Adventure December 22, 2023

The Sun Valley Effect

The top ski mountains in Idaho (not named Sun Valley)

It’s widely known throughout the ski world that Sun Valley Resort is home to the world’s first chairlift (1936), training grounds for some of the greatest Olympic alpine skiers and halfpipe snowboarders, a celebrity hotbed and was the top ski resort in the West three years in a row (2021, 2022, 2023).   

While Sun Valley is the oldest, it’s not the largest, nor does it get the most snow. However, the lasting effect of Sun Valley’s impact on the culture is felt throughout the world—and in Idaho itself.    

“Sun Valley is the pinnacle; anyone in this industry looking to achieve success can’t ignore the Sun Valley model and what it’s done for not only Idaho but the ski industry in general,” Tamarack Resort President Scott Turlington says. “I’ve been going to Sun Valley for 25 years. It’s the brand standard. For Tamarack, it helps us because it’s not just Sun Valley; now it’s Idaho [skiing]. From my perspective, it’s been a real opportunity.”   

It’s easy to argue which is the best large resort mountain in the West, but what about the smaller, lesser-known ski mountains we Idahoans still love.     

Here are Sun Valley Magazine’s top 10 Idaho ski mountains with 10 lifts or less, in no particular order.  


Schweitzer kicks off the list. It’s a family-friendly Pacific Northwest resort with an eye-popping 2,900 acres of fantastic terrain, the most acres in Idaho (including Sun Valley). What was once proudly independently owned is now a part of the Alterra Mountain Group as of August 2023. Despite its new ownership, Schweitzer still has that small mountain feel with incredible vistas overlooking Sandpoint, Lake Pend Oreille and Canada.   

“There’s an element of attention that we get being the largest ski area in Idaho, and we take that to heart while maintaining our character, which is true to our North Idaho roots,” Schweitzer Mountain Resort Marketing & PR Director Taylor Prather says. “We are continually investing in the overall experience and making that more welcoming to our guests and locals, for both skiers and riders.”  

It’s located in the Selkirk Mountains and just 80 miles from Spokane. Schweitzer has 92 runs and 2,400 feet of vertical skiing. With 300 inches of snowfall per year and three terrain parks, Schweitzer has Northern Idaho on lockdown for winter fun.  


Located a short drive east of Driggs, Grand Targhee offers excellent skiing opportunities on the west side of the Grand Tetons. With two terrain parks and 500 inches of average snowfall per year, the resort has terrain suitable for skiers of all levels, from beginners to experts. Guests can relax in the slopeside lodging and enjoy various dining options and entertainment for the whole family. The resort is an excellent choice for a ski vacation that offers beautiful scenery, comfortable accommodations and plenty of activities. Grand Targhee also has 2,270 feet (about twice the height of the Empire State Building) for vertical skiing, 97 named runs and 2,602 acres of fun.  


Tamarack Resort might be hidden, but it is a perfect skiers’ destination with a family-friendly feel in the West Central Mountains north of Boise. It offers a wide range of terrain for skiers and riders of all levels, including glades, steeps, cornices and groomers. Guests can also enjoy various dining options and luxury accommodations. Tamarack packs a punch; it has three terrain parks, 50 named runs, 300 inches of average snowfall, 1,100 acres and 2,800 vertical feet.  


If you’re looking for a ski resort that caters to skiers and riders of all levels, Brundage Mountain Resort is the perfect destination. With 320 inches of average snowfall, Brundage is known for having the best powder in Idaho. And if that’s not enough, the slopeside dining is a must-try, and staying in downtown McCall is a great way to recharge for another day of fun on the slopes. Brundage has 67 named runs, three terrain parks, 1,920 acres and 1,921 feet of vertical skiing.  


Way up north, Lookout Pass is the only Idaho mountain that surpasses 400 inches of average snowfall per year, with 433 inches per year. And at just $66 for a day pass, it’s easily the best bang for your buck. The mountain splits the Idaho-Montana state line, so skiers and riders can get the best of both worlds. Lookout is surrounded by lodging options ranging from hotels and motels to B&Bs and camping facilities, ensuring visitors can relax and recharge after skiing.   


Just west of Lookout Pass on I-90 is Silver Mountain in Kellog. This year-round resort not only has top-notch skiing but also offers the region’s best lift-served bike park, gondola rides, hiking and surfing at Idaho’s largest indoor water park. Lodging is available in the heart of the gondola village, along with family-friendly entertainment and a variety of dining options. It’s a perfect destination for adventure enthusiasts and those looking for a relaxing getaway. At 370 inches of snowfall, 73 named runs, 1,600 acres and 2,200 vertical feet, Silver Mountain is a golden nugget in the mountains.  


Discover Lost Trail in little Sula, the hidden gem of the Rocky Mountains. However, getting there is another story. Tucked between Highway 93 and 43, Lost Trail is also on the Idaho-Montana border. However, the drive is worth it. Lost Trail has 350 inches of average snowfall, 25 named runs, 1,800 acres and 1,800 vertical feet. With a $53 day pass to boot, it’s a ski bum’s dream. It’s the perfect skiing destination with uncrowded slopes for all skill levels and breathtaking views from the Continental Divide.    


Located just 16 miles north of downtown Boise, Bogus Basin’s 2,600 acres of alpine terrain, 37,000 Nordic trails, and mountain coaster have the City of Trees busy during the winter. Add night skiing until 10 p.m. seven days a week, and it’s a rare mountain for a booming city. Bogus has 10 lifts, including four high-speed quads, offering a variety of terrain for all ages and abilities.   


Fairfield’s Soldier Mountain in the Smoky Mountains has incredible east-facing terrain, including glades, bowls and tree skiing. It’s a one-of-a-kind mom-and-pop ski hill with a popular cult following for die-hards who can’t afford the lofty lift ticket of Sun Valley’s Bald Mountain (Soldier boasts a $ 49-day pass). It averages 250 inches of snowfall per year with 1,150 acres of terrain. For a backcountry adventure, take a snowcat tour to go even higher.   


Rounding out the list, Kelly Canyon has slopes for all skill levels and is perfect for families. Safety is a priority, and the unique night skiing experience is a must-try. It’s a winter wonderland that offers an unforgettable experience for everyone.    

Information credit:   

This article appears in the Winter 2023-2024 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.