Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Idaho is full of big-time hills that rake in headlines, crowds and megabucks. But there’s another world out there offering the same adventure in a different way. And they’re all in this together, as I found out on a fascinating journey through time and place.

The small community hills play a vital role in the survival and growth of the ski industry. They’re breeding grounds for snow enthusiasts. The low prices and easy access help fuel the passion that gets passed on to future generations.

On a Friday night we passed through Orofino on highway 12, turned left on highway 11, crossed the Clearwater River and headed into the mountains. About an hour later we arrived in the town of Pierce in the Clearwater Mountains. It was buried in snow. Our destination was a darling little hotel called the Outback Inn, [] where we rested up before a big adventure: hitting three T-bar hills the next day.

Bald Mountain
First stop was Bald Mountain, seven miles up the road. It’s a place from another era, where the price of a season pass hasn’t risen since 1959. We were warmly welcomed by the Clearwater Ski Club, bright sunshine and 30 inches of fresh snow. Our guides were Melissa Skiles and Chris Kuykendall of the Clearwater Ski Club. This group of volunteers does everything from plowing the road to paying the bill, so people in this remote region can ski and ride.

The ancient T-bar brought us to 684 feet of vertical and 140 acres of short, but sweet drops into pillow soft snow. The setting was rustic and the amenities sparse, but the smiles were the same you see anywhere.

Cottonwood Butte
Our next stop was about a two-hour drive southwest to Cottonwood Butte. A snowstorm and Cottonwood patroller Pat Hylton greeted us there. He joined us on the 3,000 foot T-bar and showed us to the best of 840 feet of vertical that included, cliff drops, trees and numerous powder filled trails.

The skiing at Cottonwood was excellent, but we had to leave in order to hit Snowhaven before the day was done.

A mile high above the town of Grangeville we found Snowhaven. This thriving 40-acre powder collector with 440 feet of vertical overlooking the Camas Prairie is run by Scott Wasem. Snowhaven local Chuck Hepner joined us on the T-bar and lead us to the deepest the hill had to offer. An intense snowfall filled in our tracks. We couldn’t leave without a shot at the tubing hill and we felt like kids again.

After a night in Riggins on the Salmon River it was time to return to the 21st century

The morning we pulled into Brundage dawned cold, clear, blue and white on this big-time hill. Conditions were outstanding. The snow was deep and even though it was Sunday, the lift lines were short. We followed our local guide Cory to all the best powder stashes in the trees and bowls. In between we ripped at mach speed on wide-open blue cruisers. We took a break at the yurt on the summit and ate chili, sipped fortified hot chocolate and drank in the inspiring view. Then we skied until we couldn’t possibly make another turn.

We concluded a trip that began on the most humble of hills with a stay at one of the world’s most spectacular recreation destinations: Tamarack Resort. After pounding Brundage we recovered in The Lodge at Osprey Meadows, one of the most elegant, luxurious mountain hotels in Idaho. The following morning, guides Dave Williams and John Costa lead us on a backcountry tour. We explored the glades and open bowls to the north and south of Tamarack, getting pure, untouched lines, deep powder and an unforgettable skiing experience.

No matter which mountain you may find yourself on this season, unforgettable is the only way to describe winter in Idaho.

1 comment:

styrofoamtuna said...

Sounds like you enjoyed a pretty good sample of central Idaho's powder - I'm glad to hear Dave showed you the goods at Tamarack! Happy turns...