Meet Me At Coffee BearWords by Lily Krass | Photos by Howie Stern and Matt Cecil | 8 Min Read
Riding the summer highs and shoulder-season lows, two former ski bums have kept Silverton, Colorado’s beloved women-owned Coffee Bear coffeeshop running—providing not only hot brews for the remote mountain town, but a warm community hub for locals and visitors alike.
As a rosy morning glow illuminates the sleepy town of Silverton, Colorado, Sophie Fearon and Holly Huebner are getting ready to open the front door of the Coffee Bear. Skiers and snowboarders line up outside the door, eager to fuel up before heading out to enjoy the fresh snow that fell overnight. Locals saunter in for their daily cup, sinking back on the cozy leather couches to flip through the paper and chat with Huebner and Fearon, who sling lattes and breakfast burritos as a steady stream of people come and go.
Most folks who visit the 600-person town of Silverton, Colorado don’t stay for long—a day or two of skiing at the notoriously hard core one-lift backcountry resort, a summer afternoon stopover on the train from Durango. Even those who spend a full season enjoying the unique alpine access that the 9,318-foot San Juan town typically take off after a few months.
But every so often a handful of skiers fall in love with Silverton’s rugged charm and laidback mountain lifestyle, willing to forego the creature comforts that most glitzy mountain towns in the Rockies afford. That was the case with Fearon and Huebner, who both moved to Silverton after college and met while working as baristas at the Coffee Bear in 2019. The two were some of the only employees who stuck around to weather the quiet days during the heat of pandemic lockdowns, and they found comfort in the routine of keeping the shop running, even when they saw fewer than five customers a day.
“People came in here just to chat, to get out of the house,” recalls Fearon. “That really helped us understand the importance of having somewhere to go and connect with people.”
The shop went up for sale during the summer of 2020 and the two decided to take the leap and buy it. They became business partners and joined a small community of full-time residents who stick it out in Silverton for 12 months a year.
Tall peaks scratch the sky in all directions from the concentrated town center, a jumble of colorful buildings from the late 1800s mining boom that line Greene Street, the main drag and one of only a few paved roads in town. One of Fearon’s favorite ski lines is Kendall Mountain, a 13,340-foot peak that looms large over town, with tree alleys down low and steep couloirs that drop off the windswept summit, a clean fall line right back to town. Front door access into the alpine is what drew the two here in the first place, but they’re quick to add that it’s the community that keeps them here year-round.
Whether it’s a slow morning catching up with regulars or hosting cookie decorating parties for the school, Huebner and Fearon are always looking for new ways to give back to the community. “Everyone was so supportive of us when we started,” says Fearon.
“So it’s really important to us that we give back now that we’re in such a good place.”
“It feels good to be a part of the community,” Huebner adds. “Before I was coming here to use this space to recreate, it was special to me for those reasons. But now it’s special to me because of the people we interact with every day.”
Rewarding as it is, running a business at almost 10,000 feet in the San Juans isn’t a walk in the park. Aside from a small convenience store, shopping for groceries involves driving an hour each way over two mountain passes. “Normal coffee shops get their milk delivered, but we have to drive down to Durango to buy 60 gallons of milk at a time,” says Fearon. “We sort and drop off every piece of recycling and trash. There are a lot of small ways that we just have to be way more hands-on out here.”
During high months, it’s all they can do to keep up with demand, but during months like November, when visitors stop coming altogether and locals scatter to spend the off season in warmer climates, only half a dozen customers might trickle in all day. Many businesses simply shut down to wait out the off season, but not the Coffee Bear.
When Huebner and Fearon bought the business from previous owners Inga Mcfadden and Lucky Schlade in 2020, they made them promise one thing: stay open, no matter what.
The Coffee Bear is one of only five businesses who stay open year round, and Huebner and Fearon know how much the community counts on seeing their “Open” flag waving each morning. “In the winter it’s really all about the locals,” says Huebner. Last winter, they applied for a liquor license and opened up their rooftop Après Ski Bar on Thursdays and Fridays, and they host after-school events like Halloween pumpkin carving and Valentine’s Day cookie decorating for local kids.
One summer, a thunderstorm shut out the power in town right as the sightseeing train had dropped off a full train of visitors. “Sophie ran an extension cord from her car battery to boil water for pour-over coffee,” Huebner recalls. Last year, they closed for a few days to spring clean, and left a big pot of coffee by the door each morning for three local guys who come into the Coffee Bear every morning.
“That’s the spirit of the Coffee Bear,” says Fearon. “The door is never really closed. It can get lonely in this town, and it’s really nice to have somewhere you can stop in and know you’ll run into familiar faces.”
Keeping the Coffee Bear buzzing with life is a big responsibility, more than Huebner and Fearon envisioned when they moved to the mountains for a few years of carefree ski bum living. But between the chaos and never ending to-do lists—running to Home Depot to fix lighting for the basement, dragging the trash trailer to the dump to sort, and packing lunches for the kids at school—Fearon and Huebner make a conscious effort to carve out time in the mountains.
“Spending time in the mountains is a priority for us individually, so we understand when one of us needs to take a few days to get outside,” says Huebner “That and the amazing staff we have right now, we’re in a really good place to make sure everyone gets to go out and play. That’s why we’re here in the first place.”