By Nicola Bridges
What skiers wouldn't dream of snapping on their boards and skiing in their own backyard — with nine chairlifts, no lines and a breathtaking panoramic view over three states, another country and a magnificent lake covering 148 square miles. And all of this can be seen from the pine summit of a tree-lined mountain that features 92 named trails on 2,900 acres of lift-served terrain, on a vast front and hidden back bowl?
It may sound too good to be true, but Schweitzer Mountain Resort — a gem in the Selkirk Mountains in Idaho's Panhandle — is as close as it gets to feeling like the slopes are your own. This privately owned resort offers all that and then some from its intimate ski-in/ski-out village, 12 miles from the arts- and music-loving festival town of Sandpoint, Idaho (population 8,000), and just a 90-minute drive from the Spokane, Washington, airport.
Schweitzer Mountain Resort has welcomed generations of snow-sport junkies from near and far since 1963. Yet it has remained under the radar despite its transformation into a true destination resort with top-class ski terrain for all levels (Schweitzer is a certified United States Ski Association downhill venue), including a new heli-skiing offering, 300 inches of snowfall annually and stunning backcountry to explore.
Unlike notable sprawling ski destination towns, Schweitzer is reminiscent of Europe's many smaller alpine resorts. You won't find nightlife, elite dining or celebrities, but you will enjoy days of skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and fat-tire snow-biking down uncrowded slopes and trails on a majestic mountain that overlooks Idaho, Washington, Montana, Canada, and Lake Pend Oreille (the 38th largest in America), with unpretentious-but-satisfying eateries from grab-and-go pizza to innovative gastropub delights.
Schweitzer spoils you. An adult day pass runs just $79 (junior, 7-17, $50; under 6 and over 80, free), and the lift lines are luxuriously short to nonexistent. On a busy Saturday at the height of the season, after less than three minutes behind fewer than 10 people you'll be back in the air on one of nine chairlifts, including the only high-speed six-person chairlift in Idaho and a slow-speed Magic Carpet standup conveyor belt on the bunny slope.
On a high-season December half-day I made so many exhilarating runs down The Great Escape and Midway (Schweitzer's two main-artery workhorse slopes that ski in to the village), that ticket scanner Gus and I became best buddies after both grinning "Hi again" at least 12 times in quick succession as I shushed into the chair entrance.
That also included a 45-minute relaxing break at Sky House, Schweitzer's summit restaurant (new in 2016), in The Nest's cozy and relaxed pub featuring a full bar, craft beers and delicious small-plate options that won't slow you down on the slopes. Popular favorites include culinary-academy-trained Executive Chef Jorden Hansen's Roast Curried Cauliflower and Potato Raclette (diced roast potatoes oozing with melted Raclette cheese, mint and bacon). And the specialty hot drink, Duck Fart Coffee, is a smooth sensation of drip coffee, Crown Royal, Kahlua and Baileys to get your muscles moving again.
When you can pack in that many runs and lunch in an unrushed day of luscious skiing, it makes for early nights in the crisp 6,400-feet-elevation air when you're maxed out by midday if you hit the slopes early, or if you start at 11 a.m. and ski right up to 3:30 p.m. lift close.
The small village square buzzes for only an hour or so with the natural high of skiers coming down from the day as everyone disperses. They grab a bite in the smattering of friendly eateries, including a grill, pub, coffee shop, gourmet pizzeria and a European-style cafe bursting with cheeses, charcuterie and extensive wines.
Some head to their cars, locals going back down the mountain, others to condo accommodations throughout the Schweitzer community, or to hot tubs, the Solstice Spa, cozy luxurious rooms in the Selkirk and White Pine lodges that hug the square or to Selkirk's mini theater to catch a movie.
At 7 o'clock, the snowy square is silent under the light of decorative lamps and the glow from the lodge windows. As I closed my curtains and settled in for the evening, Schweitzer Mountain has already hit the hay, recouping for another stellar day of skiing.
WHEN YOU GO
Ski packages include accommodations and lift ticket, including a "Kids Ski Free" offer. Both can be purchased separately: www.schweitzer.com or call 208-263-9555.
Schweitzer is 90 minutes from Washington's Spokane International Airport (GEG), serviced daily by Alaska, American, Delta, Southwest and United.
Rent an all-wheel/four-wheel-drive SUV. The additional cost is an investment for driving safely to, up and down Schweitzer Mountain, where parking is underground. Add snow-chain rental for heavy snow and freezing temps.
Stop at a grocery store in Sandpoint for in-room food, snacks, beverages and other incidentals. While there are a few dining spots at the resort and the lodges have snacks for purchase, there is no store on the mountain.
Nicola Bridges is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.