Winter ’20-’21 #9 – Silver Couloir
There were so many great days out there this season! The 9th best goes to my day on Buffalo Mountain and the Silver Couloir.
In this series, I’m counting down the Top 10 Days in the mountains from this season. This winter was great! So many sweet days with new friends yielding a bunch of great memories while gaining a ton of big mountain experience.
I had the privilege of putting down lines in the Colorado Rockies, Tetons (WY & ID), Chilkat Range of Southeast Alaska, and the Cascades. It was awesome experiencing the variability of the different ranges and really committing to the process of remaining flexible and going where the snow is the best.
I think there’s something to be said for traveling around the continent and taking what the weather and Mother Nature gives you. I think I navigated this season with grace, taking only what the mountains wanted to give me and backing down when things didn’t feel just right.
“Silver Couloir” – Buffalo Mountain
If you’ve ever driven through Silverthorne / Dillon on I-70, you’ve seen Buffalo Mountain. It stands tall above the town of Silverthorne and boast a pretty indistinguishable cirque in the middle of the peak. From the interstate, it’s even possible to see a glimpse of the Silver Couloir.
This line is appealing for many reasons:
- The access is incredibly easy
- It’s not a huge day, roughly 5 miles and 3,000′ of vertical gain
- It’s one of the 50 Classic Ski Descents of North America
It’s a great line! And, if you’re able to catch it in good conditions, there’s no doubt in your mind that its a line that you’ll revisit every year. I know I plan to!
The night before I drove over to meet my buddy Sam. Sam and I met at a companion rescue course back in December (2020) and this would actually be our first tour together. This won’t be the last you hear about Sam. He was a part of a few of the top 10 days from this winter. We also went on this gnarly fishing trip together. [Trip report coming soon]
I crashed on his couch and we got a 6 AM start the following morning. We weren’t the first ones at the trailhead but we were earlier than most. Which is important because parking is limited and they will write tickets for parking on the road. We saw many vehicles ticketed upon our return.
Sam and I both had done this line before so we were familiar with the route and pumped about potentially getting some good conditions. This line was one of my first “bigger” backcountry lines. I first rode it, by myself, back in April of 2019.
The skin track was worn but you could tell that there were a few inches of fresh snow on the ground. With any luck, there would be more snow the higher we went and even more collected in the couloir.
The climb goes smoothly except for some really weird sections in the skin track that got icy and tracked out. This skin track was quite possibly the worst I was in all season. When the skin track gets that bad, you make your own. That’s just what I did, except I took my splitboard off my feet and strapped it to my back and started booting straight up the face.
I’ve never been shy about jumping in a boot-pack. Honestly, I prefer it to side hilling on a steep and firm slope. To me, I use much more energy catching every slip of my down hill ski than I do just kicking steps in and marching straight up. I even passed a few people so I didn’t sacrifice much speed.
[I know, as an aspiring mountain guide, I should get more comfortable with traversing across firm snow conditions but I’m also a huge fan of working smarter and not harder. You don’t get bonus points for setting a perfect skin track all the way to the summit. Sometimes things get messy in the mountains but that doesn’t make the experience any less enjoyable.]
As we approached tree line, clouds decided to move in and sock in our visibility. The town of Silverthorne vanished in a thick cloud layer. I had a bit of deja vu, as the last time I was on this peak, I was also socked in. I’ve been up on Buffalo twice, never seeing the view of town from the top. I’ve actually never been to the summit.
The first time I dropped because I was concerned about visibility getting worse. When I dropped into the line, I could see about 50 yards ahead of me. Not ideal but it cleared up the further I descended. This go around, we debated on heading for the summit but with several groups behind us, we decided to forgo the summit and hopefully, find fresh snow waiting for us.
That decision was the right one! Just before we dropped about 20 people came up over the hill. The Silver is not a tight couloir by any means but having 20 people ride and ski the line before you would definitely “track it out” a bit. We decided not to take that chance and were rewarded with some superb conditions.
The video says it all. The conditions were great and I made it known pretty much the whole way down. At the bottom, a group behind us who we chatted with for a few minutes while transitioning for the descent, caught back up and we resumed our conversation.
They mentioned that Cody Townsend had recently done this line, in pursuit of his 50 Project. They brought it up because they were convinced that we had just skied and snowboarded that line in much better conditions. As of this writing, he hasn’t posted that video yet.
The guys saw a Instagram story from a local guide that Cody used, I believe. I thought that was a cool little side note that we had just missed Cody by a couple of days and managed to ride the line in much better conditions, allegedly.
The exit from the bottom of the Silver is always a little tricky and requires a skin back out. Finding the easiest route out is the tricky part. I didn’t find that route this go around and found myself having to do some tricky down climbing. All part of the adventure.
Once back at the trailhead, we decided that we would celebrate a great line in great conditions with some lunch and beers. Our new friends joined us and it turned out that they were some real local legends. That was there first time on Buffalo but they were no strangers to the other peaks nearby.
We had a great lunch and it made me think differently about seeing people out in the backcountry. We all have poor feelings to our backcountry getting more and more crowded but every time I meet somebody, it turns out to be an enjoyable conversation and sometimes I even get a new backcountry partner out of it.
Thanks for reading! May winter cometh soon.