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.
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.
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.
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.
A busy weather week continues nation-wide with a fast storm pattern. We'll see multiple waves of snow out West, and changeable conditions in the East heading into the first weekend of December. Let's dig into this week's SnoCast.
A summer road trip in the Rockies should include time in southern Idaho, where a half-dozen ski and snowboard mountains flip to summer.
There's no shortage of strenuous biking and hiking, relaxing strolls through the wildflowers, music performances and more around the base areas of South Idaho's mountain resorts -- from Idaho Falls to McCall to Boise.
Bogus Basin continues its summer renaissance. It's home to Idaho's only mountain coaster, with 4,330 feet of twists and turns at up to 25mph. The Boise home hill's Basin Gravity Park debuts a one-mile beginner X-C trail, an extension of the Around the Mountain route, and a technical downhiller.
Tamarack takes advantage of its lakeside location by building a watercraft fleet over the last couple of summers. This summer, new jet skies and surf boats joins with paddleboards, kayaks and pontoon boats on Lake Cascade. On the hill, the 27-mile MTB park expands with a couple of intermediate flow trails, and a summit loop.
Kelly Canyon has begun lift-served MTB action to deliver riders to an 18-mile network of trails, plus a 4-mile special loop that will be a training ground for interscholastic riders. New at Kelly, just outside of Idaho Falls, will be UTV side-by-side rentals.
Brundage has built a 20-year reputation of solid hiking and biking trails on the mountain near McCall. The mountain added six new trails for this summer, including a dramatic uphiller into Lakeview Bowl. A scenic chairlift ride unveils a 360-degree view of Payette National Forest and environs.
As usual, Sun Valley offers up a plethora of summer activities and events for summer visitors. Downhill MTBers can ride the gondola to the ridge atop Bald Mountain while, down below, the resort links with a 30-mile cruiser system of paved, non-vehicle riding. Events highlight with performances on the famous ice rink at the resort above McCall.
Neither Soldier Mountain, Pomerelle nor Pebble Creek spin chairlifts during the summer. So at Soldier outside Boise and Pomerelle near Twin Falls, uphill MTBers take the lead to climb the mountain on their own. Just south of Pocatello, Pebble Creek will be open for special events and private affairs only.
With prices for 2022-23 comparable to recent seasons, the two-days-each Mountain Collective ski and snowboard pass returns with a shuffled resort lineup that includes two big mountains in the West coming back to the fold.
Ask the general public to name an alpine skiing “Mecca” — described as a location where people, who share a common interest, yearn to go — even those who don’t ski can come up with at least Aspen or Vail, if not Killington and Sun Valley.
Details of the 2022-2023 Ikon Pass are out, highlighted by Sun Valley and Snowbasin joining the mega-mountain season pass family.
There’s something to be said about the magical feeling you get when you look outside and everything is coated in fluffy white snow. To the people who live in ski resort towns, it’s just another wintery day, but to those who come from warmer climates, it’s a winter wonderland!
From Vermont's classic glades to the powder-choked bowls of the West, the destinations on this list will delight skiers of all stripes.
No less than nine Heartland ski areas are celebrating significant milestones this year. All have been in business at least 60 years and one started 85 years ago, according to the National Ski Areas Association.
At many ski and snowboard resorts, October comes in September -- in the form of the lederhosen, dirndl, clogs, knee socks, and, of course, beer.
So much to cover in this week’s SnoCast as we dig out from feet of snow in the west, and eye new snow in the Midwest and Northeast—everyone gets something to finish off January.
Ski and snowboard resorts throughout Idaho are opening for the season, albeit cautiously, and offseason improvements are muted but still significant.
The standard Covid-19 precautions are in place for this ski and snowboard season in the Gem State. Regional and local conditions may change, prompting changes in restrictions, but here's a look at some of the resorts' plans.
The COVID-19 pandemic's impact has spread across the ski and snowboard industry in the West, and one of its victims has been plans for new lifts. But a quintet of resorts are pushing ahead with plans, while others take a pause.