For some, skiing is all about the mountain and terrain. But for me, a ski vacation is about the experience. I wasn’t sure what to expect from skiing in Idaho when I headed out to explore three of the state’s ski areas in North Idaho. Silver Mountain Resort was my third and final stop after skiing at Schweitzer Mountain Resort and Lookout Pass. What I came to learn is that each mountain had its own distinct personality. At Silver Mountain, what stood out most for me was how ideal the resort is for families.
With snow tubing, snow shoeing, a three-mile long gondola, beautifully-appointed village accommodations, and an indoor water park that rivals the likes of the Great Wolf Lodge, what more can you ask for in a ski resort? To me the only drawback is that the terrain at Silver Mountain Resort is better suited to families that already ski than beginners, but more on that later.
Skiing in Idaho – What to Expect
I visited Idaho as part of a press trip with Ski Idaho (but all opinions are my own.) Ski Idaho represents 18 different resorts, such as Sun Valley, Bogus Basin, Soldier Mountain, and others, covering 18,000 acres and 28,000 vertical feet. For purposes of this trip, we were focused on the resorts in northern Idaho.
Ski Idaho also runs the exciting fifth and sixth grade passport program. For $18, fifth graders can ski three times at all 18 resorts and sixth graders can ski twice at 17 of the resorts. Quite a deal!
The ski resorts in Idaho really range from the famous Sun Valley to the smaller mom-and-pop types mountains like Lookout Pass. There are steeps, trees, backcountry, cat skiing, beginner slopes, terrain parks, and everything in between.
The differences I found from my experiences skiing back east in places like Sunday River, Smuggs, and Okemo is the welcome lack of crowds. Granted, I was skiing on Tuesday through Thursday, but not once did I have to wait in a lift line. Never did someone whiz by me and throw me off my game. I never had trouble finding a line down the trail. And it was no problem at all finding a free table in the lodge.
The people were also so friendly. I didn’t encounter any grumpy lifties. The people in the lodges were happy to strike up a conversation. And the locals didn’t mind too much clueing you in on some of their favorite runs.
Some of the mountains were even surprisingly affordable. Even getting to Idaho wasn’t too hard from the East Coast, just one stop in Seattle or Denver before flying into Spokane. And Spokane has 17 direct flights from California and the Pacific Northwest.
So when you think about a destination ski vacation, put Idaho on your radar. Resorts like Silver Mountain may just have the combination of lodging and amenities you are looking for.
Skiing at Silver Mountain Resort
Silver Mountain Resort is only about 30 miles from Coeur D’Alene and 70 miles from Spokane Airport. The resort is just off Interstate 90 and very easy to find. Silver Mountain offers both ski and snowboarding over two mountain peaks and 1,600 skiable acres.
There is a total of 2,200 vertical feet and 77 trails, the longest of which is 2.5 miles. Silver Mountain Resort gets over 300 feet of snow a year and offers tree skiing, wide open groomers, powder snow, and back country access.
While there is a snow sports school and magic carpet beginner area, only about 20 percent of the trails are beginner. Silver Mountain is 40 percent intermediate terrain, but some of those intermediate trails have a pretty good pitch so not great for nervous intermediate skiers like me.
The other drawback to the beginner terrain at Silver Mountain is that to get back up the mountain, you need to use a pretty narrow cat track to get over to Lift 5 or Lift 3 (since Lift 5 is often closed during the week.) I found this trail a bit terrifying because even though it was a very mild grade, there is a steep drop off on one side that made me very nervous (and I’m not even scared of heights.) I think this is one thing I just need to get used to when skiing in Idaho.
This is why I think that Silver Mountain is great for families that are skiers — not as much for pure beginners. The exception would be if you come to enjoy the other resort amenities.
Snow Tubing & Snow Shoeing at Silver Mountain Resort
Silver Mountain offers four lanes of snow tubing on Fridays through Sundays, plus holidays. Tubing sessions last for two hours, but don’t worry, you won’t tire yourselves out climbing back up to the top of the hill. The magic carpet will whisk riders and their tubes back up to the top for another fun run.
In addition to tubing, Silver offers a two-to-three mile snowshoeing trail through the woods. Access to the trail is free with a gondola ticket from the village to the base lodge and snow shoe rentals are available in the Silver Mountain Sports rental shop for $15 for the day.
On my last day of skiing, my feet were really hurting so after lunch, I traded out my skis for snowshoes and took to the trail. They provide a trail map (even though the trail is fairly well marked) and emergency contact number. You just need to register with Ski Patrol before you leave and when you get back so that they can keep track of everyone on the trails.
My trek through the woods was beautiful and, while there were some uphill parts, it wasn’t too challenging. I did work up a sweat but the hardest part was climbing back up the bunny hill on my return to the lodge.
The views were definitely worth the work. Especially when you get to a beautiful viewpoint overlooking the valley and slopes in the background.
Silver Rapids Water Park
A major highlight of vacationing at Silver Mountain is definitely the Silver Rapids Water Park. The water park is only open for guests of the Morning Star Lodge in the Village. Admission wristbands are included in your stay.
When we visited mid-week, the water park was only open from 4pm to 9pm, making it great for aprés ski. I was really surprised by how large and how many features Silver Rapids offered.
There is an in-park snack bar and two hot tubs, including an upstairs lounge area and cabanas for rent. The non-adventurous can enjoy the North Fork lazy river, Miner’s Island with two body slides, play areas, and a giant tipping bucket.
Little ones will enjoy the Pollywog Pond with two kiddie slides and a bungee swing and the Cub Cove spray deck.
Adventure seekers will get their thrills on the Moose Sluice family raft ride and two tube slides. Just keep in mind that these are pretty dark at night! You can give the FlowRider a try and even take surfing lessons.
Kids can even play basketball at the Hoop Lagoon or cross the lily pads at The Crossing.
Family Accommodations at the Morning Star Lodge
Located in the village, steps from the gondola, the Morning Star Lodge offers great accommodations options for families. There are studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom suites that are well-appointed and offer the amenities that families need like a full kitchen, washer and dryer, and double sinks in the bathroom with a deep soaking tub.
Each building also offers ski/bike storage, a hot tub, a business center, and plenty of comfy public spaces to hang out.
I was really impressed by the quality of the accommodations. The only drawback was that the walls between suites were thin (I could hear someone clearing their throat next door), so I would make sure to keep noise down, especially during quiet hours. And if you have light sleepers, pack some ear plugs.
With a location right off the highway, at first glance Silver Mountain feels more suburban than resort town. The advantage is that you can easily get to local eateries like Hill Street Depot.
Of course there are dining options right in the Village, including Noah’s Canteen and Mountain Cafe. I was also impressed with the table service option at Mogul’s Lounge at the Mountain House on the mountain. The food was surprisingly good and fresh for an on-mountain lodge.
While there are other lodging options around, the convenience of staying at the Morning Star Lodge in the Village can’t be beat.
The only way to ski Silver Mountain Resort is to take North America’s longest gondola ride to the base lodge up the mountain. The three-mile, 20-minute ride saves you from driving up a twisting mountain road and offers up some pretty views along the way.
Silver During the Summer
Fun at Silver Mountain doesn’t end in the summer. Silver offers the best lift-served mountain biking in the Pacific Northwest. There are over 35 trails, two lifts, and plenty of new mountain bikes to rent.
In addition to mountain biking, families can enjoy hiking, disc golf, mountain top barbecues, huckleberry picking, wildlife viewing, and scenic gondola and chairlift rides.
If mountain biking isn’t your thing, you can also ride the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, a 72-mile paved trail with a trailhead in the Silver Mountain parking lot.
I have also heard great things about the Galena Ridge golf course from my golfing friend. And nearby you can engage in fishing, rafting, four-wheeling, tubing, scenic drives, and hikes.
Silver Mountain has everything families are looking for in a four season resort. See more options for the best family ski resorts in the U.S.
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Note: My trip was hosted by Ski Idaho and Silver Mountain Resort. I received complimentary ski tickets, rentals, lodging, and meals. All opinions are my own.