Off The Beaten Track, Idaho's Mountains Have Something For Everyone
The Rocky Mountains in Idaho spread uninterrupted north off the Snake River into the state's upper regions where a strong menu of skiing and riding awaits those who are willing to go an extra mile.
Though not the highest in the Rockies -- treeline hovers around 7,000 feet -- this landscape is among the most persistent: Seemingly endless ranges, steep and remote, with many roadless sections. Rural townships nestle in tight quarters. Only 10% of municipalities in Idaho have five-digit populations, and the largest wilderness area in the Lower 48 -- 2.2 million-acre Frank Church River of No Return -- anchors the state's midsection.
This crinkled topography in the Gem State produces as diverse a collection of ski and snowboard mountains as anywhere in the West -- and some of the least familiar. Nearly two dozen dot the road-trip map from Boise to Coeur d'Alene, big and famous like Sun Valley, local treasures like Little Ski Hill -- and plenty in between.
After first dumping "concrete" on the Cascades, Pacific storms have plenty left for Idaho's northern tier resorts, like at Schweitzer that averages 400 inches a season. Snowstorms dry out a bit as they head across the high ground toward the Grand Tetons, dropping a lighter variety of powder as they go.
Idaho mountains can give skiers and 'boarders all they want, need and can handle. There are the "big boys" like Sun Valley, Soldier Mountain, and Schweitzer. Then an array of solid mid-sized mountains sprinkled about, such as Tamarack, Lost Trail, Pomerelle, and Lookout Pass.
Volunteer-operated Bogus Basin should be on the top of anyone's list for skiing and riding at the edge of town. Opened in 1942 by the famed Engen brothers, Bogus is 16 miles from Boise and has 1,790 vertical feet on a surprisingly large layout of 2,600 acres. As a non-profit operating on private and public leases, ticket prices stay reasonable and lights up five days a week for night skiing.
And, Idaho likely as many nook-and-cranny town bumps as any state in the West -- and each with their own quirks and foibles. For those of us who grew up lapping the town hill after school, this sample of oddball little hills should bring back plenty of memories.
Cottonwood Butte's main lift is a 3,000-foot-long T-bar.
Little Ski Hill is open 3:30-9:00 p.m. on weekdays.
Chipmunk Ski Area has the longest rope tow in America, 300 feet, and $5 tickets.
All of Rotarun Ski Area's 485 feet of vertical are treeless.
Snowhaven's T-bar was put up in 1972 -- and still running.