Ask any of the skiers, snowboarders or snow enthusiasts about their favorite skiing destination in the central Idaho Panhandle and you will receive just one answer that is the – Lookout Pass Ski Area. This resort houses the most popular downhill skiing area along with the best of the six each of the Nordic and ski touring facilities right at one spot.
Numerous families and their children have a great many memories when it comes to Lookout Pass. Often, children are really into downhill skiing or snowboarding. Now, all these families would choose Lookout because this is probably the only such ski resort which provides parents to ski freely, away from the crowd so that they could expense into the scenic Bitterroot high country or they could also glide down the abandoned railroad grades. All of this while their children themselves engage in their own activates.
Base Elevation: 4500 feet
Summit Elevation: 5650 feet
Vertical Drop: 1150 feet
The Lookout Pass is within the Rocky Mountain which is further located in the northwestern section of the United States. This pass in-fact borders between Idaho and Montana, and is traversed by Intersection number 90. The elevation at the point of intersection is about 4,710 feet or 1,436 meters above the sea level. From this mountain pass, there are numerous sprouting of trials and hiking terrains which further lead to destinations which are discussed below.
The resort and the recreational area is located right at the Lookout pass. It is further 5 miles or 8 kilometers away from Mullan and has a summit elevation of 1,720 meters or 5,650 feet which are on the Runt Mountain. The vertical drop is a beautiful 1,150 feet or 350 meters and the slope faces the north-eastern direction.
Lookout Pass Ski Area was opened to the public way back in 1935 and functions under a special-use permit which was granted by the U.S. Forest Services. It operates 5 days in a week and Tuesdays and Wednesdays are closed during the season and are open every day during the Christmas vacation break. Since the year 2003, the resort has nearly tripled in size.
The resort offers a minimum of six (the best ones) touring options for people who are into cross-country and touring skiing. Go through the following list to get an idea.
The Lookout Pass Ski Area itself is located right on the Runt Mountain. The route around the mountain measures a distance of about 5 miles or 8 kilometers and it goes over St. Regis Pass. This route is convenient because it begins exactly from the parking area of Lookout Pass. What is interesting is that this parking lot is built on the former grade of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Once you are there at the parking area, you will then have to move towards the northern end of the lot. You will realise that the trail thereon is well groomed and leads northwards and then goes on to wrap around the mountain by moving in the western direction.
This grooming is a part of the old railroad grade and now, the snow machine trail network. It is advisable that you must be courteous to the users of these machines. In any case, there will always be enough amount of space for everyone to move around. This grade then leads you down the slope and around the slope. Once you are en route you will first be passing through the base of a ski lift and then will begin the journey uphill on a steep road which is about a mile and a half from the base. Further, there are also a few sections of this road which involve bits of a climb. Remember, there could be ice on the road, now in that case you will have to step on the side and then carefully go up the steepest parts of your journey. Respect the trail and it will respect you, this is the sort of adages that you will get to hear every once in a while and mind you this is very much a histories trail. For all you history buffs out there, this road is one of the only two remaining intact sections of the Mullan Wagon Road in Idaho. As you pass through the quarter distance mark the grade will turn gradual and then the road to St. Regis Pass is just a straight way ahead.
Skiers can thereon head in the south-east direction while they pass through the open timbers, and finally be heading down straight into the St. Regis Basin. The way to identify this route is that, while you are heading down, on your left will be ski runs. Now, all you have to do is follow this trail down and you will be able to reach the upper section of the St. Regis Valley. Going a little further the Northern Pacific Grade will emerge on to you. Moreover, if you feel lethargic and wish to go back in that case all you have to do is follow the rail grade and in no time you will find yourself back in the Lookout Pass parking lot.
Skiers and snowmobile users will find the Northern Pacific Railroad grade quite facilitating. This is mainly because this grade is largely abandoned and poses numerous avenues. To illustrate, if you go down the railroad and then head eastward to the Taft, or even further in the west you will have options such as the Hale Hatchery. The Hatchery is above Mullan and quite easily accessible. However, the journey from Mullan to Taft is otherwise a little challenging but in any case easily traversed and the entire journey can be done in just a day’s time.
Interestingly, this grade is part of a groomed snowmobile trail system. This trail system has been constructed in such a manner that it provides an adequate amount of width, furthermore, due to the grooming skiers can pass through with a substantial amount of ease. The trail has a packed base which further facilitates movement of those who are into skijoring. During those days when the grooming is fresh, it becomes perfect for skate skiers. You can also arrange a car pickup with the resort if you just want to traverse one way.
Now, there are opportunities for a minimum of three skiing tours once you are into the St. Regis Lakes and Copper Lake Basins which are situated near to the Lookout. You can use snowshoes on these routes. Avalanches are a real danger in this section so be aware of your surroundings at all times and carry an avalanche transceiver, and snow shovel. Snowmobiles often add to the dangers of an avalanche.
If you move further from the southern end of the Lookout Pass’ Parking Lot and then follow the railroad grade down into the St. Regis River crossing – you will further have to ski right across the river and then turn right in the western direction leading straight up to the valley. A hiking trail also follows this route. The regulars of this region post a caution whereby all the passers-by must stay in the south of the river. A trail will intersect a wider road further up in the valley and at a point about halfway to the lake, it will be necessary to cross right to the northern side of the river. The final pitch of the lake can be easily covered through in skins or snowshoes. Now, if you are unable to climb through the upper lakes then you might as well continue up the bottom of the basin to the south-west and then ski over the relatively gentler terrain. The total distance between the railroad grade to the lakes is just 2.25 miles or 3.6 kilometers.
This tour is far less prone to avalanches as compared to the ridges between St. Regis and South Fork Coeur d’Alene Basins. It is safer but far windier. The road climbs up to St. Regis Basin and then head south and east. Now, the Stevens Lake Basin is going to be in the south and west whereas the northern side will be occupied by the upper Silver Valley. The rugged terrain which covers the region entirely is, as a matter of fact, the most rugged in the whole of northern Idaho.
If you want to travel to Copper Lake Basin then all that you have to do is be on the same route to St. Regis River. You then continue along the railroad grade further 1 mile or 1.6 kilometers to Copper Gulch. As you reach the gulch the next important step will be for you to go looking for a hiking trailhead marker. The Copper Gulch turns quite sharply behind the lake but it slopes to the south of the lake and it can provide a good telemarking opportunity if the avalanche occurs.
The distance between Lookout Pass’ parking lot and Taft is about 9.25 miles or 14.8 kilometers. It can be reached from the southern end of the parking lot at Lookout Pass. From the parking lot, you will have to ski downhill in the southern direction on the railroad grade. After a bit of distance, the grade begins to turn westwards. Thereon it forms a loop and crosses the St. Regis River. Once you are around the loop the road begins to move east and finally into the southeastern passing of Copper Gulch, and again east towards the Borax Tunnel. This section is further removed from the Interstate number 90. However, the only section which comes closest to the Interstate 90 is the one of the long runs to Borax Tunnel.
Further, you will reach a hairpin turn on the left just after a quarter of a mile distance is covered, right before the Borax Tunnel. From this point on you will move down. Herein you will notice that the trail here on is thickly lined with timber. Now, skiing down this road is like skiing through knuckles. Therefore, you are required to be careful and at all times in constant control. Now, if you wish to avoid the turbulence then you might as well take the un-groomed grade which is at the top of this very trail. In fact, this is one of the more frequently used terrains and you will also notice that it has signs created by snowmobile users.
Remember that once you are at the tunnel you will be required to remove your skis and then proceed on foot. There will be no otherwise reason to worry as the tunnel is short and pretty much straight. You will be able to see the other end once you are there on the other. One will just require a flashlight and you will be set to go. Don’t forget to shine the light up the ceiling as over there you will be able to see icicles hanging.
Once you are out of the tunnel just follow the looping grade. It will then move in the western direction and will end in the cut-across trail. Herein, the grade will pass right under the Interstate and at this point again the skis will have to be taken off and then you will head on a short walk.
Now, once you have crossed the Interstate, the grade will reach St. Regis River and then turns towards the east. The ski is a bit long but is fairly straight to the point it reaches the Taft. At this point, you will notice that the slope faces south so during spring time snow would melt away faster. Interstate rest stop is simply downhill once you are off the grade while going towards Taft.
Next, a little ahead of the rest area the grade once again passes under Interstate 90. Further, once again you will have to take off your skies and take a short walk. From this point on Taft is just a few minutes away. The marker to identify Taft is – a large parking lot which is there to accommodate snowmobile trailers.
You can ski the entire grade or ski downhill at a certain point and then return back to Lookout Pass. The uphill ski is relatively easier because the grade only exceeds about 2% at the top.
The distance between Lookout and Hale Hatchery is just about 7.9 miles or 12.6 kilometers. This journey will take you along the Northern Pacific grade. Further, all such adventures begin right at the Lookout Parking lot. All that you have to do is follow the grade in the north and then in the west while it goes on and wraps around the Runt Mountain. You will have to traverse several miles along the hillside above the interstate and then go towards the Willow Creek Valley. The coolest part about this way is that there are a few picnic facilities installed near to the Silver Valley.
Now, at two locations the railroads have been removed and at these very locations, the route temporarily leaves the grade. But, they loop back again together after a while. While you are travelling down the grade on any given day, skiers will get a fantastical view.
Once you begin approaching Willow Creek you will notice a sharp switch in the grade. Then the route goes further downhill right into the northeastern section of the grade. Most importantly, you must follow the grooming and not the tire tracks if you want to head towards Willow Creek Road. Thereon the grade will begin to cross under the Interstate 90 and will remain to proceed in the northeastern direction – heading straight to Hale Hatchery.
When you reach the Mullan Pass Road you will have to remove your skis and then walk ahead. It in fact depends on the condition of the snow just test your way ahead and you just might be able to cross the entire way wearing your skis if everything turns out right. In any case, as you move further you will enter a large loop which apparently crosses the South Fork Coeur d’Alene River. In the west, this loop will begin to straighten and the grade will meet a proper road. At this point, you will have to turn left and while you are on this road will reach a bridge. Here there is a parking area where cars can be parked. Typically, you can find a few trout at the hatchery along with a pleasant view.
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