For the sake of fourth-grade history class, Henry Black, of New Plymouth, found himself riding a chairlift far away from home Friday afternoon, at Inkom-based Pebble Creek Ski Area.
Throughout the winter, the 10-year-old has been on a school project-inspired quest to hit the slopes at all 20 Idaho ski areas in a single season.
“I like to ski and being able to ski and do homework at the same time is just great,” said Henry, a New Plymouth Elementary School student who learned to ski when he was just 3.
He’s visited big ski areas, such as Schweitzer Mountain in Sandpoint, and a few neighborhood hills served only by a rope tow. He’s been particularly fond of the hills that are in the middle — like Pebble Creek — where he’s been treated to the right mix of good terrain and small-town atmosphere.
Throughout his winter journey, Henry has also experienced sites, attractions and historic places throughout the Gem State that he wouldn’t have otherwise seen.
The state’s fourth-graders study Idaho history, and kids in Henry’s family always think big when planning their related Idaho history project. Henry’s big sister drove to every border state, and even Canada, photographing welcome signs of adjacent jurisdictions. The family also stopped at every historical marker they passed on her trip.
Henry chose to research the history of skiing in Idaho, aiming to make a trip to every ski hill and mountain. He’ll write a paper based on his research.
Henry has learned that Sun Valley, located near Ketchum, was the first destination resort in North America. It was also the birthplace of the chairlift, which was inspired by the equipment Union Pacific Railroad used to lift bananas off of boats and onto trains.
As Henry discovered, Sun Valley is not the oldest ski area in Idaho. That honor belongs to Lookout Pass, which is located near the Montana border in Mullan, Idaho. Lookout Pass will celebrate its 85th anniversary this year.
After logging five runs at Pebble Creek, along with his mother and two brothers, Henry rated the local ski hill as eight out of 10 stars.
“It was really steep and I liked that. It also had a lot of jumps and stuff which I really like,” Henry said.
His only knock on the hill was that the weather during his visit was cold and windy; he’d like to return for some future bluebird day.
Dana Kmetz, Pebble Creek’s marketing and guest services director, said fifth- and sixth-graders from other parts of the state routinely visit the Inkom ski hill with their families due to the Idaho Peak Season Passport, offered by Ski Idaho.
After paying an $18 program participation fee, fifth-graders in the state can all receive three free lift tickets to 17 participating Idaho resorts, while sixth-graders receive two tickets. Sun Valley charges an additional $20 fee for passes through the program.
“We routinely hear that Pebble Creek is a nice surprise — that they’ve heard about it and it’s kind of under the radar and they want to come back,” Kmetz said, describing typical reactions after people from other areas ski the local terrain.
After changing out of his winter clothes on Friday evening, Henry’s family reported they were on pace to complete their lofty quest by Saturday. His mother, Becky, said they were bound to spend the night with her parents in Rexburg before a whirlwind day of skiing. They were headed to Kelly Canyon in Idaho Falls, Cottonwood Butte Ski Area in Cottonwood and Chipmunk Hill Ski Area in Challis.
Chipmunk was closed based on snow conditions when the family first attempted to ski it earlier this season. Becky vowed they would get a run in, even if it required hiking.
Becky and her husband have taken turns driving the kids to various ski hills to work through the list. To make it happen, the family had to pass on a trip to Hawaii. Henry also wrote letters several months ago requesting comped lift passes from ski hills, seeking to keep the family’s costs down. The vast majority of ski area operators complied.
Prior to this season, the only Idaho ski areas Henry had visited were Bogus Basin in Boise, Brundage Mountain Ski Resort in McCall and Tamarack Resort in Tamarack.
“We study Idaho history and we have thee books and it’s naming off all of these special places and cool stuff in Idaho,” Henry said. “Idaho is also famous for its skiing.”
Tony Harrison, publicist for Ski Idaho, is impressed by Henry’s ambition.
“We do get a lot of people purchasing the Idaho Peak Season Passport but they’re typically only using it at two or three, maybe four or five resorts,” Harrison said. “This is the first time I’ve heard about anybody trying what Henry is trying.”
Harrison appreciates the culture unique to each of Idaho’s ski areas. For example, at Cottonwood Butte, there’s an annual “escape” event in which skiers dress up in old-time prison outfits in recognition of the nearby minimum-security prison. Harrison agrees with Henry that Pebble Creek is set apart by its challenging topography.
“I love Pebble Creek. I have skied that numerous times and I just love the steep pitches,” Harrison said. “You don’t get steep pitches like that at a lot of our mountains.”