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Silver Mountain’s Colburn focuses on big picture

Sun., Oct. 16, 2011, midnight

Silver Mountain Resort general manager Jeff Colburn says he learned the importance of teamwork as a high school athlete. (Kathy Plonka)
Silver Mountain Resort general manager Jeff Colburn says he learned the importance of teamwork as a high school athlete. (Kathy Plonka)

Silver Mountain Resort just south of Kellogg began life 43 years ago as Jackass Ski Bowl, named for prospector Noah Kellogg’s ore-discovering donkey. It later morphed into Silverhorn and was acquired by the city of Kellogg.

Idaho’s congressional delegation secured federal funding to help pay for a gondola, completed in 1990, and the resort was renamed Silver Mountain. Six years later, it was bought by Eagle Crest Partners, a subsidiary of Oregon-based Jeld-Wen Corp., which recently was acquired by a Canadian firm.

Today the resort is managed by Jeff Colburn, who grew up in Cusick and Newport and earned a bachelor’s in business at Eastern Washington University. After graduation, he worked in tourism, taught skiing and built houses before joining Jeld-Wen’s Eagle Crest Resort in Redmond, Ore., in 1991. He transferred to Silver Mountain in 2005 and was named general manager the following year.

S-R: What are your memories of rural northeast Washington?

Colburn: I grew up on a ranch, I showed cows at the fair and learned how to work hard.

S-R: At Newport High School, were you a jock or a nerd?

Colburn: A jock. When we had to research career choices, I wanted to be a professional ski instructor. I thought that sounded like a pretty cool job.

S-R: What resorts did you ski back then?

Colburn: When I was about 8, I learned to ski at a little place at Sacheen Lake – just a rope tow. After that, I mostly skied Schweitzer.

S-R: What lessons learned in your youth have been most useful in your management career?

Colburn: Probably as much what I learned out of school as in school – people skills are what’s important in this business. And sports taught me the importance of teamwork, which is why I spend so much time coaching my kids today.

S-R: What was your big career break?

Colburn: In 1991, I started with Eagle Crest and worked my way up from there. I don’t think there’s been any big break – just a gradual growth pattern with a lot of perspiration along the way.

S-R: Did you ski Silver Mountain – or Silverhorn, as it was called – when you were a teenager?

Colburn: I did. I played basketball a lot, but my brother was a ski racer, so we’d come up here when he’d race. I remember one day when there was about 2 feet of fresh powder, and while I was out skiing powder he and the other racers had to walk up and down, up and down, boot-packing the race course. He didn’t like me much that day.

S-R: What was the resort like back then?

Colburn: It was a pretty hairy drive up to the top. There was a tiny lodge and just one chairlift.

S-R: And today?

Colburn: Silver has evolved into a four-season, destination resort. We’ve developed the base with 277 condo units, an indoor water park, a nine-hole golf course that we hope to get to 18 in the future. There’s something for everyone here now.

S-R: Which innovation most distinguishes Silver Mountain from other Northwest resorts?

Colburn: The indoor water park, which is about the size of a football field. It’s great fun for families. Couples come here for their honeymoons, too. People go in there after skiing all day out in the cold, hop in a hot tub or float around in the river – it’s a pretty unique experience.

S-R: Have any changes not worked out as hoped?

Colburn: We were ramping up about the time the economy was coming down, so we’ve had to adjust our business model. It’s been a struggle, but thanks to the fantastic team we’ve built here, our door is still open. Everyone’s taken on a few more jobs and a few more responsibilities to keep this thing moving forward.

S-R: Besides snow, what does it take to succeed today in the ski-resort industry?

Colburn: It takes great people who are out there because they love the sport and want to make sure guests have a good time while they’re here. Our job simply is to put a smile on people’s faces.

S-R: Besides possibly expanding the golf course, any big changes on the horizon?

Colburn: Right now we’re evaluating people’s moods and pacing our development to match what the economy will allow.

S-R: How much has the recession affected the bottom line?

Colburn: Skiing has a real passionate following, and they tend to ski whether there’s a recession or not. You’ll see a bit of a dip, but not as much as in other travel segments. Where we saw the hit more was in the lodging side and the water park side, and the golf side as well.

S-R: How often do you ski?

Colburn: I’ll get out there 15 or 20 days a year.

S-R: Does the prospect of global warming give you nightmares?

Colburn: No, because I can’t control that. I worry about what I can control, and that’s putting out a great product for people who want to come up and ski.

Spokane freelance writer Michael Guilfoil can be reached via email at mguilfoil@comcast.net.


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