A short hop from I-90 in Kellogg, Idaho sits a modern lodge, the world’s longest single stage gondola, and access to Silver Mountain Resort. Originally named Jackass Ski Area, the resort opened in 1968. In 1973 it was renamed Silverhorn Ski Area. The road was treacherous at best and difficult to maintain, so in 1990 the 3.1 mile gondola opened, and the area was renamed Silver Mountain Resort. Since then it has blossomed into a regional favorite.
Tremendous Terrain Serviced by five chairs, comprised of 1600 acres, 2200 vertical feet of elevation, and five lifts (in addition a magic carpet in the beginner area) Silver Mountain Ski area gives skiers access to 74 named runs. Between 25 and 30 of those are groomed on any given day. An average of 300″ falls on just over 1600 acres in the average year. When the skiing is good at Silver Mountain, it’s really good.
The Gondola The “drive-the-winding-mountain-road-to-the-top” ski resort experience is spared the average driver, as is the hassle of packing all of your gear into the cramped seats of a shuttle. Just a few steps from the freeway, park and pile into at gondola car for a scenic ride that is an attraction on its own. A mere 20 minutes later, you’ll arrive safe and sound at the top of the mountain.
The Resort When they say Silver Mountain Resort they mean it. On site condos, Morning Star Lodge, and the Guest House Inn across the street all provide lodging steps away from the gondola base. An indoor water park opened in 2008 provides water fun for the whole family at a balmy 85 degrees year round. Water slides and even a “flow-rider” wave machine top the attractions, even if you don’t count the hot tubs on the top level beside the bar to ease your sore muscles from a day on the slopes.
The Bad and the Ugly
Lack of Beginner Terrain The number one strike against Silver Mountain resort is that there is little in the way of beginner and intermediate terrain. If you are an advanced skier this is great: if you are a never-ever or a weekend warrior you may find the slopes intimidating. You’ll find areas to ski but you won’t have the variety your expert friends do.
No Mountain Hosts The other intimidating thing about Silver Mountain Resort is the trail map. It is less than user friendly. The mountain could benefit from mountain hosts or guided tours for various ability levels at different times. The good news is if you can spot a local (look for the season passes) they are often quite friendly, might even show you around, or at least help you point your skis in the right direction.
The Gondola Yes, this was in the positive list too, but it also makes it on the negative side. If you have kids, you are well aware how likely it is that one of them will leave a glove or hat in the car, or something else will be forgotten in the trunk. It’s not a quick jaunt back to the car: it’s a 40 minute round trip. The second negative to the gondola is wind. If the wind picks up, not only will the skiing be cold and miserable at the top, but the gondola ride will be slow. Your ride might even double in length. Of course it still beats driving down the mountain road.
Overall Rating I wish I could give Silver Mountain a full five stars, but I can’t. I’ll give them two scores: if you are an expert skier, conscientious about packing your gear, and crave powder shots and great expert lift accessible terrain, I’ll give Silver 4.5 stars. It’s almost a five if it wasn’t for the gondola that cultivates a love-hate relationship.
If you are a beginner, or a family of skiers of varying ability, I give Silver 3.5 stars. The number one reason for this rating is the lack of beginner terrain. The second is of course the love-hate gondola thing again, although there’s no easy solution for that one. An option for families: split your time between Silver Mountain and the nearby Lookout Pass. That way all the skiers in your family will get the best of both worlds.