Silverton: San Juan Steeps Factory

Opening Day at most ski areas goes a little something like this: ride the lower lifts, take some jelly-legged groomer runs, maybe dip into the trees for a little shot of fresh, repeat. It's good for getting in riding shape, relearning the sweet spots on your board(s), and getting an early start on après. Then, there's opening day at Silverton Mountain, a 13,487-foot tall behemoth located in southwest Colorado’s San Juan Mountains.  Your “warm-up” run is the sketchy exit off Silverton’s lone double chair. In a banger year it’s open wall-to-gnarly-wall, but during unguided season check in with patrol up top to get the lowdown. Scope the trail map here.

During one of my more memorable Silverton openers a couple years ago, our first run lit off into aptly-named Mando Air, which required mandatory jump turns in no-fall terrain seemingly right off the bat. Followed by a squirrely descent into "Two Smokes" - a cigarette-thin near-vertical chute peppered with rocks wall-to-wall. A fixed-line running down the gut made it clear this was not the place to lose an edge. (I can always rely on Klem from Venture Snowboards to scare the sh!t out of me while keeping us just inside the realm of ride-ability.) During unguided season, you’re on your own and there’s a fine line between blindly chasing untracked pow and getting totally cliffed-out. Don’t get greedy…

From the patrol shack you can either traverse looker’s left to runs like Cabin, Riff and Raff, or go big, and ascend looker’s right to climb all the way up to the Billboard. If The Grande couloir is open (requires a hefty bootpack from near the valley floor) you gotta send it—there’s some suffering involved on the way up but the payoff is a steep, AK-style descent between big walls with the serrated San Juan Range stretching far and wide as the eye can see. The Grande is a rare treat and rarely opens during unguided season - when it does it’s usually springtime.

As of press time (late January), it’s straight hammering at Silverton and guided season is now underway. Reserve your spot with a guided group, or visit early/late season for an unguided experience. For a taste of what to expect, click on the photo gallery below.

Some things to know about Silverton

• Bring all your avy gear/backcountry equipment.

• It's all bootpacking so leave the skins at home.

• Snowboarders, bring your collapsible poles.

• Consume mucho H20 and snacks for energy.

• Bring a cooler and sandwich fixins' for the parking lot.

• Bring your “A” game - the terrain here is no joke.