History buffs and schussers strike it rich in Idaho’s Panhandle.
Years ago, a few fortune-seeking miners used black powder to blast open Idaho’s Silver Valley. Today, a different kind of powder is sparking an explosion of interest in the region: the deliciously dry snow, some 300 inches of it annually, that blankets the valley’s Silver Mountain Resort. And thanks to the area’s other attractions, including Wallace, a town with a sense of history and a sense of humor, the Silver Valley makes for a great escape whether you’re a skier or not.
Silver Mountain Resort, which lies in the Idaho Panhandle at Kellogg, just 130 miles west of Missoula on Interstate 90, offers powder hounds the world’s longest single-stage gondola. Running 3.1 miles from the resort’s Gondola Village to the Mountain Haus ski lodge, it whisks riders up nearly 4,000 vertical feet in 20 minutes, providing them plenty of time to plan their attack on the mountain’s 67 runs. Off the slopes, historic buildings in Kellogg are being spruced up for visitors, and a day spa and a tapas bar—rarities in this no-nonsense region—opened recently in Gondola Village.
Old Mission State Park, in Cataldo, 10 miles west of Kellogg, is home to Idaho’s oldest building, the Mission of the Sacred Heart. Built—without nails—by Jesuit priests and members of the Coeur d’Alene tribe, it was completed in 1853.
After you’re done skiing, there are plenty of reasons to stay on. Just 12 miles from Kellogg lies the hamlet of Wallace, which has preserved much of its bona fide boomtown past. The entire downtown is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is home to antique stores, hotels, and such attractions as the Wallace District Mining Museum, which highlights the tools and toils of a miner’s workday, and the Oasis Bordello Museum, which details a miner’s, ahem, day off.
The town proclaimed itself the Center of the Universe in 2004, and you can drive over the commemorative manhole cover at Bank and Sixth streets. In the spring, you can catch the ear-rattling, subterranean demonstrations of slushers and muckers on a tour deep inside the Sierra Silver Mine.
Once the snow melts, Silver Valley visitors will also discover a thriving biking scene, with gnarly single-track trails at Silver Mountain, 73 miles of riverside riding on the Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes bike path, and 15 miles of tunnels and trestles along the Route of the Hiawatha railroad grade. Snow or sun, the Silver Valley is always a blast.
Photography by Scott Spiker
This article was first published in November 2005. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.