Steve Stephens More Content Now
SILVERTHORNE, Colorado — The gold and silver have mostly played out along the Blue River, where hardscrabble prospectors started digging in the late 19th century. Now, much of the region’s economy is based on the white gold of winter tourism.
But Silverthorne is celebrating gold and silver again. Winter Olympic hero and local resident Red Gerard, an Ohio native, brought home a gold medal in slopestyle snowboarding from last month’s games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Another Silverthorne resident, Kyle Mack, won a silver medal in the snowboard big-air event, in which he stuck an awesome double-cork 1440 bloody Dracula, or so I am told.
How did the small town of Silverthorne grow such champions?
Location, location, location.
Silverthorne and the adjacent town of Dillon, which flank Interstate 70 off exit 205, lack the quaint, historic downtown of Breckenridge or the ski-in chic of tony Vail.
But their location, just a short drive from many of Colorado’s most popular ski resorts, has made the towns popular with ski pros and with winter tourists seeking convenient lodging at (relatively) budget prices.
And Silverthorne and Dillon offer the same magnificent mountain scenery as their pricier neighbors.
Some friends and I stayed in an inexpensive Dillon condo on a ski trip earlier this month. The condo, on the edge of Lake Dillon, was comfortable, convenient and a lot less expensive than places we could have stayed in nearby resorts at Beaver Creek, Breckenridge or Keystone.
I took time off to explore Silverthorne and Dillon one day while my friends drove to the more chichi village and slopes of Vail.
They’d taken our rental car, so I got around using the Summit Stage, a free county bus service that stopped right outside our condo and took me directly to and from Silverthorne Town Center, a couple of miles away. From Dillon or Silverthorne, the line also offers direct service to the Keystone ski resort and connecting service to the slopes at Copper Mountain, Arapahoe Basin and Breckenridge.
Dillon is on the shore of Lake Dillon, a 3,200-acre reservoir that’s the biggest source of water for the city of Denver. In the summer, the lake’s marinas support an active boating scene. In winter, ice fishing, kite skiing and snowmobiling are popular activities on the deep-frozen lake.
This year, Dillon was also the home of an Ice Castle, an amazing and beautiful attraction that’s part maze, part ice slide, and part gigantic, walk-though ice sculpture. A Utah company produces the frozen architectural marvels, built from icicles, at several cold-weather tourist destinations each year.
Dusk is the perfect time to visit, as the colors from the setting sun mix with the glowing, colorful lights embedded within the castle to form an eerie and delightful melange of natural and artificial hues.
Next winter’s Ice Castle locations haven’t been announced, but Silverthorne and nearby Breckenridge also have hosted the attraction in previous years.
Silverthorne’s most notable man-made landmark is a massive outlet mall, split into three separate “villages” linked by their own shuttle. I can’t speak to the bargains, but Outlets at Silverthorne might be the most picturesque mall in the country, flanked by Ptarmigan Peak and Buffalo Mountain and bisected by the Blue River, a famous trout stream.
As I strolled the town’s pine-shaded, stream-side multipurpose trail, I spotted several fly-fishermen wading the crystal-clear waters, which drain from Lake Dillon and continue on to the Colorado River. The anglers looked as if they were enjoying themselves, and a couple even landed trout. But seeing them in the icy stream reminded me of how chilly I was. I warmed up, inside and out, at Red Buffalo Coffee, a classic, friendly coffee house near the Lake Dillon Art Center.
Recreational marijuana is legal in Colorado, and those who are so inclined will find several cannabis retailers in Silverthorne and Dillon.
Visitors also will find several good restaurants and a couple of notable brewpubs.
Arapahoe Cafe, near the Dillon Marina, offers memorable, Mexican-influenced breakfasts and famous, award-winning barbecue that some call the best in the mountains.
Quite a different bill of fare is available at Cafe ProFusion, a tiny hole-in-the wall in Dillon that bills itself as the highest gluten-free fusion restaurant in the U.S. (I’m assuming that “highest,” in this case, refers to altitude.) In any case, the restaurant’s offerings include a fantastic and flavor-filled hot and sour soup that equals any I’ve tasted.
I also enjoyed the authentic Mexican fare at restaurants White Boots and Tacos Tequila, also in Dillon.
And brewpubs Pug Ryan’s Brewing and Dillon Dam Brewery are perfect apres-ski spots for those who prefer tavern-style fare and good local beer to white-linen tablecloths and Dom Perignon.
So although they might not be the ski-town equivalent of a double-cork bloody Dracula, I’d give Silverthorne and Dillon the gold medal for value and convenience.
— Steve Stephens can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @SteveStephens.