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Skiing Outlook 2020: Challenging drops, likeable cruisers at Silver Mountain

By John Nelson For The Spokesman-Review

Two impressive peaks – Kellogg (6,300 feet) and Wardner (6,200 feet) – stand tall above the Silver Valley, grabbing onto passing storms and squeezing out the powder. In this sweet spot sits Silver Mountain Resort, featuring some of the region’s most challenging sustained drops, along with an array of likable cruisers.

Silver Mountain also operates a robust year-round business, with the region’s only gondola ascending from the valley floor at 2,300 feet. At the base of the gondola is a bustling village with restaurants, a water park and a variety of accommodations.

One of the best things about a ski day at Silver Mountain is that 20-minute gondola ride, which saves skiers the sometimes-harrowing mountain driving they must do to get to every other ski area in the region.

“I like to say it saves a few marriages every year,” said Jeff Colburn, general manager of Silver Mountain.

Besides being scenic, the gondola ride is a social time – you talk to other skiers and snowboarders as you all get ready for a day on the slopes.

The pandemic is changing that experience a little. The resort, which like others is limiting lodge space and requiring masks indoors, is recommending – but not requiring – that visitors ride with those in their party only.

“We’re going to leave it up to the people,” Colburn said. “If they want to add someone to the group, that’s fine. If someone is not comfortable (adding a single rider), then that’s fine, too.”

Once you get to the Mountain House off-loading station at 5,700 feet, it’s time to ski. Most of the lift-served terrain falls off of Kellogg Peak and a ridgeline near Wardner Peak, served by Chair 4.

Additional hike-to skiing is on Wardner Peak, which offers some of the resort’s most challenging powder drops. It’s also the site of the most devastating event in Silver Mountain’s history, when three skiers died in an in-bounds avalanche last winter.

Investigators found no negligence on the part of Silver Mountain, and the accident is an important reminder that risk is always involved once you hit the slopes.

As a new season approaches, Colburn said Silver Mountain is reviewing how it opens the Wardner terrain in the future.

“There will be some changes and some different things we’re doing, but that’s about all we can say,” Colburn said.

Wardner is not the only place to find the powder goods at Silver Mountain. The steep and powdery North Face Glades, off of Kellogg Peak, is one of the most challenging sustained drops in the Pacific Northwest.

It’s not all about the steeps at Silver Mountain, where a variety of intermediate cruisers snake around terrain served by five chairlifts. The resort’s COVID-19 plan involves limiting lodge space and adding a Sprung Structure – an insulated pole building – to help spread out visitors near the Mountain House.

Once season pass sales end on Nov. 10, the resort will determine how many day passes it will have available on its most historically busy days. Visitors will need to buy those tickets in advance online.

New this year: a covered double-wide moving carpet in the beginner and tubing area of the resort, something Colburn said “will be a much better experience when it’s bad weather out.”

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