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2016 Ski Preview: Silver Mountain the classic snow rider’s mountain

FILE - A skier takes advantage of the snowy conditions at Silver Mountain in Kellogg, Idaho on Monday, February 25, 2013. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE - A skier takes advantage of the snowy conditions at Silver Mountain in Kellogg, Idaho on Monday, February 25, 2013. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

There are several things about Silver Mountain that make it unique. Instead of driving up a winding mountain road, you ride a gondola to the top. Up there, the world turns upside down – you descend from the lodge and ride a lift to get back. Plus, you can slide on snow up above all day and soak in 83-degree tropical ambiance in the water park down below at night.

But what may define the character of this ski area rising above Kellogg, Idaho, apart from the others is the sweet sound of charges going off as you pull into the parking lot. As the blasts echo through the Silver Valley, you know it’s going to be an epic powder day.

Silver Mountain is the only place around here where you will find slopes steep enough for avalanche control that aren’t tilled by a snowcat. But it’s arguable that the ski area also offers the most variety per acre among our local choices.

Numerous aspects and angles descend from twin peaks into two basins. Broad cruisers along the ridgelines provide access to corduroy ramps, bumps and trees. Traverses take you to and from some of the most easily accessible side country in the region. The lift system can seem slow, awkward and inconvenient. But that can be a good thing by limiting access to the best lines.

“Silver is the classic snow rider’s mountain,” said Neal Scholey, the resorts marketing director. “The variety of terrain you experience as you farm your way across the mountain always amazes me, especially after a winter storm.”

It’s a great day on any mountain after a winter storm. But the layout at Silver Mountain can help make that great day last longer if you’re willing to hunt for untracked snow.

“It’s never just one thing,” Scholey said. “I like starting at the rope drop on chair three and lapping it out until the North Face Glades are open. Then I chase the powder as I’m heading to Wardner Peak.”

Wardner Peak is the most coveted destination at Silver Mountain on a powder day. But the turns there require a physical investment. Skiing along a ridge from the top of Chair 4 leads you to a traverse across the face that accesses numerous lines. Once you get there, the harder you’re willing to work, the better it gets.

Could Silver Mountain get even better? For decades, first as Jackass Ski Bowl, then as Silverhorn, and lately as Silver Mountain, this ski area’s potential has seemed just out of reach. A renaissance was expected when Jeld-Wen, an Oregon-based window and door manufacturer, bought the resort from the City of Kellogg in 1996. But after investing millions of dollars in the construction of a condo village, water park and golf course, the Great Recession scuttled Jeld-Wen’s plans before improvements could be made in the skiing and riding.

Ever since the Jeld-Wen meltdown, locals have been concerned about the future of Silver Mountain as a viable ski area. Is there an end to their worries? After years of trying, Jeld-Wen finally unloaded its albatross to a Seattle-area businessman who says Silver Mountain is his “favorite resort anywhere in the world.”

Even with hundreds of condo units, a water park and a golf course, the resort’s core users have always believed skiing and riding is Silver’s most valuable asset. No plans have been made public, but an owner who skis may agree. However, don’t expect any changes on the hill this winter.

“The deal transacting when it did doesn’t leave a lot of time to see any physical differences,” Scholey said. “But the future is in good hands. There’s an owner that’s passionate about the resort and the area, which is fantastic news. I think you will see an energized team and hopefully lots of bottomless pow.”


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