Your Own Private Idaho
|The frozen wonderland of Schweitzer, with over 2,500 acres of manna for your planks. (courtesy, Idaho Tourism)|
On the first day of the trip I awoke much too early for my liking. But I couldnt sleep, not when there was skiing to be had. I jumped in the car and was soon making the long, winding drive up to Schweitzer near Sandpoint. A light fog blanketed the valley below, masking views of Lake Pend Oreille. More than one person had told me this area of Idaho was going to be outstandingly beautiful, but for the moment Id have to take their word for it.
Tom Fortune, Schweitzers general manager, was already suited up and waiting for me when I arrived. After a quick boost from a chicken salad sandwich, we headed up the Great Escape Quad. Tom, an avid snowboarder with tufts of red hair spilling from under his helmet, agreed to show me around for the day. Who better to do this than a man who lives, works, and plays on the mountain? He even has a run named after him: Misfortune, a double-black chute where he once launched blindly off a cornice and promptly blew out numerous ligaments.
Schweitzer gets pounded with an average annual snowfall of about 300 inches a year. With nine lifts and about 2,500 acres of skiable terrain, Schweitzer isnt the biggest resort youll ever ski, but it could certainly be one of the most beautiful. From up on the 6,400-foot summit above the clouds, I could look north into Canada, east into Montana, and west into Washington. And down below, 2,400 feet of vertical loss over groomers that have my legs ablaze by the time we get down.
After skiing the Outback Bowl and taking a few rides on Stella, the resorts six-person lift with a theme-park-like covered loading area (fake engines huff and puff as if theyre powering you to the top), Tom radios a co-worker on the mountain, Ken Barrett. Ken is a ripping backcountry skier and has offered to let us join him for a quick run down Schweitzers undeveloped side, a swath of ungroomed national forest and private land that holds hundreds of feet of untracked powder.
As president and chief guide of the Selkirk Powder Company, Ken leads groups of skiers looking for more adventurous terrain through trees and glades in a backcountry setting. When you get to the bottom of your run, which could last as far as 2,800 vertical feet when the conditions are right, a Sherpaa four-stroke snowmobile rigged with seats to hold three skiers and a driverwhisks you back to the top for another run.
Ken meets us at his shop and office near the top of the mountain and soon we are gliding down through the woods, the hiss of the boards and occasional hoots of joy, most often mine, shattering the silence. Ken points out the ridges hed like to ski when the snow pack settles. Id like to ski them, too. But the Sherpa meets us and off we go, back to the top, just in time for one last run down the resort side of the mountain. When we get to the summit the clouds over the lake have parted and Im awarded a stunning view of an icy lake peppered with little islands prickling with evergreen. On the way down I stop midway just to look at it some more. Tahoes got nothing on this. To top it off, that night while driving back to the resort from a visit to the Pend Oreille Winery and a covered bridge thats been turned into a shopping area in Sandpoint, Ill have to stop the car while two roaming caribouyes, cariboucross the road.
Access and Resources
Where to Stay:
The 50-room White Pine Lodge (145 Village Lane, Sandpoint, ID 83864; 1.800.844.3246; www.state-of-idaho-hotels.com/sandpoint-lodging/the-white-pine-lodge.html) is one of several places to stay right on the mountain. Rooms often come with fireplaces, kitchenette, balcony, and superb views over the lake far below ($229 to $799 a night, depending on number of bedrooms and time of stay).
Sandpoint-based Selkirk Powder Company (1.866.GO.IDAHO; www.selkirkpowderco.com) offers half- and full-day guided backcountry skiing and snowboarding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. A full day of Sherpa snowmobile shuttle skiing or snowboarding costs $195, including lunch. Private guides and "learner's groups" are also available.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication