Small town, big mountain, powder galore
written by Alison Highberger | photos courtesy of Schweitzer Mountain Resort
For most skiers, Sun Valley is synonymous with Idaho skiing. Two hours northeast of Spokane, Schweitzer Mountain Resort in Idaho’s panhandle is bigger by a third and closer to many residents in the Pacific Northwest.
Schweitzer’s privately owned 2,900 skiable acres unfold in the Selkirks near Sandpoint, Idaho, a city of 7,500 that was voted the most beautiful small town in America by USA Today and Rand McNally five years ago. The combination of big mountain and small town makes it a spectacular place to enjoy a winter weekend getaway.
Schweitzer’s mountaintop village, located near the ten lifts and tows for its ninety-two runs and 30 kilometers of Nordic ski trails, offers ski-in, ski-out lodging, restaurants, shops and a spa. With an average of 300 inches of snow each winter, there’s also snowboarding, tubing, snowshoeing, fat-tire snow-biking, snowmobiling and heli skiing.
“We’re lucky because of the way the weather comes in from the west,” said Dig Chrismer, Schweitzer marketing manager. “Our snow is definitely a lighter consistency. A lot of our guests who ski here after skiing near Seattle are very happy.”
In mid-December, Schweitzer debuted a new lodge at the 6,400-foot summit, giving skiers, snowboarders and non-skiers a high altitude spot to eat and relax. The Great Escape Quad lift will offer quick access to the new lodge and expansive views of the Selkirk and Cabinet mountain ranges. The 43-mile-long Lake Pend Oreille is in the distant valley (pronounced “Pond-or-RAY” from the French for “hanging ear” or “earring”). It’s the fifth deepest lake in the United States, and was home to the Kalispel, Kootenai and Coeur d’Alene tribes who first inhabited this region.
Sandpoint, 12 miles away, offers more options for lodging. It’s a walkable, turn-of-the century downtown, with a history of logging and mining. In the late 1880s the Great Northern Railroad spurred its growth. Sandpoint’s collection of galleries and boutique shops can keep non-skiers busy for the weekend.
A 6-foot wooden moose greets visitors at Northwest Handmade Furniture & Gallery on the main drag, North First Street, which has shops that sell rustic furniture and handmade arts and crafts. Ski shops stock winter clothing or gear. The twenty-year-old Pend d’Oreille Winery has a tasting room in town with pours of their all-Idaho-made chardonnay.
Sandpoint has a handful of restaurants that range from Thai and sushi to Mexican and Italian. Decade-old Mick Duff’s Brewing Company serves beer cheese soup year-round, made from its own Knot Tree Porter. This brewery is also known for homemade root beer floats. Trinity at City Beach flaunts its pecan-crusted chicken salad tossed with maple-chipotle vinaigrette, accompanied by views of the lake and mountains. Panhandle Cone and Coffee’s house-made ice cream flavors include Pumpkin Pie and Honey Chai Praline.
For a romantic evening or a novelty for the kids, book a horse-drawn sleigh at Western Pleasure Guest Ranch, 26 miles from Schweitzer. A half-hour ride with views of the Selkirk Range is warmed with hot chocolate and popcorn by the fire at the ranch’s rustic lodge.
The combination of Schweitzer Mountain and Sandpoint bring together winter fun in the northern Selkirks and small town charm for an engaging winter vacation itinerary.