Christopher Brosch had the makings of a tailgate going two hours after the lift at Kendall Mountain began spinning on the first day of the season last Friday. From the back of his Ford Bronco, Brosch pulled out a folding table holding a butcher block. As his charcoal grill began to warm, the father pulled a Modelo from a well-stocked cooler and cheered with pride as his 6-year-old daughter lapped the small ski hill at the base of the mountain just blocks from downtown Silverton.
“For us, we like the quaint hill that is family friendly and is kind of the local, easy-access,” he said.
The town of Silverton operates the 16-acre Kendall Mountain Recreation Area as a municipal service for residents of the town. The one-chairlift hill operates Friday through Sunday. Lift tickets cost $25 for adults and $17 for children and seniors.
In 2017, Silverton’s government began to examine how the area might be expanded to fulfill residents’ desires. In 2018, the town’s spokeswoman at the time, Lisa Branner, said that the mountain was “underutilized.”
In the five years since the town first delved into realizing Kendall Mountain’s full potential, passionate input, circuitous conversation and uncertain needs have left the Silverton perched on the cusp of action.
After launching community vision sessions in 2017, Silverton commissioned SE Group to conduct a viability study on what infrastructure Kendall Mountain could accommodate.
“The Viability Study’s financial modeling shows that a 300-800-acre project would be financially viable. Anything smaller is not likely to attract enough skiers to break even,” read the decisive conclusion in a document titled “Recommendations for Consideration During the KMRA Master Planning Process.”
SE Group also concluded that a financially viable expansion would require a capital investment of about $25 million. In 2021, the mountain earned an estimated $45,121 in revenue and incurred $6,184.09 in net losses that year.
Lacking the financial resources to achieve an expansion anywhere near the scale of what SE Group had laid out, the town sought out interested parties for a private-public partnership.
Some Silverton residents were not pleased. Even in public comments submitted as recently as spring 2021, after a newspaper series and multiple opportunities for public input, Silverton locals were wary.
“We’re not opposed to adding maybe 500 feet to the ski hill but we think the current plans discussed in the (Silverton Standard) are beyond need and means at this point,” wrote Charlie and Paulette Schmalz in a written comment submitted the town’s trustees.
“(I) prefer to see other recreation development, diversification and not just ski lifts (ice rink, river front, campgrounds, pool, single use and mixed trails for biking, hiking, and motorized),” wrote Michele Tamayo.
A request for information reaching back to the summer of 2020 garnered five responses, including one from the owners of Silverton Mountain and another from Mountain Capital Partners, the Durango-based investment group that owns Purgatory Resort, Hesperus Ski Area and seven other ski resorts.
As she helped one of her kids into his ski bindings, one of the town’s trustees, Danya Kranker, said it was an unfortunate and irrational panic that took place after the feasibility study.
“That freaked tons of people out,” she said. “I think the idea was that it was just a feasibility study. It (asked) ‘what is the absolute maximum that this mountain could accommodate?’ It wasn’t ‘this is what the plan is.’ And so people kind of freaked out and it got stalled, even though there was a ton of community input and buy-in.”
The committee in charge of creating a master plan for Kendall Mountain took the anxious response into account.
“The Town is looking at expansion options that put locals first,” the committee’s recommendations to trustees said in April 2021. “This effort is intended to improve the quality of life for Silvertonians of all socio-economic backgrounds, rather than make the town appealing as a second home destination or an investment opportunity. The community has been clear that they do not want a ‘resort,’ or the large-scale real estate development and loss of character that often comes with it.”
It was not until January 2022 that Silverton released a request for proposal to the public. Nearly a year later, the scope of the work for which Silverton is seeking a partner remains undefined.
However, it is clear that the town has changed its tune. It no longer appears that Silverton will entertain turning Kendall Mountain into a monetarily self-sufficient enterprise.
“It’s about providing service for the community, which, being municipally owned, is really our first goal,” said Director of Facilities, Parks and Recreation Todd Bove.
On April 11 of this year, the town signed a $46,750 contract with one of the two to the RFP, DHM Design.
On June 27, DHM presented an initial design to the trustees. The plans included a covered ice skating rink, improved parking and a number of other non-winter recreation amenities. The town’s Facilities, Parks and Recreation Committee met Aug. 31 and Oct. 20 to consider feedback for the firm.
“As a group, collectively, right now, we can all acknowledge that the target here with DHM is to create a master plan that is in the spirit of the community visioning that happened in Silverton,” Mayor Pro Tem Sallie Barney said during the August meeting.
Notably, any the expansion of ski terrain was entirely absent from DHM’s renderings.
“The core of our community is backcountry (skiers) of really high ability, and I think that’s the demographic we’re missing at Kendall,” Bove said. “We service beginners really well and we have one of the best beginner ski areas in the country to learn how to ski. And I think what we’re not serving the community with its intermediate and advanced skiers (who) have really no reason to go over there. So what if we gave our intermediate and advanced skiers a reason to go over here, a reason to buy a season pass, then we’re serving 100% of our community not just the small demographic of beginner skiers?”
While more debate is slated for the trustee’s Jan. 9 meeting, it remains unclear what the outcome might be.
The most recent publicly available version of the Kendall Mountain Recreation Area Master Plan is dated April 6, 2021. However, elements of that plan have been wrapped into the Compass Master Plan, which trustees adopted unanimously Sept. 26, 2022.
That plan does include some mention of an additional ski lift, but Bove said he is unsure why there was no expansion of terrain in DHM’s initial renderings and hwhere the town’s leadership will go.
“I fully expect to discuss all these things (on Jan. 9) with the trustees and get some direction from them,” he said.
Those who braved the single-digit weather to ski Kendall Mountain’s opening day support the idea of improving the base-area amenities and want to see either minimal or no expansion.
“Almost without question, everybody I’ve talked to and heard from has said ‘Oh yeah, a little expansion at Kendall is great.’ No one has told me that absolutely nothing has changed,” Kranker said. “ … As special as it is, our kids age out of it. And if you have kids that don’t have the option to go ski (Purgatory), this is all they have in the winter.”
For some, the pace of the town’s progress has been frustrating.
Anne Izard, who moved to Silverton in 2005, said she agrees with Kranker that modest expansion is important for the community. But the saga, she said, appears to be never-ending.
“I’m for some kind of expansion,” she said. “In the beginning, I really thought it would be here by the time my kids got to high school and now I’m hopeful it will be here by the time I can still ski in my lifetime. We’ve lowered our expectations of when that could happen.”
This story has been revised to clarify Kendall Mountain Recreation Area’s operating budget. The 2022 expenses listed in the town of Silverton’s budget included unspecified year-round costs unrelated to winter ski operations. The story now includes the final 2021 operating expenses and revenue, which more clearly depict the town of Silverton’s expenditures and revenues from the mountain.