Schweitzer ski resort: Big on powder, light on parties

November 24, 2014

Silver Mountain's indoor water park lets visitors go from snowboard to surfboard in a matter of minutes.

For ski vacations, I often make a beeline for British Columbia where lots of ski resorts have exactly what I want. Resorts such as Whistler Blackcomb, Sun Peaks and Big White are within a day’s drive of Seattle and offer fun ski villages; ski-in, ski-out lodging; and lots of varied terrain.

But I decided to break out of my B.C. rut last spring and try a ski area that, happily, doesn’t involve the often-slow border crossing between the U.S. and Canada. I drove east to Idaho’s Schweitzer Mountain Resort, a place I’d long heard about but had never skied.

Schweitzer perches in the rolling Selkirk mountains of Northern Idaho, with 2,900 acres of skiing and boarding spread over two big bowls and with a small ski village at the base of the lifts. It turned out to be an excellent site for a snow-sports getaway — as long as you don’t want a lot of après-ski action. Here’s a detailed look:

The slopes

Schweitzer has enough varied runs to keep me — and most intermediate-and -up skiers — happy for days. Lots of tree runs, nicely groomed cruiser runs, plenty of steeps. And wonderfully sparse lift lines.

The stats: 92 runs; nine lifts (seven main chairs plus a T-bar and magic carpet); vertical drop of 2,400 feet; terrain park and tubing park; and Nordic ski trails. And a lively ski school that takes little kids bombing around the mountain.

Schweitzer has die-hard fans who’ve been skiing it practically since it officially opened in 1963 as a hill for locals from the small town of Sandpoint. Its old and very, very slow Snow Ghost double chair evokes that era. But riding it gave me time to chat with locals about some of their favorite black-diamond or double black-diamond runs — such as Misfortune and Whiplash.

For those not interested in such forbiddingly named and challenging terrain, Schweitzer has lots of fun, wide-open and well-groomed runs. Forty percent of the terrain is classified as intermediate, 35 percent advanced, 15 percent expert and 10 percent beginner.

That isn’t as limited as it sounds for novice skiers and riders. While there are few easy (green) runs beyond the Musical Chairs beginner lift, many newbies will do just fine on the intermediate (blue) runs off the Basin Express chair that starts at the village.

One of my Schweitzer favorites was the Stella Express chair in the more remote Outback bowl. It’s a high-speed, six-person chair with lots of blues (intermediate runs) and relatively gentle blacks (difficult) radiating off it. A bonus is the rustic, woodsy Outback Inn at the base of Stella chair, the main place to eat and warm up on the slopes. Or sit outside if it’s sunny and watch skiers and boarders play.

But it’s hard to resist the dramatic views from the chairs and runs on Schweitzer’s front side above the village, especially from the Lakeview Triple chair that climbs steeply to the resort’s high point of 6,389 feet. Sandpoint and big Lake Pend Oreille shimmer thousands of feet below.

On a midweek, balmy spring day with no lift lines and still decent snow, I swooped down the empty slopes and paused to revel in the views. It was a taste of skier heaven.

The village

Want lots of off-the-slopes fun? You won’t find it at Schweitzer. Its 4,700-foot-elevation ski village, while thoughtfully and efficiently designed, is a very small, plaid-shirt, shut-down-early place. If you’re used to the livelier ski villages of B.C. resorts, it will feel dead.

But at least it’s peaceful (unlike the heart of Whistler where clubgoers sometimes howl down the streets in the wee hours). And it’s small-scale enough that children can roam on their own, making this a family-friendly resort.

Schweitzer has two lodges/hotels to stay at (plus vacation homes), two pubs, one main restaurant and a handful of other small businesses clustered around a compact pedestrian plaza. And that’s it. For evening entertainment, get your room’s gas fireplace going and curl up with a movie.

Chimney Rock Grill is the main restaurant. Think steak, salmon, burgers, big portions, nothing outstanding, but satisfying after a day on the slopes. Pucci’s Pub is a cozy watering hole with nice microbrews (and fries); the bigger Tap’s Lounge has pool tables and big-screen TV (but closes early); Gourmandie has classy snacks, wines and a deli counter.

Cooking at your condo? Buy grocery basics in Sandpoint or bring them from home. There’s only a very small convenience store in the village (plus Gourmandie deli items).

For more restaurants and nightlife you’ll need to drive a dozen miles to Sandpoint, a chunk of it on the steep, winding road that gives access to Schweitzer and is no fun on an icy, dark night.

Where to stay

Ski-in, ski-out lodging (or at least a room just a short walk from the lifts) is one of the great pleasures of a ski vacation.

Schweitzer’s two main places to stay, the Selkirk Lodge and White Pine Lodge, deliver. They edge the ski village’s pedestrian plaza and are a two-minute walk from the base of the lifts. At the end of the day, glide almost right to the door.

If you can afford it, stay in the White Pine Lodge, a condo-style, five-story building of very comfortable and nicely decorated one-, two- and three-bedroom units with full kitchens and gas fireplaces. Units facing the village have a view of the slopes. I prefer the other side, with a vast view down the mountain to Sandpoint and the 43-mile-long Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho’s largest lake. The lodge’s outdoor hot tubs enjoy the same view. Sample rate: A one-bedroom unit begins at $259 a night for the weekend of Dec. 6-7.

The 82-room Selkirk Lodge, older but recently refurbished, has more economical hotel-style rooms, some with kitchenettes. Out back is a small outdoor pool and hot tub edged by snow banks (guests at White Pine also can use the pool). A Selkirk Lodge hotel room starts at $168 a night on the weekend of Dec. 6-7.

Some nice perks of the lodges:

—All guests at White Pine and Selkirk Lodge get a breakfast buffet included with the room rate. Served at the Chimney Rock Grill, it’s a generous spread of eggs, bacon, sausage, cereal, pastries and more. You won’t need lunch.

—Stay three nights at White Pine or Selkirk and get a fourth night free this winter. (There are blackouts at the most popular periods, around Christmas and Presidents Day in February)

—There’s wireless Internet in both lodges for no extra fee. (Thank you, Schweitzer. Paying extra for Wi-Fi is one of my, and many travelers’, pet peeves.)

You also can rent vacation homes through the resort’s reservation system or independently (and possibly more cheaply) from owners through VRBO.com, Airbnb.com and other online rental sites. Be sure to double-check if they’re ski-in/ski out; not all vacation homes are.

—To trim hotel costs, you could stay in a Sandpoint motel and take a shuttle bus ($3 ) to the ski area or drive up and park. But commuting takes some of the joy and ease out of a Schweitzer vacation.

If you go

Schweitzer

Resort info

Schweitzer hopes to open for the season Nov. 28, the day after Thanksgiving — snow willing. Schweitzer.com, 877-487-4643.

Lift tickets

Adult lift ticket is $72. $10 discount for college students, seniors and active-duty military. Juniors (ages 7-17) are $50. Age 6 and under free. There also are half-day tickets and discounts for multiday tickets.

Getting there

From Seattle, it’s about 370 miles to Schweitzer, much of it a fast, easy drive on Interstate 90. Allow about 6½ to 7 hours. Go east on I-90 through Spokane to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Turn north on U.S. 95 to Sandpoint and continue through the town to Schweitzer. The last 9 miles climbs steeply to the resort.

What’s in a name

The name Schweitzer, the story goes, is derived from a Swiss hermit who, a century ago, lived in the woods near what’s now the ski area. In the German language, Schweizer (without the "t") means "Swiss."

Sandpoint

From info on the town’s restaurants and lodging, see visitsandpoint.com

Idaho ski areas info

Skiidaho.us

Schweitzer cross-country skiing

There’s some nice Nordic skiing at Schweitzer that starts right from the village.

You’ll get a good workout on about 30 kilometers of well-groomed trails (skate and classic) that loop through the woods and along ridges.

However, it’s not too beginner-friendly since there are lots of ups and downs. And it doesnt’ feel like you’re getting out in the wild since the village or the downhill slopes are often in view.

A day pass is $12. There may be snowshoers and fat-tire winter bike riders along the trails, too. Get info at : Schweitzer.com/mountain/Nordic-center

 

 





 


Associated Press