Affordable and ski trip are not typically two words that go together. We’ve spent the last few months touring a number of ski resorts in Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Canada, and the United States and have come to realize that skiing and snowboarding is no poor man’s sport. Until Idaho popped into my mind.
As we were deciding where to go after snowboarding in Colorado, Idaho seemed like the perfect Pacific Northwest combination. Besides the fact that the potatoes I honestly knew nothing about Idaho. It’s not your typical US travel destination like Las Vegas, Disneyworld, or the Grand Canyon. Nevertheless, a few Google searches yielded beautiful photos and it appeared to be a bit of an untapped ski destination.
Let’s Go! I told Cameron. We are always up for highlighting lesser visited places and it seemed like the conditions were perfect in Northern Idaho. A great place to do some spring snowboarding we thought.
We ended up spending a week in the beautiful state had some of our best snowboarding of the season – all for a fraction of what North Americans spend elsewhere! Here are our favorite places and ski resorts in Idaho that should be on your radar next winter.
Three Lesser Known Ski Resorts in Idaho.
Silver Mountain near Kellogg
Our first stop on our North Idaho road trip was the former mining town of Kellogg. We didn’t have any expectations for Kellogg or Silver Mountain. Honestly, we had never heard of either, but after two epic days here we fell in love. Our days at Silver will fondly go down as some of our best days snowboarding.
Kellogg itself is a quiet town nestled in the Bitterroot mountains of the Idaho Panhandle. From the highway you wouldn’t think much of the community. It is a small place with a rich history of mining and logging, home to the Sunshine Mine accident in the early 70’s. Now, it is an attractive place for outdoor lovers as the region is filled with opportunities to hike, mountain bike, fish, kayak, hunt, ski, and off-road at a fraction of the cost of the mainstream outdoor meccas in the U.S.
Our main reason for visiting the Kellogg area was to snowboard at Silver Mountain Resort. Silver Mountain was suggested to us by an Idaho native and with a website that states they are “home to some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the Northwest,” we figured why not?
Snowboarding at Silver Mountain
The forecast was calling for clouds and snowfall so we wanted to be first on the mountain to get some fresh tracks. At many ski resorts it would have been a busy day, but when we boarded the world’s longest gondola to reach the mountain we realized that waking up early thing wasn’t really necessary.
It was late March and the snowfall was heavy. A cold day and far from the perfect weather for anything other than ski. We saw maybe 25 people or so adjusting their gear at the summit. When I commented on us how quiet it was, our guide for the day told us we may see 50-100 people on the whole mountain that day.
“That’s just the way Silver Mountain is – quiet,” he said.
Silver Mountain Resort is spread across two mountains with 73 trails, 1,600 acres of terrain, and 2,200 feet of vertical. The resort gets more than 300 inches of snowfall annually, that makes it the perfect place for powder hounds. Silver Mountain has five chairlifts and I highly doubt there is ever a lift line – even on weekends. It is certainly a ski resort in Idaho all should visit!
The terrain is suitable for everyone with 20% beginner, 40% intermediate, 30% advanced, and 10% expert. There’s even a sizable terrain park for all the park rats in the area. With the amazing conditions, we didn’t ride many beginners runs, but instead found ourselves in the North Face Glades and hiking up Wardner Peak for fresh lines.
Silver Mountain’s main lodge area leaves a lot to be desired, but I prefer it that way. With more development and fancier restaurants come higher prices and crowds. Silver Mountain is a locals mountains where we could have a $4 beer while chatting with the local ski veteran. There is a bar/laid back restaurant upstairs and a cafeteria-style restaurant downstairs. You won’t find any Colorado prices here.
Speaking of price, I forgot to mention the best part, the cost of a daily lift ticket is only $56! With the great snow conditions and lack of crowds, we had some of our best snowboarding conditions at Silver Mountain. We had two full days of big mountain snowboarding at Silver but could have easily used a whole week to explore the mountain properly.
Stay and Eat:
There isn’t a large variety of accommodation options in Kellogg. We stayed at Silver Mountain Resort, which is connected to the gondola servicing Silver Mountain. Our room had a comfortable bed and a kitchen to cook in. All guests at Silver Mountain Resort receive free access to their indoor waterpark as well! This is a big hit for families looking to escape the winter.
You have to try Radio Brewing in Kellogg for a good craft beer, atmosphere, and dinner. One of our favorite breweries we visited in the States.
Lookout Pass near Wallace
Just 15 minutes down the road from Kellogg is the historic city of Wallace. In case you didn’t think it was possible to get smaller than Kellogg, it is. There are around 800 residents of Wallace and the small town western feel is very much present here. The town is called the “Silver Capital of the World” producing more silver than anywhere else in the world. For over 100 years Wallace has been the core of silver mining in the United States, and it was interesting to learn that it still remains a mining town today.
Wallace is the only town left on the National Register of Historic Places and driving through you can see why. Over the years the people of Wallace have maintained the old “wild west” charm of this town. Just walking down Main Street and strolling into the shops, museums, and bars you yourself will definitely feel as if you have been transported back to the early 1900’s. Being a western town Wallace certainly has a colorful past as it was famed for a large bordello community in Wallace up until the late 1980’s. If you want more insight head to the Oasis Bordello Museum or check out this book.
Wallace isn’t just a time warp into Frontierland though. It actually makes for a great base to explore the outdoors. It’s location amongst the beautiful mountains, lush forests, and the Coeur d’Alene River making it another town in Idaho that is beloved by adventure and outdoor enthusiasts. It’s also a good stop along the Route of the Hiawatha. A 15-mile scenic route between Montana and Idaho. If you want to see what an old mining town truly looks like without making a stop at Disneyworld I highly recommend checking out Wallace.
Ski/Snowboard at Lookout Pass
We only stayed in Wallace one night, enough to have a night out at the saloon and wake up early the next morning for a day at Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area. Lookout Pass is located right off the highway on the Idaho/Montana border (Exit 0). I’d wager a bet you’ve probably never heard of the ski area, but here is why it’s absolutely fantastic.
At first glance Lookout Pass may seem like a small ski hill. And that is true, there is no crazy vertical drop like at Jackson Hole or Whistler, but the ski area does receive insane levels of snowfall. How crazy? Well, 400″ is said to be the norm and because of their location in the Northern Rocky Mountains the snow at Lookout stays light and dry. We talked to locals who claimed they were getting powder dumps in November, and skiing waist deep snow throughout the season.
This is very much a locals mountain where you’ll find some of the same old timers riding here every day for decades on end. It’s a fabulous feeling compared to skiing at large resorts that only look at you as an ATM. Here there is a distinctly personal touch.
You won’t get bored though as the ski area is serviced by three chairlifts, and 35 runs across 540 acres more than enough a full day. The vertical at Lookout is 1,150ft making it family friendly. It’s a great place to come and let your kids run free without worrying they will die on a cliff. Another cool thing is their free ski school. Yes for 77 years they have been operating a totally FREE ski school for kids. In fact, hundreds from the region learned to ski at Lookout Pass.
A lift ticket to Lookout Pass will set you back all of $45 for the day. In the world of ski and snowboard, this is an amazing deal. We were shocked to find that early bird season passes are only $209. Check out lift tickets here.
Stay and Eat:
We spent the night at the Wallace Inn. The Wallace Inn has clean and comfortable rooms for an affordable price. Try the Blackboard Cafe for great homecooked Italian food and make sure to hit up 6th & Cedar Espresso Bar for coffee in the morning and drinks on Wednesday evenings.
Schweitzer Mountain near Sandpoint
Our last stop in Northern Idado was Sandpoint. Another town neither of us had ever heard of before, but as soon as we crossed the bridge over the Pend Oreille River we knew it was a place we could see ourselves living. Sandpoint is located a little over an hour south of the Canadian border. It’s another town nestled in the beauty of North American nature and is quickly growing in population due to this.
Sandpoint is a much bigger town compared to where we had previously visited in Idaho. There are a number of chain stores, hotels, and restaurants which adds to the livability of Sandpoint, but the real charm lies in the vibrant downtown. The walkable area is home to breweries, winery, coffee shops, restaurants, and boutique shops. It had much more young and hip atmosphere than many of the other towns we had visited in the Pacific Northwest.
Winter in Sandpoint is actually low season, as the summer months are busy with outdoor festivals and a plethora of activities that pave the way for a good time. The gorgeous 43-mile-long Lake Pend Oreille shimmers blue and surrounds Sandpoint. The lake makes it ideal for people craving an active lifestyle or those who love boating. Sandpoint is surrounded by three mountain ranges – Selkirk, Cabinet, and Bitterroot drawing in crowds who crave running, biking, and adventure activities. We’ve even been told a few celebrities based their hideaway homes in Sandpoint.
Snowboarding at Schweitzer Mountain
30 minutes from Sandpoint is Schweitzer Mountain Resort, the largest ski resort in Idaho. It was our last stop on our epic three-month snowboarding tour and we were stoked to learn they received over 400″ of snowfall in the 2017/2018 season. When most people think of Idaho and skiing they think of Sun Valley, although Schweitzer is a larger area, cheaper, and has far fewer people.
Just because Schweitzer isn’t as much of a resort town as Vail, Park City Utah, or Big Sky doesn’t mean there aren’t great facilities here. At the base of the mountain lies a small ski village that caters to all. There are a few on mountain lodging options, restaurants, bars, ski shop, and even a wine cellar. The village has everything you could need for an all-inclusive family ski vacation. The road up to Schweitzer is very much a steep mountain road and with winter conditions, drivers should take extra caution. Being the 16th largest ski resort in the US it’s completely possible to ski and snowboard on weekends without feeling the crowds (which is exactly what we did). Schweitzer boasts some impressive terrains with easily accessible bowls and gladed areas.
The lift system here is modern and updated and claims the “only six-person chart in Idaho.” We gave this six-person chairlift a whirl, which was near the Outlaw restaurant and felt like we were entering another Westword. Check it out!
Unlike many other ski resorts, Schweitzer Mountain owns the mountain meaning they can build where and what they want and run on their own rules. Thankfully, the bells and whistles and modernity haven’t drawn in the crazy crowds that some of their nearby counterparts have. It also means that you may see a snowboarder ripping it down the mountain with a cocktail from the local bar in hand. It’s all part of the fun!
From the new Summit House restaurant, you can catch views of Idaho, Montana, Washington, and Canada on a clear day! The view of Lake Pend Oreille is seriously one of the most impressive we have seen from a mountaintop. Schweitzer has 2900 skiable acres, 92 trails plus open bowl skiing. We didn’t hit Schweitzer on a powder day, but if it were dumping I imagine the bowls would be epic. Schweitzer caters well to families with 50% of their runs classified as beginner and intermediate and basically, all runs will eventually lead you to a lift here.
I loved learning that the ski school, lift crew, and patrol are all managed by women and that the resort has donated over $150,000 to the community this past year!
Selkirk Powder Company also works with Schweitzer Mountain to offer adrenaline junkies the chance to go heliskiing, cat skiing, and snowmobiling. All of these operations run right from the resort so there is no need to drive anywhere into the backcountry to get those unspoiled fresh lines. We went snowmobiling with Selkirk and loved getting into the nature on the back of the mountain. We had our fingers crossed for a moose sighting but settled on some tracks and amazing views. Next time we’re trying cat-skiing!
Walk up lift ticket prices are $79, which is the best price we have seen for a big resort in North America. Check out lift tickets here.
Stay and Eat:
We stayed at Schweitzer’s on-mountain lodging. Selkirk Lodge provides clean and spacious rooms, free breakfast, and a great pool area overlooking the mountain. For those on a budget, there is plenty of lodging in Sandpoint. We love using Airbnb if you want to check out our tips and score a coupon code on your first Airbnb check out our post.
Definitely head down to Sandpoint to have dinner at Trinity At City Beach – their food is fabulous and the location on the lake can’t be beaten. Afterward, head to MickDuff’s Brewing Company for a craft brew.
This is just a taster of some of the ski resorts in Idaho you can explore. The states most well-known ski destination is Sun Valley, but there are a few others such as Bogus Basin, Cottonwood Butte, and Tamarack. Wherever it is you will be blown away by the mountains and natural beauty of Idaho.
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