Friday, March 9, 2018

Weekend at Schweitzer

When my son attended the University of Montana, we used to have an after-Christmas ritual of skiing at Idaho's Schweitzer Mountain on his way back to school.  I have many fond memories our trips to this scenic, off the beaten path resort.  The largest ski area in Washington and Idaho, Schweitzer is home to some of my all-time favorite black diamond ski runs.  On clear days, it's mountaintops boast stellar views of gorgeous Lake Pend Oreille. 

But then my son graduated and started seminary, and before I knew it, ten years had elapsed since I'd been back. 

So over Christmas, my son and I hatched a plan to meet up in early February and revive the tradition.  I was beyond excited.  I counted down the long, dark January days in anticipation of spending time with my son and revisiting a favorite resort.

Hello from Idaho!

Then the morning I was to leave, I got a call from my son.  He'd come down with the flu and wouldn't be able to make it.  Since it was too late to cancel my motel reservation and I'd already purchased lift tickets online, I was committed.  Disappointed, and worried about my son's health, I sadly loaded the car and headed east, fretting the entire 7-hour drive to Sandpoint.  Although I considered continuing on to Montana to be with my son, he encouraged me to go ski and have fun (he also didn't want me to catch his bug).

Appropriate song for my first day

The following morning, I woke to cloudy, rainy skies.  The forecast for Schweitzer was a warm borderline rain/snow mix.  Ugh - I wasn't a fan of skiing in the rain.  But I'd traveled  here to ski, and ski I would.  Driving to the parking shuttle area, the first song that came on my car radio was "Private Idaho" by the B-52s.  I laughed at the coincidence.  Maybe this was a sign - it was gonna be a good day after all.

Cute base area

Schweitzer Mountain is accessed by a scary winding, hairpin road from the outskirts of town.  But for those not wanting to endure a white-knuckle drive, the resort provides shuttle buses.  Judging by the amount of vehicles in the huge park and ride lot, it appeared the bus was a popular option.  A three dollar fee (or free for season pass holders) got me a round trip.  For the ride up, I was seated next to a friendly local man who was more than happy to share resort beta.

Super-foggy day

After taking a few quick laps on the lower elevation Basin Express lift, I was ready to whisk to the mountain's very top and find my favorite black diamond runs, White Lightening, Stiles, and Pend Oreille.  But as I rode higher up the mountain, the clouds became thicker.  Exiting the lift, I found visibility near zero.  Slowly I edged my way towards Pend Oreille, the closest trail to the lift.  Not only did the fog make visibility difficult, my glasses were fogging under my goggles.  Getting down this steep slope required a leap of faith (I joke about "skiing by Braille" but that's exactly what I did).  Luckily, about halfway down the skies became lighter and I could see once again.  But after a couple of scary trips from the top fighting foggy glasses, I went inside to clear my lenses.

Ice covered skier

Returning to the slopes after a quick break, I tried to find the mountain's backside, only to end up in a different area than I intended.  No big deal, I took advantage of a long cruising run to the Stella lift.  But the elevation was lower here, and instead of snow, I encountered rain.  Starting to get soaked, I decided to head back to the base area, where it was colder.

Over on the front side a full-on snowstorm was in progress.  Winds howled, and snow whirled through the air.  But, oh was the snow nice!  Although visibility was still a challenge, I could see just enough to make my way down from the very top.  I kept making run after run, every trip fresh tracks in the new-fallen snow.  So much fun!  The wet snow began collecting on my outerwear, freezing into an icy coating.  I skied through the lunch hour, knowing that once I went inside melting ice would soak my gear, and I wouldn't go back out.

They get lots of snow here!

Finally around 1:30 hunger got the best of me, and I surrendered to the nearest cafeteria.  After downing a bowl of chili, I just couldn't bring myself to put my wet gear back on and return to the cold, stormy slopes.  So I decided to head back into town.  Waiting outside for the shuttle bus, I realized the mushy falling snow had turned into full-fledged raindrops.  Good thing I quit when I did!  

Sandpoint had a cute downtown

Sandpoint, Idaho has a cute downtown area.  I purposely chose a motel close by so I could walk to nearby restaurants and shops.  That evening I enjoyed a leisurely stroll through downtown, window shopping at the cute boutiques before locating an excellent brewpub.

Loved the Christmas lights in February

Sandpoint even kept their Christmas lights up into February.  Really made for a festive atmosphere.  These lights made some fantastic reflections on the wet pavement, but only having my cell phone with me at the time, my photos weren't the best.

Stella lift house

Drier weather was forecast for the following day.  I was happy to wake up to clearing, moisture-free skies.  Hustling to make the 8:00 shuttle bus, I took a wrong turn and ended up driving through downtown a second time.  Thinking I'd surely be late, a Starbucks conveniently located next to the resort's main road enticed me in.  Despite the detours, I pulled into the park and ride and the bus was still there!  I hopped out and began unloading my skis but at that moment the bus closed it's doors and rumbled away.  Oh well, the next bus was only a half hour away, and now I had time to enjoy my latte.

Scenic trail junction

Morning sunlight streamed down from blue skies as the next bus delivered me into Schweitzer's base area.  Eager for a dry, better visibility day, I boarded the Great Escape Quad lift bound for the resort's very top.  About halfway up, my chair was swallowed by a dense, white cloud.  So much for my clear, sunny day.....

Still murky fog on top (someone laughed at me for taking this photo)

The entire top half of the mountain was enveloped by a huge fog bank.  Visibility wasn't any better than the previous day.  Oh well, I'd skied in these conditions yesterday and survived.  So I began making laps up and down.  The fog clung to the upper reaches and I gingerly made slow turns until I could see again.

Lake Pend Oreille emerges

Riding single, I got paired up with lots of interesting people on the chairlift.  All mentioned that fog was a common problem here.  One guy jokingly commented that Schweitzer was French for "fog." 

Top of Lakeview lift

After the first hour, tired of not being able to see, I traveled to the resort's back side in search of better conditions.  Although visibility was much improved, yesterday's warm rain had frozen overnight, turning the slopes here into a sheet of ice.  A high school ski race was underway on one of the runs, and although the racers may have liked the icy slopes, I did not.

Amazing scenery!

Back to the front side once again!  A long, winding cat track took skiers around the mountain.  As I descended, the skies cleared once again, and Lake Pend Oreille emerged front and center.  Wow, what an excellent view!  Many photo stops ensued.  (By the way, the lake's name is pronounced "ponderay")

Snow ghosts

After lunch, I traveled around the mountain once again, seeking good snow and clear skies.  Unfortunately, thick clouds clung stubbornly to the mountaintop all day and the back side slopes never did thaw out.  Around 2:30, I was ready to call it quits and head in for a beer, when I noticed sun illuminating slopes by the Lakeview chairlift.  I hadn't skied there yet, and decided to check it out.

Ridge run

Turned out to be the best conditions of the day.  Not only was the snow here soft and fluffy, on top of the chair, I was awed by the interesting shapes created by ice encasing every surface.  The lifts, trail signs, and radio towers had been transformed into white works of art.  But the best scenery was the ice-crusted trees, nicknamed "snow ghosts," lining nearby slopes.  Oh were they lovely! 

There was a reason the resort named this chairlift Lakeview.  The best panoramas of huge Lake Pend Oreille were from the top of this ridge.  It was so lovely, I ended up taking three more runs, just to enjoy the snow and fantastic scenery.  Glad I saved the best for last.

Breathtaking lake views!

Despite the wet, foggy weather and my son's last-minute illness, I ended up having a great trip.  It was fun to reacquaint myself with an old favorite resort after so many years.  The town of Sandpoint and the friendly locals on the slopes totally charmed me.  I'd love to spend more time here again someday.


  1. Hope your son is getting over the flu. It's a good job you are an experienced skier as those conditions looked so dangerous. Those ice trees fascinated me. Glad you had a good time.

  2. Que maravilha este belo e grande nevão que proporciona belas fotografias.
    Um abraço e bom fim-de-semana.

    Dedais de Francisco e Idalisa

  3. Hello Linda, I am glad you could make the ski trip but I am sorry your son was sick with the flu. The winter scenery, snow and views are just fabulous. The last view is just stunning. Wonderful post and photos. ENjoy your day and weekend!

  4. Sorry your son was taken ill.. glad you decided to venture out, anyway. Looks like you had a wonderful time. Your captures are incredible!
    Great post.. I love Sandpoint!

  5. Awesome pictures of those snow ghosts! :-)

  6. What a gorgeous weekend....despite the less than stellar weather! Since I'm no skier, it's neat to see these lovely places in the winter when I am unlikely to see them!

    I've driven through Sandpoint in the summer and it is equally beautiful when not covered in snow!

  7. Well snow has it's advantages it gives time awesome scenery to look at. We had snow last week but it did not last though when we came down to Wales it was still hanging around.

  8. So many, lovely shots. Kudos. Oh, it's been so many years since I've skied. Left my skis in Texas when I moved to Florida. Not much snow (or mountains) near enough to drive to. Sigh.

  9. That looks like a great ski area and you got some fine photos of it.

  10. Wow, stunning. I love that Snow ghosts photo. What a lovely time. It's too bad your son wasn't able to join you. But it's nice that you got a chance to go.

  11. I love Sandpoint. There is also a good bakery. And in summer, some good hiking trails.

  12. Good account and photos of challenging conditions but glad you made the most of your trip. A lot of folk have been hit by flu this year. Hope your son is alright.

  13. We have that same fog and snowghosts at our ski area. Not surprising I guess, they aren't that far apart.

  14. Sandpoint is a town we have visited a few times, our kind of town in the summer you can eat out on a patio of a mexican place! We walked there from our motel, I liked Downtown too. What a good trip you had, I am sorry your son could not be with you. Maybe next year! :)

  15. Great photos and glad you got a couple of days decent skiing in. This is what skiing in the UK (Scotland). We call it "survival skiing". I've often fallen over because I was trying to turn when in fact I'd stopped but the weather was so bad I hadn't realised! Skiing by Braille" - I like that :)

  16. I only had the pleasure of skiing at Schweitzer one time, and still remember how fun it was, and the beautiful views. And I share your love of Sandpoint... what a great little town! Glad you made the trip and enjoyed your ski weekend... and hope your son is feeling better.

  17. Great shots! The rain made nice reflections. Stay away from that flu; it's not fun.


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