Where is the snowiest ski resort in Idaho? Is it Sun Valley? How about Schweitzer? Nope. It’s a small spot nestled on the border between Montana and Idaho called Lookout Pass Idaho. With nearly 400″ of snow annually, our Idaho road trip wouldn’t be complete without releasing our inner powder hounds on their snowy slopes. But, first things first… it’s breakfast time. Asking around, we heard the Red Light Garage is a sure thing to start our day in “Historic Wallace.”
A Huckleberry Pancake the size of your Head
Loading up our gear, we slowly meander our way to the restaurant. Immediately stepping through the front door, we’re impressed with the atmosphere. It’s cozy and eclectic. The walls are checkered with license plates and memorabilia dating back to the 20’s & 30’s, while in one corner sits a working jukebox filled with classic rock from the 50’s & 60’s. Decades of history harmoniously living together!
Sitting down, we start with two cups of coffee and a couple of menus. Not knowing what they’re famous for, we ask Dirk, our server, what we should get. With a friendly smile, he suggests homemade biscuits and gravy with a huckleberry pancake. Yup, I said pancake not pancakes. The pancake is massive… The size of a dinner plate and boy is it good! It’s a bit denser than a normal pancake and filled with lots of huckleberries. The bitterness of the fruit matches perfect with the syrup and sweeter pancake batter. Their specialty though is the biscuits and gravy. The soft biscuits are covered in a thick homemade sauce that is spicy with little peppery notes. Both meals are just the right size allowing us to finish them without feeling over stuffed. With our stomachs full, it was time to head out.
Moose Antlers for Sale
With uncharacteristically cold weather lingering and no new snow reported, we weren’t in a rush to get to the slopes until it warmed up a bit. This was the perfect chance to check out the town. Wallace is not your typical destination. In an old building, you have Johnson’s Gems & Collectibles, the largest gem & mineral store in the inland Northwest. Next door is the North Idaho Trading company filled with vintage guns and amazing taxidermy items like moose antlers for $30/lb. You’re definitely going to experience things you wouldn’t see anywhere else. We meet up with Dave again, from last night’s dinner, but this time he has company. Ryder, a newer transplant to Wallace, also has a shop in town that we needed to see.
A professional bull rider becomes a high end boot designer
A self made man, Ryder Gauteraux started making chaps for himself during his time as a professional bronc rider. They were so good that people started requesting other leather items like purses and even cowboy boots. He knew he couldn’t rodeo forever and needed something else. With such a growing demand for his leather, why not do it for a living? His can do attitude transformed his craft into a full time successful business called Gauteraux and Co.
Custom cowboy boots… From the wild to your closet!
The major obstacle for Ryder was finding alligator skins for his boots. All the best hides were coming through a tannery in Georgia but he couldn’t buy the volume he needed. He figured out that if you provide your own ‘gator, they’ll tan it for you without any issue. Connecting the dots, he remembered a friend telling him the best alligator skins were from SE Texas. That particular region is clay instead of swamp so the alligator population has less competition, translating to fewer fights and scars. Now every spring, Ryder gets his tags, goes down TX, and hunts 25 alligators himself. He processes the meat and gets the hides tanned ensuring he has the leather needed for his custom boot orders. Some of his clients even join his hunts, making it a truly customized experience.
After a tour of his workshop, it was time to hit the snow and get some turns in. Before we left, we made sure to schedule another meetup with Ryder at his coffee shop 6th and Cedar AND to check out the old historic hotel he was renovating.
Snowiest Ski Resort in Idaho
Hopping onto I-90, we did the quick 20 minute drive up to Lookout Pass Idaho. Arriving around 11 AM, the sun shone brightly even though it was still a bit brisk outside. In the parking lot, there were only a handful of cars, and remember, it’s almost lunch time! This was going to be the theme of the trip… Nonexistent lift lines and amazing snow. Throwing on our warmest clothes, we looked up to the slopes. The front face is wide and has a gentle pitch perfect for carving. Even at 11 AM, the majority of the corduroy was still untracked! We quickly load onto the first lift and leisurely ascend to the summit. From there, three lifts are laid out to access separate zones across the 540 acres.
Great place to learn
Even though the trail map doesn’t show a lot of easy terrain, it’s a great place to learn. Most of the steep slopes can be avoided, but if you do accidentally end up on one, you’re able to navigate down smoothly. For the easiest terrain other than Chair 4, head to Huckleberry Ridge and follow it around the mountain. Besides a gentle run, the views are spectacular. Take it slow and snap lots of pictures!
If you’re an intermediate, this resort is perfect for you, especially if you just graduated up from beginner. Red Dog and Marmot are a good introduction to intermediate runs, located on the North Side. For something a bit more steep, hit runs off the Idaho side like Bonanza or Black Bear, heading over to Gold.
There aren’t any massive cliff bands or scare-your-pants-off descents, but they do have a few quick shots of steep runs that will keep you alert and entertained. Even though there wasn’t a ton of fresh snow for us, we did hear the Lucky Friday Glades are a lot of fun when it’s dumping as well as the trails off of Chair 3. Unfortunately, Mother Nature didn’t share fresh Pow with us but it just means we have to come back another season.
Be VERY aware of schedule
Without a large population in the area, Lookout Pass’ lift schedule varies quite a bit. During January/February, they run their operation 6 days a week, closed on Tuesdays. In March/April, they’re open Thursday – Monday, still giving you 5 days of ride time. This just means you get more powder days on a Wednesday or Thursday depending on the time of year!
The Future of Lookout Pass – Steep Terrain is coming!
Finishing up on the slopes, we met with Jason Bergman, Marketing Director of the resort. Even with 18 years in the industry, skiing has kept him young both physically and at-heart. We talked about how amazing it would be to have more steep terrain access. His face illuminated as he said that is EXACTLY what they are planning in the next few years. He asked if we remember looking from the top of the Montana side. How could I forget!? The steep terrain in the St. Regis Basin looked amazing with massive steep faces dropping down into the valley. Jason grinned and said their plan is to install two new lifts to offer exactly that access!
Our conversation drifted to tomorrow’s plans. We definitively wanted to ride more but also hoped to get some backcountry in while we were in the area. Directly from his office, he pointed towards the other side of the expressway. Jason said the low angle terrain was perfect for us to experience their backcountry and find some secret stashes. With a plan set, we slapped high fives and headed back into town to celebrate the day. It was time to hit up Wallace Brewing. Yes, there are TWO breweries in town. Talk about my kind of place!
Wallace Brewing – An Award Winning Brewery
As day became night, snow began to lightly fall. Watching the flakes dance their way down in the orange glow of streetlights, we walked into the tasting room of Wallace Brewing. This isn’t your typical brewery. First, they’re known for their Lagers, which is a rarity in and of itself. Second, they are multi-award winning. Wallace Brewing is one of the ONLY Idaho breweries to win a Gold medal at Craft Beer Week in Bend, OR.
The Full Lineup
Chase, the owner, greets us and brings out flights of all their beers. He sits down and gives us the scoop on each one. All eight varieties were unique, memorable and worthy of a mention.
- Huckleberry Shandy – The first ever Shandy was invented in Germany for a bike race. The organizer didn’t order enough beer so he cut it with lemonade, which now has become a staple for cycling. With Wallace being such a mecca for summer biking, it makes sense they needed a Shandy. Wallace Brewing starts with house-made lemonade and throws in over 25 LBS of Huckleberries, locally picked. On a hot summer day, this is a nice light lager with a slightly tart finish that isn’t overly sweet.
- Compressor Smash (Amber Lager) – Between the town of Wallace and Mullan, an industrial region sits named the “Compressor District.” During the mining heyday, this area housed all the compressed air units needed for the mines to power the drills and pump fresh air underground. The complex flavors compressed into this light bodied lager fits it’s name perfectly.
- Red Light Irish Ale – Wallace was home to a “red light” district until the late 1980’s and was only shut down because the FBI was relentless. This apricotty Irish Ale has a texture reminiscent of marshmallows. It’s understandable that they won a bronze medal at the North American Beer Association.
1910 Black Lager – Out of all the beers on the list, this is THE beer everyone should try. A German Schwarzbier, this is the one that earned a gold medal at the Best of Craft Beers in Bend, OR. Just as the Great Fire of 1910 was the largest forest fire in US History, this beer will knock your socks off! The chocolate malt is cold steeped allowing you to taste the grain kernels. Words honestly cannot describe how delicious this beer is.
- 6:60 Pale Lager – The 6:60 stands for 6% ABV with 60 IBUs. This crisp brew doesn’t have the bitterness a 60 IBU would normally hold. The introduction of orange citrus notes allows the beer to finish smooth.
- Vindicator IPA – Named after the Mullan mine, this IPA goes back to the original style guidelines of what an IPA should be. This means you should taste the malts along with the hoppiness. Definitely a good option for anyone that enjoys an IPA.
- Jack Leg Stout – This slightly sweeter stout was off the menu for a few years, but it’s now back! Made with crushed oats, it tastes of dark chocolate and cherries. Normally stouts aren’t summer beers but this one pairs extremely well with vanilla ice cream.
- Wallace Strong Ale – Another medal winning beer. It’s a big, malty English strong ale that packs a wallop in taste and ABV. Once a year, they release an oak barrel aged version filled with oak spirals soaked in rye whiskey. If you find one of these limited edition ales, be sure to pick it up because they only produce 1000 bottles a year.
Touring the brewery, we learned Chase’s past is just as exciting as his present. In a corner of the brewery is a coat with a Bat Waves symbol on it. Chase is one of the founding members of this famed mitten manufacturer. I stood there dumbfounded! Back in the 90’s, this brand was seen EVERYWHERE in the world. Known for their quality, even Pros who weren’t sponsored by them wore their gloves. He pointed over to the other side of the street and said that was where they used to make them. Wow… This little town was a mega hot-bed in the snowboard culture arena! After a great conversation and a growler in-hand, it was time to grab dinner next door.
If you’re looking for a comfortable bar with character, amazing staff, and a great burger, then 1313 Club is your place when in Wallace. As soon as we walked into the restaurant, it felt like we’d been here a dozen times. With a big hello, Eric, the owner, sits us at the bar. He has a big up-beat positive personality that any true bar owner should hold, quickly cracking jokes and making you feel right at home. This is another great reason to visit Wallace in the winter. In the summer, the place is PACKED, trying to get everyone in and out. During the winter months, you get a chance to feel the soul of the town and connect with people. With a bit of guidance, we ordered some food.
Classic bar fare done right
In a jiffy, the five alarm burger and Macho Nachos show up. The burger had the right amount of spiciness to ignite your taste buds but not too much so you actually taste how juicy the burger is. If you do get a burger, be sure to ask for the beer battered fries. The batter is extra crispy yet still soft on the inside for the perfect fry. Now, the Macho Nachos are exactly what the name connotates… IT’S HUGE! They might not look big to some, but once you dig in, it feels like they’re never ending. To wash down your meal, their beer selection is amazing. On tap, they have quite a few of Wallace Brewing’s beers along with a North Idaho Mountain brew as well.
Looking outside, the light snowfall began to transition to bigger flakes. Finishing up dinner, it was time to head back to the Wallace Inn and get some rest. Tomorrow’s backcountry mission was going to be off the hook!