The big resorts get all the press, but sometimes it’s fun to explore the locals’ mountain for a day.
After a few days of skiing Grand Targhee, just across the Idaho border in Wyoming, I landed at Kelly Canyon Resort, a 640-acre playground in Ririe, Idaho, about a half hour’s drive from Idaho Falls.
Unless you’re from Wydaho, as they call this region of eastern Idaho and western Wyoming, you’ve probably never heard of it. And unless you’re already in the area, there’s probably no reason to make a special trip out from Texas.
But Kelly’s oozes vintage charm. It’s no frills and basic, with a small rental shop, a ski school, a restaurant, and a place to eat your own food, complete with a sign that says,” No coolers, no crockpots, no camping.” You’ll park in a dirt lot, and you won’t find fancy amenities. The place opened in 1957.
Come to Kelly Canyon for the old-school charm and cheap tickets
Fair enough. What you do get is a nice, old-school vibe and the feeling that you’ve landed in that old holiday classic movie, “White Christmas.” You also get about 1,000 feet of vertical drop between the summit and the base.
Just this year, the resort installed its first triple chair lift. That makes the trip to the top of the hill faster than if you ride one of the three old-fashioned (and slow) double lifts, which also whir skiers and boarders up the mountain. (Ride with someone you like; half the fun is those lift conversations.) There’s a conveyer belt to whisk kids to the top of the bunny slopes, too.
Another bonus? No crowds. The longest line this year was six minutes, and that was between Christmas and New Year’s, according to operations manager Dean Lords.
Yesterday’s temperatures hovered just shy of 40, and the resort hasn’t seen significant snowfall since December, Lords says. He says it’s the driest season in five years. Still, grooming is good enough that the resort has been able to keep most of its intermediate terrain open and in decent shape, despite a base of only about 2 feet of snow. This week a new snow making machine was installed, and already it was spitting out slightly gritty artificial “snow.”
We peeled off the layers of clothing and dove right in. Skiing through mushy snow is its own kind of fun, although you have to watch for patches of “grabby” snow. It’s like driving fast and then yanking on the parking brake. Don’t pay attention and you might find yourself on the ground, like I did once.
Runs are rolling and gentle, and wind through groves of pines. We took laps, trying to sniff out the best snow. We didn’t find any freshies, but we had a blast.
Here’s another thing. Skiing is expensive. A lift ticket at nearby Jackson Hole ski resort costs about $200 a day for an adult, without discounts. Here at Kelly Canyon, a full-day ticket for an adult is $59, or $69 on Friday and Saturday. That includes night skiing, if you want it. Monday through Saturday, the resort fires up the lights on the hill and you can ski until 8:30 p.m.
If you go to Kelly Canyon
The resort is tucked in the Big Hole Mountains, and besides providing a great training ground for local skiers and boarders, it serves mountain bikers during the summer. Heise Hot Springs just down the road makes the perfect place for a post-ski soak.
Another tip? Get lunch at the small restaurant at the base – and don’t miss the “Goat Bites,” tiny fried doughnut bits served with huckleberry butter.
Kelly Canyon Ski Resort is located at 5488 E. Kelly Canyon Road in Ririe, Idaho.