Sore throat, appendicitis, or car trouble; all have been used and will continue to be used as sick day excuses for centuries to come. But what have you done with that day? Did you sleep in, take your dog for a longer run, or worse; were you forced to go shopping in a florescent light filled hell hole of a mall with your “significant” other?
What if the opportunity to shred a mountain mid-week came upon you? In a place known for it’s insanely steep couloirs and endless powder, where they run the lift only for you and your friends, a place you can shred the same lines as the internet famous skiers around you, are miles away from the nearest WiFi, and you can party like a rock star on a Wednesday night where the rum from a local distillery literally flows like water because water literally vaporizes due to the extreme cold here.
No we’re not talking about your most recent edible experience but a real place in the state of Colorado tucked away in the San Juans known as Silverton.
If your planning your sick day correctly my best advice is to hit the road early the afternoon before. Leave the big city behind and get your butt to Ouray. Check into the turn-of-the-century Hotel Ouray right downtown on Main & 6th. Once there you can cannonball into the local hot springs, enjoy a supremely cold beer, and maybe you can even get an ice climb in on the ridiculously amazing city run ice park in the remaining light hours. (To make this plan fly, you better feel your stomach bug coming on mid-day so you can ditch work while there is still plenty of daylight). The other benefit of staying in Ouray is once you wake up (feeling groggy and “sick”) you can be assured you have cell service, unlike most of downtown Silverton, to call your boss to deliver the bad news, “I’m taking a sick day”. Critical for the plan.
Fuel up on espresso for the ride from Ouray to Silverton as Red Mtn. Pass will require your utmost attention OR maybe not and let the pre-morning adrenalin take hold as you fight to keep your car careening off the guardrail-less road into the icy canyon below.
Either way, once you hit the thriving stoplight less metropolis of Silverton you should have prewarmed your base layers enough to skip right through town, past the saloons, distillery, and gold miners inns to head straight up the ice packed dirt road just five miles up past town where the relic base camp school buses, mountain operations (yurt), and a single two-person chairlift of Silverton Mountain awaits.
Sign your life or sick day away, brag about your skiing ability, beacon shovel probe—check, and before you know it your loading the two-pack chair with 7 new ski buddies and your own Silverton Mountain guide for the day.
Dispersed in my group were several SCARPA athletes, Flylow sponsored “skibums”, Icelantic Skis “corporate”team, Strafe marketing manager and back flip throwing ninja Whit Boucher, and world record cliff hucker and Discrete Clothing company owner Julian Carr. Needless to say I was really hoping the cameras weren’t rolling on us this day after viewing the drool and jaw dropping clips of the skiers that surrounded me, as I forgot to wear my full body airbag suit to protect me from the potential and inevitable downfalls of hitting 100+ ft drops on skis.
Lap after lap, we did 7 that day, of chairlift bumps up and shuttle bus rides back, twenty minute to hour long hikes to the top of 50 degree plus thousand foot colouirs, and too many cans of sugar and taurine infused energy drinks we managed to avoid hucking ourselves off of the abundant cliffs and kept it below twenty feet in higher priority to seek and destroy untouched snow crystals.
I cramped up and enjoyed the new found camaraderie of our motley crew at the end of a day while kicking back several beers amongst the 60 other “sick day” attendees. A day I was almost certain to win money on by placing my bets on myself ending up in a flight for life sometime before 3pm.
Too sore and sucked dry of my supply of adrenalin for the day I opted best to stay in some local accommodations. I slid my skis bags through the snow covered streets and turned the corner at Blair street to check into the lone Hostel in Silverton. $20 bucks later, checked in, towel folded upon my single bed in a three bedroom room lined with dank ski boots littered all over my 80 sq.ft sleeping quarters, I hobbled my way towards the local eating establishment where our crue banded once more. With a menu that seemingly went missing on this select day we all settled on the “special” homemade meatloaf. Pitchers of beer quickly cluttered our table as the oven baked goodness arrived in succession around me.
Few words were exchanged as we all picked up a mug in our left hand, a fork in our right, and devoured the feast before us.
Our speechless meal came to a close and we slid across the icy street to the sole local distillery, Montanya, for a short presentation from Julian on how he mentally prepares for plummeting off of snow-covered cliffs for fun, in addition formally meeting the organizers of this mass Sick Day gathering from Bent Gate Mountaineering in Golden, Colorado.
Therein I was informed I came down with a rather intense case of the the flu and I would need to take tomorrow off as well. Shucks! I got paired up with the boys from Kling Mountain Guides and the infamous but equally awesome Kick Haskell of SCARPA to go on a backcountry ski tour in the surrounding areas. Others banded together for similar plans or simply they would get to have a second taste of what Silverton Mountain had to offer. There were no bad flavors to choose from.
The elixirs of Montanya began to flow around the room as a bluegrass band tuned up in the corner. Armed with wooden nickels each donated by Icelantic Skis for use in exchange of a free cocktails to come, the night in this secluded Colorado town began to take hold. Fiddles and bass lines echoed inside the tin roofed bar as word broke out of a last second ski give-away.
What ensued was an all male shirtless dance off by two diehard Icelantic fanboys in what many would describe as a permanent retna damaging display of their own jigging ability. While two beard laden hairy chested men danced off in the corner others guzzled down their cocktails at 9,318 ft above sea level.
A rum filled hazy morning ensued on my second “sick day” as I was awoken(insert extremely startled) by a dread locked man to my left in my “deluxe” accommodations who instructed me to please silence my ear drum piercing snoring. I grabbed my crisp, clean, and newly rented green towel; sprinted down the hallway, washed the rum away, and vowed to piece what ensued mere hours ago in the evening together later in the day. I had minutes to meet my new crue to head out on a tour.
Burritos, doppio this and doppio that, I was caffeinated back to life by the sole bakery in town, only after spilling my first cup of Joe all over the Osprey Packs Backcountry girls ski team table. This would be an “interesting” day no doubt.
Loaded up and packed like sardines in the back of a pickup we headed east of town to ski tour up to a zone on Kendall Mountain ending with the eventual descent down the Turkey Coulair.
Spearheaded by Josh Kling, owner & founder, and Tico Allulee, lead guide, we made small talk and began our tour/suffer fest on the outskirts of town. Tico had graciously recon-ed the area the day before to suss out the current snow pack and set an ambitious skin track. As we weaved our way through the backside of Kendall Mountain, past a handful of small but equally luxurious log cabins and pine trees, small talk went to silence and the stench of a good night dispersed through our breathable base layers. The outlook for the day was good as the sole track left behind by Tico was all we could spot. Fresh turns were surely in store.
A few technical climbing switchbacks required slow and steady uphill movement with adequate spacing to mitigate our risk over the terrain. We managed to safely but slowly approach the backside of the chute. A decision was made to make a quick lap up to a nearby saddle to grab a quick snack and discuss the plane for our final descent.
Crusty, frozen, but equally fun turns were had for our first small run which met up with the final switchbacks to the backside entrance of the couloir. Steep, off camber, and probably ski crampon worthy for the few in the group that elected for fatter skis we clambered to the top of the dark chute.
Selfie this and GO-PRO that we prepared in true backcountry protocol what our plan was for the next four thousand plus foot descent to the valley below. Tico dropped in first into the 45 degree descent and stationed up halfway down the couloir, Josh followed and rode the line out to the apron two thousand plus feet below us.
Rochambeau, rock-paper-scissors, was the selection process dictating the following order of descent, with free beers on the line for anyone that could make it to the valley floor without stopping.
As my turn neared I heard hoots, hollers, and witnessed the powder spraying off each wall of the chute as skiers made their way down. My turn came, I flicked my pole straps off in case of self arrest, gave my boots, skis, bindings, and pack a good once over, gave a shout to elicit my descent, and pushed off. I knew it would be my final descent of my sick day experience so I kept my eyes on the prize; that free beer; focusing on my turns not to arc to much keeping them calculated but fast, good athletic ski position, and more so ignore the intense leg burn as I screeched down the chute to only be spit down onto the apron. Speed still increasing without an indication of how fast I was going I made a few more turns and could take no more. I made it down, but was just a few hundred feet short of making it all the way down to the valley floor.
Looking back I saw the crew party ski down the apron as they joined around me high-fives ensued as our legs gave way our backs became one with the snow. There were cold beers waiting back at the truck after our six hour tour our souls and smiles would need to be replenished by hops. Its just what the doctor ordered on a “sick day” after all.
Now if I could have just figured out how to hot wire one of those Silverton Mountain A-Star helicopters to whisk me back to the Front-Range.
—Joseph Risi was raised on pasta and meatballs in the “backwoods” of Long Island before seeking higher education in the mountains of Vermont. Always looking for adventure, building treehouses, and working too many odd jobs around the world, he now lives in Colorado. He most recently became race director for the COSMIC series (Colorado Ski Mountaineering Series) where he can be seen organizing skimo races throughout the west to make skiers suffer uphill and down.