Ski Area Profiles: Northern Idaho

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Three days, three mountains (and a water park, too!)

By Hilary Meyerson

Photo at right: Learn about the rich history of Wallace, Idaho at the Northern Pacific Railroad Museum. Photo by Hilary Meyerson

Seattle skiers have a great range of options for day skiing and local lessons, but often head north to British Columbia when looking at a multi-day ski vacation.

But our neighbors to the east in Idaho have put together an incredibly compelling package when it comes to family skiing. In fact, after a family trip across the Palouse there last winter, we’re thinking that north Idaho might be the best bargain in family skiing we’ve ever seen.

Silver Mountain

How about catching a wave on the Flow Rider after your ski? Photo by Hilary Meyerson

The first stop on our family trip was Silver Mountain. Forget about winding mountain passes—it’s five easy hours along I-90 the whole way until the last several hundred feet, making it possible to leave Seattle in the afternoon and roll into the Silver Mountain Resort in Kellogg by bedtime.

The Morning Star Lodge at the Silver Mountain Resort is a family dream. Besides the unique skiing, guests at the resort have access to Silver Rapids indoor water park, featuring a lazy river, inner tube slides and a family raft ride where up to four people can shoot down a twisting tunnel in the dark as the kids scream with delight.

There’s also the Flow Rider, an indoor surfing wave, where you can try your skills or wipe out for the kids’ amusement. (I speak from experience, as I tumbled off my board and was washed over the top of the artificial wave ridge in a most undignified manner.)
However, the real reason for the grownups at Silver is the light Idaho powder.

Visit Northern Idaho

Silver Mountain boasts North America’s longest gondola run which stretches 3.1 miles from the town of Kellogg right off I-90 to the top of the mountain. It’s a 25-minute ride to the top, and you’ll need to take it back down at the end of the day. It’s a strange feeling as you get out of your car where there is little or no snow, and be transported by gondola into a snowy wonderland.

On the slopes, there is a wide range of terrain, and it is never crowded, even on the busiest weekend. You actually ski two mountains, Kellogg and Wardner, where you can always find a fresh line of untouched powder or an unskied glade. Boarders will enjoy their own terrain park.

And, if some of your little skiers tire before the older ones, it’s easy to take a break and hit the gentle tubing park next to the lodge at the summit. And what a view from the summit; my kids were constantly hurrying me to get moving as I stopped to enjoy the views.

Wallace

Our next stop on our Idaho tour was Historic Wallace. And that is no idle designation — every building in town is on the National Registry of Historic Places.

The buildings were originally placed there to preclude demolition when the interstate highway came roaring through, but now it’s just a huge boon to visitors to be able to step back in time.

The town has a rich (literally) history of silver mining and it’s worth a stop at the mining museum in town. It’s also an excellent example of an authentic Western town, and was a worthwhile stop for ours family. A dinner at the excellent 1313 Club, with its saloon atmosphere and epic buffalo burgers capped the day.

We stayed at the Wallace Inn, a great hotel run by the “Prime Minister of Wallace,” Rick Schaffer, who gave us an amazing history lesson of the area. He can also set up custom itineraries for guests (especially in the summer, where Wallace is the trailhead for cyclists hitting the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes.)

In the winter, the Wallace Inn offers ski packages that include lodging and lift tickets at Silver Mountain or nearby Lookout Pass that are so inexpensive Seattle residents will doubt the price at first glance.

Lookout Pass

Free ski school at Lookout Pass. Photo by Hilary Meyerson

After a hearty breakfast at Molly’s at the Inn, we headed 10 miles down the road to ski Lookout Pass, one of three ski areas in the nation where you can ski in two different states.

For families, Lookout has an incredible draw: a free ski school. Let me say that again, for the disbelievers: free ski school. For any family who has spent over $100 a day for lessons and lift tickets per kid at a fancy resort for a total of two hours on a crowded magic carpet, this is like a miracle. All Northwest families should bring their little ones to learn the joys of skiing—and the lifties at Lookout Pass were the kindest and most kid-oriented ones we’ve ever seen.

With incredibly affordable lift tickets (just $38 for an adult weekend ticket), this may be the best deal around. Plus, while the little ones are in ski school, parents can hit some of the best glade skiing this side of the Rockies.

At Lookout, we skied half the day in Montana, and half in Idaho. It is a small area, with just four lifts, but with a unique micro-climate that delivers even more dry, fluffy powder than its neighbors down the road at Silver Mountain.

Packing Up

After skiing two different mountain resorts, spending an afternoon at a water park, touring a mining town and stuffing our bellies full of delicious food in only three days, we drug our weary bodies back to the car and headed west on I-90 back to Seattle. We were home by bedtime, not knowing what to dream of first!

If You Go

Silver Mountain Resort: www.silvermt.com
Historic Wallace: www.wallace-id.com
1313 Club: www.1313club.com
Lookout Pass: www.skilookout.com
The Wallace Inn: www.thewallaceinn.com

Hilary Meyerson of Seattle is a lifelong skier and a former editor at Price Media, Inc. which publishes OutdoorsNW.

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