KELLOGG, Idaho – It’s not even lunchtime and Christopher Bess has a problem.
He’s at Silver Mountain to ski but his son wants to surf.
Skiing and surfing in the same day is supposed to be a rare experience, but here, in Northern Idaho of all places, everybody is doing it.
In 2008, Silver Mountain became the first ski area west of Michigan to open an indoor water park. While Silver Rapids has been great for business, resort marketing director John Williams said, it’s created trouble for diehard skiers like Bess.
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“My 9-year-old son was crying when we left (the water park) last night,” said Bess, a chiropractor from Walla Walla. “He loves surfing in the wave pool.”
Now, just three hours into a day on the slopes his son is ready to kick off his skis and head back to the FloRider Surf Wave.
“I see that all the time,” Williams said. “The parents want to ski but they can’t get their kids out of the water park.”
It’s a good problem to have, Williams said.
The water park is the latest step by owner Jeld-Wen Communities to convert this local ski hill into a regional family destination resort.
“I really like it,” Bess said as he rode Chair 3 to the mid-mountain lodge. “It’s great skiing and the indoor water park is a great idea. There’s not a lot to do in the winter, but there’s plenty to do here.”
Silver Rapids has a distinctive summer feel even in the middle of winter. A glass roof allows visitors to sunbathe even when it’s snowing outside. The Lazy River presents an opportunity to float around the park.
The river meanders around the kids’ island that includes a tree house with water guns and a water tank that will drench anybody standing under it at the wrong time.
Two twisting water slides at the north end of the park are two of the most popular attractions. For the parents who can’t keep up with their kids, there is a bar upstairs with a hot tub and big-screen TVs.
But the surf wave is the most popular attraction. The attraction blows 60,000 gallons of water per minute up a cushioned slope allowing users to surf or boogie board nonstop – or, more likely, until they are blown off their board.
“Just make sure you cinch up your shorts,” Williams said.
The wave is so powerful that bikini-clad women are given a long shirt to wear while they’re surfing so their tops aren’t blown off when they fall. When the resort first opened, some surfers reportedly learned the embarrassing way not to decline the shirts.
Accidental nudity aside, Silver Mountain’s family reputation is growing rapidly and it’s helped them weather the rough economy.
Skier visits at Silver Mountain dropped from 117,000 in 2007-08 to 96,000 in 2008-09, according to the Pacific Northwest Ski Area Association. However, Williams said, business at the Morning Star Lodge, the only lodging in Gondola Village, tripled from March 2008 to March 2009.
“The water park makes a big difference,” Williams said. “Skiing has always been our main attraction and that’s about 100 days a year and it’s weather dependent. Now we are 365 days a year regardless of the weather.”
Silver Rapids wasn’t the first ground-breaking upgrade at Silver Mountain and, if all goes as planned, it won’t be the last.
The resort will open the first nine holes of its new Galena Ridge Golf Course in July and plans to add ski-in lodging.
Before 1990 the ski area could only be reached by treacherous roads and the terrain was geared mostly toward expert skiers. But in 1990, the resort took the road out of the equation by installing what it touts as the world’s longest gondola.
The gondola ride starts just off Interstate 90 at the Morning Star Lodge and travels over a hill, through the town of Wardner and up to the ski area. The ride is 3.1 miles and takes about 20 minutes.
When the snow is good, locals ski all the way down to Wardner – a vertical drop of more than 3,000 feet – and hitch a ride back to Kellogg.
“They just do laps on the gondola,” Williams said.
When the gondola was installed, the resort also opened intermediate and beginner terrain.
There’s plenty for the intermediate and beginner skier and boarders, but 40 percent of the terrain is considered advanced or expert, Williams said from his perch in the lift house at the top of Chair 4.
Williams pointed at 6,200-foot Wardner Peak and recommended that a day on the slopes should include double-diamond runs like Sheer Bliss, The Meadows and Silver Basin. For tree skiers, he says the double-diamond North Face Glade on 6,300-foot Kellogg Peak is some of the best in the region.
A day on those runs and your legs might not be able to handle a night of surfing.
But if you can, Williams said, skiing and surfing on the same day – even in Idaho – “is a magical experience. It really is.”
Craig Hill: 253-597-8497
Where: Kellogg, Idaho
Lift tickets: $49
Terrain: 73 trails, 1,600 acres and a terrain park.
Elevation: 6,300-foot highest lift, 4,100 base, (2,200-foot drop)
Silver Rapids: The water park is free for guests of the Morning Star Lodge. Arrangements for groups of 15 or more staying elsewhere can be made by contacting the lodge at 208-783-0202.