It’s been over a year since I’ve had a proper vacation.
I sometimes have to remind myself that I work to live, and that I don’t live to work. It’s a life lesson that I sometimes fail at. But, I recently decided to clear my calendar for 3 weeks for an unscripted vacation.
Where would I go?
West. In search of snow.
And that was my plan. I guessed that there would probably be some skiing involved, but I’d figure that out once I got out there. In preparation, I bought the Mountain Collective ski pass, which provides two days of skiing at 16 different ski areas. If you can make it to a few, it’s not a bad deal at $519.
My underlying plan was to not have too much of a plan — but to instead wake up each morning and decide where to go. I last did that on an extended road trip just out of college, and it was an incredibly freeing experience.
For this mid-winter trip, I originally planned to drive all the way west from Maryland, but I soon realized that would eat up too many days. So, I found the city with the cheapest flights and cheapest rental cars on short notice: Las Vegas. And I somehow managed to pack up skis, ski boots, a helmet, hiking boots, winter clothing and gear, photography equipment, and more without paying a single dollar in Southwest luggage fees. All of this equipment probably weighed about the same as me, but I somehow hauled it through the airport.
After arriving in Vegas, I headed straight for the suburb of Henderson, Nevada and cashed in Marriott points to get a free hotel room. Henderson has an REI store, so I swung by there to pick up even more gear that definitely is not going to fit in my luggage for the trip home. I’m smart that way.
I was pleased to find that REI still sells America the Beautiful Passes — which permit entry to National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands for a period of year. It’s $80 well spent, and I suspected I’d find an opportunity to put the pass to use in the next several weeks, since some of my favorite National Parks are out west.
The next morning, I pointed the car north and headed to Ely, Nevada, a beautiful town in the desolate northeast region of Nevada, reached from Las Vegas by driving along the desolate U.S. Route 93. Ely is the closest town of significance to Great Basin National Park, one of the least visited National Parks in the lower 48. Unfortunately, there was no time to visit Great Basin this trip; Ely was merely the halfway point to my destination for that night: Twin Falls, Idaho.
I spent a couple of hours in Ely at the Nevada Northern Railway National Historic Landmark. It’s a fascinating place. For over a century, an extensive railway system was used to support copper mining in central Nevada. But then the mines closed. The entire rail infrastructure — locomotives, rolling stock, stations, and support buildings — was handed over to a non-profit museum foundation. I had a chance to walk through facilities such as the engine house, and sitting on shelves was equipment that had sat there untouched for 50, 60, even 70 years. It was like a century-old train system had been perfectly preserved in a time capsule.
Volunteers continue to maintain much of the equipment, and a variety of train rides are offered throughout the year.
If you find yourself near Ely, the Nevada Northern Railway Museum is a must-see. And while you’re there, be sure to make the 1+ hour trek to Great Basin National Park to see some of the darkest night skies in the states, the Lehman Caves, and the bristlecone pine trees — some of which are estimated to be over 5,000 years old (and still living).
After spending time in Ely, it was time to hit the open road again. I continued north on Route 93, crossing into Idaho before arriving at night in Twin Falls.
As I was arriving, a light snow began to fall. That clinched it: my next stop would be skiing at Sun Valley Resort. Stay tuned…
M. Scott Smith is the founder and Editor of DCSki. Scott loves outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking. He is an avid photographer and writer.
Go Scott go! I'm excited to follow your trip. I've got MCP too and I'm going to do something similar in about two weeks. You might provide me with a good preview, although nobody can top your photography!
Targhee is skiing well.
Sounds like fun. I did something similar years ago, but it took me a year to do it. The goal was to ski at least one day every month of the year, ski at least a million feet of vert, and ski at least 20 different areas. I did everything from Stowe to Wisp to Taos, to Vail, to Mt. Hood, to Heavenly. Got in exactly 20 areas.
What no love for Lee Canyon in Las Vegas? You could of been skiing shortly after getting off the plane? Enjoy your trip
Thanks Scott. Great report. Looking forward to future installments.
I skied once at the top of the pass west of Ely. It took a while to find the post. Here it is.