Sponsored by Visit Idaho
There was a different level of excitement or anticipation on this ski trip to Idaho. An unnerving, fluttering feeling that comes when diving into a true UNKNOWN.
From big cities to jungle treks, African safaris, off-roading adventures, and beach paradises around the world, there is not much I haven’t done.
After 23 years of making travel my life, I now embark on most trips with is a sense of knowing and assurance. I may be visiting a new place name, but I have a strong understanding of what is to come.
On this Idaho skiing trip to three North Idaho ski resorts there was none of that. I was thrown back into the world of a brand-new traveler, and I loved it.
Excitement and wonder were intermingled with a fear – how would we all fare down those slippery slopes? Most importantly, how would I cope in the cold temperatures in these ski destinations?
There was only one way to find out. Buy the warm snow clothes, boot up, and join a ski lesson!
Winter takes on a different shade of meaning when you’re walking down the main street of a village at the base of the mountain you’re about to ski down.
It no longer becomes that freezing air that chills my bones and makes me moan, it breathes a freshness and beauty that beckons me to play.
We donate a percentage of our campaign fee to those local businesses and organizations that support community, the environment, and humanitarian causes. On this South Florida road trip, we supported the Kootenai Environmental Alliance for their conservation efforts in North Idaho.
The Hidden Secret of North Idaho Skiing
We couldn’t have picked a more perfect place for our first family ski vacation experience.
Idaho. A state a state full of outdoor adventure and unique beauty that we fell in love with on our short road trip in the summer of 2019.
It’s awesomeness for family friendly skiing was further validated on our first night soaking up the winter vibes with a red wine in Pend d’Oreille Winery tasting room in Sandpoint.
A lady, attracted by Craig’s UNC winter hat, came up to talk about their win over Duke in basketball just two hours before.
A North Carolina native, she lived in Sandpoint with her family for several years and they return each year to ski.
She and her daughter both said,
“You couldn’t have picked a better place to learn. The absolute worst conditions for skiing on this mountain would be better than most another place’s best day. Just don’t tell anyone.”
Of course, we are here to tell you of our five-day skiing vacation in Northern Idaho in partnership with Visit Idaho.
We visited three North Idaho ski resorts; Schweitzer Mountain, Lookout Pass, and Silver Mountain and each mountain offers a unique and valuable experience and we recommend you visit all three when you ski in Northern Idaho.
This is small town skiing on long runs without the crowds in the most spectacular scenery. But don’t tell anyone okay. It’s just between you and me!
Where life’s true beauty exists
On this North Idaho skiing vacation, I went from moments of pure elation to terror. The kind that says,
“I can’t do this anymore. I’m never going skiing again,”
That was after I’d fallen over yet again on another attempt to shuffle my feet onto the correct edge to turn, or when I was going so fast, I’d freak out and somehow ski into the forest, shoving a tree trunk with my feet.
Moments later I’d effortlessly glide down the hill, feeling so free and ensconced in a moment of pure “in the zone bliss” that I’d be singing,
“This is AWESOME! I’m coming back every year.”
This Idaho ski trip taught me that’s where you find the true beauty of life – not in its perfections, but in the up and down trajectory.
It’s the experiences that push you through the fear and limitation range of “I don’t think I am capable”, into a new comfort zone that says, “hang on a minute, maybe I am.”
We never get to the next level of confidence and capability without the falling.
The Ultimate Adventure
That’s why this ski experience in Idaho was my ultimate kind of adventure.
It was messy. It was scary. It was thrilling. It was fun. It was so unbelievably beautiful.
And I got to do it with my kids!
We laughed and cried, confided our fears to each other, and worked as a family unit to encourage, support, and lift each other up to ski on.
The memories from this short 5-day ski vacation are extraordinary. Not just of the spills and accomplishments, but the people we met along the way guiding us and picking us up when we fall.
There was Mary Joe at Schweitzer holding my hands, teaching me the one leg pressure turn, asking me to not break her fingers as she skied backwards to help me “get it.”
There was Tom at Lookout Pass picking me up yet again from a fall, skiing beside me as we tackled a challenging slope, talking to me of my beautiful family and how well we were doing.
There was Mike and Stan at Silver Mountain who slowly, patiently, and separately guided us down the mountain, helping us finally perfect our turns. Stan, helping the girls feel safe and empowered without us around.
Then Matt and Dig from the ski resorts showing us such kindness, and the production crew filming us who were so patient, kind and BOLD, virtually hanging of the side of cliffs on snowboards, and racing behind us on skis with heavy equipment to film our family skiing and snow tubing – all spills and effortless glides.
This was the travel experience we dream of and have sought all my life. The stories to forever share around the campfire.
Because if we have those, then we know our life has been meaningful.
3 North Idaho Ski Resorts Not to Miss
Now let’s get into the nitty gritty of the three Northern Idaho Ski Resorts we visited.
And we’ll also be writing a post on lessons learned on a first-time family ski trip – to help prepare you if it’s your first. Plus a valuable ski packing list and tips post.
Join our email community, so you don’t miss those important posts and free printable checklists.
Where are the North Idaho Ski Resorts located?
In the Northern Idaho panhandle, stretching across from the Washington State to Montana borders, you’ll find Schweitzer Mountain, Lookout Pass, and Silver Mountain.
Driving time between these three Idaho ski areas is only two hours max, which makes it easy to experience a few ski resorts in Idaho on the one ski trip.
The nearest airport is Spokane in Washington State, an easy 90-minute drive to Schweitzer Mountain. From there it is two hours to Lookout Pass and Silver Mountain (they are only 13 minutes apart). It’s an hour from Silver Mountain back to Spokane.
How long should you spend skiing in North Idaho?
For beginner skiers, we recommend you start in Schweitzer Mountain and move east. We visited Schweitzer for 2 nights, Lookout Pass (staying in Wallace) for 2 nights, and then back to Silver Mountain for 2 nights.
We found this a great amount of time to fully enjoy the ski and snow experience.
As we were beginners, we were limited in the number of runs we could do (confidently). We loved visiting the three resorts as it gave us new beginner trails (GREEN) to ski. If we had of stayed at the one resort the entire time, we would have quickly gotten bored of the same runs.
I think skiing on the different green trails at each ski resort also helped us ski better. And the views at each were so different, yet equally beautiful.
TOP TIP: Take ski lessons!
We’ll be sharing all our top lessons learned from our Idaho skiing trip in a separate post.
But our most important tip is to learn how to ski properly. We improved tremendously over the course of the five days thanks to our daily lessons.
If you are a new skier, I highly recommend your first trip be focused on learning how to ski. We cannot recommend the private ski lessons enough. We could take our time to master each important technical move before progressing.
We loved how our instructor took us down some more difficult runs, which helped us feel confident and safe. When we’d attempt to do them on our own, I’d just fall apart with fear when we come to a steep part, but with our instructor, I felt in control.
The ski lessons are affordable in the ski resorts of Idaho. Private lessons will be the best and most cost effective for families.
I shudder to think what would have happened to me if I attempted to ski without taking any lessons. Expert skiers make it look easy. You think you can just copy them, but there is so much finesse and technique behind it.
As Mike, our Silver Mountain instructor said,
“skiing is easy to learn, but hard to master. Snowboarding is harder to learn but easier to master”
And as Mary Joe said,
“You want to master those turns before you attempt a blue run!”
In case you don’t know, green is the easiest run, followed by blue, then black.
I’d also get your instructor to help you learn how to get off the chair lift. That was the most anxiety ridden part of the skiing experience, and we all slapped it multiple times.
The most stressful part was on our last ski run, when the four of us had to get off the same chair lift at the same time for the film crew.
So much pressure, but we NAILED it!
Schweitzer Mountain Resort: The Biggest Ski Resort
What is the biggest ski resort in Idaho? Schweitzer Mountain is known as the largest and one of the best ski resorts in Idaho with over 2,900 skiable acres – 10 lifts service 92 runs.
It’s a ski in and out resort, which means that you can stay in the hotel, or condos right in the village at the base of the mountain and get immediate access to the ski runs.
We loved this feature, especially when it came to the ease of getting in and out of our ski gear and being able to keep most of our belongings in our room.
We also loved the cozy Alpine village feel, which we have always wanted to experience at a ski resort.
It was quiet when we visited. At times, it felt like we had the entire village and mountain to ourselves, especially early in the morning and late afternoon when the chair lifts were closed, and people had gone home for the day.
Schweitzer is located 25 minutes’ drive from the cute small town of Sandpoint on Lake Pend Oreille.
That is the extraordinary views you will have from the top of the mountain as you are skiing down. It has the most dramatic views of the three North Idaho ski resorts!
On our first day, we had a private 3-hour lesson with Mary Joe, who told me she’d been skiing for 64 years! Here I was at 45 struggling to do turn my skis while she held my hands and skied backwards.
Mary Joe was great in helping us learn the basics: wedge turns, pizza stops and the beginnings of French fry turning.
After lots of practice on the bunny runs (practice slope), Mary Joe took us on the green Troll Bridge run. The gradient was steep enough for us to pick up speed, feel in control and build our confidence.
That trail joined the Happy Trail, which got steeper, but a great place for us to practice.
The Enchanted Forest was the steepest of the green runs at Schweizer, which we did on our second day. I was terrified and nearly walked down it. After 5 days of skiing and lessons, I know I could go back to that run now and find it easy.
More competent skiers will want to head up the chair lift to the steeper blue and black runs.
Despite it being a danger zone for us, we were still able to take the chair lift to appreciate the most spectacular view in North Idaho.
Whether you are skiing back down or catching the chair lift, plan enough time for lunch at the Sky House.
We loved sipping on a Duck Fart Coffee* while watching those expert skiers fly down the mountains on the double black runs. You can access the Outback bowl here, which is the other side to Schweitzer, and offers even more challenging ski runs.
An advantage of catching the chair lift back down is you can soak up those views and watch the thrill seekers race you down the slopes. They’ll win!
* I know you’re intrigued by the Duck Fart coffee – think warming drink of Canadian whiskey, baileys, Kahlua, coffee and topped with whipped cream. Worth the chair lift and black run down just for that!
Stay and Eat at Schweitzer Mountain
We stayed in a comfortable hotel style room with beautiful views over the ski slopes in the Selkirk Lodge at the Schweitzer Mountain. There are other lodging options like larger condos you can rent for more homestyle amenities.
Powder Hound Pizza in the village had delicious pizza, including gluten free bases and plenty of beers on tap.
For the après experience you dream of, sit on the outside deck of the Taps Bar to watch the sunset and the serenity of the mountain quieting down. I was delighted to be reunited with the delicious ciders of the Pacific Northwest. There’s nowhere else like them in the country!
We loved the clothes in the locally owned Alpine Shop in the village. I could have bought one of everything, but settled for my now favorite, sweater.
You know you love an experience if you buy the sweater!
Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area: The Most Powder in Idaho
Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area is known to have the most snowfall in Idaho, getting an average of more than 400 inches of light, dry powder snow annually.
It’s also known to have some of the best skiing in Idaho with the best-groomed runs. There are three lifts serving 35 runs.
Feeling confident from our skiing at Schweitzer, we arrived at Lookout Pass before our ski lesson and decided to take on a green run ourselves, Huckleberry.
Halfway down we saw how steep it was with blue and black trails running off it. Signage was a little confusing and we convinced ourselves that we somehow landed on a blue run and we all freaked out!
Kalyra and I laugh now at the image of her careening down the hill heading straight for a tree and somehow managing to bounce herself backwards in a star shaped figure without injury.
Strangely, these are the memories that make a family adventure so worthwhile.
We had to come together to figure out how to solve this problem of us being stuck on mountain, out of our depths, with no other place to go but down.
We managed to pull in our deep breaths and slowly wedge ski down the short steep part of the mountain.
It was a great talking point on how we let fear take over our common senses. We weren’t lost at all, and we were all capable, our minds just freaked us out.
That helped us to navigate through the ups and downs of the rest of our ski experience.
Our instructor, Tom later took us back down Huckleberry and it seemed nowhere near as bad.
I did not even realize, until after our skiing at Lookout Pass that Tom took us skiing down a blue run – Tamarack.
We thought it was a green run – no wonder, the last steep part was a scary struggle for me.
Tamarack was our favorite trail at Lookout. It took you deep into the forest and crossed the state line into Montana.
The trail was wide and easy for us to practice our turns, which Tom was great at helping us learn. It was not without funny memories though: Craig out of control on a turn gently hugging a tree, and myself landing in the forest amongst the trees with Savannah racing Tom to rescue me!
The girls managed to stay upright for most of the experience. It was amazing how quickly they picked up the skiing.
The neat thing about Tamarack is it’s a run on the Montana Side of the mountain. So, when you come back up the chair lift to the peak, you must ski back down Huckleberry to get back to the lodge. Just be sure to leave yourself enough time!
It snowed while we were here, which made it fun to ski through the white hazy world of snowfall.
You will appreciate the lack of crowds at Lookout Pass. As it is not a ski village, there are limited amenities – just a small lodge that has some food and rental equipment.
This region in the Bitterroot Mountains in spectacular, and we were so happy to be back experiencing it in the winter.
Eat and Stay in Wallace
For our visit to Lookout Pass, we stayed in the nearby intriguing town of Wallace. It has old mining history, with much of the buildings maintaining the same charm. You’ll be surprised by the good food options here.
Blackboard Cafe came recommended by everyone in town as, “so good”. They were not wrong. This gourmet eatery specializes in fresh homemade dishes with a strong Italian influence. My steak was one of the best I’ve had.
The kids will love their unique milkshake flavors!
It’s also a unique shopping experience with Todd’s Bookstore and The Fox & Hare Mountain Wear specializing in quality outdoor wear from brands like PrAna and Kuhl.
City Limits Pub & Grill is a local stop for burgers and local craft brews. Craig says, don’t miss the Loft Honey Pale Ale!
The Wallace Inn is a wonderful place to stay in Wallace within walking distance of downtown. We loved relaxing in their hot tub after a hard day of skiing. Just look at how the beautiful design keeps you connected to the snowy outdoors.
Their restaurant also serves a hearty breakfast before your day on the slopes.
Silver Mountain Resort: The Longest Gondola in America
Silver Mountain Resort is in the town of Kellogg, another Idaho mining town. And if you’re looking for ski resorts near Coeur d’Alene it’s just a 35-minute drive!
To reach the slopes you catch a 25-minute gondola ride from the village at the Silver Mountain Resort to the ski fields. At 3.1 miles, it’s North America’s longest gondola ride.
Apart from the mountain lodge, there are no amenities or accommodation at the ski fields.
Runs are spread out across two mountains: Kellogg Peak and Wardner Peak with two terrain parks along with a snow tubing park.
Full of confidence from our previous days of skiing, we arrived early and attempted the Alpenway run ourselves. Even though my skiing had improved, I was still terrified when we came to a narrow section with a big drop off that intersected with steep blues and blacks.
Slowly we made ourselves through it and down to the bottom without a problem!
We almost ended up on the wrong chairlift – one taking us to the very top of Kellogg Peak. I caught the sign that said, “no beginner runs” just before we got on and saved us a possible disaster! Always ask the operator if you are not sure.
If you do get stuck, our instructors told us the snow patrols can bring you back down, or the chair lifts as well. Do not ski down if you’re not at that level.
At Silver Mountain, we had a split private lesson. Kalyra and Savannah went with Stan, and Craig and I went with Mike.
We all enjoyed this experience just as much as the private family lesson. I think it helped us to better concentrate on our technique.
As Savannah said later, “I really liked it as I wasn’t distracted. When I’m with you, I worry too much about you.”
“Same here, my darling. Same here.”
Mike took us down a steeper green run and worked with us on our turns. For the first time, I started to feel in control of my speed. I finally hit the “skiing is glorious” phase.
We recommend finishing your Northern Idaho Ski Resort trip at Silver Mountain. The runs here were a little more challenging so by the end of your trip – after all your lessons – you should be able to manage (and enjoy) them.
Silver Mountain is also where we went snow tubing! Your ticket includes a two-hour block of tubing fun.
Snow tubing gave us a bit of thrill without the fearful intensity of skiing.
We enjoyed the whole time racing each other or flying down the hill holding on as a group. The views of the surrounding mountains as you fly down are spectacular.
On our last day at Silver Mountain, we were filmed here for Visit Idaho’s 2022 winter campaign commercial. The crew were awesome. We loved this experience as they flew around on their skis and snowboards capturing the magic of our Idaho ski trip.
They filmed our last ski lesson with Mike. Savannah and Kalyra and Stan joined us this time.
Mike and Stan, full of confidence over our previous day skiing skills, took us down the next level green trail.
We started on the steep Noah’s Run, which I handled perfectly the day before, but this time, I got in my head, worried about the girls and the camera crew, and ended up flying into the trees on several occasions.
Then we hit the steeper Bear Grass part of the green trail – we all sure it had to be a blue run.
The girls did SO well! I was so impressed and believed Stan when he said they could do one of the blues from the top of the mountain!
I, however, could not get myself together on this trail, spending more time on my butt and sliding down to meet the easier trail below.
It’s a fun story to tell now.
That’s the joy of this skiing adventure, and I felt so taken care of by Mike, who was always there to pick me up. I still don’t get how the instructors can so effortlessly pick up my heavy flailing body on skis and not fall over.
As Mike said, “I don’t fall over anymore as I can’t get back up.”
All our instructors inspired me and showed me that age does not have to stop you from doing what you love and that skiing just may be a way to keep yourself incredibly fit and healthy in body and mind.
They also showed me it’s possible to become a skier who doesn’t fall!
After that crazy run, we went onto our favorite Alpenway trail and ended up finishing our Idaho ski trip with the most beautiful skiing run – in experience and landscape.
The camera crew told us the footage they captured of us skiing down the narrow path as a family was magical. Somehow, we managed to ski in sync with each other with perfect turns in the perfect afternoon light.
That was when I finished our family ski vacation saying, “Yep. I love this. We’re going to go skiing every year.”
And we will.
Eat and Stay in Kellogg Idaho
The year-round Silver Mountain Resort is a great place to stay in Kellogg for the complete ski experience.
It’s a modern resort with condo accommodations. The extra space and amenities are perfect for families who want to save money and prepare their own food.
Families will also love the indoor waterpark at Silver included with every stay. With inside temperatures at 84-degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll forget you’re surrounded by snow capped peaks.
Do not miss the thrilling Moose Sluice – a water slide in the dark and scarier than we anticipated. Parents will love the Lazy River and be sure to have a go at the Flow Rider wave machine– Craig let loose with a barrel roll to cheering crowds!
Noah’s Canteen at the resort is the place for lunch or dinner. They also have a bar area and outside fire pits. Their salmon caesar salad was one of the best I’ve had in the USA. And the burger is excellent too.
For breakfast, pop into Mountain Cafe & Catering in the Gondola Village for some huevos rancheros and a coffee.
Come early though as it gets busy – and you want to preserve all your time for snow fun on the mountain – grab a coffee to go for the 25-minute gondola ride up!
Comment: Have you been skiing in Idaho before? Which ski resort should we visit next?
More Idaho Travel Ideas:
- 20 Amazing Things to do in Idaho for first time visitors
- The Route of the Hiawatha: An unforgettable USA Rail Trail
- 3 Educational Places to Visit in Idaho
- 12 Top Idaho Outdoor Adventures in the Summer