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Chris Coulter Sums Up the Silverton Mountain Experience
Posted on April 1, 2015

Chris Coulter

Eddie Bauer snowboard guide Chris Coulter has already migrated up to Haines, Alaska, for another spring season guiding professional freeski royalty  at SEABA Heli. But Coulter’s midwinter gig is at the one-chair, one-heli, backcountry-style area of Silverton Mountain in southwest Colorado. On his off days, he sharpens his skill set splitboarding in the surrounding San Juan backcountry. We caught up with Coulter on a rare down day to get his take on Silverton, the San Juans, and guiding clients in southern Colorado’s challenging snowpacks. —LYA Editor

Chris Coulter

Images by Ben Eng 

What first brought you to Silverton?

The Silverton Mountain operation. I grew up five hours south and learned to ride at Purgatory. I built some of my first backcountry jumps in the San Juan Mountains on Red Mountain Pass. When I learned about Silverton Mountain, and what they had built there, I had to come and check it out.

How long have you been guiding at Silverton Mountain, and what makes the Silverton experience unique?

This was my fourth season working for Silverton Mountain. It’s definitely a unique mountain. We have one chairlift and one heli. It’s all about the riding. From the chair, we access about 1,800 acres of terrain. From the heli, we have about 22,000 acres of terrain. There is really nothing like it. You have got to come and experience it. It’s mostly guided skiing; however, we have unguided riding at the beginning and end of the season.

What is the biggest challenge about guiding at the Silverton ski area?

We are riding big terrain in the San Juans, with groups of eight. It’s great getting to ride with so many different people. Every day is great guide training. It’s an amazing work environment, where you can constantly improve. My coworkers are all high-level people who I learn from every day.

Slashing the goods in the Southwest Colorado backcountry with Silverton Mountain looming in the background

Why is the terrain in the San Juans so exceptional for backcountry splitboarding?

There is a lifetime of things to ride in the San Juans. The terrain is steep and accessible. It’s not very crowded, which is a nice change for me from the Wasatch. It’s also very cold, with tall peaks, so the snow quality stays very good even through long high-pressure periods.

Why is the snowpack in that area so challenging from a snow safety standpoint?

It’s a thin, cold, weak snowpack—a classic continental snowpack. With this snow, we are quite often able to produce results on control routes, which in turn helps a guide or patroller develop his/her intuition—and aids in becoming a better guide and mountain traveler.

Why is Silverton such a great place to build your guiding skills and snow safety knowledge?

It’s a professional work environment, where the terrain/snow and my coworkers offer feedback on a daily basis. We are both patrollers and guides. Everyone on the staff does both.

Sultan Peak Splitboarding, near Silverton, CO

Did guiding in Silverton allow you to step up to places such as Haines?

I started guiding in Haines the same season as I did in Silverton. Working for Silverton Mountain puts me on snow in high-consequence terrain and helps me develop my intuition with snow. Patrolling and guiding at Silverton have helped me grow and progress every day. I feel truly lucky to be a part of the Silverton Mountain team.

Tell me a bit about the snowboard crew you ride and guide with at Silverton.

We are unique because we are patrollers and guides. Not many snowboarders take on this type of work. It’s an honor and privilege to be a part of the boarder patrol crew. We are some of the first of our kind. We are passionate and excited about the work we get to do. There are about ten of us at the mountain working on boards, including the owners.

Slashing the goods in the Southwest Colorado backcountry with Silverton Mountain looming in the background

Describe a few of the cabin trips you did this past season and what makes them so unique.

My friends own the Bonnie Belle Cabin, and it’s an amazing place.  It sits at treeline. You can do 1,500-foot tree runs right from the cabin. There are huge alpine runs that we ride when we feel good about stability. The tour or sled ride into the cabin can be intense as you cross through this valley we refer to as “the gauntlet,” which crosses under 20-plus slide paths. It’s always an adventure going up there. The cabin is equipped with solar power, a propane stove, and a wood stove for heat. This is where we often can be found on days off work, enjoying the beautiful and quiet San Juan Mountains.

Digging deep on McMillan Peak near Silverton, CO

With your migrations from Bariloche to Silverton to Haines, it seems like you’ve dialed in a great work/shred rotation. What do you dig most about the global shred lifestyle you’ve created?

Spending lots of time on snow helps me develop my intuition. I love being in the mountains and on snow. I feel like, during the winter, every day on snow is a great day, however; there are usually a few epic weeks a season. Being able to spend most of the season in one killer location helps ensure I am getting those epic weeks in. Life is GOOD!

What is the best trip you’ve ever ticked in the Silverton area?

I did a tour about eight years ago with a rad crew of splitboarders to the San Juan Mountain Huts system. We did three huts in seven days. Walked about 80 miles and had a blast. We did not have the best snow and most of us brought too much stuff, making our packs really heavy. We all learned a lot about touring on that trip. This was the first time I skied on my splitboard, and this trip made me fall in love with splitboarding.

Why should Silverton be on everyone’s riding life list?

There is nothing quite like Silverton Mountain. If you’re thinking about getting into backcountry, it’s a great stepping stone. It is a unique and fun operation, with a highly skilled staff and exceptional terrain. I highly recommend checking it out.

Chris Coulter


Author: - Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

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