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Silver Mountain celebrates 20 years

Silver Mountain celebrates its 20th year.
Silver Mountain celebrates its 20th year.

Silver Mountain’s legacy goes back to 1885, when Noah Kellogg’s donkey wandered off and discovered the Bunker Hill Mine. Ever since, Kellogg natives wisecrack that their town was founded by a jackass.

It’s been 20 years since the ski area above Kellogg became Silver Mountain. The gondola, Mountain Haus and skiing and riding off Kellogg Peak were introduced in 1990. To celebrate, Silver Mountain will have special deals and special events throughout the season.

The first lift above Kellogg was constructed on Warder Peak in 1967. In honor of Kellogg’s donkey, the ski area was christened Jackass Ski Bowl.

Jackass went broke after a few seasons. Bunker Hill bought the place at a foreclosure sale in 1973 and reopened as Silverhorn. In 1981 Bunker Hill itself fell victim to a silver market crash and a century of environmental degradation.

Other mines in the Silver Valley fell like dominoes after Bunker Hill closed. Thousands of jobs evaporated. The City of Kellogg took over Silverhorn in 1984. To create jobs, a movement began to transform the Silver Valley from an abused wasteland into a corridor for recreation and tourism. Expanding the ski area would be a good start.

A major drawback was the scary road. The narrow route twists up 2,700 feet from Kellogg in seven miles. The average grade is seven percent. A gondola was the solution. Kellogg businessman Wayne Ross was determined to make it happen.

Cathi Jerome is the director of group sales at Silver Mountain Resort. When she was a kid, Ross was her best friend’s grandfather. They used to play at his house.

“Her grandpa would hold meetings in his house about Kellogg’s dreams to have a gondola,” Jerome said. “I didn’t like having to be quiet because grandpa was having another meeting. We always wondered what he was talking about.”

Ross coordinated an array of interests to accomplish the feat. Money came from federal and state governments. The citizens of Kellogg voted to tax themselves $100,000 a year for 20 years. The Bunker Hill Partnership sold seven acres of land for the gondola base to the city for $1. Von Roll, the Swiss gondola company, was so impressed it guaranteed $14 million to help finance the job.

Jerome said she had a great view of gondola construction as a student at Kellogg High School in the spring of 1989.

“When the big helicopters flew in with the lift towers, the windows would rattle,” she said. “We would get a break from class and go outside. From the school we had a great view straight up the gondola line with binoculars.”

Silver Mountain opened for business in June of 1990. Ross passed away before he could see his vision unfold. But Jerome had a summer job in the ticket office. People were lined up all the way around the running track at the high school next door, waiting for a gondola ride. She sold the first ticket.

The Silver Mountain gondola covers 3.1 miles. It opened as the longest single-stage gondola in the world and still is. Other gondolas are longer, but are equipped with extra stations and drive terminals.

Eagle Crest Partners, a subsidiary of JELD-WEN, acquired Silver Mountain from Kellogg in 1996. Phase one of the Morningstar Lodge began in 2004. The Silver Rapids water park opened in 2008.

Things have changed on the peaks above Kellogg since the first Riblet double chair was built 43 years ago. But the legacy is intact. Today that chair is named “Jackass.”