Powder 8s: Defining Moments at Silverton Mountain

The rugged Colorado mountain celebrates 15 years, Porta Potties and all

Sven Brunso takes advantage of Silverton’s 400-plus inches a year. PHOTO: Liam Doran

They did it. The zany, backcountry “ski area” serviced by old GMCs, a hand-dug lift and die-hard ski bums, turns 15 years old this season. Nestled in the tall cathedrals of southwestern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, Silverton Mountain boasts the highest summit among Colorado ski areas. Topping out at 13,487 feet, this remote ski spot—sans flush toilets or a concrete base lodge—was built on a foundation of mining claims and a ski bum’s wildest dream. In ode to one the most unique, most kick-ass ski spots in Colorado, we’ve come up with a list of the mountains’ most defining moments.

Pep Fujas drops into Silverton's steeps. PHOTO: Courtesy of Silverton Mountain
Pep Fujas drops into Silverton’s steeps. PHOTO: Courtesy of Silverton Mountain

1. First Moves, 1999

The dawn of Silverton Mountain began in a van accompanied by two dogs and a crazy dream. Without running water or internet, owner Aaron Brill used pay phones and public library computers to acquire the mining claims for what is now Silverton Mountain.

2. First Chairlift, 2000

Giving Mammoth’s old Chair 15 a second life, Brill and his wife, Jen, bought the lift as their double-seater backbone, which now provides access to 1,819 acres of unmanicured terrain. “Installing the chairlift was a herculean feat. We didn’t have a road, we had to hike up the mountain everyday and dig the holes for the lift towers,” says Brill, adding the terminal for the top of the chairlift was a hand-dug, swimming pool-size hole.

3. The Steep Van, 2003

Ripping the back roads of the basin to scoop up out-of-breath skiers from the road and return them to the base, Silverton’s staple ‘Steep Van’ (GMC Step Van) and retired UPS trucks were gifts from the old Tamarron resort in Durango. From then on, skiers no longer had to thumb it for a ride back to camp.

Skiers at the infamous Demo Bus, aka gear storage at Silverton. PHOTO: Greg Von Doersten
Skiers at the infamous Demo Bus, aka gear storage at Silverton.
PHOTO: Greg Von Doersten

4. First Heli, 2006

In classic Silverton fashion, the first helicopter the Brills obtained was a three-seater bird from the 1950s. “You could cram in two people, a guide, and one skier next to the pilot,” says Brill. While the retired Korean War helicopter served Silverton well, it was only in service for two years. In 2010, Silverton welcomed 20,000 acres of heli terrain and a new helicopter to service the basin.

5. Project X, 2009

Take Silverton’s aesthetics and Red Bull’s budget, and you’ll find Shaun White’s secret halfpipe. Blasting the basin’s couloirs for snow, Silverton paired with the energy-drink giant to create the first and only Superpipe made of all natural snow, of which Silverton sees an average of 400 inches each year.

Shaun White checking out the breathtaking location (literally, Silverton is the highest ski area in Colorad) for his all natural halfpipe. PHOTO: Red Bull
Shaun White checking out the location for his all natural halfpipe. PHOTO: Red Bull

6. Red Bull Cold Rush, 2011 and 2012

Welcoming the best freeskiers in the world, Silverton hosted freeskiing’s favorite hybrid event, the Red Bull Cold Rush for two years. The Cold Rush included mangled lines through the Grande couloirs, along with a slopestyle course on Mandatory Air.

7. Base Renovation, 2014

Replacing the assorted donated couches and ripping up the 10-year-old, beer-soaked carpet from the base tent marked a significant coming-of-age for Silverton. “You could grow mushrooms on that carpet in the summertime,” jokes Brill. “That was a defining moment for us.”

8. 15th Anniversary, 2016-2017

Looking for a way to celebrate? How about a naked run down the mountain’s infamous Tea Bag Squeezer? Look for more on that (or avert your eyes, if you must) in the September issue of POWDER’s 45th volume.