Idahoans are famous for their love of the outdoors. Fishing, hunting and hiking have always been part of the Idaho experience. And not just in fair weather. Winter sports enthusiasts have their own winter paradise at Pebble Creek Ski Area, southeast of Pocatello, just four miles east of Inkom.
Located on the northwestern slope of Bonneville Peak, Pebble Creek’s rugged terrain challenges skiers of all levels. Bonneville Peak’s summit towers 9,271 feet above sea level, the highest elevation in the Portneuf Range, becoming the local winter sports mecca for southeastern Idaho. Named after Benjamin Bonneville, a U.S. Army officer, who explored the Intermountain West in the 1830s, Bonneville Peak’s rugged, majestic terrain at Pebble Creek Ski Area has been home away from home for generations of local skiers and snowboarders.
But Bonneville Peak was not the original destinationfor local skiers. And Pebble Creek was not its original name. In the 1930s, the first ski slope in the area was established at Lead Draw, which is located about a quarter mile off Mink Creek Road toward Scout Mountain. And oh, was it rugged! Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCCs,) made up primarily of unemployed city kids who were put to work in building outdoor construction projects throughout the United States. The U.S. Forest Service surveyed the Lead Draw area and put the CCCs to work building what became known as the Lead Draw Recreation Area. Alf Engen, a noted ski jumper from Norway was hired by the Forest Service to design a ski jump, probably the only ski jump in southeastern Idaho. But it was rarely used.
A beautiful lodge was built of native stone and logs, with its front paned in glass, allowing a spectacular view of skiers coming down the slopes. There was no electricity and water had to be hauled in by hand. In 1939, the Alpette Ski Club was formed and a tow rope was purchased to get skiers up the mountain. The club purchased a Swedish ski tow in 1946, which consisted of a small engine mounted on a toboggan. The club eventually built its own tow rope, using mining cable, powered by an automobile engine to transport skiers up the slopes. Though reliable, the cable was heavy and greasy.
Lead Draw closed during World War II, and when it reopened, snow did not accumulate in the area for several years. Eventually, skiers looked for other locations for a resort, finally settling on Bonneville Peak. What is now called “Pebble Creek” was originally known as “Skyline.” When the ski area opened, it boasted two rope tows and a warming hut. Original plans were to build on the east side of the mountain, but since it was so much farther to the east slope and access so much more isolated, the west slope was eventually developed. The Forest Service surveyed for a road, but its high construction cost (over $10,000) kept the county from building it. Joe Primb, his brother, and a few others bulldozed the switchbacks allowing access to the area, and Skyline opened the winter of 1948-49 with a tow rope. They opened only on weekends and lift tickets cost a dollar.
Paul Hill and his brother built the original hexagon lodge that same year, and eventually acquired Skyline, running it, until selling out in 1957. The lodge’s kitchen contained a gas stove that was used to fry hamburgers to feed the hungry skiers. Skiing equipment, though then state-of-the-art, was primative, but functional.
The Poma ski lift,invented by a French engineer named Pomagalski in the 1930s, could transport skiers quickly up ski slopes. But Pomas were expensive, and capital to buy them was scarce. However one was essential for the fledgling ski area. Debentures were sold at $500 each and owners threw in a season pass with each one purchased. Eventually $30,000 worth of debentures were sold, and most were converted to stock in the operating company. A second Poma was installed in 1960, with a double lift purchased in 1966, opening a steeper terrain for adventurous enthusiasts. A new lodge was constructed in 1968.
The area was renamed Pebble Creek the winter of 1979-80. But locals know it as “The Rock” because the mountain is hard, it’s rocky, but ideal for outdoor recreation. Pebble Creek was sold in 1978, then again a year later and its name changed to Pebble Creek Ski Area in 1979.
Currently, Pebble Creek has three triple chairlifts serving 1,100 acres of skiable terrain, rated at 12% beginner, 35% intermediate, and 53% advanced. The average annual snowfall is 250 inches. Snowmaking was added in the lower areas of the mountain in the 1990s.
Pebble Creek may be a relatively unknown area, rarely being in the same discussion with more glamorous destinations. But within the industry its reputation is well established, regularly being listed on publications’ lists of best places to ski, year after year. After all, as has been said time after time, “If you can ski Pebble Creek, you can ski anywhere.”
Source: Wikipedia 2021; The Rock: A History of Pebble Creek Ski Area by Julie Roche, 1998