Resort Reviews: Silver Mountain Resort

I just returned from an Indy Pass trip through Idaho and wanted to share a quick review of the resorts on our loop: Silver Mountain, Brundage, Little Ski Hill, and Tamarack, starting with Silver. Before diving in, big shoutout to my friend and Kellogg local Trisha for her recs around the resort and greater area. She hit me up once about boot info and I proceeded to blow her up for recommendations every time I’m in the Idaho panhandle.

So, to understand the vibe of the resort, you really need to understand the vibe of Kellogg and the greater Silver Valley. It’s a narrow, 40-mile valley that spent 40 years as a major mining and smelting hub that, for a long time, produced half the nation’s silver output. The work culture throughout the mining era was gritty and colorful. Martial law was declared twice over escalated labor confrontations (one group of ~1,000 miners blew up their mill with 3000lbs of dynamite, carried in on a hijacked train they called the Dynamite Express). In the 1980s, metal prices took a significant decline and a number of mines couldn’t operate profitably. Some closed temporarily. Others, permanently. And if that wasn’t economically devastating enough, the OSHA and the EPA also added complexities for the community. The original mills created a lot of lead byproducts, which were dumped straight into the Coeur d’Alene River. Fish were lacking in the river. Trees were dying in Coeur d’Alene National Forest. And after 2 children were hospitalized with lead poisoning in the ‘70s, the CDC assessed that roughly a quarter of children in the area had dangerously high levels of lead in their blood, including one child with the highest levels ever recorded. OSHA set stricter rules on lead levels for employees, and the EPA named the Couer d’Alene Basin as a priority Superfund site – the largest and most complex that is being cleaned up over 40 years later. The Silver Valley lost a large number of high paying jobs, which spilled over into other community industries. Some people wanted the area cleaned up. Others saw pollution as a price to pay for economic stability. The state and federal governments often took different sides. Unemployment spiked and almost a third of the residents left the area to find jobs. The Silver Valley needed a way to diversify their economy, and they looked to recreation, which included the Jackass Ski Bowl.

The name of the original Jackass Ski Bowl holds a lot of cultural significance. Kellogg’s welcome sign reads “This is the town founded by a jackass and inhabited by his descendants.” In the 1880s, Noah Kellogg sought out a grubstake to go prospecting. His financiers weren’t optimistic about his odds of finding anything, but they were eager to get rid of a donkey named Bill that had been braying for nights on end an annoying the people in their town of Murray. So they gave him supplies under the condition that he took Bill the Burro with him. Legend has it that Bill escaped from camp one night, and when Noah found him the next morning, he was standing on top of a glittering outcropping of ore, which became one of the largest mines in the valley.

Jackass Ski Bowl, later known as Silverhorn, was a single chairlift and a day lodge, accessed by a super steep, single-lane mountain road. If recreation and the ski area were going to provide economic support to the area, a lot would have to change. A city councilman pitched the idea of a gondola from town. Congress made appropriations for $6 million. Residents overwhelmingly approved of taxes to fund $2 million. The gondola manufacturers were so impressed they pledged to pitch in. The state of Idaho and the local power company pitched in.

In 1990, the resort opened as Silver Mountain, with the gondola, additional chair lifts, and a new lodge. And since, a village area in town, a golf course, an indoor waterpark, and bike park were all added to make the resort a year-round destination.

Today, the resort and an improved mining market both improved employment rates and the overall economy for the local area. It’s still a little behind national averages, but solidly working class. Which is all a very long-winded way of getting to the vibe at the resort. Silver Mountain isn’t the sort of place staffed significantly by J1 visa holders who’d be deported the minute they lose a job. Employees mostly hail from the Silver Valley, live nearby, and raise families there. And they provide services to mostly middle-class clientele from the Spokane metro area. That’s quite different than most American resorts and therefore the culture is distinct too. The best analogy I can think of is a really good dive bar. Prices are reasonable. Staff feel authentic and lack that put-on “customer service voice.” They’ll make you a stiff drink and discreetly confess that the soup you’re considering wasn’t made from scratch, but they’re not going to go out of their way to make you feel uber important. This also isn’t the sort of place where you’ll find luxury amenities like ski-in-ski-out lodging, ski valet, or après bottle service. Leave your cashmere and furs at home. Silver’s comfortable, welcoming, and unpretentious. Resorts don’t have a lot of control over the earth’s terrain (and to be fair, Silver’s is pretty great), but they have full control over their culture. And Silver’s part of a dying breed of ski resorts that are approachable, laid-back, and welcoming. I hope that recreation continues to bring money to the Silver Valley, but I hope the culture never changes.

With that, I’ll stop waxing poetic about Silver Resort’s unique backstory and get to the rest of the reasons you should book your next ski trip to Silver:

  • Great for Groups. Group trips are always complicated. People are at all different skill levels. Some people want other activity options. Silver’s really nice because there are no experts-only lifts, and whether you’re on the Kellogg Peak side or Wardner Peak side, most runs end in the same spot. As long as skiers can get down easy blues, it’s easy to split up, ski your own run, and regroup at the bottom to ride up together. Likewise, the Mountain House lodge at the top of the gondola is pretty much 1 lift ride away no matter where you are on the mountain, so if you split up in the morning and want to grab lunch or regroup, the logistics are super straightforward.
  • Great for Families.Silver offers childcare for kids over 2, so it’s a game changer for groups with small kiddos in tow who can’t ski yet, won’t make it a full day, or struggle in cold, stormy conditions. And the childcare is located in the Mountain House at the top of the gondola, so it’s easy to combine with a half-day lesson or to grab tiny tots for a family lunch. And Silver also offers an indoor water park and snow tubing, so families don’t have to choose between a parent-centric vacation vs. a kid-centric vacation.
  • Soft stashes stick around for a few days after a storm. Two peaks make up Silver Mountain Resort: Kellogg Peak, which has lift service to the top, and Wardner Mountain, which only has lift service to the ridgeline. From there, there’s a ~200ft / 15 minute bootpack to get to the summit. There’s also a traverse option halfway down Wardner. So the top section of the mountain doesn’t see tons of traffic and we were able to get some high quality snow the 2 days after a storm cycle. Likewise, we got some good stashes in the trees under Chair 2 and in the North Face Glades (take the lower gate & traverse right for the least skied out zone).
  • They have the best beginner off-piste / tree skiing. This one’s especially for my Western WA crowd, where mellow slopes and sparse trees rarely coincide in the same place. But they do at Silver’s SOB Glades. SOB stands for South of the Border – previously, this was backcountry terrain, but Silver adjusted the boundaries this year. (It also hasn’t yet been added to the trail map). There’s plenty of spacing between trees (and the tighter clusters don’t get very skied out). Plus, the slope angle is approachable and the run itself isn’t too terribly long if you do find yourself in over your head.
SOB Glades off Chair 2
  • Gondola Apres. Our first day, we took a lodge break for drinks and fries, and as we were wrapping up, our server asked us something along the lines of whether we’d need a round in to-go cups for the ride down. We asked him to clarify, and a lot of people get an après drink to take on the ~15 minute gondola ride back to town. In all of my ski days at Crystal, Whistler, Revelstoke, and Heavenly, I’ve never been offered a gondola drink and I’m not sure if it’s even an option. Something tells me it’s unique to Silver, though. Some towns in the Silver Valley have a “Red Solo Cup” rule, where they don’t enforce open container laws.
  • I have a lot of respect for how they handled the fatal 2020 avalanche. In January 2020, Wardner Peak avalanched moments after the terrain opened for the season, not long after 13 charges were detonated on the peak during avalanche control. Three people died. Most companies would put out a sanitized, corporate press release, beef up on avalanche safety, and try to quickly change the narrative. Fatalities are never good PR. But Silver’s response was a community response rather than a corporate one. They did invest heavily in avalanche safety, adding Recco, warning signage for runs in avalanche terrain, and “are you beeping” beacon checkers. But they also have small memorials for the victims. Their pictures are posted at the bottom of the gondola and there’s a windchime at the accident site, halfway down the run 16-to-1. I gave it a good thwack for a friend of mine who was lifelong besties with the last recovered victim.

Plan your trip

  • How many days: For Silver alone, 2-3. It’s perfect for a long weekend. But you could easily make a week out of it if you combine it with Lookout Pass, 49 Degrees North, or Schweitzer. Silver and those first two are on the Indy Pass, which provides 2 days and an optional 3rd for 25% off the ticket price. You can get 6 days of skiing at those three close-by resorts for $279, or $46.50 per day. 
  • Where to stay: We stayed in the RV lot, which is the back of the overflow parking lot, across the street from the village. It’s $25 per night and there are bathrooms accessible 24/7 in the village. If I booked lodging, I would likely stay in Wallace (14-minute drive). Wallace is an entire town that’s registered as a historic site. It’s very old, very charming, and has skews more touristy (Kellogg has a bigger population and more storefronts dedicated to “not vacation” essentials like dentists or a gym). If kids are in tow, staying in the village or across the street at the Fairbridge is hard to beat since you’re just steps to the gondola.
  • Where to eat and drink: The slopeside restaurant, Moguls, is worth a stop. They have a rotating special of the day – no set category – and the offerings can range anywhere from tacos to Jello shots. They had a great drink menu with local beers and a long list of both hot and cold cocktails. There were so many that I wanted to try, but they’re quite stiff and I was skiing a little fast and loose after one peppermint patty. Fainting Goat in Wallace is worth the drive. It’s been 6 months since we dined there, and we still talk about their Mountain Man pizza. Wallace Brewing Company and Radio Brewing have great beers on tap (the latter also serves food; it’s good enough). Silver Corner Bar in Wallace has a great atmosphere (and we especially loved that it’s dog friendly). I’d skip the restaurants at the village. Reviews online weren’t great and it only took one Americano to consider those star ratings valid.
  • When to go: If you’re usual stomping grounds are close to a major metro and regularly crowded, long holiday weekends might be a good time for a trip (it’ll be “Idaho crowded,” but parking and traffic won’t ruin the weekend). To minimize crowds, book a trip after President’s Day weekend. There’s also a Jackass Day in mid-January, which is a celebration of the resorts history with retro gear, retro ticket prices (usually sub-$20), and a big party on the mountain.

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