The Last, Best Secret Skiing Gateway!

by John R. Dockendorf

Before committing to traditional ski vacation destinations like Colorado or Utah for next winter’s ski vacation, you might instead consider an unlikely ski hub, one that doesn’t automatically come top of mind. It’s not Bozeman, Boise or Reno but, believe it or not… Spokane. While the first sporty thing you might relate to Spokane is Gonzaga basketball, it really should also be… fantastic skiing! Spokane is one of the most unique, underutilized and underrated ski gateways in the country. That being said, if your usual ski vacation is about relaxing for a week in a slopeside condo with a hot tub in some fancy ski village filled with chain stores, a Spokane (GEG) based ski vacation might be a little different. You will experience a genuine return to what skiing felt like 20 years ago, before Vail Associates and Alterra began gobbling up many of the best ski mountains, homogenizing them in the process.

View Atop Ski Schweitzer
Lake Pend Oreille from Atop Ski Schweitzer

Skiing out of Spokane gives you the opportunity to sample five impressive ski mountains (Ski Schweitzer, 49 Degrees North, Silver Mountain, Mt Spokane and Lookout Pass) without the crowding and parking hassles often associated with California, Utah, Vermont and Colorado. While these five ski areas can easily keep the most ardent skiers fully entertained for at minimum two or three days each, only one (Schweitzer) has an actual “ski village” with slopeside accommodations.

For this eastern Washington, Idaho Panhandle ski vacation, plan to base out of an Airbnb in either Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, Sandpoint or Kellogg. You will need to rely on a car more than other destinations as you will have daily drives in order to fully experience the outstanding scenery, impressive skiing and tremendous variety that these five ski areas offer. Your reward for this extra effort is that instead of skiing the same mega-mountain for six days, you will be sampling a variety of interesting ski areas, each with its own laid-back culture, generally consistent snow, plenty of vertical, incredible tree skiing, more than adequate challenge, minimal lift lines, and few parking challenges. Perhaps most importantly, you can leave the $200 plus lift tickets and the glitz of larger resorts behind and discover a much more authentic, affordable and relaxed atmosphere that is all about skiing rather than the amenities and the hype.

Silver Mountain has very Legitimate Skiing!

While Spokane is not as easy an airport to get to as DEN or SLC, it is serviced by six airlines from 15 nonstop destinations, averaging close to 60 departures a day and 2 million passengers a year making it not quite as busy as Reno or Boise, but more accessible than Bozeman, Aspen, Eagle, Jackson or Durango. One of the most significant advantages of Spokane is the ability to avoid heavy traffic and congested highways. Unlike Salt Lake City with its congested Cottonwood Canyons, Denver with it’s I-70 madhouse traffic or the craziness that is Hwy 89 in North Lake Tahoe, Spokane offers a more relaxed and manageable transportation experience, allowing skiers to spend less time looking for a parking spot and more time on the slopes, eliminating the frustration of endlessly circling the lot and long shuttle rides. Many of the mountains actually even still have base lodges where you can “boot up” avoiding changing in the parking lot.

409 degrees North has 2200 acres of terrain
49 Degrees North has 2200 acres of terrain!

Before you think that the Spokane area ski areas simply can’t compete with other major destinations understand that these five areas combined offer 9,552 acres of skiing vs 9,390 combined acres for the “Big Five” Utah Ikon Pass mountains: Alta, Snowbird, Deer Valley, Solitude and Brighton. And while Utah does receive more and lighter snow, the Spokane resorts manage to average close to 400 inches annually and receive considerably less ski traffic with fewer high-speed lifts, so the snow holds up better and lasts longer. Should you be lucky enough to have a snowy week, you will certainly be able to ski untracked powder much later into the day or week than you can at more popular destinations where new snow is often completely tracked by 10:30 am. Each Spokane mountain has a minimum of 50 ski runs, extensive tree skiing and drops ranging from 1,650 to 2,400 vertical feet. Located farther north than Colorado or Utah, Spokane ski summits are lower elevation, topping out around 6,400 ft. This means skiers who regularly reside at sea level will not have the acclimatization problems they might have at the higher elevation resorts of Colorado or Utah. Here is the Skinny on the Spokane Five:

Ski Schweitzer Trail Map

Ski Schweitzer: (Ikon Pass) is Idaho’s largest ski resort (bigger than Sun Valley) located 92 miles or 1 hour 52 minutes from GEG. Soaring over Sandpoint, Idaho, Schweitzer is known for its breathtaking views of Lake Pend Oreille, varied terrain, and lack of crowds. With over 2,900 acres of skiable terrain, a summit elevation of 6400 ft and a vertical drop of 2,400 feet, Schweitzer is a very legitimate resort with high-speed lifts, a slopeside village, great cruising and plenty of steeps. The resort is renowned for its wide-open slopes, diverse tree skiing, and well-groomed trails. Schweitzer was purchased by Alterra in May of 2023 but for the 23/24 season will offer seven days of skiing for Ikon pass holders.

Incredible Tree Skiing at 49 Degrees North

49 Degrees North: (Indy Pass) is 65 miles or 1 hour and 22 minutes from GEG. Situated 10 miles south of Chewelah, WA, 49 Degrees North is a hidden gem that boasts excellent snow conditions and a laid-back, low-key atmosphere. This family-friendly resort offers a good mix of terrain for all ability levels spread across 2,325 acres with 82 named trails. Skiers will appreciate the lack of crowds, long, well-groomed cruising runs, an impressive terrain park, acres of untouched tree skiing and enough steeps to keep all but the most extreme of skiers happy. While they do have one high speed quad, other lifts are slow, enabling good conversations and saving your legs so you can ski late into the day!

Two Days after a Storm Looks Like This at the Spokane Five!

Mt. Spokane: (Independent) is located only 39 miles and less than an hour from GEG making it the true locals hill. It’s a non-profit focused on providing a great local ski experience without the glitz of better-known mountains. Mt. Spokane offers six slow chairlifts with stunning views and provides a range of terrain options with 52 runs on 1704 acres. With gentle slopes for beginners to moderately challenging runs and a terrain park for advanced skiers, Mt Spokane receives over 400 inches of snow annually on a vertical drop of 2,000 ft, making it much more than just a town hill and very worthy of your exploration.

Some Runs at Silver are So Steep You need Avi Gear!

Silver Mountain (Indy Pass): Situated in Kellogg, Idaho, 75 miles or 1 hour and 11 minutes from GEG, Silver is another low-key hill that skis much bigger than you would expect. Formerly a mining town and an EPA hazardous waste site, Kellogg and Silver have transitioned to a unique ski destination. The slopes are accessed by North America’s longest Gondola with a small base hotel with a cool water park and parking 3.1 miles below in the town of Kellogg. Silver Mountain is known for its abundant snowfall and an over 2200 ft vertical rise on over 1600 acres of diverse terrain. The resort offers a combination of well-groomed trails, tree skiing, and challenging bowls and chutes, some so steep they require avalanche gear. While Silver caters to skiers of all abilities, it has probably the most challenging terrain of the five ski areas and impressive tree skiing. Silver’s lifts are slow and outdated making it a truly classic ski experience that harkens back to the pre ski area consolidation days.

One Can’t Say There isn’t Steep Skiing in Idaho!

Lookout Pass: (Independent) Located on the Idaho-Montana border, Lookout is 99 miles or 1 hour and 44 minutes from GEG. Lookout Pass is a small but charming ski area that is often overlooked by crowds and boasts some of the best powder skiing in the US with an annual seasonal snowfall approaching 400 inches and minimal crowds. The resort’s easy vibe and friendly staff contribute to its appeal, making it an excellent choice for those seeking a more intimate skiing experience. Lookout has the highest base elevation of the Spokane areas with a vertical drop of 1.650 ft, and a summit of 6,150 ft on over 1000 acres of skiable terrain with four chairlifts, two which are quads, two terrain parks, 52 named runs and great tree skiing. If you love powder, this is the place.

In conclusion, Spokane stands out as a superior and unique hub for a ski vacation that prioritizes a wealth of options at five low-key resorts with the ability to avoid traffic, easily find parking and experience a genuine skiing vacation where one can escape the crowds, avoid hanging out at high elevations, and enjoy the pure joy of going back in time and skiing in a more relaxed and authentic setting.

Note on Pricing and Passes:
Both 49 Degrees North and Silver Mountain are aligned with the Indy Pass meaning Indy Passholders can ski for two days each with their pass. Ski Schweitzer was just purchased by Alterra but for the 23-24 season offers seven days of included skiing for Ikon Pass holders. None of the five resorts are associated with the Epic Pass. Lift tickets at Mt Spokane and Lookout Pass currently run in the $70 range on weekends and are priced even lower midweek. All five of these ski areas are very affordable compared to anywhere else in the country avoiding the $200 plus daily ticket prices found at the Epic and Ikon resorts.

John Dockendorf is enjoying his post work life as a writer, business consultant and part time ski bum committed to skiing and mountain biking his “age” every year. His goal is to ski every mountain on the Indy and Ikon Pass and keep skiing moguls and trees as late into life as his body allows. He resides in Hood River, Oregon.