Hit the slopes in Idaho for a relaxed and budget-friendly skiing experience.
We went straight onto the lift after popping on our skis and admired the 100-mile views on the way up. We swooshed down the mountain for more than a mile, making fresh tracks, then skied straight up to the lift chair to do it all over again. By lunchtime, we had covered all 21 trails that were open, so when we went back out again, the only question was, “Which runs should we try again?”
This was a typical day of skiing in Idaho, not some one-off lucky experience. We were at Pomerelle Mountain Resort, on a mountain reaching 8,762 feet in elevation with 31 trails served by two long triple ski lifts. It averages more than 500 inches of snow a year. The experience was similar at all of the others I visited too: ride up, ski down, and then zoom straight onto the lift again. The only aspect limiting how many runs we could do was the stamina of our legs since the only breaks were on the chairlifts.
Skiing in Idaho doesn’t hit the wallet very hard either. Walk-up all-day lift tickets at Pomerelle are $60 this season. At Magic Mountain they top out at $39; at Little Ski Hill they’re $20. Only three resorts in the state cost more than $100 for a single day and of course, those prices come down with multi-day purchases.
It’s been a generation since most Utah or Colorado prices were anywhere close to this level. This season the prices are topping $250 at Vail, Beaver Creek, and Steamboat Springs and could hit $300 on holidays since the pricing is dynamic at those corporate entities. A family of four can easily go skiing in much of Idaho for less than one adult would spend in Colorado, with much cheaper rentals, food, and drink in the lodges as well.
When you go skiing with a family in any corner of Idaho, it feels like a step back in time all around, including in the lodges. Lunch for everyone in Park City, Utah might add up to an average car payment. In many lodges in this state, a craft beer and a burger with fries will usually come in under $20, with change to spare. The resort owners seem to really care about getting the kids involved too, with attractive prices to introduce the sport. At Brundage Mountain, near the lake town of McCall, the Easy Rider ski conveyor serving the bunny slope is free.
This doesn’t mean the skiing isn’t serious, however, for those who want to whip down black diamond slopes and cruise down blue trails so long that the legs are aching by the end. Some of the Idaho ski resorts also have backcountry ski areas accessed by a snowcat for making fresh tracks in the snow. While I consider myself an expert and I worked a few seasons as an instructor, there were a few trails here and there that I skipped because they looked too daunting for a man of my current age, one who doesn’t feel invincible anymore.
I did jump at the chance to take a snowcat up to a peak that didn’t have a lift installed yet when I was at Lookout Pass in northern Idaho near Wallace. I was already loving the great skiing a $53 ticket gets an adult visitor there, but taking the snowcat to the top of a nearby peak for four or five runs was only $100 for the whole group of us (up to 14 people).
There are plenty of challenges on the regular trails, however, for any experienced skier looking for a challenge. Brundage Mountain has 68 trails on 1,920 acres (46% of them rated “difficult”), with lots of glades to ski in between. Bogus Basin, just outside of Boise, has 82 trails and even more skiable acres. On my last trip I got to ski at Schweitzer in the north of the state, a huge resort with 92 trails plus open bowl skiing. We definitely didn’t get to all of the trails in our two days there, despite never encountering a lift line the whole time thanks to lots of high-speed lifts with plenty of capacity.
As someone who grew up skiing in the icy, crowded slopes of the northeast USA, the conditions in Idaho seem to be almost too good to be true. Most days are either sunny or dumping fresh powder, with views of mountain ranges in every direction. I’ve now skied at 10 Idaho resorts, almost always on groomed slopes or powder. The experience was exhilarating at throwback Magic Mountain, an hour from Twin Falls on Forest Service land, but also at much fancier Tamarack, an expansive resort with a full-service hotel and rental homes.
The lack of development is part of what keeps prices reasonable to ski in Idaho from top to bottom. While skiing has become a sport for millionaires in parts of the Rocky Mountain range, only a few resorts like Sun Valley and Tamarack have the infrastructure to attract those types here. You do need your own vehicle to get to most of these ski mountains in Idaho. In some cases, the only lodging options around are a 15-to-30-minute drive away. There are some exceptions: there’s a bus shuttle from Boise to the Bogus Basin cooperative, Silver Mountain has a hotel by the gondola, and there are several on-site hotels at Schweitzer.
This isolation is good for crowd control and prices though: most visitors are locals of normal means hitting the slopes to indulge their passion for the sport. They’re not hedge fund managers and Hollywood moguls looking for bragging rights.
Only a few ski mountains in this state even need to think about controlling big crowds. Bogus Basin can get crowded on weekends since it’s close to the state’s biggest city and a few up north are close enough to Spokane, WA to attract holiday crowds from there. When we took the gondola up the mountain from Morning Star Lodge in Kellogg to Silver Mountain Resort, we learned that there’s a set limit on how many skiers are allowed to travel up that lift in a day. Once the limit is hit, nobody else is getting on, ensuring that everyone has an uncrowded day on the slopes.
Silver Mountain, located 30 minutes east of Coeur d’Alene, is characteristically looking out for the family budget too. Lodging packages include access to Idaho’s largest indoor water park—and adults can order a reasonably priced drink while they’re soaking in the hot tubs.
All of these resorts have informative websites with current snow conditions and transparent pricing. Compare them all at this page on the Ski Idaho website and find links to individual sites from the resorts page. Most mountains can be reached from airports in Boise, Twin Falls, or Spokane.