Although I love skiing in my home state of Colorado, I don’t love the crowds at many of the Front Range resorts these days. Not to mention the traffic on I-70. So this year, I decided to check out Schweitzer Mountain Resort in Idaho’s scenic panhandle for my family ski vacation.
In a basin above the town of Sandpoint and overlooking Lake Pend Oriellle in the still wild Selkirk Mountains, Schweitzer Mountain Resort features 2,900 skiable acres, 92 trails, reasonably priced lift ticket prices, uncrowded trails and an average snowfall of 300 inches. Oh and the locals are also friendly — you won’t find big egos ruling the tree skiing runs this mountain is known for here. And it even has weekend night skiing. All this added up to being a no brainer destination for a good time ski vacation with my husband, TJ.
From Denver we caught a direct flight to Spokane, Washington and then made the two hour drive from the airport to the mountain. We wanted a rental car so we could explore outside the resort, but if you’re staying on the mountain, there is no need to have a car, and there are shuttle service options from the airport. At Schweitzer, we were staying in the village at the Selkirk Lodge, which is just steps from the lift. The 82 rooms and suites are comfortable with space to spread out, and the hotel also has an outdoor heated pool and hot tubs and a spa for post skiing massages. There is an excellent host breakfast included in the rate, which gave us fuel to get through a full morning of riding.
The next day it was time to conquer the mountain. It turns out we timed the trip perfectly because there was a ton of fresh snow which made for some of the best conditions. Especially when our home state isn’t seeing much fresh snowfall.
Here, I was also impressed with how short the lift lines were, although the music blasting out of speakers in the line was pumping me up so much I almost wouldn’t have minded waiting a few more minutes. Actually, that’s not true: I was ready to ski.
I hadn’t ridden for a while, so I decided to take a lesson while TJ went off to explore on his own — he’d just had a pair of custom Wagner Skis made and was eager to road test them. My instructor, Wild Bill, was incredible, and I felt like I got my money’s worth with the two-hour group lesson. Even after we finished, I could hear him telling me to imagine there are bananas at the top of my boots that I need to squish and to keep my shoulders facing towards the bottom the hill. Beginner tips, but for someone life myself that learned to ski as an adult only few seasons ago, was very helpful and I keep his advice in mind when I rejoined TJ.
Back together on the mountain we definitely enjoyed the diversity of the terrain with a big chunk of it devoted to intermediate, advanced and expert trails, including two wide open bowls that feature deep powder and super steep terrain. There are also some great groomed beginner runs and overall 10 percent of the terrain is designed for newbie snow riders. For experts, the resort also has an open gate policy to access out-of-bounds backcountry terrain that covers another 200 miles in the Selkirk Mountains — just make sure you know what you are doing, it is wild country out here.
Schweitzer has 9 lifts, including Stella Lift on the mountain’s backside, which is a six-seater that was designed by a former Disney Imagineer. The lift is accessed by skiing into a large 19th-century cable carriage bar that is still filled with spinning gear and steaming boiler machinery. Once onboard, the lift climbs more than 1,500 feet in less than 6 minutes and offers easy access to more than 150-acres of family friendly terrain.
At the end of the day we were definitely ready for apres, so after picking up Everett we headed straight to Taps Lounge, which is also in the mountain village. It features 24 beers on tap from around the globe — you’ll find everything from a South African lager to an Oregon porter — as well as pizza, snacks and salads and a DJ rotation during the ski season. Other favorite spots we found in Schweitzer Village was the child-friendly Powerhound Pizza, which does awesome pizza but also super delicious homemade pie and Puccit’s for the final beer of the night.
And even though you can find everything you need at the resort, we also had fun driving into downtown Sandpoint for a more local vibe. Just 30 minutes from the mountain, it is a quaint place for a stroll with plenty of dining options. We loved MickDuff’s, the local craft brewery that also has great food options from burgers to salads.
Schweitzer Mountain Resort has been called the best kept secret in America, and after spending a weekend skiing here, I concur. Although there were plenty of locals, the lack of crowds combined with quality of snow and diversity of runs really added up to be a memorable experience. No, this isn’t the biggest resort in the world, but there is plenty of skiable acres to keep you from riding the same runs over and over (unless you want to) over a few days. My husband also noted how unpretentious this place is, and with lift tickets at just $77 per day as opposed to Vail or Aspen where a single day ticket costs more than $175, it’s also a steal of a deal. Visit this Idaho gem near the Canadian border before the ski world catches on!