I felt like Bill Murray from Groundhog Day, except it was the kind of day I wanted to live over and over again. Peeking outside, I watch massive flakes continue to fall straight out of the sky at an unbelievable pace. Is it dry? Shockingly yes! And even though it’s warmer today, the snow is still blower-pow. With nearly 10″ falling in Wallace, we knew Silver Mountain was going to be off the hook. We stayed close to home this morning and headed over to the Wallace Inn’s breakfast spot, the Trailside Cafe to fuel up for the day.
Wallace has a Prime Minister?!?
From our comfortable room, we moseyed through the lobby and into the restaurant. In one corner of the cafe sat a gentleman by the name of Rick Shaffer. Saying hello, we came to find out that not only is he the manager of the Wallace Inn, he’s also the Prime Minister of Historic Wallace. Huh?!? Why would Wallace have a Prime Minister? The story of how this came to be has to be interesting… And it is.
After his college basketball career ended, he knew he needed to find a job. But where? In the career services office, he saw an ad about Yellowstone National Park. As a child, he always loved being outside so why not follow his passion? He did just that and drove his 1966 Chevelle all the way from the East Coast to Yellowstone and got his start in the tourism/hospitality industry. Over the years, Rick held many positions across the U.S. including his last stint at the Ramada Renaissance in Times Square NY, but he knew he was missing something.
How a man became the Prime Minister of a town in Idaho
Looking to leave the city hustle behind, a friend from Yellowstone contacted him about a contract-job in Historic Wallace, which turned into a 25 year visit. It was during this time the concept of the Prime Minister was born. Like any great showman, you need a hook to help people remember their experiences. At the end of every tour, Rick would say, “When you go home, make sure to tell your friends that you got a tour from the Prime Minister of Wallace.” For over 16 years, Rick continued to push the phrase until it stuck. And in 2005, the city gave him the honorary title “Prime Minister of Hospitality & Official Greeter of Historic Wallace.”
Ski-pack Deals, Breakfast and Affordable Lodging!
As we enjoyed Rick’s history of Wallace, our breakfast arrived. To start, the names on the menu are inspired by the region’s past. Our pancake breakfast was “The Little Depot.” How was it? They were some of the fluffiest pancakes I’d ever seen. Soft, light, and filling is the best description of them. “The Center of the Universe” scrambler (Someone’s got to claim it, so why not Wallace?) was delicious and hearty, which is important on a big powder day.
Finishing our breakfast, the Prime Minister asks if we are enjoying our stay at his fine establishment. You bet! The Wallace Inn’s best quality is their level of customer service. The front desk goes out of their way to make you comfortable. On top of that, if you’re looking for modern amenities like a smart TV, swimming pool, hot tub and want to be close to town, the Wallace Inn is your best bet. Before we headed out, Rick also let us know the Wallace Inn has a great ski package. For $111, you get a night’s stay plus 2 lift tickets to Lookout Pass! No matter how you look at that, it’s a GREAT deal. A small town plus a local Ski area equals a deal unheard-of in today’s resort destinations! The time had come – we were ready to venture into the Winter Wonderland surrounding us.
Snow plows couldn’t keep up!
Leaving Wallace on I-90, the snow was stacking so fast it seemed as if the road wasn’t even plowed. The clouds sat low blocking our view of the mountain tops, but even in the snowstorm, we arrived to the town of Kellogg within 20 minutes. At 9:00 am, we park only 100 yards from the front of the resort’s village and were shocked at our prime space! BUZZ-BUZZ. Here comes my daily Heavenly Ski Resort parking text that ALL lots are now full. The notification is helpful to Tahoe travelers, but for us, it was a reminder of how lucky we are to be at Silver Mountain today. Quickly getting our lift tickets, we head over to the gondola to start our trek uphill.
The Gondola rules at Silver Mountain
Back in 1989, skiers drove up to the chairlifts. The Locals talk about how the pass was just wide enough for one car to comfortably go up OR down, essentially making it a one-way mountain road. Yikes! Today, the road is no longer open and instead everyone takes the gondola, one of the longest in North America. Slowly ascending out of the valley and up into the mountains, the heavy snow blocks our views but we can tell on a bluebird day the scenery is spectacular.
The Summit Haus – Base Operations for Silver Mountain
After a 20 minute jaunt on the gondola, we make it to the upper station, called the Summit Haus. This is the access point to all things food, lodge and of course, the terrain. Talking to the Locals on our ride up, they tell us Chair 2 is where we should start as it will be the most wind sheltered. With visibility being so low and the wind blowing ferociously, we listened.
No Lift Lines and DEEP Snow
From the Summit Haus, we drop down onto a run called Shortcut, transporting us over to Chair 2. There’s literally NO ONE around. As we ride the lift up, we scope the terrain underneath our feet. The slope is steep and playful with bumps and rollers everywhere, perfectly spaced trees and trails cut that follow the fall line. Talk about my kind of terrain! The best part though is even the main trails look to have a ton of untracked powder.
Unloading from Chair 2, we quickly ratchet our bindings and dive into the trees. The pitch is much steeper than expected AND the snow is just as good as it looked from the lift. Huge plumes of snow woosh past us as we easily connect turns down the mountain. Racing to the bottom, we are giddy like little kids. BOY, was it good! Lap after lap, we hoot and holler enjoying all the fresh snow. It was difficult to pull ourselves away, but we needed some food and to meet up with Willy Bartlett, Marketing Director at Silver Mountain.
A Loft Honey at Mogul’s 21
The first question out of my mouth is “Where is everybody?” Willy stood there dumbfounded. We come to find out that this is actually a busy day. Untracked pow and no lift lines on a busy day? I definitely needed some food to help my brain process this idea. Since we are in Idaho, we must support a local brewery so we order a Loft Honey and a 6:60 Lager, two of our Wallace-brewed favorites. Waiting for our food, Willy talks about how winter is a great time for the area but summer is when the resort really shines. The gondola provides some of the best mountain bike access in the country with nearly 3,400 vertical feet. But it isn’t only about the summer. In the winter, the gondola also provides backcountry access. Our ears immediately perk up. Did you say backcountry?
Fall-lines galore and tons of backcountry access
Silver Mountain, like other resorts in the region, has an open gate policy allowing you to shred out-of-bounds. Be smart and learn the terrain as there are gullies lurking in the out-of-bounds territory. Your best bet is to meet up with a Local. Seek out a little guidance on where to find amazing stashes all via lift-access with only a minor hike out!
With the lodge buzzing, our food arrives and the burgers are unbelievable! Cooked to perfection with an egg on top. Stomachs full and all warmed up, we head back out to the snow. Willy looks at his watch and unfortunately, we don’t have enough time to hit up Wardner Peak. With a short 20 minute hike in-bounds, this peak grants you access to the best terrain at Silver Mountain. If you’re an expert, Willy HIGHLY suggests you give it a go. Since that region was closed, we direct ourselves over to Chair 3. It did not disappoint as this area is filled with amazing fall line skiing and a great pitch – all around super fun terrain.
Busy day means lifts stay open longer!
As the day winds down, we notice the line for the gondola is growing out the door. Instead of shutting down the lifts and having everyone stand around, why not keep skiing? The resort kept the lifts running a little longer for the best crowd control and customer service I’ve ever seen! We joined in the fun and continued to hit up the runs as others stood in line. Even this late in the day there are still stashes to be found! Grinning ear to ear, we say goodbye to Willy and head back to the Summit Haus for our gondola ride back down.
Local Freshies® Tip: Be sure to come on a weekday or arrive early and leave late
If you have the option, visit on a weekday. There’s only one way up and one way down, so the gondola line can get a bit long. If you do come on a weekend, be sure to get there early, like 8:15-ish and either leave a little early or wait until the crowd dies down.
The Ryan Hotel – A classic in a modern era
With this being our last day in Wallace, it seemed fitting to enjoy dinner at The Fainting Goat. Considered the best fine dining establishment in town, it was a perfect way to celebrate a great day on the slopes and an amazing time in Historic Wallace. Getting back into town a little early and parking near the restaurant, we are greeted by Donna, owner of the Ryan Hotel. She asked if we would be interested in a tour of her building. With a bit of time before our dinner and knowing it will have a great story behind it, why not? As she ushered us into the entrance, the first thing that caught my eye is the craftsmanship. The old wood frames and bellhop entrance is not something you see anymore, especially in its original construction.
A 3rd grade school teacher and a 42 year guest!
The Ryan has been a hotel since 1903, and until recently, it was a residential hotel for long term stays. One of the guests was a 3rd grade school teacher who lived in the same hotel room for nearly 42 years! Imagine that! Some people live in tiny studio apartments today, but to live in a hotel room and use a shared hallway bath for potentially half of your life. That would cut down on the clutter!
Even though our lifestyles have evolved over the years, Donna and her husband wanted to keep this special place true to its character when they purchased and remodeled the hotel in 2012. They kept the best parts like it’s architecture but replaced items such as the beds and renovated most of the bathrooms. The best part though – you can stay here for only $85/night. It gives you a glimpse into the past AND a continental breakfast. Donna smiles and tells us, “If you like this place, you need to check out our other spot across the street, the Lux Hotel.”
Celebration time, but first a stop at a Bordello
Wallace’s history in one word is colorful. Throughout it’s entire past, it has ALWAYS fought against federal control. Wallace had bordellos working in full day light until 1988. In fact, the “ladies of the evening” even frequented the high school basketball games, cheering on their hometown team. Why was this in Wallace? Just think about the mining industry for a second. You have multitudes of single men working in tough conditions and very few women within sight. It’s a lop-sided ratio that cannot just be ignored. The town’s solution worked so well that certain crimes were non-existent during these times.
Though the establishments and their ladies may be gone, you can still experience the era at the Lux Hotel. Renovated and brought back to its “glory days”, limited individual guests can stay at this hotel or you can rent out the entire floor. How fun for a big party or a vacation get-away?!
How delicious is a Fainting Goat?
Walking back across the street, a hand carved metal sign hangs over the door to The Fainting Goat. Unbeknownst to us, this sign would symbolize our soon-to-be adventure into food and wine. As was symbolic of our entire time in Wallace, we are immediately greeted by the server like old friends. Getting seated, Randy, the owner, comes over to introduce himself and welcome us to his restaurant.
Retirement is for sissies
Living in Spokane for several decades, Randy and his wife first traveled through the Idaho panhandle back in the 70’s. They loved this area so much that they bought a lake cabin in Coeur d’Alene and over the years became patrons of The Fainting Goat in Wallace. Once Randy retired, the plan was to spend the summers in Coeur d’Alene and the winters in Hawaii. Not long after he retired, the owner of The Fainting Goat fell ill and the restaurant was shut down for over 8 months. Like all great people with a fire in their belly, he couldn’t let this gem lie dormant and potentially miss the opportunity to own his favorite restaurant.
It’s like Vegas except you win every time
Another one of his dreams was to open up a wine bar, so he combined both ideas into one big dream and reopened The Fainting Goat. Directly in the center of the restaurant is a machine that looks like something from the future. It’s actually a wine dispensary! You have the option to select a sampling, half glass, or full glass of any of the wines. As you insert your credit-like card, tracking your selections, you hold up your glass and pick any wine that interests you. You feel like your in Vegas except you win every time! Talk about a cool concept. We tasted many new wines but with our glasses now full, it was time to enjoy our meal.
A ‘fishy’ masterpiece in culinary art
If our appetizer was any hint to the rest of our meal, we were in for one special night. The first dish is a perfectly seared Ahi tuna coated in toasted sesame seeds. The texture of the seeds plays well with the delicate flavor of the fish. The dipping sauce combined hints of wasabi and horseradish introducing tanginess to the palette. An incredibly tasty start!
One of Idaho’s largest exports is trout so we had to pick it as one of our main courses. The fish was soft, buttery and flaky with a hint of lemon that complimented the cream sauce. No drop of sauce goes to waste as the perfectly cooked and seasoned veggies ensure every bit is enjoyed.
Pasta with an egg on top
Let’s preface this next dish with the note that we LOVE eggs. Eggs on burgers, eggs for breakfast, and eggs on anything! As soon as we saw a house-made pasta dish complete with a poached egg on top, it was game over in our minds. The Carbonara is delectable. As I cut into the egg, it oozes over the noodles, mingling with the creamiest pasta dish ever. To really bring it over the top, the caramelized bacon and Parmesan crisp add a salty and crunchy element to the whole experience.
Race Jones – An Artist in Food
Finishing up our main dishes, we are honored by the chef’s presence. We express our pure adoration of the food he created for us. Traveling all over the world working in major food meccas like Chicago, San Francisco, and even Europe, we had to ask how he ended up in Wallace? Race’s passion for food is equaled only to his love for cycling. Wallace and its surrounding area has some of the greatest trails in the world! His goal is to bring a James Beard award to Wallace and put this place on the map for food. I personally believe he will and it’s only a matter of time.
Before leaving, Race asks if we have any interest in trying his Crème Brulee. If a chef that has produced some of the best dishes you’ve had in years asks you to try something… You ALWAYS say Yes! It was out of this world! The crust on top cracks with the slightest pressure from the spoon and inside is a creamy custard with the perfect sweetness. Talk about finishing strong!
And with that it was back to the Wallace Inn to pack up and head out the next morning to our next destination… McCall, Idaho – A place that is just as special but in its own way.