It had to happen. One of Colorado’s best kept ski touring secrets began its ascent into the theatrical limelight with the debut of Silverton Mountain ski area in 2002. That seems like yesterday. It was exciting to see a North American “resort” developed that emphasized natural snow and adventure skiing. Yet, one had to wonder: Would having a mechanized ski area in the middle of the hidden gem of the San Juans cause crowds of powder hungry locusts to descend on the town of Silverton and surroundings ski touring routes like a biblical plague?
Some crusty locals don’t like outsiders claim jumping their powder. But I’m told that ski touring increases in the Silverton area have basically matched the amount expected from overall growth of our sport, rather than an invasion. Doesn’t sound too bad to me, but if any Silverton locals want to vent feel free to leave your comments.
And yes Virginia, what comes eventually are the guidebooks. Do the books increase use even more, or do they simply follow the people? Age old debate. They probably argued the same thing when the Egyptians opened up Giza to pyramid building. “Just look at those non-locals, Nefertiti, they’re carrying those stone blocks all wrong!”
In any case, last winter the “Off-Piste Ski Atlas” publishing company kicked out their concise guidebook for ski tours around Silverton.
Format is similar to Off-Piste’s other two atlases covering Crested Butte, Colorado and Grand Targhee, Wyoming. Around 30 pages, a dozen already popular routes/regions. A lack of topographic maps is in my opinion a moderate flaw, but nice oblique aerial photos make up for some of that as do reasonably succinct trailhead directions. At least it is mostly reasonable. I did find a bit of expository prose in the t-head verbiage that could frustrate. For example, directions for reaching Prospect call for driving “…into the Cement Creek Drainage. 5.75 miles later look for a pullout on the east side of the road.” I hope this works better in real life than in my office, but I couldn’t figure out where the 5.75 miles was clocked from. Fortunately, just turn to page 11, input your GPS coords for the “pullout,” and certainty in parking shall be yours — especially in the dark.
Don’t forget this is Colorado, where we ski tour some of the most avalanche dangerous winter powder on the planet. A proven way to mitigate our avy hazard is to watch slope angles like you’re landing a Twin Otter on a 300 foot gravel bar. Around 30 degrees still skis if the snow has a base and your planks are reasonably fat — much safer than a slab hanging there on a steeper slope just waiting for you to spit and trigger an apocalyptic slide that takes out 100-year old growth forest you get to dance with. Silverton Atlas addresses the slope angle issue. In a few of the route descriptions you’ll notice the author’s suggestion for lower angle skiing. That’ll help keep you alive.
The Off-Piste pamphlet guidebooks are partly supported by advertising, presumably keeping retail price down and food on the publisher’s table. The ads are worked in nicely, simply a few pages at the beginning and end of the book, kind of like having sidebars on a website. Each route is a double-page spread with the aforementioned oblique as well as a teaser action shot. They work. I’ll probably use it myself.
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WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.