Exploration. Adventure. Culture. Those are the things I personally look for when skiing & snowboarding. Growing up a Midwest kid, I’ve always looked for mountains and ski-towns that were different and untainted… Special gems that are less corporate and more pure. The town of Wallace along with Lookout Pass Ski Area and Silver Mountain Ski Resort fit that requirement to a tee. Who knew nestled in the Idaho panhandle something so special and pure existed. We learn the deep history of Wallace Idaho & why we think it’s the perfect basecamp for a ski trip.
How Did We Find Wallace?
Traveling from Lake Tahoe to Whitefish, MT, most of the road meanders its way through small hills and massive valleys. The one exception is a section of I-90 in Northern Idaho where the Bitterroot Mountains rise. They looked massive and were slathered with snow. I mentally filed away this mountain range for a later trip, as I knew I had to return someday.
Powder and Uncrowded Slopes
Planning for our Local Freshies® winter road trip, I pulled up the Bitterroot Mountain range and did some research. Two ski resorts sat in these peaks with thousands of acres of terrain! They both receive over 300″of snow annually and are far enough away from the Pacific Ocean to accumulate dry, less dense snow. In fact, one of them is annually one of the snowiest in Idaho. From what I could tell, both Lookout Pass and Silver Mountain looked amazing. On the map, right smack dab in the middle was a small town named Wallace. It looked like the perfect home base to hit both resorts. And once we visited, we came to find out it has one of the best places to try out some backcountry skiing too! With plenty of awesome hotels to stay at and mountains to ride, it was official – Local Freshies® was heading to Northern Idaho.
The Hills Became Mountains
With the sun shining, we left Tahoe and drove up through Oregon and into Idaho. The scenery was beautiful but lacked the grandiose mountains we craved. Passing through Coeur d’Alene, the large valleys began to narrow, inlaid with winding roads. The hills quickly transformed into magnificent peaks blanketed by the color white. Approaching the town of Wallace, road signs appeared stating “Historic Wallace.” I’ve never read a sign that actually stated “Historic” in the name of a town. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but Walt Disney once said “…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” We arrived in town early and were eager to find out the history of Wallace Idaho and what was behind this name.
Why Is Wallace Called “Historic” Wallace?
Pulling into town, the first beautiful building we saw was the Northern Pacific Railroad Depot Museum. This remarkably preserved building seemed like a good place to learn the history of “Historic Wallace.” As we stepped into the museum, we were greeted by Shauna Hillman. We asked about Wallace and the historic moniker. She smiled with pride and said it’s because Wallace is the only town in the US where the ENTIRE TOWN is on the national historic registry. Wow… But how does an entire town earn that designation?
The Only Stoplight On I-90
Back in 1978, Wallace was slated to be razed by the Department of Transportation, placing I-90 right through the middle of it. The community knew if this happened, it was the end for this special place. To fight the government, the residents worked tirelessly and had the ENTIRE town put onto the national historic registry. This classification halted the I-90 construction for over 17 years! During this period, Wallace was the only traffic light for the 3,000 mile expressway, from Boston to Seattle. Just imagine doing 55 mph, potentially for thousands of miles, and running into a traffic light. Amazing that this little hamlet could halt the government and hold strong as a community! Today, I-90 is complete but as an elevated ramp on the side of the valley instead of through Wallace, keeping the entire town dating back to the late 1800’s exquisitely preserved and intact.
Looking from the outside, it doesn’t seem like your typical mining town. When you envision a place focused on digging and removing minerals, you think clapboards and old wooden structures, like Virginia City, NV. A more temporary place, built for a purpose but not for families and generations to come. Instead, Wallace was built to last. Each building was constructed out of brick and masonry, which was not widespread at that time. Shauna suggested we head over to the mining museum to learn more about the town’s unique past.
Fighting The Man… That’s What Wallace Is About
A couple of blocks down we met Tammy Copelan, the Exec. Director of the Mining Museum. As she walked us through the exhibits, we could feel there was something different about this mining history. In Nevada, the mining tycoons created an environment where silver was king and lives were worth less while in the Silver Valley in Idaho, the workers united and actually held power. They unionized and fought against the “man.” In fact, the miners blew up a mine AND assassinated a governor with explosives just to get their points across. Talk about banding together in an era where these uprisings were unheard of, especially where the workers prevailed.
There was a theme forming about this place – an air of strength, unity, and pride. We said our goodbyes and headed to dinner, meeting up with with her husband Dave, from the Wallace Chamber, for a bite to eat.
City Limits… Great Food and Awesome Beers
Small towns have perks. Everyone knows each other and Wallace makes sure to roll out the red carpet for visitors. As we step into the City Limits Brewpub, we were surprised at how big the interior is. TVs at the bar play hockey and lots of tables filled the inside. The walls are adorned in locally sourced pine, and in the far corner, a gentleman waves at us. It’s Dave! In a town this size, it must be easy to notice new faces. Sitting down, Dave gave us some recommendations on local favorites as we ordered food and beers. We enjoyed tasting all their beers, and a few of the more unique brews stuck with us.
Beers Of North Idaho Mountain Brew
Named after the bar at Lookout Pass Ski area, this beer could be considered “dangerous” since it tastes light but has an ABV of nearly 8.5%. It packs a BIG wallop for such an easy-drinking beer.
Citra Peak IPA
If you’re looking to expand your horizons in the IPA world, this may be your go-to beer. It is a non-IPA drinker’s IPA. It holds slightly tangy notes but doesn’t smack you upside the head from the hops.
Ed Pulaski was a forest ranger that saved over 40 people during the Great Fire. Just like Ed, this beer is smokey but finishes velvety smooth.
When the brewery opened, the miners in the area were used to more “domestic” beers with lower content. After a couple of these, some say they’d walk home a little wobbly-kneed from the undetectable higher ABV. Since Cripple Creek runs right under the brewery, what better name for a beer?
Build It and They Will Come
While we wait for our food, Dave goes into why Wallace was so well constructed. In 1890, a massive fire came through the town and burned all structures but one to the ground. With access to the richest silver district in the nation along with other precious minerals, Wallace was in the perfect place to attract mining companies. To make themselves stand out, the town made the decision to re-build with brick and mortar instead of wood. This was an influential decision and eight mining companies made their Headquarters here until the 1980s. Even today, there is active mining in the area. Preserving their history while continuing to mine, Wallace has transformed themselves into a great visitor destination, combining all that they are for the ultimate experience.
Homemade Raviolis to Die For
As the plates arrive, our attention is diverted to the food. We may be a few hundred miles away from the ocean, but the “Steamers” appetizer is an amazing choice. Normally, steamed clams are in a thin-wine sauce but at City Limits, it’s the perfect amount of butter and goodness. The sauce accentuates the flavor of the clams instead of taking away from it.
If your looking for something a bit more unique, the homemade raviolis are a must try. Instead of the typical small-rounded pasta, they give you three HUGE raviolis that your grandmother would make. You can order them filled with cheese or house-made sausage as well as options for the sauce. Our version was the house-made sausage wrapped in a buttery sauce with chunks of bacon. The perfect comfort food on a cold winter’s day. If that seems a bit too heavy, the Reuben is a great sandwich option. The toast was crispy enough to give a crunch but the meat was the star. They made sure not to put on too much “special” sauce and let the tender meat take over the show.