Schweitzer – the result of extra effort

I reluctantly left my shore power early on Tuesday as I had a fairly long trip to make to Schweitzer, across the border in Idaho. Yep, I’m finally finished with Canada. Took a fair bit longer than I expected. I drove back over the pass between Salmo and Creston, but in good weather and full daylight this time so I got to enjoy the scenery. Across the border (which almost wasn’t uneventful, when the guards at the tiny crossing took offense at my using the truck lane because I wasn’t sure if I would clear the covered passenger lane… really guys, am I going to make a run for in in an RV vs your patrol cars? Maybe they thought I would pull a Condorman and take off in a hidden supercar).Idaho started off relatively flat, as I envisioned, a trend that started in BC shortly before the border.

Of course Idaho isn’t completely flat, as Schweitzer, just outside of the town of Sandpoint,  proves quite nicely. Not that it is especially tall with a highpoint of 6400′ and a base of 4000, but it certainly does the job with a typical 300″ of snowfall. Getting up the hill takes a bit of a climb from the 2100ft valley floor, up an approximately 10km road with several sections that could use some surface repair. This certainly isn’t the first hill with a less than pristine road running up to it, something that keeps surprising me. But I suppose Whistler has simply spoiled me to the reality of ski area roads. When I got to the top it was getting dark so I couldn’t enjoy the view of Sandpoint below. I found the RV camping area right next to the slopes (albeit with a short hike or slow old chair to get to the main staging level) and set up shop. I had called earlier and was told about the $15 RV parking, which I was happy about thinking it would include power. This turned out to be a bad assumption though, as it buys you nothing but the spot to park (wasn’t quite flat to boot, but not super bad) and some off-kilter portable toilets. To boot, it was $20, not $15. Hardly a great deal after the Red experience the night before. But I wasn’t about to drive back down the hill at this point, so I called it a night.

The morning brought good news with the sky being mostly clear. The first thing this showed me was the wide open front side of Schweitzer. It is essentially a giant bowl with one short arm and one long one. Pretty much everything is visible from any point, which is great for finding your bearings, especially for the more timid visitor who is scared to explore. We get quite a few of these coming for our orientation tours at Whistler (not to say all tour guests are timid), and we’re glad they do, because the alternative is a guest spending their whole week skiing one or 2 chairs and never getting out to see the rest the place has to offer. Back to Schweitzer. There is also a back bowl on the other side of the longer ridge, and it isn’t exactly a small bowl either. It offers most of the expert terrain, and a whole lot of tree skiing. While Schweitzer doesn’t have an alpine, some of the cleared faces on both bowls do feel like it. Skiing down the spine of the longer ridge, a run cleverly called the Great Divide, you can actually see into both bowls, giving you an all but complete view of the entire resort. And it ain’t no small resort at 2900 acres.

That view includes the small base area village and pretty much all the on hill accommodation, which is quite neatly laid out climbing the sides of the large gentle bowl. The village appears largely new, and quite nicely done, kept in good nick. The housing was a mix, with a number of fairly new slopeside developments, and several 80s or maybe even 70s houses and condos/townhouses.

The snow this day was… inconsistent. The grooming was excellent, and I heard this isn’t unusual. They do alot of grooming here too, including several blacks which alot of people seem to like. I never quite understood the attraction though, as groomed blacks tend to get scraped into hardpack in no time at all, and I’m a horrible skier on hardpack. It wasn’t exactly a busy day so the grooming lasted pretty well, though once well used it did turn fairly hard. Although there was a bit of new snow, it didn’t seem to help alot, as the snow underneath had been wind packed and through a thaw/freeze cycle. I managed to find some spots of pretty decent deeper snow on the North Bowls, but it was punctuated by spots of the hard stuff coming through. Too bad, it was almost great. I did however managed to find a few good spots in the trees, and as the fairly warm day went on the snow softened up. Better than the snow conditions I’ve been getting lately in any case. One thing that I never expected to say in my life was “Some of the best snow is in Australia”. This was, not surprisingly to those who come from down under, the result of a run of that name, not the country.

Less tracked snow was available but you had to grab a snowcat to get at it. An interesting service I thought, having cat skiing directly adjacent to the main resort. Undecided if it makes sense from a business perspective. Part of me would think “why would I pay so much for something I’m getting cheaper here?”, but on a real chewed up day when I see lots of potential if the runs were just not tracked out, it would be a quick and easy (and tempting) transition into the higher end service.

Cat skiing would not be my first experience of the day, as I’m not made of silver (gold is reserved for heliskiing of course). But I would have a first in the form of a visitor in the RV at lunch. I always expected there would be more visiting happening between RVs, and this is the first time it happened. It was interesting to hear the approach another RVer took to skiing with mobile accommodation. I was a bit jealous of my neighbour though, as he had a sleeker Class B+ that got 50% better fuel mileage, despite having the identical chassis. Interior was definitely nicer than mine too, with a slideout to boot, which made his interior feel way bigger. I was tempted to offer a trade, since he was working on selling his to get a class C much like what I have… except a BigFoot model which is significantly better, with an increased price tag to match.

I came back from lunch to hit the the back bowl and upon arriving at the bottom of the Stella chair found something rather unique. The base station is inside a building… but one that I’m told was designed by Disney, a claim that wouldn’t surprise me at all as the building was just so excellently build and decorated to look like what I would call a late wild west era machine shop, complete with big period machinery. Every time you load this lift, you feel like you’ve just stepped through a Disneyland ride. This was the second sign of the extra effort Schweitzer puts in, the first one the amount and quality of grooming. Perhaps the biggest sign was the fantastic staff. I’ve come across a couple resorts with standout front line staff already, but Schweitzer takes the cake so far. I don’t remember coming across a single blah liftee or validator. Smiles all around, waves from liftees inside the top huts, and frequently enthusiastic liftees just having a good time playing their tunes, carving snow, and happy to briefly chat as you load. I would credit the good weather for the mood, but Schweitzer has had unusually good weather this year (comes along with the lower than average snowfall) so this wasn’t some special standout day. So whatever you’ve done to keep staff happy Schweitzer, kudos.

Schweitzer did fall short on two items thought. One chair was closed, which wasn’t an issue since it was mildly redundant, but the T-bar at the far end of the back bowl was closed which did limit access to a bit of terrain. I ended up hiking the short t-bar line to cover the area anyway. The second item was no orientation tours on weekdays. This points more towards Schweitzer’s semi-local hill status. That’s a hard argument ot make given that this place is big, well equipped, has lots of destination resort amenities, and a very good reputation, but somehow it remains a relatively unknown place and a couple staff described it as more of a local/regional hill. Still, it was a shame for me as there is always lots of good info to be had from a mountain host.

Near the end of day I took one more run on the old Snow Ghost chair in the back bowl (looks to be the exact same model as 2 of the chairs at Whitewater… except no safety restraint at all, and minimal chair sides… I don’t know how people don’t fall off these things all the time) and the bottom station was playing Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone. As he asked how it feels to be an unknown, homeless, lone rolling stone I couldn’t help but think… not so bad!

It was time for this rolling stone to mozy on as I wasn’t interested in spending another $20 to park here, so I pulled anchor and took the short road down the mountain to Sandpoint, got a bit of gas (cheaper here, but cheaper yet at my next stop in Montana), some groceries (significantly cheaper than back home), and found an RV park to charge the batteries and do a load of laundry. Tomorrow I had a long drive in store to get to Whitefish in Montana.

Morning in the parking lot

The view I woke up to in the lower parking lot, which like red is right beside the slopes (but unfortunately loses out to Red as you have to ski down and take the slow novice chair or hike up hill).

Front face

Schweitzer's front face viewed from the top of the Great Escape chair.

Standing at the top of Lakeside Chutes, Schweitzer's reasonable facsimile of double black terrain. Click to view.

Just down North Ridge from Lakeside, viewing the other half of the Schweitzer's back bowl. Click to view.

Following the North Ridge all the way to its terminus at the top of the Idyle Our T-bar. On the downside, this meant I had to hike up the T-bar line. On the upside, it meant I could climb the top tower and get this great shot, and had an untracked ski back down. Click to view.

Stella bottom station

The bottom station of the Stella lift looks unique and charismatic from the outside, especially paired with the very authentic wild west styled eatery next door.

nside Stella's lift station

But the unique magic is inside, where it is decorated like a theme park ride. This is the first time in over 20 years that getting onto a lift has felt like part of the attraction.

Machine room Patrol shack

Schweitzer's inventiveness continues with an old chair lift's machine room recycled into a mountain top Patrol shack .

Lakeside bowl

On the edge of Colburn Lake, looking up at the Lakeside Chutes.

Back onto the front side of the mountain, near the top of the Great Escape chair. Click to view.

At the top of the Lakeview chair and the south bowl, looking north back towards the Great Escape chair and down the undeveloped west side of the mountain, which Schweitzer uses to offer cat skiing for well heeled guests. Being able to split up a family where half want to go cat skiing and half want to stay on piste, but still meet up for lunch, is a pretty unique offering. Click to view.


Looking down at Schweitzer's small but very nice alpine village, most of which looked pretty new.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *