Thursday 12/22/11, 6 hour drive from Stanwood, WA to Sandpoint. Google Map it if you must. We stayed at the Lodge at Sandpoint, which is actually in Sagle, on the south side of the 2 mile “long bridge” which leads into Sandpoint. Nice newer hotel, maybe 30 rooms, very roomier rooms, rustic wood mountain lodge decor, nice fireplace room in the lobby area. Stopped into Sandpoint for dinner. Sandpoint is busy and bustling throughout the day, seems to be deserted after retail shops close at 6pm. Locals tell me it’s always hopping in the summer with arts and music festivals, hiking, biking, boating, anything outdoors. It’s very pretty, with mostly family and independently owned businesses. It seems to be on all sort of lists (best small town, most picturesque small town, best places you’ve never been to, etc). Good restaurants.
Friday 12/23/11, drove to Schweitzer. The bridge was totally fogged in, but the fog cleared in Sandpoint and the rest of the drive was clear. It’s about 9 miles up the Schweitzer road, which is maybe a couple miles from town. If you don’t want to drive the winding road, you can park at the parking lot at the bottom and take the Schweitzer bus for $3, runs every 30 minutes. If you do drive you can pay $15 for reserved parking near the Village, right next to the White Pine and Selkirk Lodges, or you can park for free at an upper or lower lot. From either of the two lots you can ski down the Musical Chairs lift (the only beginner area on the mountain) and take the chair to Village to buy your lift pass. At the end of the day you can ski right to your car. Ski in, ski out.
Happy to be here.
A word about the pics videos: these were taken with iPhones. Please keep that in mind when you watch the sometimes shaky video, I'm holding onto the iPhone with one hand and holding onto my poles with the other. Maybe time to get a Contour or GoPro.
A brief look at the Village
As it turns out we were early enough to be able to park in the upper lot pretty close to the Village. After getting tickets we met SpknMike, hereafter referred to as “Mike”.
MIke guided us around the mountain, and as it was totally clear and mostly sunny the whole day, we were able to get a good idea of the layout of the resort. Mike totally rocks as a guide, very friendly and accommodating. Most of the time we stayed together (my girlfriend Shamora, myself, and MIke) on long groomers that Schweitzer has all over the mountain. A few times Shamora was happy to keep working on her turns on the Midway run, and Mike and I took off to a few black diamonds.
Shamora and David
Schweitzer has a base elevation of 4700’ and 6400’ at the top. The Outback bowl side of the resort goes lower to about 4000’. Both sides are huge bowls, with steep chutes at the top 1/3 of the mountain and wide runs all over the mountain. The Schweitzer bowl side is more open, and has two high speed quads from the village (Basin and Great Escape, which gets you to the top and can access either side). Near the top of the Basin quad a fixed grip triple (Lakeview) gets you to some nice chutes. The Outback side has nice tree runs and glades, with a high speed 6 pack (Stella), a old fixed double (Snow Ghost) and a newer T-bar. Both sides have blacks and double blacks chutes from the top, feeding into long blue cruisers. Also, each side has long blue ridge trails that access many black and blue runs. The Great Divide run from the Great Escape chair allows you to ski a dozen runs on either side, either to Schweitzer bowl or Outback.
I called this Sunnyside on this video. The chair is Sunnyside, the run is actually called Loophole Loop.
Top of Snow Ghost
North Ridge run
More North Ridge run, to the T-Bar
Top of T-Bar, looking back at North Ridge
Detention, off the Little Blue Ridge run,
So here it was, December 23rd, and every run was open, all 2900 acres. 35" of snow at the lower elevation, 46" mid and 57" at the top. They have received almost 100" so far this year. Schweitzer proudly advertised that they have the largest open terrain of any resort in North American right now, even though they hadn’t had any new snow in about 3 weeks. You can pretty much ski everywhere, in between the marked runs if you want. There were no crowds, minimal lift lines, and the runs are all pretty wide. On many, or most runs you have the feeling you’re the only ones on the mountain. They do a lot of grooming all over the mountain and nothing was really icy. Well, maybe that chute from Lakeview at the end of the day that freaked me out when I started skidding out of control and needed to self-arrest. I looked on the map later and it listed it as a black diamond. Felt like a double diamond to me. They do use a winch groomer on some of those chutes. Later on Saturday and Sunday I took some black diamonds on the Outback side that were gladed, but less steep than the Lakeview chutes, and a double black with some glades that was similar in pitch to the Lakeview single blacks. By no means were any of these runs subject to “grade inflation”, the blue runs have some steep pitches to them and the black diamonds are truly black. There’s nothing truly extreme or gnarly, like cliffs and rocks and such, but overall enough challenging terrain to keep most people happy.
On Friday you could see some clouds rolling over the mountain and it seemed like we might get some new snow. Saturday 12/24 we woke up and it had snowed maybe an inch. It continued to snow all day and we had maybe 3 inches total.
Upper Parking lot, Day 2, after a bit of snow. (You can see the Musical Chairs beginner lift in the background)
Shamora decided she wanted to keep practicing her technique on Midway, so I headed over to the Outback. Several long runs on Stella, including one nicely gladed run called Kathy’s Yard Sale, and a long run from Snow Ghost to the T-bar and 2400’ vertical of black and blue. Despite the near white out on the very top, a few hundred feet down the visibility was great. Lots of rolling terrain, tons of variety.
After lunch I talked Shamora into heading back to Stella, and we spent the rest of the day there. There are a couple of runs with some beautiful old-growth cedars here and there. Again, hardly anyone on the slopes, it seemed. But everybody on a chairlift was happy to be there, very friendly, willing to share their favorite runs.
What is really striking about Schweitzer is that it’s so wide open, that even if it’s busy (for Schweitzer), it doesn’t seem crowded. There is so much terrain and nothing really dangerous as far as cliffs, so you can ski anywhere, in between runs, through trees. On a clear day you have awesome views, on a foggy day you have lots of trees on the Outback side.
And then there are the cedars.
Sunday 12/25/11. We arrived at the Village and were able to park even closer than before. It was sunny, the crowds (such as they are) hadn’t arrived yet. We headed to the Outback side and stayed there pretty much the whole day. After a warm up run or two together, we separated until lunch, Shamora getting more confidence on the three long groomed cruisers on Stella, while I explored some of the blacks on Snow Ghost. The steep runs off Snow Ghost empty into many winding blue runs that seemed to be all groomed. Even at 11:00am I was making first tracks on fresh corduroy, with hardly any else around.
Here's an end of the day run on Zip Down
After we met up for lunch, I took Shamora on a couple of the groomers on Snow Ghost. A few more people were around, but overall it seemed to be the least skied out part of the mountain. I took off again for Snow Ghost after a post lunch warm up, while she stayed on Stella. After one trip up,[then the wind hit. The wind can really hit the ridges on the top of the mountain. Clouds blew in. They closed down Snow Ghost and the Lakeview triple. I went back to Stella and explored several more of the black runs on that side. I met up with Shamora at 3pm and we took Stella up. They roped off the Outback runs so we headed back to the Schweitzer side for a last run. Then the wind really hit. As I arrived at the Great Escape lift, it started to snow. Shamora chose not take that last run. I was getting pounded with wind and snow as I got to the top. It was a total whiteout. I headed down the Great Escape, several people were struggling to stay on their feet and going very slowly. The visibility didn’t improve until quite a ways down. I headed towards a black run, found it was windblown crust, so headed to some trees, which was much better, and then traversed to Loophole Loop, which I had skied several times over the three days. I made it back to the village and the wind and snow were still blowing hard. We stayed to shop in the village and eat dinner while it cleared up, then drove back to our hotel. Best Christmas ever.
Edited by DesiredUsername - 12/27/11 at 11:14pm