Your Own Private Idaho

A whirlwind 12-day winter road trip through this lesser-known Rocky Mountain state unveils one of the region's best snow-covered, ski-centric environs.
Skiing, Snowboarding in Idaho
Choose your lane, carve a fresh track: Grand Targhee's powder-rich flora. (Tim Neville)
All About Idaho
CLICK HERE and follow Tim Neville throughout his 12-day tour of Idaho, check out the gear he took along, and view an interactive map and itinerary.

Despite Tim's ski-centric passions, he did manage to branch out and explore a variety of other Idaho hot spots. CLICK HERE for other options across the Gem State.
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The road leading south out of Harrison, Idaho, winds through forests of pine and over open fields blanketed in snow as thick and fluffy as overstuffed cushions. The weatherman in Coeur d’Alene says more snow is on the way, at least a couple of inches, if not a foot. This makes me unspeakably happy. In the back of the car—a très fancy Acura MDX on loan—sits a brand new set of telemark skis, the fat ones, the kind that long for such a forecast.

This is day three of a 12-day, 1,500-mile road trip through a state that could arguably be one of the nation’s least crowded and wildest winter playgrounds. Idaho, the country’s 13th-largest state with 1.3 million people, enjoys all the perks of being distinctly Rocky Mountain rural (big mountains, big snow, no crowds) without being so far off the map that it’s difficult to find reasonable airfare in and out. For many who’ve never been here, thoughts of Idaho might summon images of boring spuds. Sure, “Famous Potatoes” is emblazoned unapologetically on many of the state’s license plates, but for the outdoor adventurer, Idaho is hands-down a must-see. The weather is milder than in places like Wyoming or Montana (Idaho's average winter low is in the 20s—downright balmy compared to the January average low of minus one in Jackson, Wyoming), and you get just as much snow, if not more, thanks to storms that cruise in off the Pacific.

The state boasts the largest chunk of continuous wilderness in the Lower 48: the apocalyptically named Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, a 2.3-million-acre swath of mountains, lakes, and grizzly habitat. Add to that a cast of ski resorts like Grand Targhee; Sun Valley; Schweitzer; the nation’s newest ski resort, Tamarack; dude ranches with hokey-free horseback riding; steelhead fishing on the Snake River; and thousands of square miles of public lands for backcountry trips staged from cozy mountain huts, and you’ll soon learn that Idaho is the type of place where it’s easy to wake up each morning with an indefatigable spirit and utterly depleted calves and quads.

For the moment, though, all is warm and comfy in the car as I motor toward Lewiston, an industrial port at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers named after Meriwether Lewis who came through this area in 1805. (Clarkston, named after William Clark, sits just across the river in Washington.) A friend is flying in tonight from Oregon to join me for the rest of the adventure. She, too, is bringing skis. Though we lived within easy striking distance of Idaho during a stint in Bozeman, Montana, neither of us has really ever explored the Gem State—an error that will grow more apparent and egregious with each place we stop to play.

I crest a hilltop and can see more storm clouds coming in. With a few more hours to go, I turn on the radio. It’s shortly before Christmas and as the dial auto-seeks through the channels, it finally stops on a public radio station out of Washington. I ad-lib the lyrics and sing along.

Oh the weather outside is frightful,
But the snow is so delightful,
And since I’m in Idaho,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.


Published: 14 Jan 2004 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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