Having trouble making up your mind about where you want to ski? Lookout Pass makes a tough decision a little bit easier with its location straddling the Idaho-Montana border. Visitors can ski in not only two states in one day, but in one trip down the mountain. That perk is just one of the many ways Lookout Pass provides customers with more bang for their buck, a quality the mountain has taken pride in for nearly 90 years.
"We were open before even Sun Valley, so it's the oldest ski area in Idaho and arguably the oldest in Montana," says Matt Sawyer, director of marketing at Lookout Pass.
Set at the top of the productive Silver Valley mining district on the windward crest of the Bitterroot Range, Lookout Pass is a magnet for massive snowfall totals — and since expanding onto Eagle Peak last year, Lookout's annual average has increased to more than 450 inches. That location, along with the demographics of the valley below, made Lookout Pass an obvious spot for a ski area when it was founded in 1935.
"It was founded by people that came out of the mining and the logging industry. So obviously the mines and the logging were here, and a lot of those workers came from Scandinavian countries. The mines actually built the ski area as a recreation point for their employees," Sawyer says.
The ski area has grown and modernized since those first slopes were cleared, but it hasn't lost touch with its locally focused history.
Visitors still pass through the original lodge, built in 1941 as a Civilian Conservation Corps project, though expansions over the years now accommodate more visitors. An expansion this year brings a second lodge, adjacent to the original, which will provide additional heated seating and respite from the elements.
The new lodge isn't a traditional building, but rather a steel frame structure with a heavy duty vinyl enclosure. It's yet another example of Lookout Pass opting to go with a no-frills approach to getting the job done without passing excess costs onto the customer.
"We're not a destination with onsite lodging and built up community and all that. As a day-ski area [we don't have] lodging, [or] that congestion that creates, or the need to market it or have to support it," says Sawyer.
With last year's enormous change of opening the Eagle Peak expansion, Lookout added elevation and nearly doubled its amount of skiable terrain. This year, visitors can expect some subtle changes as Lookout looks to perfect the Eagle Peak experience.
"We've done a lot of grooming over on Eagle Peak, taking out stumps. The terrain over there has been more manicured. We've taken dozers up there and made the transitions better plowed out," says Sawyer.
Visitors will get to experience that improved terrain sooner than they have before. First of all, runs will be able to open earlier as the mountain no longer needs to wait for enough snow to cover the stumps. Once those runs open, visitors will be whisked to the top faster than ever.
Improvements to the gearbox on the Eagle Peak lift have shaved 2 1/2 minutes off the previously 16-minute ride. Over the course of a full day on the slopes, those extra couple of minutes can add up to multiple more runs down the mountain.
Another time-saving improvement new this year is the addition of an outdoor ticketing kiosk between the lodge and the main lift. Visitors who made reservations in advance can skip the line, scan a code at the kiosk and pick up their ticket on their way to the lift. ♦
Q&A WITH JOHN BATCHELDER
What's the best advice you have to keep people injury-free?
When you're beginning, take lessons from somebody you don't know. Oftentimes like a boyfriend tries to teach a girlfriend, and that's going to end that relationship. You need to get somebody who's experienced, but somebody who you're not in a close relationship with because then it is challenging to learn the sport, whether you're boarding or skiing, and you don't need that extra tension and frustration in a close relationship.
What do you love most about Lookout Pass?
The atmosphere of it being a small family type of resort, but it has a variety of terrain and on mountain and off-piste options right there.
What's your favorite place to ski on the mountain?
My favorite run is Keystone off of Chair Two. It's a groomed run, but it tends to get groomed early in the shift. So if it's snowing there could still be 4, 5 or 6 inches on top of a nice groomed run. It's got a great pitch, a good width and a great length.
John Batchelder, who has three kids, was lured 24 years ago into the ski patrol by the perk of a free family season pass. Batchelder is still patrolling the slopes as the pro patrol director at Lookout Pass. When he's not on the mountain, he's likely cruising on his motorcycle.