Road-Tripping in Idaho: 3 of the Best Ski-Area-to-Ski-Area Loops to Check Out This Winter

Martin Kuprianowicz | | Featured ArticleFeatured Article
Two hours north of Boise, Idaho, is Tamarack Resort—one of the nation’s newest ski areas. But what Tamarack lacks in maturity, it makes up for in fun, playful terrain and otherworldly tree skiing. | Photo courtesy of SnowBrains

Brought to you by Ski Idaho and Visit Idaho

Driving from ski area to ski area in Idaho is easy. Screw other overly-saturated ski trip routes, like Colorado’s I-70 resorts and all that traffic fuss going on there. Idaho is the new ski area road-trippin’ hotspot—except that it hasn’t gone mainstream. Yet.

There are three regions in Idaho worth checking out for any skier or snowboarder with a car and an appetite for powder. I’ve done all three and can say with confidence that these are the best winter loops Idaho has to offer. Bang for your buck goes far in Idaho with scenic, empty highways and uncrowded ski areas where you’ll find way-cheaper-than-most pass prices, affordable accommodation, and a rich, colorful history of the surrounding areas. So let’s dive in.

Schweitzer, near Sandpoint, has soft snow and lake views for days. | Photo courtesy of SnowBrains

Loop 1: Northern Idaho ski areas Schweitzer, Silver Mountain, and Lookout Pass

Schweitzer

Start at Schweitzer, located near the pretty little lake town of Sandpoint. Sandpoint is only a one-hour and twenty-five-minute drive from Spokane’s airport in Washington. To get there from Spokane, take I-90 East for 21 miles to the Stateline where you’ll get on Highway 53 heading east. Once on 53, take that for 13 miles until you reach US Highway 95 North and continue on for 32 miles until you reach Sandpoint.

Sandpoint has a ton of hotel options, Air BnB’s, and an excellent food and beverage scene. When I visited Schweitzer, I stayed at the Selkirk Lodge in the resort village, which has a heated swimming pool and an unbeatable location amongst fine on-mountain dining establishments.

Marketing director Dig Chrismer tele-skis down ‘Australia’ at Schweitzer in February 2021. | Photo courtesy of SnowBrains

When you get off the top of the chair at independently-owned Schweitzer, you’re on your own—this place feels absolutely deserted, and according to locals I skied with when I visited, it’s never crowded here. I made fresh turns all day. The mountain skis like a bigger version of Grand Targhee on the Idaho/Wyoming border, except with prettier, mountain-lake scenery and thicker, wetter snow.

Snowy, old-growth forest trees and frozen snow-ghosts dot this mountainous, rainforest landscape. Be sure to venture into the huge, flowy Outback Bowl at Schweitzer and stop for some lunch at the historic ‘Outback’ lodge, or go for some cat skiing with the resort’s professional cat ski outfitters, Selkirk Powder.

Places to eat

  • Chimney Rock Grill
  • Powder House Pizza
  • Gourmandie
  • Mojo Coyote Cafe
  • Lake View Cafe
  • The Outback
Marketing Lead Gus Colburn finds good snow in Silver Mountain’s trees. | Photo courtesy of SnowBrains

Silver Mountain

From Sandpoint, it’s only an hour and a half drive south to Kellogg, home to Silver Mountain. Take US-95 South for 40 miles until you reach I-90 East, then drive east for 37 miles until your reach Kellogg and you’re there.

Kellogg is a blast from the past mixed in with the new age. It was an old mining town turned ski town with modern restaurants, hotels, and a massive indoor water park. From the heart of Kellogg is Silver Mountain’s gondola, the longest gondola in America stretching over three miles of mountainous terrain direct from town. For a long time, Silver Mountain’s gondola was the longest in THE world.

I stayed at the Morning Star Lodge, which has modern rooms with artistic wood finish and views of Silver Mountain and Kellogg. The hotel has an indoor water park and is positioned perfectly next to the gondola and right in the middle of Kellogg’s bar and restaurant scene.

Silver Mountain has excellent tree-skiing. | Photo courtesy of SnowBrains

One-quarter of the world’s existing silver supply has been extracted from the Silver Valley in this part of Idaho. Silver Mountain was started in the 1960s under the original name of Jackass Ski Bowl and was predominantly skied by local miners. It only had one chair at the time.

60 years later, Silver Mountain is one of Idaho’s best ski areas with the feel of a 60s-era mom-and-pop joint but with big terrain, phenomenal tree skiing, steeps, and the utter opposite of crowds. Warder Peak has some great hike-to terrain and often holds good snow, and Mogul’s Lounge at the top of the gondola is a must-stop for drinks and pub grub.

Places to eat

  • Radio Brewing
  • Hill Street Depot
  • Moguls Lounge
  • Mountain House
  • Mountain Cafe
Chair 3: a cult classic at Lookout Pass. | Photo courtesy of SnowBrains

Lookout Pass

Getting to Lookout Pass from Kellogg is extremely simple: just travel east on I-90 for 24 miles and the ski area will be waiting for you directly off to the side of the interstate—literally, on the side of the interstate. I stayed in the town of Wallace at the Wallace Inn, which is 20 minutes away from Lookout Pass and right in the heart of historic Wallace. You can also stay in nearby Mullan, which is only a 10-minute drive from the ski area.

Lookout Pass gets a lot of snow. The ski area is positioned perfectly on a mountain pass in the Coeur d’Alene Mountains of the Bitterroot Range near Mullan, allowing for orographic lift, which brings snowfall totals like those in similar geographic positions such as Alta Ski Area in Little Cottonwood Canyon, Utah.

It snowed 16″ the night before I got there in late February 2021. The place spins three chairs that access absolutely epic tree skiing and pillow lines. Upon arrival, I’d recommend skiing Chair 3, and then for aprés, grabbing some delicious Bloody Marys at the Loft Pub in Lookout’s base lodge.

Skier John Rudi sends a small air in the trees near Hercules at Lookout Pass Ski Area. | Photo courtesy of SnowBrains

Places to eat

  • The Outlaw (In Mullan—mouth-watering, hand-pressed burgers)
  • City Limits Brew Pub
  • The 1313 Club
  • Blackboard Cafe

Then from Lookout Pass, all you have to do to get back to the airport in Spokane is drive west on I-90 for an hour and a half and you’re ready to get back on the plane and unfortunately head back to the ‘real world.’

General Manager Brad Wilson carves beautiful turns at Bogus Basin in February 2022. | Photo courtesy of SnowBrains

Loop 2: Bogus Basin, Tamarack, and Brundage Mountain 

Bogus Basin

Fly or drive to Boise, Idaho’s bustling capital city, and from there Bogus Basin is only 40 minutes from the city center. To get to Bogus Basin, take North Bogus Basin Road from Boise for 19 miles and then you’re there. When I skied Bogus last winter, I stayed at the Courtyard Marriott in Downtown Boise, which has luxurious but fairly-priced rooms and an exceptional location among Boise’s best bars and restaurants.

Bogus Basin is not bogus. The non-profit ski area boasts 2,600 skiable acres and big terrain consisting of steeps, high-class tree skiing, excellent groomed trails, and the most night skiing in Idaho. The skiing here is large and the skiing here is cheap—a full season pass went for $399 last season.

Bogus Basin has incredible terrain on its backside. | Photo courtesy of SnowBrains

Bogus Basin got its name from a fake gold epidemic in the late 19th century. Swindlers living in the mountains here used to manufacture fake gold and sell it as the real deal. Those wild west con artists turned a profit for quite some time before getting busted as fraudsters, and it wasn’t long until the area’s name became known as Bogus Basin.

Fast forward to the late 1930s and Alf Engen, the founder of Utah’s Alta Ski Area, decided that Bogus Basin was a lovely spot for a ski area. It was close to the state capital of Boise and had steep, playful terrain that received great, consistent snowfall. So in December 1942, Bogus opened to the public with a 500-foot (150 m) rope tow. The rest is history.

Places to eat

There are so many options in Downtown Boise. Must eats in my opinion are:

  • Diablo and Sons
  • Bardenay Restaurant and Distillery
  • Trillium
  • Fork
  • Bittercreek Alehouse
Finding soft turns at Tamarack after three inches of new snow in mid-February 2022. | Photo courtesy of SnowBrains

Tamarack Resort

Tamarack is approximately two hours and fifty minutes from Bogus Basin and to get there you take 55 North to Donnely for 82 miles. Once in Donnely, you take a left on West Roseberry Road and continue straight on Tamarack Falls Road before coming to an intersection across a bridge where you’ll make a left turn on West Mountain Road. Take West Mountain Road for a few miles and the resort will pop up on your left.

I made the drive from Boise the night before and stayed at The Lodge at Osprey Meadows. For on-mountain lodging at Tamarack, this place is hard to beat; it’s a three-minute walk to the ski hill, it’s right by all the base area’s food, drink, and nightlife options—it has super clean and luxurious rooms. I felt cozy here.

Started in 2004, Tamarack is one of North America’s newest ski areas. But with what it lacks in maturity, Tamarack makes up in pristine terrain wooded terrain, fast, flowy groomers, challenging steeps, and some of the most exquisite tree skiing I’ve ever tried.

In the tamaracks.| Photo courtesy of SnowBrains

Tamarack is named after the groves of tamarack trees inside the ski area. They’re tall, thin, evenly-spaced trees covered in frozen lime-green moss and they don’t have branches on the first 20 feet or so off the ground. This gives them a bizarre, psychedelic appeal as you ride past them at speed. They’re gorgeous. I’ve skied trees all over the world and these are some of the prettiest, most unique I’ve found. It felt like I was skiing through a Dr. Seuss book.

Oh and by the way, a massive expansion project currently in the works will nearly triple the number of skiable acres at Tamarack in the next several years, so the skiing here is only getting better.

Places to eat

  • The Reserve
  • Clearwater Coffee
  • Crusty’s Pizza
  • The Village Market
Brundage local Scott makes turns in Meadow Bowl at Brundage Mountain.  | Photo courtesy of SnowBrains

Brundage Mountain

From Tamarack, it’s a short drive to McCall, the beautiful ski town closest to Brundage Mountain. To get to McCall, go back to Donnely and get on 55 North to McCall for 15 miles until you reach town. When I visited Brundage, I stayed at the Hartland Inn in New Meadows, which is 20 minutes west of McCall, off Highway 55. Built in 1911, the Hartland Inn feels antique but clean and the rooms are completely refurbished—I really enjoyed my room’s fireplace and old-school vibe.

Brundage has 1,920 acres of lift-accessed terrain. The mountain is wider than it is tall and has a ton of great tree skiing, fast groomers, steep black diamond trails, a ton of side-country access, and a really cool community of friendly, down-to-earth locals. If you get a chance to ski powder runs on the backside at Brundage—do it. You won’t be let down.

Hiking into Hidden Valley at Brundage. | Photo courtesy of SnowBrains

When I was there last February, l learned of Brundage’s 10-Year Plan, which essentially consists of the following three upgrades:

  • A new modern Day Lodge.
  • Residential development near the base area for ski-in/ski-out accommodations.
  • Terrain expansion, lifts, and mountain upgrades which include proposals for lift and terrain expansion, expanded snowmaking capabilities, and new on-mountain lodge amenities.

I personally cannot wait until they build a lift on Brundage’s backside—which the resort is planning to do—and I’ll certainly be back when they do. But I’ll probably be back before then, too.

Places to eat

  • Smoky’s Bar and Grill
  • The UPPER LOT Pub
  • Salmon River Brewery (McCall)
  • The Intersection BBQ (New Meadows)

After you’ve had your fill at central Idaho’s ski areas, drive south on Highway 55 for 108 miles all the way back to Boise.

Carving fast turns on the groomer at Magic Mountain. | Photo courtesy of SnowBrains

Loop 3: Magic Mountain, Pomerelle, Soldier Mountain 

Magic Mountain

Drive or take a flight to Twin Falls. To get to Twin Falls from Boise, hop on I-84 and drive east for 184 miles. Twin Falls will be your launchpad for traveling to both Magic Mountain and Pomerelle to ski. I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express which has super clean modern rooms, a great location, and a nice continental breakfast. It’s roughly one hour away from Magic Mountain.

To get to Magic from Twin Falls, take East 3900 North Road/Addison Ave East to North 3800 E/Rock Creek Road and continue for 10 miles. Continue on North 3800 E for 31 miles to the small town of Rock Creek. Once in Rock Creek, get on Rock Creek Road and follow it for 14 miles. Magic Mountain’s one-building base area and ticket office will be on your left. 

Magic Mountain’s double chair. | Photo courtesy of SnowBrains

Magic Mountain has been family-owned and operated since 1939. It’s got one lift, a lodge, and day tickets that go for $38 a day. The southern Idaho ski area has only one chair but that’s all you need to have a good time here. The runs are short, but hold steep shots and fun tree sections. We did not get bored for a second. The people skiing at the resort were friendly and seemed to be here for really only two reasons: to ski and have fun.

Places to eat

  • The grill in the lodge at Magic Mountain (good chicken strips)
  • Elevation 486 (Twin Falls)
  • Scooter’s Chillin’-N-Grillin’
  • Shari’s Cafe and Pies
Pomerelle legend Barry making turns on the groomer. | Photo courtesy of SnowBrains

Pomerelle

Starting again from Twin Falls, Pomerelle is an hour and fifteen minutes away. To get there, hop on I-84 East and drive 34 miles to Heyburn. Take 177 South in Heyburn to Albion, then take a left on County Road 549 and follow signs for Pomerelle.

Pomerelle is a solid intermediate mountain located near Albion, Idaho. It’s all low-angle but has some great tree skiing and a wonderful sense of community. It’s family-oriented and filled with eager young Idaho rippers. When you’re there you can probably catch the mountain’s owner Barry, who has been skiing there since the 60s and is seemingly always skiing. Everyone at Pomerelle knows Barry.

Nice views from the top of Pomerelle. | Photo courtesy of SnowBrains

Places to eat

  • Pomerelle Cafeteria (go for the Barry Burger!)
  • Piggie Sue BBQ
  • Cattle Country Steakhouse
  • Kassiani Restaurant Brewery and Bakery
The Soldier Mountain backcountry accessed through Soldier Mountain’s cat skiing operation is large and wildly fun, with a variety of descent options. | Photo courtesy of SnowBrains

Soldier Mountain

Located near the humble little farm town of Fairfield, Soldier Mountain is approximately an hour and a half drive from Twin Falls. To get there, head west on I-84 until you hit State Highway 46, then turn right off the interstate and head north for 69 miles to Selby. Once in Selby, drive west for a few miles on State Highway 20 to Fairfield, then turn right on Soldier Creek road and drive straight for 11 miles, following signs for Soldier Mountain. The ski area will eventually pop up on your left. When I visited Soldier, I stayed the night at the Prairie Inn in Fairfield, which is a cozy, family-owned and operated roadside hotel with an old-timey, rustic feel.

Soldier Mountain is an isolated ski area in a weird mountain range in an even weirder part of Idaho you would probably overlook driving past on the highway. But had you decided to stop and check it out, you wouldn’t be forgetting the skiing there anytime soon—especially if you were fortunate enough to reserve a spot on its snowcat.

The gang on top of Chute 1 in the Soldier Mountain backcountry. | Photo courtesy of SnowBrains

The resort was built in the post-war era circa 1947 and was even owned by actor Bruce Willis once upon a time. It’s got 1,180 lift-accessible acres and a couple of thousand acres more of backcountry terrain that’s accessible via its cat skiing operation.

The backcountry accessible via Soldier Mountain’s snowcat behind the ski area is huge. It’s got a little something for everybody; fast runs with corn snow, steep faces that’ll pucker you, amazing tree runs with powder stashes that stay good forever, and wide-open bowls with soft snow skiing bliss. I only skied the cat when I visited the resort last February and it was some of the best cat skiing I’ve ever done anywhere. The lift-accessed terrain inside the resort looked fun, too—it felt surprisingly big for such a seemingly under-the-radar ski hill.

Places to eat

  • Soldier Creek Brewing Company
  • The Wrangler Drive-in
  • The Cliff Bar and Grill

From Soldier Mountain, it’s only a two-hour drive back to Boise.


And there you have it—three different winter road trips in Idaho that would give anybody more skiing than they could ever need, and without any of the traffic, expensive lift tickets, or any other headache you might have to deal with anywhere else. Because Idaho is untapped. The traveling there is easy and the skiing is so surprisingly good. I would seriously consider the ‘Gem State’ for your next powder-hungry road adventure.

idaho
A map of all of Idaho’s ski areas. | Photo courtesy of Ski Idaho

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