Thursday, February 11, 2016

Road Trip! Take a tour of Magic Mountain and Pomerelle in a fantastic weekend getaway

Wendy skis a powdery bowl under the chair at Magic Mountain
Magic has some steeps off the top - plus some rock-launching opportunities 
Pomerelle has a new trip chair called E-Z Rider that accesses
Milk run, an immaculately groomed, perfect slope for people
learning how to ski or ride.  
Pomerelle has a down-home friendly uncrowded atmosphere ... and good food! 
On a sunny weekend in early February, I took my partner Wendy on a little ski stay-cation. Instead of driving to some of our favorite out-of-state resorts like Jackson Hole, Alta or Steamboat, we took a low-key approach and visited a couple of enchanting mom-and-pop ski areas right here in southern Idaho.
We visited Magic Mountain Resort  on Saturday, toured the mountain on alpine skis and cross-country skied a 4-mile loop to the top of the South Hills, and then hop-scotched to Pomerelle Mountain Resort   on Super Bowl Sunday and had a wonderful private Idaho experience there as well.

The allure of mom-and-pop ski areas is they harken back to the good ol' days of alpine skiing, when a two-person fixed-grip chairlift was luxurious compared to a rope tow, T-bar, and platter lift, lift tickets were relatively cheap, ski rentals cost a few bucks, and you had plenty of elbow room to enjoy the mountain.
Beginner hill at Pomerelle with magic carpet. Magic Mountain has a beginner
hill and a magic carpet as well, but a shorter hill. 
All of these things are still true at Magic Mountain and Pomerelle. Plus, both have been getting a 
TON of snow this year. Magic has 114 inches on top, and Pomerelle has a 122-inch base at the summit, while Grand Targhee has a 91-inch base, Sun Valley has 88 inches and Brundage has 90.  

In 30 years of living in Idaho, I had never skied Magic Mountain. But I think it's definitely worth checking out. It's a fun mountain with a nice mix of advanced, intermediate and easy terrain, a 750-foot drop, a cool terrain park with multiple rail features and big ramp jumps, and a cliff-band area offering even bigger jumping opportunities.  

"We're really geared to families," says Gary Miller, owner of Magic Mountain. "We've kept the prices down because we want the whole family to go. And the kids, they love the rock bands. We've got one cliff that's a 30- to 35-foot dropoff. And they love that, it's called Flathead. The kids really like flying. They want to get big air."

Lift fees are $31 for adults, $25 for seniors and military, $22 for kids aged 7-17, and kids under 6 ski free. Magic also has a fun tubing hill (tickets are $13), and 10 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails (groomed for classic skiing). Magic also offers lessons and ski rentals. The ski area is open Thursday-Sunday, and the tubing hill is open on Saturdays and Sundays.  
Two lifts service most of Pomerelle's skiable terrain, plus the magic carpet
for the beginner hill. 
Another bonus: It's easy to get there. You take the Kimberly exit on I-84 (1.5 hours from Boise; 2 hours from Idaho Falls; 1.5 hours from Pocatello), and go south on County G-3 to Magic Mountain in about 30-45 minutes. 

Pomerelle almost always has good snow because it's located on top of Howell Canyon at nearly 8,000-foot elevation. It has 1,000 feet of drop, one triple chairlift that serves the whole mountain, and a second triple chair -- new for this season -- that serves their core beginner and intermediate slopes and their terrain park.

Also geared toward families and kids, Pomerelle has a lot of ski school traffic, and affordable lessons for adults and teen-agers.  Group lessons cost $35 per person, and if you need rentals, the price is $40 for skiers and $45 for snowboarders -- that's a $20 savings right there.

"It's a great mountain to learn how to ski on or learn how to snowboard on. We've got mostly beginner and intermediate terrain. We have some pitches that will challenge anybody, but I call it a skier-friendly mountain," says Barry Whiting, Pomerelle Ski School Director.

Whiting's favorite slope is "Milk" run, where the ski instructors teach a lot of lessons. "It's a great opportunity for people to learn how to ski here."

I ran into a group of folks from Twin Falls on Sunday who were teaching their kids how to ski on Milk Run. "It's a nice place because you can teach you kids here," said one of the dads. "Milk run is great. It's nice and wide and not too steep."

Pomerelle's terrain park would be appealing for skiers and riders that like to get big air -- Colt 45 has intermediate and advanced rails and jibs, and a series of big kickers, where one could really fly high. Pomerelle is open seven days a week, it also has night skiing, and a bunny hill with a magic carpet.

Lift fees are $45 for adults, $33 for kids aged 7-12, and $17 for night skiing. Pomerelle operates 7 days a week. Pomerelle is easy to access, too. You take the Declo exit on I-84 and drive 25 miles to Pomerelle via Idaho 77. 
We did a 4-mile xc ski loop on classic gear
on nice groomed trails at Magic in the late afternoon. 

I was struck by the quality of grooming at Pomerelle. They have tree skiing and open bowls in the upper story of the mountain for people who like that kind of challenge, but many of their slopes are groomed top to bottom, beautiful corduroy for people to enjoy. I call it "hero skiing."

"Our secret is that we groom in the morning instead of the middle of the night," Whiting says. "That makes the snow ski really nice and fresh, almost like you've got a fresh layer of new snow."

Magic Mountain and Pomerelle serve a great niche in Southern Idaho, providing a low-cost place for skiers and riders to learn how to ski or ride, a place for teen-agers to enjoy terrain-park features, and a place for mom and dad to enjoy without breaking the bank. 
Wendy finishing up the Nordic adventure at Magic Mountain.
The xc trailhead is next to the chairlift. Very convenient. 

Now that the weather is getting a little warmer, and the days are getting longer, people can enjoy some spring skiing while there is still plenty of snow. It's time for the fair-weather skiers and riders to get out and revel in the sunshine.
For the best lodging options in the Magic Valley, search the Southern Idaho  Tourism web site for a full spectrum of pricing and locations. Wendy and I were lucky and stayed with friends on our trip.

One other tip: If you have backcountry gear, there are several great hike-to slopes immediately adjacent to Magic and Pomerelle that would provide excellent untouched powder runs. Carry climbing skins, an avalanche beacon, probe poles and a shovel, and go for it. I highly recommend it for backcountry devotees. 

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