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Silver Mountain, Idaho

Silver Mountain, Idaho

A mining town with a colorful past reinvents itself as a ski resort with a bright future.
By Tim Neville, Contributor, SKI Magazine
posted: 11/06/2008

Decades before the gondola, the glades or Silver Mountain Resort, there was a donkey named Dolly. Back in 1885, a miner named Noah Kellogg lost track of Dolly in the hills of northern Idaho. When he found her, the donkey had kicked over a hunk of ore from what would become the biggest silver mine in the state. The town of Kellogg was born. Some years later, the townsfolk looked up and realized the region held an even bigger treasure: Two 6,000-foot-high mountains with 2,200-vertical-foot drops, steep shots and 25 feet of annual snowfall. So the miners traded picks for poles and in 1968 opened a ski resort. In honor of Dolly they called it...Jackass.

“I know, kinda funny,” says Mike Heglund, who’s been riding the lifts here since Day One. “It’s a part of the history.”

Jackass Ski Bowl eventually became Silverhorn, which eventually became Silver Mountain, which sits high above Kellogg, four ridges south of I-90 in the Idaho panhandle. These days the resort and Kellogg are busy polishing the bullion they’ve held for years. The result is a resort that’s shiny on one side and gritty on the other, with a whole lot of room for powder eights in between.

“We’re still small-town up here, but things are changing,” says Mike Basile, who with his wife, Michelle, moved from Ashland, Ore., last year into a 2,400-square-foot home right under Silver’s gondola, which spans the 3.1 miles from town to slopes. “Winter is consistent here, and that’s some great skiing. It’s a real town, too.”

The unpolished side of that town includes the time in the early 1990s when the feds roared in to shut down illegal gambling and saloons serving black market booze. Things can still get heated on the deck at Dirty Ernie’s, where locals gather to drink beer and watch high school football on the adjacent field. And all that faux Bavarian architecture you see around town? That’s from the late 1980s, when locals tried in vain to revive their economically depressed town of 3,000. “People from here went to Europe to get some ideas,” says Cathi Jerome, who’s lived in Kellogg all her life and works as Silver’s director of marketing and PR. “It didn’t really work out.”

So while old Kellogg still boasts the world’s largest Dodge dealership, it’s the shiny new face of Silver that represents the future. Jeld-Wen Communities bought the resort from the city in 1996 and spent the past few years sprucing up Silver’s base area. Now it’s a lively gathering place with outdoor fireplaces, stone patios and a village of cafes and restaurants in board-and-batten buildings. Million-dollar condos, day spas and pubs stand near a former Superfund site. (Twenty-one square miles of the valley were declared a toxic waste site in 1983 due to mining waste. The cleanup was completed in 2007.) Plans call for an 18-hole golf course and a new residential area with lifts that could double Silver’s vertical to more than 4,000 feet in a few years. And Silver Rapids, a four-season $20 million, 42,000-square-foot indoor water park—complete with a standing wave, 82-degree water and five-story tube slides—draws families.

But it’s the skiing that ties it all together. I arrive at Silver on a midweek day just as another departing storm struggles to get over the mountains into Montana, having unloaded 18 inches of powder on the 1,600 acres of terrain. The skies are overcast, and the slopes are almost empty. I duck into a woodsy basin off Chair 2 and pop through spruce and lodgepole pines into 300 acres of glades created last summer. Snow wells up to waist-high on Upper Terrible Edith, and later I can eight my own tracks on 16-to-1, a black that spills off 6,200-foot Wardner Peak. I stop by the Mountain Haus for hot chocolate and watch snow fall on Western hemlocks before heading back out, this time through the experts-only gates near an old chairlift called Shaft. At the end of one run, two skiers in line joke about the new guy—me.

“Man, he’s making it crowded,” one says. We’re the only ones in line.

“There will be nothing left for us,” the other replies. “Maybe we should hurry.”

There’s no need. By midafternoon our tracks are nearly gone. Another storm is moving in, and fat, round flakes fall from the sky. Like silver dollars.

SIGNPOST: SILVER MOUNTAIN

Vital Stats: 1,600 skiable acres; 2,200 vertical feet; base elevation 4,100 feet; summit elevation 6,300 feet; 300 annual inches; 67 runs; five lifts, including one gondola. Lift tickets: $49; youth (7–17) $34; college students $44; seniors $39; kids 6 and under ski free.

Lodging: The Morning Star Lodge is at the base of the gondola with 278 rooms from studios to suites, many with kitchens, fireplaces and balconies; $169–$559 per night, including water park and lift tickets; silvermt.com; 866-344-2675.

Dining: Noah’s Canteen at the base serves burgers, salads and microbrews in an airy pub (208-783-2440). Mountain Tapas Café and Bar offers espresso drinks and breakfast sandwiches (as long as it’s not a powder day and the owner sticks around); 208-783-0562.

Getting There: From Spokane, Wash., take I-90 east for 70 miles to Kellogg. Park at Gondola Village, a quarter-mile off I-90, and access the ski slopes via the gondola, which stretches for 3.1 miles from town into the mountains.

Info: silvermt.com; 800-204-6428

- SKI Magazine, November 2008

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