Silverton Mountain is now offering helicopter ski mountaineering
Ryan Summerlin January 22, 2013
SILVERTON – The helicopter leaves the group on a swirling, exposed knife edge. Guides Sklyar Holgate and Fabio Grasso swiftly bury a webbing-strapped log and string the thin line through the snow. Aaron Brill throws a rope over a cliff and clips it to the tiny strap.
Brill, owner of Silverton Mountain ski resort, is exploring the edge of extreme skiing with his latest offerings of helicopter-assisted, technical, roped descents into never-skied hanging snowfields.
This is the test run.
“If you want to be extreme, you need a rope and a helicopter, right?” he says.
“And some concrete pipe. And some explosives,” adds Holgate, as he stuffs his pack with ammonium nitrate fuel oil (ANFO) bombs and 4-foot lengths of steel.
And apparently this descent requires a 20-pound log, cleaved with jutting spikes. Brill tosses the timber to me, telling me with a chuckle to strap it on.
“Oh, sure. Here, Blevins, before you ski the gnarliest thing in your life, can you carry this?” says Holgate, his laughter wiped away in whipping winds.
I tie it to my pack, unsure if this is standard Brill humor – he really likes seeing people scared into whimpering puddles. And wait, what did Holgate just say about the gnarliest thing in my life?
Soon I’m hip deep in vertical snow, rappelling through half-frozen scree, the log yanking me backward like Gollum on Frodo’s back.
The rocks under my boots crumble with every step, fleeing the snow and flying downward. I hear the missiles caroming inside the dark, vertical channel below.
Brill is laughing. He’s urging me to look up so he can take a photo. I think he calls me “Lt. Dangle” as I splay myself between vertical stone.
I am Brill’s guinea pig, testing the boundaries for future everyday skiers who enlist for his missions.
Before he installed his second-hand double chairlift in 2002 over a collection of mining claims he studiously acquired three years earlier, we ventured together into unknown terrain that would become Silverton Mountain’s most trafficked ski runs.
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