Silverton becomes state’s 25th full-scale ski area |

Silverton becomes state’s 25th full-scale ski area

SILVERTON ” The state is getting its 25th full-scale ski area high in the San Juan Mountains and this remote town is getting a winter economic engine.

Silverton Mountain has received a permit from the Bureau of Land Management to operate over 1,300 acres ” all expert-level terrain ” with up to 475 skiers a day. The area has been open for four winters but only for guided skiing.

“It’s still going to feel, even with unguided skiers, uncrowded and vast,” said owner Aaron Brill. “Five hundred skiers a day is smaller than the smallest days at other ski areas.”

Powder hounds will outnumber Silverton’s year-round population of around 400, San Juan County Administrator Willy Tookey said. The expansion could jump-start the town’s dormant winter economy, he said.

“Essentially, it doubles our population,” Tookey said. “It will allow restaurants and lodging to stay open in winter that used to close as soon as the train stops.”

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Brill hopes to attract niche skiers from across the nation, and looks forward to turning a profit. “I’m really hoping to start to take home a paycheck in the next couple of years,” he said.

The BLM, after three years of review, granted Brill a permit Tuesday for 40 years. The public has 30 days to appeal the decision.

Even with the addition of unguided skiing and snowboarding, Silverton will stand out. Its easiest run is a match for the most difficult double black diamonds at many other resorts.

It has one lift, but almost nothing in the way of amenities at its base. There’s no grooming and no snowmaking. The area receives an average of 400 inches of snow a year.

“Silverton matches or surpasses pretty much every other ski area as far as extreme terrain goes,” said Greg Ditrinco, executive editor at Ski Magazine. “They’re trying to serve only the hard-core audience. They’re definitely swimming upstream.”

Brill admits his area is “not for everybody.” With its steepest runs approaching 55 degrees, there’s typically no turning back.

The first unguided skiing will have to wait until April because the mountain’s terrain crosses snowpacks particularly vulnerable to slides. Brill wants to make sure his avalanche-clearing work is satisfactory before allowing snowriders out on their own.

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