Mountain's indoor water park lets visitors go from
snowboard to surfboard in a matter of minutes.
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
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
ski-out lodging (or at least a room just a short walk from
the lifts) is one of the great pleasures of a ski
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
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.
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.
nice perks of the lodges:
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
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
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.)
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.
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.
hopes to open for the season Nov. 28, the day after
Thanksgiving — snow willing. Schweitzer.com,
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.
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.
in a name
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."
info on the town’s restaurants and lodging, see
ski areas info
some nice Nordic skiing at Schweitzer that starts right
from the village.
get a good workout on about 30 kilometers of well-groomed
trails (skate and classic) that loop through the woods and
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.
day pass is $12. There may be snowshoers and fat-tire
winter bike riders along the trails, too. Get info at :