Powderhounds Review

Powderhounds Review

Hokkaido Explorer Tour
Review of Silverton Heli Skiing The slogan on many of the Silverton Mountain souvenirs says “Got balls? Ski Silverton”. So in order to fully prove his prowess, one of the Powderhounds set off to review the Silverton heli skiing operation.

In summary, the experience didn’t live up to the media hype associated with Silverton. Sure “lift-accessed” skiing at Silverton Mountain has a great appeal for powderhounds, but there are much better heli skiing companies to go out with than Silverton Heli Skiing.

See how the statistics and costs for Silverton Heli Skiing compare to other USA heli ski operators and Canada heli ski stats. Also see how the ratings for Silverton Heliski compare to other heli and cat ski operations in Colorado, Canada, and New Zealand.

  • One of the benefits of Silverton Heli Ski is that you can take a single heli lift or as many as you want, and combine this with the lift accessed skiing. The cost for one run is reasonably affordable.
  • You don’t need to book in advance for single runs. You just turn up on the day and buy as many runs as you would like at the day tent. The downside is that you might turn up and not get to go.
  • The steep terrain is very well suited to strong advanced riders and above.
  • The runs are reasonably long.
  • The terrain size is tiny in comparison to other North American heliski operations. Apart from a lack of aspect variety, if it hasn’t snowed in a while the snow would have a tendency to be tracked by other skiers (and that’s not what heli skiing is about!).
  • Silverton are not a particularly polished operation and are very disorganized. Whilst spontaneity can be a good thing, the lack of organization may be frustrating for some. Don’t expect customer service as the staff are extremely laid back, almost to the point of disbelief at their take it or leave it approach.
  • If you’re going heli skiing to get more vertical in a short space of time, you might be disappointed. When doing a run or two you still have to catch the lift, hike up for 5-10 minutes to get to the helicopter, ski down to the bus pickup and wait, and then catch the bus with all the other sardines. This hassle detracts from the true heli skiing experience where the chopper comes in to land almost on top of you, ready to whisk you off to your next destination.
  • Their emphasis on safety is not particularly apparent. This seems to be a rustic, bare bones operation.

Powder Snow
Silverton Mountain experiences regular dumps of deep dry powder. Due to the high elevation and low number of visitors, the powder is often well maintained for many days after a storm. The exception to this is in the alpine areas that are exposed to the elements and have the potential to become wind affected. Another limitation is the small size of the terrain so there are limited options for guides to find quality powder.
Overall Terrain
The size of the terrain available at Silverton is very petite in comparison to other North American heli skiing companies. Thankfully with only a small number of guests each day, the area doesn’t track out too quickly.
Strong Intermediate Terrain
This is not the place for intermediate riders or inexperienced powder riders. Even if some of the heli ski terrain might be open enough to accommodate a greenhorn, all riders at Silverton Mountain range from strong advanced up to amazing experts, so intermediates would not be able to keep up with the group.
Alpine Terrain
This category loses points again for the compact terrain, but there is a moderate amount of variety available considering the size. The alpine bowls and ridges are steep, and the pitch is constant.
Tree Skiing
There is some tree skiing but it appeared to be somewhat limited.
Advanced Terrain
Advanced skiers and boarders are very well catered for with the steep fall-line terrain. Larger tenure and more tree skiing would have scored them a higher rating.
Expert & Extreme Terrain
not rated
We didn’t really experience enough of the terrain to comment on this. However based on our observations, it appeared that there were a lot of steep chutes within the area that may have been skiable pending snowpack stability.
Group sizes are small and clear instructions were provided in the field. The guiding was lackadaisical.

If the Silverton guides are highly qualified, the company is certainly not proud of this, as it’s not communicated via their website or during the experience.
The helicopter used is an A-Star B3 heli which appeared to be reasonably new. The heli was very comfortable and was shared with only 4 guests.
Avalanche Mitigation Strategies
Excessive caution needs to be exercised considering that the San Juan snowpack is very fickle. Even though avalanche safety as a high priority is not communicated via the website, various risk minimization strategies were evident. As well as on-site slope testing and avoidance of excessive slope loading, a degree of blasting control work is undertaken.
Safety Briefing
All skiers and boarders at Silverton Mountain receive a quick morning safety briefing about avalanches. This doesn’t cover avalanche beacon training, how to use the other safety equipment, or other backcountry hazards.

Those who then go heli skiing also receive a safety briefing about the helicopter. Even though this was read off a card, the content was inaccurate on various points. For example the briefing said that the guide would put on the guests’ seat belts even though this was not the case.
Like the rest of the Silverton Mountain experience, this is absolutely no frills all the way. Powder skis are not included in the package and at least for the single runs, there is nothing else provided or included.
Value For Money
Whilst it is highly advantageous that Silverton offers an affordable option to sample the joys of heli skiing, it doesn’t provide as much value as some other heli ski options. As an example, Silverton is more expensive than a single run with Alaska Backcountry Adventures where the run is significantly longer.

The 6 run package is “middle of the road” for day operators in the US, and is more expensive than those in Canada. The cost is the same as Telluride Helitrax, yet ski or snowboard hire is not included in the price with Silverton, nor other extras.