. The other five, well, we'll be going back for those.
So up we went—high into the Colorado sky. It was my first experience in a helicopter. Riding in a chopper was something I'd dreamed of for the better part of the last decade, so you can imagine the excitement I felt from the moment we hopped up into the cabin. As we buzzed alongside the San Juan Peaks, I decided expectations were well surpassed. The fact that we were dropped shortly thereafter at the top of the Grande Couloir was icing on the cake.
Once situated atop the chute and huddled in our ready positions, the bird lifted off once again and zoomed off down the mountain, matching the 45-50 degree pitch of the slope in its flight pattern. In that single moment, I think we all became better men.
GUIDE ALEX HUNT LOOKS ON AS THE BIRD TEARS OFF DOWN THE VALLEY
We ripped the Grande, and paused in basin below to look back up at the peak we had just descended. Certainly fun, but I think in our minds we were fast forwarding to our next return, envisioning ourselves doing the same thing all over again, but this time blowing through two feet of fresh.
One last pow-wow in the yurt, some high-fives goodbye and we were back on the road en route to Boulder. Again, thoughts drifted to the future and our next adventure to Silverton. The serene thoughts only interrupted by the sound of the radio announcer battling static, declaring Tebow and his Broncos had defeated the Steelers in overtime to advance to the next round of the playoffs.
STANDING ATOP THE GRANDE COULOIR
As a sidenote, Silverton announced yesterday that they will be offering $50 heli-drops this coming weekend. Details are provided in the press release below:
Silverton, Colo., Press Release, January 9, 2012 — Silverton Mountain is the only location where you can heli ski/board this weekend for only $50. As the only ski area in the US that offers heli skiing, Silverton Mountain is also the only place you will find it for $50. If you haven’t ever experienced heli skiing, this weekend is your chance as Silverton Mountain is hooking up the locals with prices from the 1980’s. Normally heli skiing can cost upwards of $1,000 per day as you have to purchase 6 runs at most heli skiing operations.
The $50 single heli drops will be offered in the Pyramid Zone at Silverton Mountain, which has not been skied all season and should have great snow. Silverton Mountain is 100% open with fantastic steep skiing to be had.
This is the final weekend of unguided skiing until April 5th when unguided skiing resumes. From January 19th through April 4th it returns to guided only skiing with approximately 80 skiers or less on the mountain each day.
FREESKIER HELI LAP VIDEO — CAPTURED ON CONTOUR+ AND CONTOUR ROAM