Report from the weekend of April 6th & 7th, 2019
I had barely been back from Taos a day when I fell ill. Body aches, chills, sinus congestion, and coughing. It came on quick and dissipated almost as quickly. Except for a lingering cough. I knew though that I was in no shape for my planned trip to Purgatory & Silverton Mountain that weekend. I texted my best ski buddy Elliot, and he agreed to postpone the trip by one weekend.
I arrived in Silverton on Friday evening. The drive over Red Mountain Pass on US 550 had been an interesting one. It was clear that the San Juans were having a big snow year. Most of the avalanche slide paths that reached or crossed the highway had clearly run in the past month. Some experienced what must have been the 100 year or 500 year events as evidenced by the full size evergreen, aspen, and willow trees that had been snapped like so many match sticks and which now protruded from the avalanche debris. Bestowing the debris piles with the appearance of hair.
The original plan had been to hit Silverton Mountain on Saturday and Purgatory on Sunday. After conversing with a local about potential conditions at Silverton Mountain we changed plans; Purgatory on Saturday & Silverton Mountain on Sunday.
Elliot texted me early Saturday morning, he was having issues leaving Albuquerque on time and would be delayed. I got to Purgatory at around 8:30 am, parked near the front of the base parking, and got my lift ticket. The first run at 9 am was little fun as the sun had had insufficient time to work its magic on the frozen corduroy, and bomb proof crust. Though it didn’t take long for the sun to do its job, as by late morning conditions were soft from top to bottom on the front side. Conditions remained variable on the backside throughout the day. From the base Purgatory looks small, yet once on the mountain I discovered it was surprisingly larger than expected. Also surprising was the lack of people. I hardly encountered anyone on the runs except at the base and top of the mountain.
Sunday dawned clear and bright with the sun illuminating the peaks around Silverton, giving them a cloud like appearance. On our way to Silverton Mountain we passed through the large avalanche debris piles that a few weeks before had closed the road. At the mountain, once I had produced my beacon, shovel, and probe I was presented with a liability waiver. Item #2 stated in bold print, “You could die here today.”. So far Silverton Mountain was living up to the hype.
Before you are allowed to get on the lift the operations crew checks that your beacon is on. It was no later than 9:30 am when Elliott and I got off the lift. After conversing with ski patrol about which runs would be best, we set off on a hike. By the time we reached the entrance for Ramp the intense sun had softened things up. While the snow was soft it wasn’t slushy soft, and there was a lot of chopped up refrozen-thawed chunder. The top of Ramp was steep, and while it did mellow a bit, it remained decently steep for most of its length. It was a hell of a long, fun, run.
After the run down Ramp I needed a break. The altitude, sun/heat, and hike were not agreeing with my lingering cough. I was coughing up a lung. Other skiers were shooting me odd looks and one even asked if I was okay.
Recharged and ready to go again, I jumped on the lift with Elliot. By now the sun had been beating down on many of the northern and western facing runs for a while. From the lift we traversed across under the lift line to the top of Tiger #1 and dropped in. Much to our surprise the sun’s magic had not been as strong as we had imagined. The top of Tiger was barely softening chunder. As we descended the more southerly facing aspects rapidly softened and turned into slushy corn. Yet, the northerly facing sides of the run remained barely soft chunder. The last few hundred feet of the run was a narrow natural half pipe. Much fun was had skiing across the half pipe from one apex to the other.
On the shuttle ride back to the base I realized that I was unfortunately done skiing for the day. I had not recovered enough from my sinus infection to keep skiing and to complete the 7 hour drive back to Denver. My time at Silverton Mountain was short but sweet, and I will definitely return next season.
On my way home the San Juans bequeathed me a parting gift. A small loose wet avalanche blocked both lanes of traffic on US 550 just north of Red Mountain Pass.