Pros: Uncrowded, Good Tree-Skiing, Great Views, Terrain Variety, Limited Night Skiing
Cons: Fog, Short Steeps
Schweitzer Mountain Resort (SMR) sits 9 miles and 2,000 feet above Sandpoint, Idaho. It has a summit elevation of 6,400 feet and a vertical drop of 2,400 feet. It is divided into 2 large bowls spread over 2,900 acres. Schweitzer Bowl is visible from the base village and often referred to as "South Bowl" by the locals, or just the frontside. Behind Schweitzer Bowl and out of sight from the village is Outback Bowl, which is referred to as "North Bowl" or just the backside by the locals. The Bunny Hill drops down from the base village and consists of the resort's only 2 Beginner runs. The Bunny Hill is served by a fixed-grip double-chair and a magic carpet on its upper end. Nearby is a newly installed zip-line and a tubing hill. A large network of nordic trails of varying difficulty also starts from this area.
Schweitzer Bowl is split into 2 smaller bowls by a central ridge that is itself an intermediate run named, appropriately, Ridge Run. The high-speed Basin Express Quad Lift serves the lower portion of the bowl looker's left of Ridge Run. These runs are all easier Intermediate runs that are mostly groomed. They are wide, low angle, and an ideal place for advanced beginners or low-level intermediates. There is also a small terrain park and a much larger terrain park served by this lift. Together, they have a wide variety of various features of varying difficulty, but there is no half-pipe. This lift also serves the night-skiing area.
About 100 yards left of the top of Basin Express is the bottom of the Lakeview Triple Lift, which is a fixed-grip triple-chair that serves the top of South Ridge 700 vertical feet above. Once at the top, an intermediate can ski along the low-angle South Ridge to Ridge Run to "escape" if need be. Aside from that, all runs served by this lift are Advanced to Expert runs. From the top, the runs furthest skier's left are the shortest and least steep, and one, Jack's Dream, is usually groomed, but they are all rated Single-Black. The further skier's right along the ridge you go, the steeper and slightly longer the runs become. The last Single-Black to skier's right, K-Macs, is often groomed. Beyond that are Double-Black chutes that are lettered to identify each, and they are quite steep and a few are quite narrow. They are collectively called South Bowl Chutes on the trail map.
Opposite Ridge Run from Basin Express and "The Triple" is the area served by the high-speed Great Escape Quad Lift, called simply "The Quad" by locals. The Quad also accesses the backside, Outback Bowl. The frontside runs off the Quad are Single-Black runs of moderate difficulty that are sometimes groomed, although Pend Oreille Run is almost always groomed. There are also named but unrated (they're essentially Single-Black) gladed areas and wide unnamed areas between the runs that range from sparsely treed to pretty heavily wooded...but skiable. The Quad lift-line is a fun way down...if you don't mind an audience. There is a lot of fun terrain here and probably the longest sustained runs at SMR are here.
Looking down on the base village from off-piste area just below and right of the the top of the Quad. South Bowl Chutes are visible dropping from far ridge center-right of pic. Lake Pend O'Reille is visible beyond peaks center-left of pic.
Far to the right of The Quad is an old fixed-grip double-chair, Sunnyside Lift, or as the locals call it, Chair-4. Sunnyside tops out at the bottom end of the ridge that divides Schweitzer Bowl from Outback Bowl, and it serves some nice, mellow terrain that is often overlooked by visitors. There is a lot of gladed terrain of the Blue/Single-Black level, one groomed Blue run (used for practice by the racing league) and the most mellow Single-Black runs at SMR. They could just as easily be more difficult Blue runs, and it's perfect terrain for an advancing intermediate skier. Of these, Quicksilver is usually groomed. The only problem is that Sunnyside is seldom running, so this area is more often accessed by taking The Quad and skiing down the ridge known as "The Great Divide." It's also more informally known as The Great Collide...with good reason. It's very fun terrain in here, and on those very rare occasions when Sunnyside is running, I leap at the opportunity and lap it most of the day.
Speaking of the Great Collide...er, I mean Divide...it runs from the top of the Quad all the way down past Sunnyside to the top of an Outback Bowl run named Revenge, and on skier's left of the Great Divide ridge are numerous runs that drop into the Outback Bowl. They get progressively less steep and shorter the further down the ridge you go. Lakeside Chutes are the first of these, and they are some of the steepest lines at Schweitzer. Two more easier Double-Black runs follow before several pretty steep Single-Black runs. At the end is a Blue-rated cat-track that zig-zags down into the middle of Outback Bowl before becoming a very wide groomer named Vagabond that runs all the way to the bottom of the Outback Bowl.
At the entrance to the Vagabond cat-track atop the ridge is Single-Black run named "No Joke", and it's a fitting name. It's Schweitzer's unofficial bump run. It has the gnarliest bumps at SMR, and it's left that way all season. The problem is that from the top, it looks fairly tame...people can't see the much steeper field of big bumps just over the rollover. As a result, less advanced skiers sometimes give in to temptation and drop in rather than take the short but "lame" cat-track. The results aren't pretty. You can bail off No Joke through a tree-band over to Revenge, which is quite a bit better. Still, unless you're confident in your bump-skiing...or even bump-survival...skills, take the cat-track down, or skate the short distance to the more mellow Revenge, which is infrequently groomed.
Once in Outback Bowl, the first lift you'll come to is a fixed-grip double-chair, Snow Ghost Lift. The locals call it Chair 6 at all times. It rises nearly 2,000 vertical feet over about 15 minutes to the top of the North Ridge about 200 yards from the top of The Quad. Below it is Lakeside Bowl, the easiest Double-Black run at Schweitzer. It gets a little steeper toward the bottom where it funnels between a couple of rocky bluffs, but that section is super-short...a turn or two. I wouldn't hesitate to take a solid and confident intermediate here if he/she was up for it. It's super-wide with lots o' room to maneuver; it's fun anytime and nirvana on a powder day! It's also the longest of the steep runs and ends at a small lake named Colburn Lake. The run-outs are on either side of the lake, or you can skip the run-outs and cut through the extensive trees behind the lake instead, which is more fun.
About 1/3 of the way down Lakeside Bowl. Chair 6 liftline on left with Midway Unload barely visible behind 1st stand of trees. Colburn Lake below-right with No Joke and Revenge beyond (the 2 open runs dropping to left in center-right of pic)
Snow Ghost (Chair 6) has a Midway Unload that is useful for when the top is socked in with thick fog or for intermediates that don't wish to ski the steeper stuff from the top. Midway Unload accesses intermediate groomers that are randomly groomed, as well as a lot of tree-skiing from mellow to steep and open to tight. The top of Snow Ghost (Chair 6) also accesses some seriously steep runs to the right in what is known as Siberia Bowl...although the Double-Black Siberia run itself is the tamest of these. These runs are short, though, and have either open or wooded, rolling run-outs, depending on your choice of run. The wooded exits are winding, rolling, tight in spots and fun. Be careful of the ravine in the woods, though. You won't get cliffed out, but if you get "ravined out," you have some slogging in store for you. Follow established ski paths of multiple tracks until you're more familiar with the area.
Standing on North Ridge above Pucci's Chute looking across Siberia Bowl toward the T-Bar (center-left) with Siberia Run (open face) in center-bottom of pic. OB Blue Mt. in background to left.
Going down (north) the North Ridge from the top of Snow Ghost (Chair 6) leads to the T-Bar, which only runs Thursday through Sunday. It's an easy 10-minute hike up if not running. This accesses the far North side runs at Schweitzer; all are moderate Single-Blacks, and all are fun. The Little Blue Ridge Run that leads from the top of the T-Bar to the bottom of Outback Bowl is the steepest Blue and longest run (~2 miles) at Schweitzer. It's worth the hike on a powder day and several days after. Plenty of good tree-skiing between these runs also.
Upper Outback Bowl from top of T-Bar with Great Divide Ridge furthest ridge visible center of pic. Gladiator can be seen far left of No Joke and Revenge (open runs left-center), and Stella 6-Pack is just off-pic to left of Gladiator. Top of Chair 6 is on peak of North Ridge just behind treetop on far right foreground of pic.
At the bottom of Outback Bowl is the Outback Inn, a burger and beer place known for their loaded baked potatoes. The high-speed Stella 6-Pack Lift is also here, and Stella is the busiest lift on a busy day, like many Saturdays (when I don't ski) and Holidays. 15-20 minute waits are possible, but on non-holiday weekdays, you ski right on to the lift with no wait. Less busy weekends may be 5 or so minutes. Stella leads to the top of the ridge uphill from the end of Great Divide. It's popular because it accesses several long groomers and low-angle, nicely spaced glades...including one creatively named Gladiator. They're Single-Black but friendly to solid and confident intermediates. Ski School uses Gladiator all the time, although it can get seriously bumpy in there...maybe related to the frequent ski school use?
Tip: There are 2 ways out of Outback Bowl; one is a long and winding cat-track from the top of Stella named Cat-Track to the Village, and the other involves a short skate from the top of Snow Ghost (Chair 6) to the top of the Quad, where you can pick any of several runs to ski down to the village. If at all possible, take Snow Ghost (Chair 6) to the top, skate over, and ski down from the Quad. This is especially true on a busy day. If you don't, you'll be stuck taking what I call the "Cat-Track From Hell." It's a definite WROD, narrow, flattish in spots, and crowded with skidding, weaving masses all moving at different speeds. Time the end of your day to catch Snow Ghost (Chair 6) instead. Off-hours on busy days and anytime mid-week, however, the cat-track is far less hazardous.
O-K, that's the skiing. Schweitzer isn't "hard-core" like a Squaw, Snowbird, Jackson Hole, or the like, but it has some good challenge in places, and it has a little something for everybody with its variety of terrain. It's not too friendly to true Beginners, though, just due to lack of runs for them. Nightlife is lacking with only a few locals-oriented honky-tonk/corner-type bars, at the village and in town. There are several good restaurants, though, both at the hill and in town. It's about the skiing for me (as I suspect is true with many Bears), so I find the lack of a significant nightlife a non-issue. There's lodging at the hill, but it's less expensive in town. There's a shuttle that takes you up and down the mountain all day for 3 bucks round-trip.
Somedays it's so uncrowded, you'll have run after run to yourself! The frequent fog is only an issue when it's pea-soup variety. 3 days ago was the thickest I had seen it with what I estimated to be 30-foot visibility. When that's the case, you can abandon the hill for a PBR at one of the slope-side bars or do what I do and hit the trees...figuratively speaking, of course. On clear days, there are incredible views of Lake Pend O'Reille and surrounding mountain peaks that extend into Montana, Washington, and Canada. There's also a cat-skiing operation that operates from the top of the Quad that uses several thousand acres behind SMR. SMR also has an open-gate policy for BC skiers.
I'm up there most days usually from late morning 'til closing, so if you make it this way and would like a ski-bud to show you around, just PM me. If I can swing it schedule-wise, I'll be happy to oblige. Also PM me if you have any questions about the place not covered here.
I'll start working on an unofficial guide when the sun returns and I can get good, clear shots to illustrate locations. Enjoy!