Lookout Pass

The ski area discovered by freight-hoppers, which grew into a real winter sport destination.

Today we have heli-skiing for the true adventurers who want to tackle untamed powder, but in the early 1900s it took real ingenuity to access downhill ski areas off the beaten path. Located in the middle of nowhere, Lookout Pass only exists because of the Northern Pacific Railroad and the Mullan Road.

Lookout Pass was part of the first big boom of National Ski areas in the US in the early 20th Century. The ski area was said to have been first used by a group of Scandinavians local to the Idaho/Montana border area, who use Northern Pacific Freight Cars to access the alpine ski area. Officially established as an alpine skiing area in 1935, a tow rope was installed in 1936 using car parts from an abandoned wreck on the old Yellowstone Highway (now known as I-90) nearby. Lookout is located in the Northern Rocky Mountains at the crest of the Bitterroot Range.

On February 24th, 1938 it was officially opened to the public by the Idaho Ski Club under the name Lookout Pass Ski Area. In true Idaho humor, a highway maintenance shed was nicknamed the “Buzzard’s Roost” and served as a warming hut for adventurers on the pass with its pot-belly stove and homemade soups and sandwiches.

The historic base lodge was built in 1941 with help from the Civilian Construction Corps, commissioned by the US Forest Service. The lodge was dedicated on December 7th, 1941. It became the second oldest ski lodge in the Pacific Northwest, second only to the Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood in Oregon. The lodge seen today at the resort has received a number of updates and expansions, but the center core of the building is the original lodge.

In the 1950’s the lift tickets were only $.50, but keep in mind that and the lodge itself was quite small and the pass still operated the rope tow. The first chairlift was built in 1980. The pass received financing from several Silver Valley mining companies with the goal of use of the area for recreation by their employees.

The Lookout Pass ski patrol is also one of the first few registered National Ski Patrol members in the nation, with registration number 009 and now over 75 years of service. Lookout’s Famous Free Ski School for children ages 6 to 17 was founded in 1942 by the Lookout Pass Free Ski School organization. Since it’s opening, it has introduced well over 60,000 children to the world of skiing and snowboarding and is the longest running ski school of its kind.

With the mining industry in decline in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, a group of locals banded together to keep Lookout open with the reduction in finances. It became a commercial venture in 1991 and was acquired by Lookout Associates LLC and began its expansion to the present day.

Lookout Pass is on the divide that creates the Idaho – Montana state line. The ski area is one of three national ski areas where skiers can ski in two states. They get an average of 400 feet of annual snowfall and are widely known for their powder skiing. The resort is currently in process of another expansion which will brush shoulders with another piece of local history, the Mullan Road.