Silver Mountain, Idaho
Take Silver Mountain’s long gondola ride above the town and into the mountains and you’ll discover what prompts visitors to pull up roots and move to Kellogg.
Silver Mountain, above Kellogg in Idaho’s Silver Valley, is rapidly becoming another ex-mining-town-turned-successful-ski-mountain story, just like Park City, Aspen, Telluride and Ketchum. Like Red Mountain in British Columbia, skiers come here for a few days and never leave. The attitude is cheerful, upbeat and everyone understands why skiers and snowboarders spend all day—day after day—on the slopes.
Silver Mountain’s original name was Jackass Ski Bowl and it’s been hard to market ever since. The name honored the discoverer of the metal that brought riches to the valley more than a century ago. Local legend says a donkey got away from its owner, scampered up a hill and was standing on a rock with a silvery glint when the owner caught up with it. Bunker Hill Mine, which also took lead, zinc and copper from the hillsides, ran the ski area for employee recreation and changed the name to Silverhorn. But in the early 1980s silver prices plunged and Bunker Hill closed. What the company left behind was a white-knuckle road up to the ski area (later condemned by the city) and a Superfund cleanup site of astounding proportions. Kellogg took over what is now Silver Mountain and taxed itself $2 million to build the 45-tower, 3.1-mile gondola, the longest in the world. It rises out of the parking lot a quarter mile from I-90. Work has begun on expansion of the ski area. Eventually, Silver will have nearly 4,000 feet of vertical and an additional 800 acres of skiable terrain.
The gondola descends low over the houses and yards of the town of Wardner before climbing to Silver’s “base area,” called Mountain Haus, at 5,700 feet. A hefty portion of Silver’s terrain is below the Mountain Haus, which gives the area its 2,200-foot vertical drop. There are no trails down to the base, though, so the gondola is the only way in and out.
The 1,590 skiable acres descend from two mountain peaks of the Bitterroots—Kellogg Peak and Wardner Peak. Like British Columbia’s Red Mountain, Oregon’s Mt. Bachelor and Idaho’s Bogus Basin, there is a bit of 360-degree skiing around Kellogg Peak to the Sky Way Ridge that gets skiers to the Chair 4 trails of Wardner Peak.
This guarantee can’t be beat: If snow conditions don’t please you, return your lift ticket to the gondola base within an hour and a half and get a pass for another day. Or, for another $5, hit the snow tubing park for a couple of hours.
The region is home to both Silver Mountain and Schweitzer Mountain Resort. Both mountains are roughly equidistant from the lakeside city of Coeur d’Alene, a fun place to stay. It’s thriving with plenty of dining, nightlife and shopping. The lake, one of 55 in the area, is more than 25 miles long. Near town are plenty of parks and hiking trails, and the Coeur d’Alene Resort has a floating boardwalk over the water that’s almost a mile long.