Your Own Private Idaho

Grand Targhee
Skiing, Snowboarding in Idaho, Grand Targhee
Stepping into the light: The over-the-shoulder trek to Mary's Nipple. (Tim Neville)
Mountain Stats
Skiable Terrain : 2,000 acres
Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced-Expert (percent) : 10/70/20
Summit Elevation : 10,000 feet
Vertical Drop : 2,395 feet
Lifts : 4 (plus one surface lift)
Average Annual Snowfall : 500 inches
Lift Ticket : $51
Ski In, Ski Out : Yes
Contact : 800-827-4433;

If the sun had been waiting for the most climatic moment to make its debut, then today was the day. It’s day eight of the Idaho trip and we’re motoring west under a bluebird sky—the first not-socked-in-overcast day of the trip—toward Grand Targhee. We have another day of skiing on the agenda, and Heidi, behind the wheel, is as excited as I am. I look over at one point and discover to my horror she’s got the needle pegged at 85 mph.

We drive up the mountain from Driggs, a tiny town at the foot of the ski area. Soon we are dropping our bags off at the Teewinot Lodge at the foot of the runs. We are supposed to go dogsledding this afternoon, but I can tell from the crystals drifting in the air that the snow is still very fresh, deep, and fluffy. It’s going to be one of those epic days that stand out forever in one's ski-lore storybook, so I cancel the reservation. I later learn doing so was quite acceptable. Seems the dogsledding folks were already on the mountain themselves.

We meet up with Susie Barnett-Bushong, the area’s marketing director, who keeps referring to me as a long drink of water. Which is true; I am six-foot-seven and ganglier than a junior varsity basketball team. But the fact that she calls me this within moments of our first meeting speaks of the relaxed nature of this place. Already I have favorable impressions of the mountain, and I’ve yet to ride a lift.

Susie hooks us up with Daniel, who also works in marketing, to take us around for a few hours. Soon we are riding up the balding head of Fred’s Mountain—an open slope of lightly gladed runs. They’ve received about 18 inches of fresh snow in the past 24 hours. Despite the tracked-out runs, Daniel says he’ll get us over to some good fresh lines of our own.

If you’ve never skied a place like Targhee, you can hardly call yourself a skier, much like a movie buff can’t be a movie buff without having seen Apocalypse Now. There atop Fred’s Mountain you can look behind to see the 13,770-foot Grand Teton soaring above you. Or you can look straight down at gobs of snow. Gobs as in 41 FEET of snow that fall here each year.

“I took a road trip up to Alta, out to Tahoe, and back once,” Daniel says as we ride the lift up. “We hit a good storm in Alta, had another, what, two feet of fresh in Tahoe, and I was having a blast. I got back here and found out that I’d missed a 41-inch day. Working here, it’s tough when it comes to vacation time. Do I leave and go someplace else, or do I stay where I know the snow is going to be good?”

Today the snow is great. On our first run, a warm-up down Lost Groomers, a blue, Daniel blasts off the cat track with a cloud of wispy snow billowing around him like smoke as he carves effortlessly through the crud. I forgo any notions of chivalry, cut Heidi off (like you wouldn’t have?), and jump in immediately behind Daniel. I crouch into a full-combat telemark stance, ready to battle the chop of tracked-out powder. I’m stunned when I hit the first big piles of pushed-up snow and don't feel the slightest bit of resistance as I slice through. The snow is so light and fluffy, we might as well be skiing through clouds. The aforementioned drink of water is now nothing but a big smiling mound of teeth by the time he catches up to Daniel, who’s ducked through a batch of trees to reveal a few untracked lines. By the next ride up, I’m trying to figure out how to cancel the rest of the trip and stay here.

We take our skis off and place them over our shoulders for a short hike, about 15 minutes or so, up to Mary’s Nipple—a lonely peak with no lift access. Not only are the views stunning—Tetons again!—but the lines back down to the ski area are steep, untracked, and deep. Daniel blasts off again through the trees, while Heidi and I opt for an open line near a saddle. We’ll do this two more times the snow is so good.

“If you like skiing groomers, there are probably better resorts out there for you,” Daniel says after we take our run down Mary’s. He’s right. You don’t come to Targhee to ski corduroy; you come here to ski backcountry stashes that just happen to be lift-served and controlled for avalanche danger.

Daniel says his goodbyes and Heidi and I take off for more runs down the Chief Joseph Bowl, ducking through perfectly spaced aspens, and a few steep shots down The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and The East Woods, all black diamonds with forgiving snow.

By 4 p.m., I’m starved, having skied right through lunch to make the most of the snow here. Heidi and I head into the Trap Bar near the slopes for a gut-busting Thunder Burger (free-range beef, mushrooms, swiss, BBQ sauce) with a side salad of fresh mixed greens and another pint of Snake River Pale. It’s a quiet Tuesday and Targhee’s relaxed atmosphere is sinking its claws into me. I’m in bed once again by seven.

When I awake a plan has been set in motion. Next year I will move to Targhee for three months, buy a season pass for $199, and ski until my legs look like Arnold's. So far I have four friends willing to quit their jobs and move up there with me. Seriously. Targhee can do that.

Access and Resources
Where to Stay:
The Teewinot Lodge at the base of the slopes is an old-school ski lodge that’s no frills, but not short on charm. Downstairs you’ll find a large fireplace surrounded by comfortable bench seats where you can mingle with your fellow ski friends each day after the lifts shut down. There are two hot tubs—one inside, one out. Rooms are basic but comfortable, just what you need when you’re so tired from skiing that staying awake until 8 p.m. is pushing it. Contact the resort for booking information and prices (800-827-4433;

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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