Powder to the People at Lookout Pass

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MT ID border in the FoodcourtOn the border of Idaho and Montana is a powder haven with incredible snow, short lines, and lift ticket prices that will make you swear you’ve traveled back in time. Then again, a quick stroll through the historic lodge of Lookout Pass does indeed feel like walking into a snow globe time capsule. But keep going and you’ll see that Lookout Pass, while rooted in history, is a mountain with the future front and center.

An easy drive from western Montana and Spokane, it's surprising that Lookout Pass doesn't attract more crowds, especially considering its deep powder tree stashes in the new expansion terrain. The simple answer is that Lookout Pass is not part of any mega networks. But aHA! there’s an opportunity… bring your current season pass from anywhere in the world and enjoy a half price, full day, regular rate lift ticket Monday-Thursday. Speaking of Thursdays, bring a buddy and get 2 lift tickets for $75. Ski or ride for free on your birthday (Marketing Director Matt Sawyer might even sing for you) and the list of deals goes on.

Where Lookout Pass stands above the timberline from the rest, is by directly addressing two major quandaries of the snow sports world. With deals designed to make getting on the snow more affordable for you and your crew, and programs to make passing down the culture part of the experience. On both counts, look no further than Girls on Shred.

6 girls of the Lookout Pass Girls On Shred eventGirls on Shred is a project based in Missoula, MT that focuses on providing snowboarding and ski clinics to women, non-binary individuals, and trans people in Montana and Idaho. Through free clinics and meetups (like this one at Lookout Pass in early January), Girls on Shred creates a welcoming and supportive community for budding shredders. These meetups go beyond just lessons, as they provide an opportunity to form friendships and build confidence when facing new challenges. Girls on Shred cultivates a non-competitive and joyful atmosphere, where skiers and riders of all skill levels can come together. Partnered this year with the Mineral County Rec Club, Girls on Shred also offers action sports gear to those in need, making snowboarding more accessible and inclusive.

In a 2019 interview, event manager Sam Veysey Gibbons said about skating and riding “It’s kinda rare to run into another girl without coordinating meeting her” and says the typical rules– no friends on powder days, shredding to the max, go big or go home– don’t apply to Girls on Shred days. “It’s really freeing. It’s fun, and I always walk away with new friends and sore cheeks from smiling and giggling.” Girls on Shred is building community and making snowboarding accessible by offering an easy going introduction into an often intimidating landscape. Come for the fresh jams and stay for the hot cocoa at their next event at Lookout Pass on March 24th.

As if that wasn’t enough, Lookout Pass also just kicked off their 8 week free ski school for all skiers and snowboarders age 7-17. 77 years and counting, the non-profit FREE LESSONS program is the longest running free ski school in the country; providing a free lesson and a free lift ticket during the lesson. If Lookout Pass has been under your radar, you’re not alone. But now that you know, spread the word because the oldest ski area in Idaho is also the carving edge of the newest generation. On weekends, get there early because the lots fill up fast, or take advantage of another one of this hidden gem’s hidden gems: camping out in the lower lot.

   Girls on Shred FB two riders tune up  SnoCountry Chairlift view from Eagle Peak expansion Lookout Pass JCrosby    SnoCountry Exit0 5A3166 Lookout Pass p Matt Sawyer 

 

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New Chairlifts Top Off-Season Upgrades At Idaho Big Mountains

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Getting busier by the year, a trio of Idaho's ski and snowboard resorts continued a recent trend of modernization this summer with four new high-speed lifts that aim to ease lift line congestion and get folks up and around the mountains more readily.

The Ikon Pass folks have bought Schweitzer, and the first move is to dramatically upgrade the easy slopes below the main base area. Gone is the 32-year-old Musical Chairs fixed-grip double, and up and running is the new high-speed quad Creekside Express. The detachable chairlift will triple capacity and cut ride time to 3.5 minutes between lower Fall Line parking and main lodge -- the mountain's only green-rated runs.

The new lift is a glimpse at what's to come in Schweitzer's easy-going area. The existing Creek Village housing area will get a new day lodge, expanded beginner and intermediate terrain, easy access from the upper mountain -- and much more parking.

The first investments by a reinvigorated ownership at Brundage Mountain (1,920 a.,1,921 vert.) arrived for this season, in the form of a much-needed second high-speed quad on the front side. The old Centennial triple has been replaced by a detachable four-seater that will nearly double capacity and cut time on the lift from 16 minutes to six -- dramatically reducing lift lines.

Next up for Brundage will a new guest service's center at the base, and the expansion of the main lodge -- both planned for the next couple years.

In the past couple of seasons at Sun Valley (2,457 a., 3,400 vert.), mountain planners worked to rectified traffic flow on the frontside. This summer, crews headed to the side-mountain Warm Springs area. Two new high-speed chairlifts that run side-by-side are ready to run. The base-to-top Challenger six-seater adds 50% capacity and a mid-station before the 7.5-minute ride to Lookout Restaurant.

The other new lift, a four-seater called Flying Squirrel, replaces the 35-year-old Greyhawk quad. It runs up the same route to the divide, where skiers and riders can dump into Frenchman's and other frontside sectors. A steep black section has been added as Lower Flying Squirrel, alongside newly opened Little Scorpion glades to put more variety into the runs back to the Warm Spring base.

Other improvements at Idaho ski and snowboard mountains this season include:

  • A major overhaul of the Shoshone Lift beginner area at Grand Targhee.

  • Glade clearing and trail regrading at Lookout Pass.

  • Reinvigorating the long-ignored snowmaking system at Soldier Mountain.

  • A new "family friendly zone" and terrain park beginner area at Tamarack.

 

 

 

 

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Off The Beaten Track, Idaho's Mountains Have Something For Everyone

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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.

 

 

 

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Idaho's Schweitzer Joins The Ikon Pass Network

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Schweitzer Mountain, one of the largest ski and snowboard mountain in the Northwest, has been bought by Alterra Mountain Corp., and Ikon Pass holders will get unlimited time on the North Idaho mountain.

In addition, by joining the Ikon Pass family, Schweitzer will undoubtedly benefit from Denver-based Alterra's propensity to put cash into mountain and infrastructure improvements shortly following a purchase.

Alterra, which owns and distributes the multi-mountain Ikon Pass, will assume ownership of the mountain and its operations. As in the past, the company will have Schweitzer managers continue to be operate, but it will likely have Schweitzer's existing plans for an expanded base village become a reality.

The purchase of Schweitzer adds the 17th North American ski and snowboard resort in the Alterra portfolio, joining Crystal Mountain as the second mountain in the Northwest to honor the full-on Ikon Pass. Alterra Since 2021, Schweitzer has been an Ikon "partner," accepting the pass for a limited number of days each season.

Those who already have a Schweitzer season pass for the coming season will get a discount upon purchase of an Ikon Pass for 2023-2024. Inclusion of discounts for Ikon's sub-products, like its Base Pass and Session Pass, have yet to be determined. The Ikon Pass is also good at more than 30 resorts around the world.

Schweitzer, located above the town of Sandpoint and two hours' drive from nearest airport in Spokane, has 2,900 acres inside its ropes. The trail map sprawls across Schweitzer Bowl on the front side, and dips in Outback Bowl on the backside. Some 92 named trails and bowls pitch off the 6,000-foot-high top ridge into 2,400 vertical drop, and they are served by 10 lifts, including four high-speed chairs.

Terrain ratings lean toward the advanced skiers and riders, with just 10% rated for beginners. Upper mountain features steeps of open bowl and gladed terrain, while beginners get their own slopes under the Musical Chairs lift.

 

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From North To South, Idaho's Resorts Promise Challenging Mountain Biking

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If warm-weather vacation includes a rugged mountain biking experience, then Idaho's spiny Northern Rockies -- and its half-dozen ski and snowboard resorts -- are a likely destination.

Schweitzer sits on a pair of steep bowls of rocky terrain. The MTB trail system doesn't have terrain features nor green-rated runs -- just straight-on downhill all the way.

All the choices offered on the ridge-to-ridge layout rate intermediate or above. Lift-served downhill runs cover the mountain's 2,900 acres with 14 designated routes. The Grand Escape Quad drops bikers off at the 6,400-foot summit, with 2,400 feet of vertical below. Reviewers call Schweitzer "old school" because of its true-to-terrain character. A host of X-C trails sit contiguous to resort boundaries.

Silver Mountain, another rough-and-tumble North Idaho MTB track, also caters to the hardcore, no-frills crowd. The longest gondola in North America takes riders daily out of town to mid-mountain, where casual riders get Chair 4 and a modest 800-foot vertical.

But it's the 3,400 feet of drop below that that marks Silver's reputation. Black diamond technicals stand out: Among others, Snakepit and Frankenbeens get reviewers' raves. Ride time range from 15 to 45 minutes.

To the south, Brundage's Bluebird Express spins Wednesdays to Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., bringing bikers to 7,640 feet elevation. From there, 12 technical trails head down 1,800 vertical feet, with half of them rated green. Most notable is Elk Trail, a 6-mile meander.

Unadulterated blue runs wander around the frontside, with only two expert pitches and only a half-dozen TTFs. So Brundage, like all these Idaho MTB parks, tends to be au naturel.

Farther south, Tamarack continues to undergo a renaissance. Right now, the central Idaho resort lists 25 miles downhill trails that spray off the 6,900-foot summit -- divided up 7 green, 7 expert, and 4 intermediate, and without technical terrain features.

The upper trails feature steep, raw routes on rocky terrain. The midsection is where to mellow green runs converge for the run to the bottom. Ownership has started on a full-on bike park to supplement these natural downhill runs with enhancing features.

An 8-minute ride up Tamarack Express gets bikers to the top where some 1,800 feet of vertical drop for all abilities await. The high-speed quad spins 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

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Alterra Purchases Schweitzer As Its First Resort In Idaho

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The owners of the Ikon Pass will add Idaho's largest ski and snowboard mountain to its portfolio following a closing of a deal for Schweitzer Mountain.

Located above the North Idaho town of Sandpoint, Schweitzer has been an Ikon partner-resort since 2021, accepting the mega-mountain pass for seven days on its 2,900-acre layout. When announcing the pending purchase, Alterra Mountain Company said seven-day partner access on the Ikon Pass will be in place for 2023-2024 season. That may change as 15 of the 17 resorts that the Denver-based firm owns now take the Ikon for unlimited visits.

Schweitzer's trail map covers three distinct aspects out of a central village at 4,000 feet elevation, and a total of 2,400 vertical feet. It has an evenly rated trail system with 50% expert or advanced, 40% intermediate, and 10% beginner runs. Its lift network includes five high-speed chairs, three of the fixed-grip variety, one T-bar and a beginner moving carpet.

The purchase of Schweitzer adds a fifth mountain to the Ikon portfolio in the Northwest -- and the second along with Crystal Mountain to be fully owned by Alterra. All five will continue with limited seven-day access under the Ikon Pass -- for the time being.

With either unlimited or limited access, the multi-mountain Ikon Pass is now taken by nine resorts in Colorado; six resorts in California and Utah; two in Washington and Idaho; and one each in Oregon, New Mexico and Wyoming.

Alterra has a reputation of pouring money into its new purchases, while allowing existing management to stay in place. To the company's benefit is that all of Schweitzer sits on private land, meaning no lengthy U.S. Forest Service permit process will be necessary to start construction.

A 2018 master plan calls for a trio of new chairlifts, expansion of the backside Outback section, a second base area, and more beginner terrain. On-mountain upgrades already in place include terrain expansion, five new chairlifts, and the mountain-top Sky House.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Summer Work At Brundage, Schweitzer To Debut New High-Speeds

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A pair of Idaho's big mountains have decided to heighten their uphill capacities by replacing 1990-era fixed-grip chairlifts with detachable quads during the summer construction season.

The lift replacement projects at Brundage and Schweitzer continue a trend all over the West of putting up faster chairlifts with more seats in order to handle an increasing number of skiers and riders. The past three seasons have seen the first significant hike in skier-visits (60 million in 2021-2022) since the mid-1990s, and resorts have moved quickly to accommodate.

More than a dozen new lifts went in on skier and snowboard mountains in the West last summer, and this summer promises to see another 20 or so installed.

At Brundage, the 32-year-old Centennial Triple will be retired and, in its place, a high-speed four-seater. The new Centennial Express will cut riding time to cover 1,616 vertical feet from 14 to 6 minutes -- lower parking lot base to the 7,600-foot-high summit ridge.

Since the 1990s, the Centennial chair has shared uphill duties with the Blue Bird Express as the only ways to get to the bowls, glades and chutes of Brundage's high ground -- including backside Lakeview. The addition of a second high-speed on the hill will increase capacity by 15%.

Having two high-speed quads in the base area gives us more flexibility and redundancy for moving people up the mountain, which is especially important on busy days and holidays, and during challenging weather conditions,” said Brundage's Ken Rider.

Up in the pandhandle, Schweitzer begins a multi-year focus on its lower mountain with a new high-speed quad to replace the 32-year-old Musical Chairs fixed-grip. The new chair will drastically increase uphill numbers on the primary novice terrain that spreads out above the lower parking lot.

The new high-speed is Schweitzer's first step to building a second village around the mountain's base, including expanded parking and a new base lodge.

Not only will it be easier for beginner skiers and riders to load and unload, the new lift will increase capacity to 2,400 guests per hour, allowing guests to upload and download safer and more efficiently," said Schweitzer's Rob Batchelder. "It will also provide the opportunity to transport foot passengers without skis or snowboards to and from the village, even in summer.”

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New Lifts Will Facilitate Moving Around Sun Valley And Snowbasin

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This summer, the longtime owners of Sun Valley and Snowbasin will make major upgrades at each mountain to smooth out flow and reinvigorate portions of their resorts.

Idaho's Sun Valley has two separate base areas that serve two distinct sides of the mountain -- the main one integrated into the town of Ketchum and the other 12 miles to the west in the Warm Springs settlement. In 2014, a forest fire above Warm Springs took out the Flying Squirrel fixed-grip double chair, making it cumbersome to get into a pair of popular powder stashes from that side of the mountain.

One aim of the Warm Springs project this summer will be to make it easier to get into the Little Scorpion and Frenchman's powder stashes from the Warm Springs base, and to rejuvenate the skier's right portion of the east side of the Sun Valley trail map. A new high-speed quad chair called Flying Squirrel will restore that access by delivering skiers and riders to a ridge top above them.

The other part of the project is a new Challenger chair -- the heavy-lifting high-speed quad from the Warm Springs base up 3,000 vertical feet to the summit ridge line of Baldy Mountain (9,150). Previously, the Challenger shared ridership with the 35-year-old Greyhawk high-speed quad that unloaded halfway up. That chair will be dismantled, and the new six-seat Challenger will have a mid-station.

At Snowbasin in Utah's northern Wasatch Range, the expansive Strawberry Peak area and its eight-seat gondola has become a more and more popular loop for advanced skiers and riders since expansion in 1998.

However, the 1,000 or so acres there is separated by a long ridge from the main mountain and base area -- making for long runouts at the end of the day. So, the new six-pack Demoisy Express is set to go up this summer to ease both congestion and make the return run easier to catch.

The new high-speed will load next to the gondola and rise nearly 2,000 vertical feet to a sheltered dropoff point just short of the top ridge. From there, trails lead to and from the frontside Middle Bowl Express, and skiers and rider get a choice of the alpine terrain of Diamond Bowl or the Strawberry treeless steep slopes.

 

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SnoCast: Atmospheric River Out West; Nor'easter Possible Next Week

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As we roll into the second weekend of March, there is much to talk about in the weather department. An active weather pattern will bring a series of storms from coast to coast which, for some, will result in very heavy snow in the mountains (great for skiing), but also other (not so fun) impacts such as travel disruptions, flooding, and high winds. 

Before we dive into the forecast, don't forget that with this kind of pattern, it's important to check forecast more often. Because the way one storm behaves might impact the track or intensity of the next, so there's more room for things to change farther out in time. 

With that, let's dig into the forecast, highlighting great ski and ride conditions from March 9-15, 2023.

 

West

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Western U.S. is once again in position for a deluge of Pacific moisture that will bring long-duration mountain snow and low-elevation heavy rain. An atmospheric river setup (or a long, steady firehose of tropically-charged moisture) will target the Western U.S., with a bullseye on California starting Thursday and lasting into next week. 

The steady stream of moisture will yet again deliver feet upon feet of snow to the Sierra Nevada in California, with lower, but still impressive totals spreading across the Northwest U.S. and the central and northern Rockies.

In California, unlike some other storms this winter, snow levels will be rather high (see tweet from NWSSacramento), with rain/snow line sneaking up to  ~8000' for a period of time. This means really heavy rain down low (which will lead to flood problems) and weigh down existing snowpack. Particularly in California, high winds, plus this much snow will impact travel to the slopes, and no doubt interrupt operations for some due to safety concerns. Be sure to check in with your favorite mountain before hitting the road.

Not to be overshadowed by the impacts in California will be significant snow through the weekend for the central and northern Rockies. Many ski areas will pick up 6-12" of fresh snow, with locally 1-2 feet for the higher and southwest-facing slopes of Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and southern Oregon.  

 Take a look at the forecast snowfall through Sunday, March 12.  

Beyond Sunday, the pattern remains active with a series of storms yet to come. A brief respite late Sunday will give way to a new storm Monday, which delivers moderate to heavy snow up and down the Pacific state mountains before shifting east to the Rockies by Tuesday.

Yet another storm waits in the wings for Wednesday-Thursday next week, targeting California and the central Rockies. 

East

Plenty to talk about in the Eastern U.S. and Canada, too. A storm will trek across the lower Great Lakes and shift off the Eastern coastline through Friday (March 10). This will leave behind a swath of snow from Minnesota to Pennsylvania. Expect a widespread 2-5" of snow for many of our Midwest and interior Northeast ski areas before the weekend, locally higher totals for Wisconsin ski areas. This storm will be a near miss for New England.

Here's the Eastern U.S. snow forecast through Sunday, March 12 from the National Weather Service. 

Early next week looks intriguing with potential for a nor'easter Monday-Tuesday. While there is still plenty of time for things to change, there is potential for this to be a significant snow (and wind) storm for parts of New England and the interior Northeast, with rain and travel disruptions closers to the major cities. Exact location of the low and amount of cold air will determine how much snow falls and where. Definitely something to keep monitoring!

Here's the "suite of computer models" (ensembles) indicating low pressure location--the farther the spread, the less certainty there is for now. 

 Keep up with the latest forecast information around the U.S. from the National Weather Service, or I'll also tweet information about these upcoming storms, too, @KerrinJeromin on Twitter

 

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Handful Of Midwest Ski Areas Celebrating Milestones This Season

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Five Heartland ski areas are celebrating significant milestones this season. All have been in business at least 65 years and a couple started in 85 and one 75 years ago, according to the National Ski Areas Association.

Pine Mountain, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and Wilmot Mountain, just north of Chicago along the Wisconsin border, opened in 1938, and celebrate 85 years this season. They opened just a couple of years after Sun Valley in the west and Bromley Mountain opened in the east, both credited with kicking off the North American ski resort industry. That first chairlift installed at Sun Valley 87 years ago was purchased by Everett Kircher in 1947, moved to Boyne Mountain and introduced the modern era of skiing to the Heartland. It's still in use hauling visitors to the top of Mountain to hike across the world's longest timber towered suspension bridge that was opened last fall. It's available to walk across year round.

Wilmot Mountain, located just north of Chicago along Wisconsin’s border, also turned 85 this season. Its unassuming vertical drop of 230 feet is offset by its stature with the million or so skiers that have skied here since it opened in 1938. It offers 25 trails, seven lifts and two surface tows to accommodate the large weekend crowds.

Pine Mountain is also home to the Kiwanis Ski Club jumping tournament that draws the best jumpers worldwide every year. Jump Weekend is where the US jumping record was set at 140 meters/459 feet and is still held here. The ski area offers a 500-foot vertical, 27 runs, three chairlifts and two surface tows.

Lutsen Mountains, 75 years old, opened in 1948. It's the largest ski resort around the Great Lakes with a nearly 900-foot vertical, the only gondola in the Heartland, and 95 runs scattered across four mountains. It lives up to its namesake “Mountains of the Midwest.” It's located in Minnesota's Arrowhead offering gorgeous views of Lake Superior from most of it's trails.

Michigan's Nubs Nob and Wisconsin’s Tyrol BasinPine both opened in 1958 and celebrated 65 years in business this season.

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Indy Pass Connects Idaho Neighbors Brundage and Tamarack

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With both mountains within two hours' drive from Boise, there's no better Indy Pass coupling than west-central Idaho neighbors Brundage Mountain and Tamarack Resort.

About 20 miles apart,they tout the state's driest snow, "ski bigger" than their stats, and make the most of their mountains. They both cluster their learning areas around the base, and neither is known for crowds. And, nearby towns McCall and Donnelly retain a mountain feel.

Brundage sits where weather cycles collide, so a dry snow typically piles up on the 7,800-foot-high mountain. Vibe is firmly down-home -- more Carhart than Bogner -- with simple eats and noisy bar. The trail map is well-organized, packing plenty into 1,900 acres for everyone from never-evers to hotshots: Nearly 75% of the mountain's runs are blue or black.

From the main lodge, newbies and novices head to Beartopia, with its half-dozen easy runs, two terrain parks and dedicated triple chair. The front side features broad blue cruisers and long black pitches off lone high-speed, the Bluebird Express quad.

Head to skier's right into gladed Hidden Valley for nothing but blacks, hike up into 420 acres of snowfields below Sargent's Peak, or snowcat out to more than 10,000 permitted acres.

On the other extreme, the recently developed Lakeview terrain coddles the leisurely set with gentle slopes, southerly exposure and drop-dead scenery.

About 20 miles due south, Tamarack began as real estate-cum-ski area in the early 2000s. Finances stalled but, after several hiccups, it is now back. Known for its grooming, the mountain is taller than it is wide, with 2,800 of vertical drop on 1,100 acres. Trail map breaks out with 20% greens conveniently huddled around the base, and the rest full of major cruisers both blue and black. Access is simple, with two high-speeds linking to the summit, and Wildwood Express serving northside blues and trees.

The base village is undergoing a renaissance, with a new 5,000-square-foot village center opening this season. About a dozen restaurant-bars have sprung up, as have condos, cottages, townhouses and homes for rent. Elegant Lodge at Osprey Meadows kicks it up a notch.

As a sidelight, check out the classic town hill Little Ski Hill -- the second oldest ski area in Idaho (1937) behind Sun Valley -- that sits just outside on the way to Tamarack. The hill features local-vibe night skiing with a T-bar on a 405-foot vertical drop.

 

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Indy Pass Road Trip To Local Hills Kelly Canyon, Snow King, White Pine

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Many of us cut our teeth lapping runs on small local hills, so taking an Indy Pass on a nostalgic road trip back to our roots should appeal to most skiers and riders.

One such trio of local slopes sit around the Wyoming-Idaho border and within a four-hour drive of each other. Each is under 800 acres, has modest vertical drops around 1,000 feet, brings a definite localfeel from the nearby town it serves -- and takes the Indy Pass.

Start the Indy road trip at Kelly Canyon just outside Idaho Falls. Four fixed-grip chairs -- the newest and longest is an 8-minute ride on Gold Rush -- deliver to Kelly's ample choice of greens and blues. With 1,000 vertical drop on 740 acres, Kelly gives novices and intermediates more choice than most. Frontside full of broad groomers, and upper mountain basically wide open.

New owners came in 2019, and they remodeled base lodge, put in Gold Rush triple, and upped snowmaking capabilities. Day tickets top at $79, so half price on third Indy day is a deal. Night skiing six days a week, closed Mondays.

Head across the Wyoming border to Snow King, rising out of the town of Jackson. Expect the unexpected once at town-owned Snow King. Its compact 500 acres combines with vertical drop of 1,500 feet to produce more steeps (60% of terrain) than most local hills. Snow King even has a small back bowl.

And for sure, no U.S. in-town hill has a gondola. Installed in 2021 for both winter and summer visitors, the four-seater takes five minutes to reach the 7,808-foot-high summit. Double-black a-plenty on both sides off gondola summit. For plenty of blues and a few greens, take the Rafferty quad which has a midstation. Night skiing six days a week, and third day on Indy costs $37.50.

Final stop finds Indy roadies making a two-hour drive to White Pine. Pinedales's go-to hill packs plenty into its 370 acres, including 1,100 feet of vertical drop. A triple fixed-grip takes eight minutes to the 9,500-foot summit, and all 29 trails run off it. Plenty of short steeps to skier's left, while blues and greens weave in and out of each other on the other side. Limited novice slopes at bottom with short chair, but a great resort to learn to ski at.

A third half-off Indy day tops out at $30. White Pine spins its lifts on Friday through Monday.

 

 

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Quartet Of Southern Idaho Resorts Aim At Skier-Comfort This Season

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Like many U.S. ski and snowboard resorts this season, a group of four Idaho resorts focused on nitty-gritty projects to make things more comfortable and safe for skiers and riders in 2022-2023.

At Boise's own Bogus Basin, lift crews added more chairs to Morningstar and Superior Express to help move more skiers and riders around the mountain. Two new trails on the upper mountain make back-to-front connection easier, and some greens got wider.

Night skiing terrain has expanded, putting Sunbeam and Superior runs under the lights. Down below, there are 50 more parking spots, and snowshoeing operation is gaining ground.

About two hours' north sits Tamarack. Rejuvenation continues since new owners took over in 2018. Focus this summer was on apres-ski: A new 5,000-square-foot restaurant and bar -- with mezzanine and outdoor seatings -- went in slopeside in the base village. Pay digitally and choose from a wall of 40 self-serve beer taps.

The Indy Pass works at Tamarack. On the 1,100-acre mountain, snowmaking continues to be amped up so that about a fifth of the terrain has snowguns. Tamarack's trail map leans toward the more difficult and difficult categories, with clearly 80% of the trail falling into one or the other rating.

Just up the road, Brundage Mountain ski patrol have moved into new digs this winter. A brand-new 2,800-square-foot space houses patrol and first aid facilities. A couple of new groomers are on the hill to smooth out the early-season surfaces. Brundage is also a members of the Indy Pass system.

Nostalgians will take the last rides on the 32-year-old Centennial fixed-grip triple, as plans call for a detachable high-speed chair to go in next season. Also in the near future at Brundage is a new base lodge to replace the original A-frame, and there will be hints of real estate development around the base of the heretofore day-trip resort.

In Idaho's southeast sector, venerable Sun Valley continues its march toward 90 years in business (2026) by opening up some new terrain in the Warm Springs portion of the 2,700-acre resort. Two gladed sections were cleared this summer to expand the mountain's western edge in preparation of two new chairlifts scheduled to go in for next season as part of an aggressive improvement plan.

Also, Sun Valley joined the Ikon Pass as a seven-day partner, and the Mountain Collective for its two days free and half-off any additional days. And, Sun Valley will reclaim some of its old racing roots by hosting the U.S. Alpine Championships in March.

 

 

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SnoCast: A Stormy Finish to 2022

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As we say farewell to 2022, we also say hello to more storms and mountain snow across the West and a warm up in the East. Details on ski conditions ahead in this week's SnoCast. 

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Storm Update: Snow Falling in the Northeast, West

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There's new snow falling this Sunday (Dec. 11), so grab those skis and boards and get to your favorite mountain. Check out the live cams as snow falls across the Northeast and a powerful storm continues to dig across the West.

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SnoCast: The Storm Parade Continues For the West

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Here we go again with another very active pattern and heavy mountain snow on tap for much of the Western U.S. While no large storms are in view for the East, we're seeking windows of opportunity. Let's dig into this week's SnoCast. 

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New Terrain, Upgraded Chairlifts Highlight Spokane-Area Openings

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A quartet of Inland Northwest ski and snowboard mountains within a couple of hours' drive from Spokane have new offerings as the 2022-2023 season gets underway.

The Lookout Pass trail map got longer this summer with the Eagle Pass expansion on the western edge of the mountain. New is nearly 500 more acres with the new Eagle Pass fixed-grip quad, reachable by a leisurely green run off the resort's main summit. Terrain includes mostly blue runs, plus a long lift-line black and a few other expert pitches.

Straddling the both the Idaho-Montana border and the Mountain and Pacific time zones, the expansion nearly doubles the ski and snowboard area's size to 1,023 acres, and it raises the mountain's vertical-foot drop to 1,650. Also this summer, crews regraded the Success beginner area and tweaked the base lodge, rentals and parking. Its season pass links with eight Western resorts, including Bluewood and Mission Ridge in Washington state.

Staying up north, Schweitzer expansive Outback Bowl got an upgrade with the Stella high-speed adding more chairs to reduce the ride time to acres of glades and blue groomers. The chairlift anchors the skier's right portion of the large basin on Schweitzer's back side.

Down below, the children's center got an upgrade, and a new spa has gone in next to the base Selkirk Lodge. Schweitzer honors the Ikon Pass for seven free days.

At 49 Degrees North (named for its latitude), the big news came last season with the opening of the mountain's first high-speed quad chair. The base-to-summit Northern Spirit takes skiers and riders to the high ground in seven minutes, clearing out base area clogs and improving access to the wide variety of trails off the 5,774-foot Mt. Chewelah summit.

Along with the Sunrise Basin and Angel Peak expansions in the recent years, 49 Degrees North has jumped from 1,500 to more than 2,300 acres. Its season pass reciprocates with Bluewood, Mission Ridge, Loup Loup and White Pass in the state.

Northern Idaho's Silver Mountain has opened more powder-stash terrain this season by pushing the ski boundaries off Chair 2 . Named South of the Border, it adds about 20 acres of glades and powder meadows -- plus a new trail back to the base of the lift.

On the other side of the mountain at the Chair 4 mid-station, Silver has opened up a new Jackass Snack Shack to commemorate the resort's first name, Jackass Ski Bowl. The resort is now a member of the Powder Alliance. And, Silver is the only mountain in the West that connects to town (Kellogg, Idaho) via a gondola.

 

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Four States In West Gear Up Kids-Ski-Free Programs

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Taking the whole family to ski and ride in the West can be a pricey undertaking, so a number of states have "kids passport programs" that allow schoolchildren from any state to get free passes.

Each program limits the number of free days and has a one-time processing fee. All have blackout periods. They require a pre-application, and some require kids to show proof of age and school, so check websites listed here for specifics.

The digital Colorado Kids Ski Pass is accepted at 20 of the state's mountains, including all four Aspen mountains, Winter Park, Copper Mountain and Steamboat. For $59 fee and completion of online application, school kids in grades 3-6 get four days at each participating resort.

The five Colorado resorts owned by Vail Resorts (plus Park City in Utah) aren't including in this program, but they have their own Epic Schoolkids Pass. However, the deadline for application is Oct. 9.

In Utah, SkiUtah issues its passport for those in grades 4 through 6. For $49, youngsters can ski and ride three days at all 15 mountains in Utah, including Woodward Park City (lift ticket only). The passport must be purchased online, including current photo. Then, show it plus proof of name and date of birth at ticket window to get a lift ticket. (Park City has specific locations for redemption.)

Ski Idaho has gone all in for kids' passports. Seventeen of the state's mountains welcome 5th graders for three free days and 6th graders for two during this season. Online applications at $18 processing fee gets a printed or smart phone passport. With parent or guardian present, kids merely show the passport to get a free lift ticket.

And in Washington, the Fifth Grade Passport costs $20 and gets youngsters onto five of the state's mountains for three days free. Apply online and get an e-mail passport to show at the ticket window of Loup Loup, Mt. Spokane, Lookout Pass, Silver Mountain and 49 Degrees North.

Most mountains in the West give free tickets for the very young -- six years old or younger -- but a few ramp it up. A Power Kids Pass from Southwest regional Power Pass can be picked up at any of eight resorts in the Southwest (and now, Willamette Pass in Oregon) for free skiing all season.

And California's June Mountain also lets kids 12 and under ski and ride for free. Parents need to show up at the ticket window with the child.

 

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West's Resorts Begin To Fire Up Snow Guns For Opening Day

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With opening dates on the horizon, crews at many resorts in the West have been testing snow guns -- and looking longingly to the skies -- in hopes of putting down a base of snow in October.

Most ski and snowboard resorts have announced their anticipated opening days, although persistent warm weather in some regions may have something to say about that. A frequent check of resort websites is recommended.

However, hints of winter whiff the air and the high-country leaves are turning, so it's time to haul skis and snowboards out of storage and get them ready for the season.

The informal race to be the first to open in the nation falls upon the highest-elevation mountains along the spine of the Colorado Rockies. Traditionally, it's been Arapahoe Basin, Keystone and Loveland that vie for the title, but Wolf Creek surreptitiously snuck in last season by firing up its chairlifts on Oct. 16.

This year -- if official dates are to be believed -- Keystone will lead the pack by opening on Oct. 21, followed by Arapahoe Basin on Oct. 22, and Loveland and Wolf Creek on Oct. 29.

In California, 7,700-foot-high Boreal on Donner Pass is optimistic to begin on Oct. 28, while Mammoth Mountain plans to be in second place with an Nov. 11 opening. Tahoe's Heavenly has penciled in Nov. 18 for its first chairs.

Despite having middle-of-the-pack summit elevation, Lookout Pass (5,650 feet) on the border of Idaho and Montana has pushed its first day all the way up to Nov. 6 -- a full two weeks ahead of its previous earliest opening. Schweitzer, Sun Valley and Tamarack all plan to follow later in the month.

A pair of Utah mountains -- Brian Head and Park City Mountain -- hope to be the first in the Beehive State with openings on Nov. 18.

Skiers and riders in Washington will have to wait until December for Stevens Pass (Dec. 2) and 49 Degrees North (Dec. 3), while Oregonians will have to bide their time until Mt. Hood Meadows and Timberline (Dec. 11). Mt. Bachelor expects to follow close behind on Dec. 12.

In New Mexico, Sipapu has had a lock on first-to-open in recent seasons. For 2022-2023, the family resort tucked into the Sangre de Cristos has tabbed Nov. 18 to begin spinning its lifts.

 

 

 

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Strap In For High-Wire Thrills On Ziplines in the West

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At least a dozen ski and snowboard resorts in six states in the West have strung ziplines at or near the mountain to augment their offerings during the summer months.

In New Mexico, Angel Fire put its zipline network at the summit, with broad views of Sangre de Cristo Range. Guide-required for four-zip tour with six people max. Tours run every hour until 1 p.m, Friday-Monday.

Neighbor Red Riverloads two-seat Pioneer Flyer for backwards pull up to 600 feet elevation. A short pause for viewing, and then pairs are released for 35-mph free-ride back down. A shorter zip ride is incorporated into Hidden Treasure Aerial Park.

A couple of Colorado mountain resorts have ziplines at the mountain. Vail's on-mountain Epic Discovery Park incorporates a kids-only zipline -- about 10 feet in the air -- among its adventure package.

Purgatory has strung a pair of short, parallel ziplines that load on a condo deck and run over the base village center. Not long, the Plunge runs on weekends and can reach 35 mph.

Utah is home to one of the world's highest and longest ziplines, at Sundance Mountain Resort. Tucked up above Provo, the Sundance Zip has four spans with side-by-side cables that total two miles in length. And, you drop 2,100 vertical feet with control of speeds up to 65 mph -- with mid-air stops, too.

Above Salt Lake City, zipliners climb a 50-foot tower at the base of Snowbirdand reach 30 mph on side-by-side cables, landing on the deck of the tramway building. The ride is 1,000 feet long on a 15% grade.

Over in Idaho, Zip Tamarackruns four tours a day for a max of eight people, which lasts four hours. Each tour hooks onto eight ziplines with two suspension bridges interspersed -- plus a total of 1.5 miles of downhill hiking between platforms.

In California, Heavenly Mountainhas several ziplines on the hill. The rock-star zip is Blue Streak, one of the longest at 3,300 feet with a 525-foot vertical drop. Speeds reach 50 mph. The nearby Heavenly Flyer also reaches 50 mph as it skims the tree tops on an 80-second ride. And, an introductory ride can be had on the Red Flyer, which goes 100 feet at 15 feet above the ground.

And at Mt. Hood SkiBowl in Oregon, the resort has set up an aerial park the in air above the base area that includes an 800-foot long zipline. It's open Thursday to Sunday.

Many other resorts in the West sit near independent zipline operations, like Ski Cooper, Palisades Tahoe and Big Bear.

 

 

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