Head East for a Family-Friendly Ski Getaway

What happens when a family packs the car with winter gear and heads out to sample some of the West’s best slopes? An epic adventure of fun and bonding ensues
  • Grand Targhee's slopes and snow
VIEW POINT: Grand Targhee’s slopes peek out from above the clouds; weather conditions on a visit by the author earned it the nickname “Grand Foggy”

This article appears in print in the January 2019 issue. Click here to subscribe.

Cresting foggy Snoqualmie Pass and breaking free from Seattle traffic, our ski trip east—to what the Idahoan in me calls the real Mountain West—feels like a long-calculated prison escape.

But we’re not exactly traveling light and fast. We have a week (-ish) to ski as much as we want, wherever we want. My husband, Jim, and I have two pairs of skis each (because good snow in Jackson Hole doesn’t always mean good snow at Bridger Bowl, and we are prissy about rocks) clamped onto the roof, and the sit-down ski contraption used by our son, Graham (who has cerebral palsy), takes up most of the trunk. Plus, we have enough snacks to feed everyone on Interstate 90.

We’ve planned our route to maximize skiing time and minimize the number of times a certain 9-year-old goes stir-crazy in the car. Driving gives us the time and space to connect with each other in a way we can’t in the cracks between school and dinner and homework, but we don’t want to be so sore from driving that we won’t enjoy the skiing adventures that lie ahead.

We’re lucky—Graham is almost always game for six hours of driving—so we plan a first night in Baker City, Oregon (370 miles), which was known in the mid-19th century as “the Paris of the West.” Although the town is less shiny today than the moniker suggests, staying at the Geiser Grand Hotel after a snowy horse-drawn sleigh ride through Baker City’s quaint downtown imbues us with the town’s gold-rush history. The next day, after a virtuous vegetable-laden breakfast at the Lone Pine Cafe, we ski at Anthony Lakes (35 miles), an affordable, family-focused hill where all the “lifties” know Graham’s name by the end of the day. Then it’s into the car for the three-hour drive to Boise (168 miles), where we’ll be staying with my parents and folding them into our subsequent journey.

FAMILY FUN From top: Graham hits the slopes with the aid of an instructor and his adaptive sit ski; Author Jess and her brother Josh taking a lunchtime break. Top photo courtesy of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Bottom photo courtesy of Jess Thompson.

Our requisite meal as we pull into my hometown is usually a burger at Hawkins Pac-Out, because skiing requires calories. Only this year, my parents volunteer to take Graham, so Jim and I can swill a few at The Modern Hotel & Bar, downtown Boise’s buzzy cocktail spot, then try the mind-bending carrot “steak” at Camel’s Crossing.

In the morning, we drive the twisty 18-mile road to the surprisingly big Bogus Basin, arriving early—even though the locals-driven mountain is far less busy than many of its more famous counterparts (cough, Sun Valley, cough)—and venture into the trees once the mountain’s powder-packed backside opens. (Bogus, as it’s called, actually has more skiable terrain than Sun Valley; at 2,600 acres, it matches our local Crystal Mountain.) We’ve also promised Graham that we’ll try the Glade Runner mountain coaster, which hurtles people 4,000-plus feet down the mountain in little carts. Jim and I drag our feet until we can avoid the ride no longer, but we all have an embarrassingly good time.

As we drift across the Idaho desert toward Wyoming (363 miles) in the dark at the end of the day, driving begins to feel like…well, driving. Jim and I invent a crass version of bingo in which the game’s squares are driver types: Dog in Lap, Might Be Drinking, Just Broke Up, Texting Mom, etc. The upside of a massive road trip (MRT, if you’d like to borrow our acronym) is that you have time to have fun in totally new ways.

The downside is the inevitable rookie move—like when we figure out 50 miles from our destination, Grand Targhee, that we forgot to replace our regular Seattle wiper fluid with the winter stuff. It’s frozen solid in the conduits under the hood, which is inconvenient when it’s 21 degrees and snowing outside. But every good ski trip requires driving some portion of the journey with one’s head and/or arm out the window, and ours is no exception. We pull into the slope-side Teewinot Lodge (which looks exactly as I remember it from 1992) and stumble gratefully toward a comfortable bed.

After a disappointing morning spent mostly feeling invisible at “Grand Foggy,” as it’s now known in my extended family, we call it a short day and head toward Jackson, Wyoming (45 miles). Targhee can have sensationally deep snow, but my highlight remains the breakfast burrito at Snorkels Café (a reference to snow so deep that, some say, a snorkel is needed to breathe).

It’s not unusual to spot a bull moose near Jackson Hole

Luckily, Jackson Hole is rarely a letdown. We feel a little frisky when we hear the rumble of the (newish) tram, see a moose in the parking lot and gape at the area’s vast skiable terrain. Graham has previously had wonderful experiences with the adaptive skiing program here, so we feel good signing him up for another lesson and surrender to the guidance of my brother Josh, who moonlights as a Jackson Hole ski instructor and (predictably) kicks all our butts. (Word to the wise: Don’t eat a whole waffle at Corbet’s Cabin if you know you don’t ski well on a full stomach.)

A waffle from Corbet’s Cafe atop Rendevous Peak in Jackson Hole provides fuel for a day on the slopes. Photos by Jess Thompson.

Naturally, as the first of three days we spend here winds down, there is après-ski to be had. At The Handle Bar, the slope-side party on the bottom level of Teton Village’s Four Seasons hotel, I choose PBR and a hot coffee, while Jim explores the whiskey list and Graham gorges on tater tots. For a place with a fancy name, it does high-low so well. In fact, all of Jackson does—it’s an excellent place to feel like you’re experiencing world-class skiing at a very luxurious level and revel in being a complete dirtbag. That night, we’re happy to eat a grocery-store rotisserie chicken in the bespoke lobby at the cheaper but hip Mountain Modern Motel, drinking canned local beer. The next day, it’s pocket sandwiches for lunch and sweat-inducing Thai food at Thai Me Up (no joke) in town for dinner. Back at the hotel, we guzzle water and mourn our departure.

A room at The Lark in Bozeman, Montana is a welcome respite after a day outside. Photo courtesy of The Lark.

But all good things must end—or at least, that’s what we’re thinking, when on the third day, we leave early to drive the windy steppe between Jackson and Bozeman, Montana (227 miles), to meet my sister. She plies us with Roost fried chicken (you do want the vinegar dip) and sends us to The Lark, another lovely Pendleton-blanketed motel, whose best trick is taking your car keys, so your vehicle is warm and waiting outside your room (sometimes scraped free of snow!) when you’re ready to go skiing. After delicate ebelskivers and hearty huevos rancheros at Lot G Café, just outside town, we choose the local hill, Bridger Bowl (17 miles), over the more illustrious Big Sky—and don’t spend a moment looking back.

In fact, I mostly look up, because when you climb “The Ridge,” as part of the backcountry at the top of the mountain is known, you hike what feels like the shortest distance to the sky. After a lap or two of heart-pounding hiking and thrilling turns down in steep, deep snow, I remember I have a child. I give my husband a turn, and watch Graham, from a seated position, ski the white path of dreams, with powder streaming right over his head with each turn. We get 10 inches of snow in five hours, but it feels like air. (They don’t call Montana snow “the cold smoke” for nothing.) Sweaty and exhausted, we head back the car. When we open the trunk in the storm, the new bumper sticker collection we’ve amassed for Graham’s sit-ski flutters away in the wind.

All told, our ski week was a great adventure, in part because we got to see an interesting array of ski-area personalities, and in part because we were for the first time able to bring our own sit-ski and take Graham on skiing adventures ourselves (rather than hiring an adaptive instructor for him at every place, as we have in the past). The drive home (693 miles) was no kind of fun. Nobody ever won at bingo. But we spent the week plugging into life from a different angle—one in which we were simply mobile and ready for outdoor adventure, committed to spending time with family, and resolved to be happy with whatever the big, wide West chose to give us.


Days 1 and 2
Seattle to Baker City, Oregon
Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort, Baker City, 47500 Anthony Lakes Hwy.; 541.856.3277
Geiser Grand Hotel (and Geiser Grand Sleigh Rides), Baker City, 1996 Main St.; 888.434.7374; from $109
Lone Pine Cafe, Baker City, 1825 SE Main St.; 541.523.1805

Days 2 and 3
Baker City, Oregon, to Boise, Idaho
Bogus Basin ski area, Boise, 2600 N Bogus Basin Road; 208.332.5100
Camel’s Crossing, Boise, 1304 W Alturas St.; 208.385.0250
Hawkins Pac-Out, Boise, 2315 N Bogus Basin Road; 208.338.9627
The Modern Hotel and Bar, Boise, 1314 W Grove St.; 208.424.8244; from $133

Days 3 and 4
Boise, Idaho to Alta, Wyoming, to Jackson, Wyoming
Grand Targhee Resort, Alta, 3300 Ski Hill Road; 307.353.2300
Snorkels Café, (in Grand Targhee Resort), 3300 Ski Hill Road; 307.353.2300
Corbet’s Cabin, Rendezvous Peak; 307.739.2688
Handle Bar, Teton Village, 7680 Granite Loop Road; 307.732.5000
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Teton Village, 3395 Cody Lane; 307.733.2292
Mountain Modern Motel, Jackson, 380 W Broadway; 307.733.4340; from $109
National Elk Refuge, Jackson, 532 N Cache St.; 307.733.0277
Thai Me Up/Melvin Brewing, Jackson, 75 E Pearl Ave.; 307.733.0005

Days 6 and 7
Jackson, Wyoming, to Bozeman, Montana
Bridger Bowl ski area, Bozeman, 15795 Bridger Canyon Road; 406.587.2111
The Lark, Bozeman, 122 W Main St.; 866.464.1000; from $129
Lot G Cafe, Bozeman, 109 E Oak St., No. 1J; 406.600.6802
Roost Fried Chicken, Bozeman, 1520 W Main St.; 406.404.1475

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