Two southwest Colorado ski area operators are interested in working with the Town of Silverton to grow the remote community’s Kendall Mountain ski area into a year-round amenity
Durango’s Mountain Capital Partners and local Silverton Mountain answered Silverton’s initial call for possible partners at the 16-acre Kendall Mountain ski area. And the two operators have different visions for the community ski hill.
Mountain Capital Partners, or MCP, which owns Purgatory and seven other ski areas in four states, sees opportunity in a proposal for five new lifts and 300 acres of ski terrain climbing up toward the summit of the 13,451-foot Kendall Peak. Aaron and Jen Brill, the owners of the 18-year-old Silverton Mountain ski area about 10 miles out of town as well as a vast heliskiing operation in Alaska, think a smaller option with maybe just one new lift supports community interest in affordability and family-centric terrain.
Landscape architect and land-use planning firm DHM Design Corp. also responded to the town’s request for potential partners. Grand Junction zipline course developer Bonsai Designs expressed interest in helping the town develop year-round recreation at the community ski area. Nebraska marketing agency Maly Marketing responded with an offer to help the town develop its messaging.
The town’s Kendall Mountain Recreation Area Master Plan Committee on Tuesday appeared pleased at the initial response to its call for partners, especially the interest from the two closest ski area operators.
“I don’t think we could ask for a better scenario,” said the committee’s Sue Morris during a meeting on Tuesday.
In 2017, Silverton residents began studying options for Kendall Mountain, a one-lift ski hill with about five groomed trails that hasn’t changed much since it was built in the late 1960s. A community survey showed overwhelming support for investing in Kendall Mountain and making a year-round, family-focused amenity that could also help grow a year-round economy.
The town secured a planning grant from Great Outdoors Colorado and hired resort planning firm SE Group to outline possible expansion opportunities at the ski area that now can handle about 160 visitors a day. The resulting 68-page viability study sketched two possibilities for pushing skiing up the steep slopes above the town. One proposal creates 800 acres of skiing accessed by four chairlifts, with a price tag north of $25 million for the community of 600. A second proposal weaves 300 acres of skiing between privately owned mining claims with five lifts, including a beginner chair at the base. The ideas detail new base buildings and an array of summer draws like ziplines and an alpine slide. SE Group estimated annual visitation to Kendall Mountain would likely need to be 71,000 to 116,000 for the town to break even on its investment. (For context: The Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad hosts about 200,000 riders in its summer-to-fall season, many visiting Silverton.)
Last year the town, which has an annual budget around $2.2 million, sent out a call for possible partners. The Request for Information asked interested parties to detail their experience working with federal land managers, their approach toward sustainable development, previous projects and impacts on a local community and possible challenges they see in the SE Group’s proposals in the viability study.
On Tuesday, the seven-member committee decided to focus on the two ski area operators and circle back to DHM, Bonsai and Maly once a more clear direction for the ski area was identified. The members have been surveying town leaders in other resort communities in the West — like Crested Butte, Telluride, Steamboat Springs and Park City, Utah — hoping to learn from the growth and challenges of ski towns that have developed more quickly than Silverton, a remote village isolated from nearby Durango and Ouray by mountain passes.
One member cited how community ski areas can change over the years, pointing to Jackson, Wyoming’s Snow King, which in 2018 floated plans to grow from its local-hill roots into more of a destination, with a top-tier ski racing training facility, summer amenities, a planetarium and a gondola. Another committee member told of crowds overwhelming resort downtowns in the busy summer and winter seasons. Another warned of real estate speculation that follows development and spikes home prices.