About 90 minutes from Montrose and less than an hour from both Durango and Ouray, Silverton sits in a valley at 9,318 feet which means to roads in and out are susceptible to closures in winter which in turn means that Silverton can be cut off, something that does happen, but often only for 24 hours at a time.
With a history dating back to the 1860s, the town eventually swelled to around 2,000 by 1883 thanks to mining and its related industries. Mining continued to support the town until a period of decline started in 1990.
But Silverton refused to die and it is now back and better than ever.
7 AM | COFFEE & BREAKFAST
The Coffee Bear on Greene Street (Silverton’s main thoroughfare) is probably the best place to go to get your cup of Joe. Open seven days a week year round, rain, shine or snowstorm, it was originally located in a smaller property on the same street but last year owner Inga McFadden snapped up the current location at 1129 Greene Street and moved the coffee house into the stunning brick building. Coffee Bear has all the regular coffee shop offerings, including deliciously moist oversized muffins as well as burritos and the like and a daily soup (pizza soup on the day we visited).
There is also Kendall Mountain Cafe and Sage Hen Cafe that both offer a range of breakfast, lunch and brunch items.
9 AM | WINTER WONDERLAND
The main, but not only, reason to go to Silverton in winter is to take advantage of the incredible wilderness that envelops the town and all the amazing winter activities that come with it. There is snowmobiling (the Silverton Snowmobile Club grooms miles of multi-use trails and Ice Pirates provides guided tours in the high country with incredible mountain vistas), sledding, ice skating, ice climbing (there are world-class routes right outside town and throughout the surrounding area), and ice fishing, but skiing and snowboarding, especially extreme and heli skiing, is why so many people visit.
The eponymous Silverton Mountain has just a single chair lift that takes you from 10,400 feet at the base to 12,300 feet and grants extreme skiers access to a high alpine environment that is surrounded by almost 2,000 acres with descents in every direction including bowls, chutes, and cliffs.
In fact, Silverton Mountain is the highest and steepest ski area in North America with a peak elevation of 13,487 feet. From the top of the lift, a short hike takes skiers to a ridge that offers 3,000 feet in vertical drop in a single run.
Perhaps the most notable feature of Silverton Mountain and one that draws people from around the world is the heli skiing and snowboarding. Offering access to almost 30,000 acres of terrain, Silverton Mountain is the only operator in the continental United States that offers single runs as well as all-day and private heli skiing options. There are also options to get here from Telluride or Aspen via helicopter. For those who want to cross heli skiing off their bucket list, this is the place to do it with drops for less than $200 per person per drop.
For something less adrenaline inducing, Kendall Mountain is a family and beginner friendly place to sashay down the slopes. With a terrifying 240 feet of vertical drop across four groomed trails as well as multiple tree runs, a small terrain park, and a single double chair lift, a season pass for Kendall is an amazing $180 an adult.
12 PM | LUNCH
Take a break and head to a brewery for a lovely beer. Avalanche Brewing is one of two breweries in town and it is a place for locals. With bar staff as fun as the beer is good, Avalanche is ostensibly a no frills place for great beer and good food - the pizza is good and the jalapeno poppers are excellent. As for the beers, the flight is a good way to start, especially if you are part of a group. All of the beer is good, but the IPA was good enough for a full pint after the flight was finished.
Golden Block Brewery, so named for the area where all of the town’s wealthier merchants were concentrated during the town’s heyday, used to be co-owner Molly Barela’s jewelry store, but with partner Floyd, they opened Golden Block to expand on Floyd’s home-brewing prowess. For winter, the Arrastra Red Ale and the Madame Brown, an English-style ale with a hint of hazelnut and maple, are going to be popular. There is also a flight option here (which comes in a muffin tin which helps with spillage). Food at Golden Block is cooked exclusively in the huge wood-fired brick oven. The Mountain Climber pizza (white sauce, buffalo chicken, onion, bacon, provolone and blue cheese) is good, as are the oven-roasted chicken wings - go for the Asian chili mixed with the medium hot sauce.
Round out the afternoon with another outdoor activity that you didn’t get around to before lunch, or hit the slopes again.
7 PM | DINNER
Silverton is a bit thin on the ground when it comes to places to eat in winter, but as long as you accept that going in, you’ll be fine. Eureka Station is the place to go for a slightly more up-market meal. Billed as a Cornish Tavern, the menu at Eureka Station this winter will include a rotating weekly special of Scottish salmon, but as the name suggests they also produce Cornish pasties as a delicious homage to the area’s mining heritage. This winter they will have at least two on the menu - the traditional and the potpie. There is also of course the other brewery you didn’t go to at lunch.
If you’re looking for something a tad more hearty, the Brown Bear Cafe (above) on Greene Street is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (with a break during the early part of winter) and is a truly local place with a menu made up of things like Reubens and French dips - and hearty portions of French fries to boot.
2020 Silverton WhiteOut
This 10-hour fat bike race has several associated events around town and starts with a pancake breakfast at the Grand Imperial and ends with dancing and probably some drinking at the Avon Hotel.
One of the most anticipated events of the year in Silverton, this two-day event sees hardy souls on skis and snowboards pulled down Silverton’s Notorious Blair Street by horses at high speed as they traverse jumps and other obstacles.
HIT THE HAY
After an exhausting day with plenty of eating and drinking, you should be dreaming of bed. The most imposing property in town is the Grand Imperial Hotel on Greene Street. Living up to its name, the monumental property dates back to the 1880s when it essentially acted as the base of operations for the town and the county as well as being home to the post office, a bank, a general store, a doctor’s office and the Silverton Standard Newspaper in addition to housing guests. Like stepping back in time but with wifi, the hotel underwent an extensive restoration project a few years ago that has left the property expertly blending the history and grandeur of the hotel with modern conveniences.
A couple of blocks down the street is the Wyman Hotel (above), and it is the perfect complement to the Imperial. A super-modern boutique hotel that wouldn’t be out of place in Manhattan, the Wyman has just 16 beautifully appointed rooms. Accented with modern light fixtures, rich padded headboards and marble nightstands, the Wyman, named for businessman Louis Wyman who built the Wyman Building in 1902, is the face of modern Silverton. There will always be a place for grand old dames like the Imperial, but the Wyman will likely bring in a different crowd.
Elsewhere there is the Alma House B&B which is said to be good (a bartender in town waxed lyrical about the breakfasts and the owner).