When mining opportunities and jobs went belly up in Kellogg, Idaho, the town had to find a new way to stay afloat. They didn’t have much of a choice.
The mining boom kicked off in the 1880s when Noah Kellogg discovered galena ore. For a hundred years, mining waste and metals like lead were disposed of in riverways, and the contaminants spread throughout the entire region.
Nearby in the town of Wallace, miners frequented the Oasis Bordello, a prostitution house. It ran seamlessly as the madame of the house paid off local law enforcement, that is up until the 1980s. The ladies caught word that the FBI was coming and they fled, leaving behind most of their possessions.
Major mining operations also ceased in the 1980s and the EPA added the mining spots to their National Priorities List. Since that time, the EPA has remediated most of the hazardous areas.
Kellogg is a little different now than it was in its storied past. After initial resistance, the town invested in the ski resort. It had only known mining before, so this was a big change.
The ski area officially opened in 1968. More than 30 years later in 2003, they had their first top-to-bottom mountain bike trail, but it still took a while for mountain biking to pick up steam there.
At first, “mountain biking was an afterthought,” says Willy Bartlett, the Silver Mountain marketing director.
He remembers visiting the bike park in the early 2000s before he moved to the town and was impressed by the amount of vertical that was available, knowing there was potential.
“I was just blown away by what would’ve normally been a 40-minute shuttle, you can just hop on the gondola and go ride.”
After he started working at the mountain, he and another patroller, Drew Mahan came up with a plan for a developed bike park, and in the 2012 and pitched the plan to the resort.
The mountain’s management was wary, but Bartlett and Mahan had a solid plan.
“Most ski area operators are not mountain bikers, and they’re looking at it from the outside,” he says. “We broke down the numbers and showed that it could work financially.”
Today, Silver Mountain has 39 trails listed on their map, and have added between three and five new trails every year. Bartlett says their biggest challenge is creating beginner-friendly trails. But that comes with the territory, pun intended.
The mountain itself is just steeper than the average ski area. In other areas that could be used for trails, a delicate plant named Constance’s Bittercress grows and must be carefully considered and coordinated with the Bureau of Land Management when building.
But, although Silver Mountain has a lot of advanced riding, that doesn’t mean that it’s not beginner-friendly. The mountain still has eight green-rated trails and 13 blue-rated trails to keep everyone happy.
“Yes, we have a lot of real downhill riding, but you can actually come up here as a beginning mountain biker, rent a bike and take a lesson,” says Bartlett. “We [also] have a lot of customers that are rocking half caps and riding trail bikes and having a blast.”
Gravity-oriented riders will most definitely be happy with 15 black diamond-rated and 3 double black diamond-rated trails. Silver Mountain has also become a hub for major national race series.
The Northwest Cup downhill series held a round at the resort June 22-24 and the North American Enduro Cup (NAEC), an Enduro World Series (EWS) qualifier, held its race June 30 – July 1.
Even though the NAEC has only been around a few years, the race has grown steadily since its start in 2015.
“The level of competitors that are showing up — I’m seeing people from all over the place,” says Chris Andreasen.
Andreasen owns three bike shops around the Spokane, Washington area, an hour outside of Kellogg. He’s frequented Silver Mountain since the mid-1990s, when it was mostly trail-less. Now it’s the prime spot to get endless laps in during the summer, or to train for a race.
“You just don’t get that [many] vertical feet unless you go to Whistler, and then even there, you’re dealing with multiple chairlifts to get to the top. [Silver Mountain] is one straight shot, where you can lap out in under an hour, a 3,600 vertical foot run, and the terrain is just as good, if not rougher, than some of Whistler’s stuff.”
Enduro racer Alicia Leggett trains at Silver Mountain for the same reason. Leggett placed 5th in the pro women’s field at the NAEC at Silver Mountain this year and finished in 18th and 20th at the Chile and Colombia rounds in the Enduro World Series. She credits her riding at Silver Mountain for helping her handle the long and technical descents in the EWS.
“I think the only reason I can ride a 25-minute descent is because I ride at Silver. You just don’t get that anywhere else,” she says.
Leggett looks for new lines on older trails that she couldn’t ride before. Now, she’ll jump or pop off of something that she may have avoided.
Some of her favorite trails are Mutton Conductor, a rooty, technical, and sometimes steep trail, and Mom Jeans, a loose soil, off-camber trail that brings a new definition to technical riding.
“It makes for a good place to train for enduro and longer races,” she says. Although she’s ridden and raced mountain bikes all over now, and plans to race the EWS in Whistler and Italy this season too, the town of Kellogg and Silver Mountain Bike Park still stand out.
“It’s such a cool place. It’s just this tiny little town with not a lot going on, except this giant bike park.”