Silverton Ethnography

Silverton, Colorado is uniquely coarse and welcoming; the people are original, the ski area is unbelievable, and the rum is exceptional. This past weekend, I played anthropologist, completing a cultural ethnography of the skiers, interns, owners, snow safety directors, and business owners, who characterize the only ski town in North America that transports its visitors in a refurbished milk truck.

A one street town where mining and adventurous recreation collides; where the mining history once preceded the offerings of the mountains; That is, until the one chairlift , which takes skiers to 12,300 feet and offers 3,000 vertical feet of skiing came along. Now, Silverton embodies skiing. The guides, interns, owners, and locals, all contribute to the revamped image, providing bits and pieces of personality essential to ski culture. I interviewed various Silverton subjects at the local bar, Pride of the West, to study those essentials. Here is what I found.


Michelle Mancuso and her big hair.

Michelle Mancuso is a Jersey transplant working in the one building (well, it is actually at tent) at the base of the ski area. Winner of the end of the season big hair contest, she brings a little eighties Guidette to the mix.

Why did you move to Silverton? I have a crush on snow.

Where do you venture for breakfast in town? Mobius.

Gnarliest line you’ve skied here? Every line has a gnarly element.

(Pre-contest) Do you think you will win the big hair contest? I am going to try and make my momma proud.

Lisa Branner owns Venture Snowboards, a local splitboard company thinking about producing skis. She also has a newfound talent involving ratting and hairspraying eighties hairstyles.

How long have you owned and operated Venture Snowboards? Ten years.

Why Silverton? Look around. There is a reason I have been here for 40 years.

Where do you get your morning coffee? At home.

Would you raise kids here? Hopefully someday.

Number of days you ski at the mountain? Never enough.

Favorite person in town? Ron Pense, a guy that refurbishes old bikes and gives them to kids in town. He always reminds me that I need a bike for my dog.

Kendall Reiley is currently interning at Silverton in hope of having a job as a guide next year. This season she drove the shuttle, ran the lift, and threw bombs.

Where do you get coffee in town? I drink tea at my house.

Beer? Pride of the West, one of the only bars in town.

Favorite part about the lift top shack? The dictionary definition of a hovel posted on the ceiling.

Favorite run? Porn Star to Fluffer, partly for the names.

Are there old underground tunnels in Silverton? Definitely.

Any parting words? Living here is like being in college without the classes.

Doug Krause is one of the most important people at the ski area. As an avalanche Czar, heli-ops supervisor, lead pow crusher, general laborer, and role model, Krause also maintains the title of snow safety director.

Are there really underground tunnels throughout Silverton? Certainly are…I have just been unable to confirm their existence.

Do you spend the summer here? I was in South America skiing for the past nine years, but I am planning on staying this summer.

Why Silverton? I have skied Summit County for years, spent 10 years in South America, skied all over Europe and I am sure it is the best place in the world for a skier.

Even with the Colorado snowpack? Absolutely; It challenges you and if you are not being challenged you are just a ski bum. In Silverton we have world class terrain, an average of 400 to 500 inches per year, and active avalanche paths, so the terrain gets flushed constantly. This allows us to ski most of the area, but it keeps you on your toes.

What is the biggest slide in the lift accessed terrain that you saw this season? We popped out a pocket with a 25 pound heli shot that started two feet deep and 20 feet wide, but ended up running 1000 feet across, to the ground, and for 2,000 vertical feet. It was really frightening because the initiating pocket was so small.

Where do you get coffee in town? I drink Mate.

Gregory Custer couldn’t tell you about Salomon, Atomic, or Armada and anything rockered to him is probably a chair, but he plays a vital role in Silverton’s ski culture; he feeds the skiers.

Why Silverton? Well, really good luck put me here; on my birthday years ago I walked past the restaurant I now own and saw it was for lease. After leaving I couldn’t get the place out of my head because I had looked in numerous towns to open an eatery. In December 2007 I moved here and opened the San Juan Grill.

Are you a skier? Hell no. I don’t have the time to ski.

What do you think about skiers? I love them.

Do you prefer winter or summer here? Indifferent.

Where do you drink your caffeine in the morning? Mobius.

Parting words? It feels good to be a part of the change in this town. I hope more restaurant competition shows up because that will inevitably “up the ante” for food quality in town. I would love to go out to eat sometime.

My closing observations on Silverton mesh with something said by snow safety director at Silverton, Doug Krause, “The snow is here, the people are here (but not too many of them), and the terrain is here.” If you haven’t been there yet, now you know the locals. Check it out.


The coffee shop of choice for many locals, Mobius.


Cruising the busy streets of Silverton.


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