Martin Kuprianowicz worked in partnership with Visit Idaho to create this Travel Tip.
With 19 ski areas, quality snow, a lifetime of hot springs to visit, delicious Pacific Northwest–style food and friendly inhabitants, I’m curious as to why Idaho tends to fly under the radar when it comes to ski destinations. I visited near the end of February and found many of the ski areas to have good quality snow and minimal, if any, crowds.
In 10 days, I ventured 1,600 miles round trip from Utah to Idaho, hitting five ski areas across the state along with a day spent backcountry skiing with a guide near the Sawtooths. I had little to no expectations when it came to what I thought the skiing would be like in Idaho, and I was completely blown away. Powder, lake views, high mountain passes, snowy old-growth forests, abandoned mining towns turned ski villages—Idaho is an implausible, often overlooked ski destination with limitless ski potential.
On one stop of this adventure, it snowed two feet overnight, and I skied all day inbounds with maybe only 100 other cars in the parking lot. All I could think was: why didn’t I come here sooner?!
Here’s the Scoop: The Powder Highway Route
Idaho has a lot of ski areas relatively close together with good snow and great skiing. These resorts are easy to access from Boise as well as Spokane, Washington, or Salt Lake City, Utah. A few of these resorts are located only a couple of hours away from each other, while a couple are on the same highway, minutes apart.
They vary in size, but all of them have fun, challenging skiing and a little bit of something for everyone. This is my Powder Highway experience in Idaho, road-tripping from one powder-charged ski area to another. I hope it inspires a Powder Highway adventure of your own.
Recommended Route for Powder Highway
I started at Schweitzer in Sandpoint, then went to Silver Mountain Resort, Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area, Lost Trail Ski Area and Sun Valley, with a day spent in the backcountry near Ketchum with a guide.
In 11 hours, I drove from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Sandpoint, Idaho, and arrived to howling winds and light snowfall. Schweitzer is approximately one hour and 45 minutes away from the airport in Spokane, Washington.
This place 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 forests and frozen snow ghosts dot this mountainous landscape.
Be sure to venture into the huge, flowy Outback Bowl and stop for some lunch at The Outback on the backside of the mountain. You can also try cat skiing with the resort’s professional cat ski outfitter, Selkirk Powder.
Where to Stay at Schweitzer
The beautiful, ski-in, ski-out Selkirk Lodge is the move. Rooftop hot tubs, friendly staff, direct access to the slopes and a dozen breakfast, lunch and dinner options within walking distance of your hotel room await you at Schweitzer’s lovely base area.
The recently opened Humbird boutique hotel in the village also offers ski-in, ski-out access.
Silver Mountain Resort
For stop number two, I drove about two hours south of Schweitzer to Silver Mountain. Found in Kellogg, Silver Mountain has the longest gondola in North America, stretching across three miles of mountainous terrain direct from town. For a long time, Silver’s gondola was the longest in the world.
The vibe here is quiet but powerful—Silver Mountain has 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.
Where to Stay at Silver Mountain Resort
The Morning Star Lodge is one of the best spots to stay in Kellogg. On top of gorgeous, modern rooms with artistic wood finish and views of Silver Mountain and Kellogg, the hotel is positioned perfectly next to the gondola and right in the middle of Kellogg’s bar and restaurant scene.
And did I mention that the Morning Star has its own indoor water park? Yeah, I’d probably stay here again.
Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area
I don’t know how to describe Lookout Pass other than ridiculously deep. I was not expecting the snowpack to be as good as it was when I showed up here, let alone for it to snow upwards of two feet overnight while I was there. Lookout Pass 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.
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 a delicious bloody mary at the Loft Pub in Lookout’s base lodge.
Where to Stay Near Lookout Pass
I stayed in Wallace at the Wallace Inn, which is 20 minutes away from Lookout Pass and in the heart of historic Wallace. This old mining settlement’s history is as rich as its snowfall, which was good considering that I woke up to two feet of new snow on the hood of my car while I was visiting.
The hotel has an exceptional location along with an awesome pool, jacuzzi, sauna and steam room.
Lost Trail Ski Area
The fourth stop on this trip was Lost Trail Ski Area: a remote, powder-charged ski area on the Idaho/Montana border. Located in what feels like absolute nowhere, this ski area has huge terrain with only three lifts that give access to more than 1,800 acres of skiable terrain. Powder, pillows, cliffs, couloirs, tree skiing and views are what this place is all about—and no people.
Lost Trail is laid-back, and its skiing and deep snowpack do not disappoint. Hollywood Bowl has an insane amount of powder skiing, with cliffs and chutes, a big open bowl up top and fun tree skiing below.
Oh, and the Salmon River you drive along to get here could be one of the prettiest in Idaho and sports a robust population of bald eagles.
Where to Stay Near Lost Trail Ski Area
Stay at the Stagecoach Inn in Salmon—roughly an hour away. The lodge’s position along the Salmon River paired with the jaw-dropping drive to the ski area make this place well worth it.
Plus, Salmon is a cute, historic little town with coffee shops, bars and tasty homestyle restaurants. Just keep in mind that the town of Salmon and Lost Trail are in different time zones, so you’ll want to coordinate your clocks.
Sawtooth Mountain Guides
From Salmon, I drove a little more than four hours to Ketchum. I spent three nights here, skiing a day and a half at Sun Valley and a full day in the backcountry near Galena Lodge with Sawtooth Mountain Guides—Idaho’s best backcountry skiing and riding guide service. Sawtooth Mountain Guide Doug Bernard and I went for a walk in the Sawtooth Recreation Area near the legendary Galena Lodge and found absolutely beautiful snow conditions.
Blue skies and cold (but not too cold) temperatures greeted us on the skin track as we toured up to soft, fluffy snow in the heart of five different mountain ranges—the Pioneers, the White Clouds, the Boulders, the Smokys and the Sawtooths. The views here were almost too much to take in. Big ski line after big ski line stared at me from all directions.
Because of tricky avalanche conditions, we skied mellow, low-angle powder in an ancient-feeling forest, which was completely absent of anybody besides Doug and me. The only other tracks we saw were those of a bobcat. There’s a lifetime of skiing out here, and Sawtooth Mountain Guides can certainly point you in the right direction.
Sunshine, long consistent-pitch trails and world-class lodging and food are what make Sun Valley stand out. It’s always been this way—since 1936 when Sun Valley opened as America’s first destination ski resort. Tradition is huge at Sun Valley, which is where the world’s first-ever ski lift came into play.
When I skied here, there wasn’t a single cloud in the sky, and I was encircled with some of the best views in Idaho, if not the lower 48. Everywhere you look, you only see tall, jagged, snowy mountains—most of which are skiable.
Sun Valley holds its grooming operations to an insanely high standard. I had the most fun I had on groomers all season here—and I usually avoid skiing groomed runs. The most recent additions to Sun Valley’s roster, Sunrise Bowl and the Cold Spring Chutes, are definitely worth your time. Sunrise Bowl is a huge, steep, south-facing bowl so large that it almost feels like a mountain of its own. And if you like steeps, Cold Springs Chutes is essentially an area cut out of a steep-skiing destination like Taos and pasted in bounds at Sun Valley.
For lunch, I’d hit Irving’s Red Hots—a classic, family-owned hot dog stand in the Warm Springs base area that serves up some mean franks.
Where to Stay in Sun Valley
There’s no way you can go wrong staying at the Sun Valley Lodge—one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite hangouts. Its sister (and neighboring) hotel, The Sun Valley Inn, is slightly more affordable than the Lodge and equally luxurious. Make sure to take a dip in the heated pool and watch the sunset after a hard day of skiing, or grab some artisanal pastries from Konditorei, a nearby bakery.
Everywhere I went, I was greeted with great skiing, good snow and charming atmospheres. Idaho is quiet, and I think its friendly population of locals likes to keep it this way. If you are planning to throw your sticks or board onto a rack and hit the road in search of powder, adventure or relaxation, I do hope that you consider this gem of a state.
Check out this list of the 15 can’t-miss ski runs at these amazing Idaho ski destinations to keep the winter fun going.
Feature image credited to Snowbrains.
Martin Kuprianowicz is a Salt Lake City–based ski writer and digital editor for snowbrains.com since 2019.
Updated on January 20, 2023
Published on December 1, 2022