When Goldilocks stumbled across the home of the Three Bears, she found a bowl of porridge and then a bed that were “just right” for her taste. Skiers and boarders who discover Schweitzer Mountain Resort in the panhandle of Idaho are likely to find it to be in that “just right” sweet spot as well. Called “the best-kept secret in North America” by SKI magazine, Schweitzer makes so many “under-the-radar” ski areas lists (Men’s Journal, Unofficial Networks, CNN Travel, Snowsbest and Business Insider to name a few) that it’s almost outdated to still call it underrated.
With 2,900 skiable acres, Schweitzer does not rank among the top ten biggest ski areas in North America, but it does top the list among Idaho resorts. Admittedly, Sun Valley has a greater vertical drop, but the best-known Idaho resort still trails Schweitzer by 750 acres in that statistical category.
Schweitzer’s size makes it big enough to provide enough terrain for a lengthy vacation. On the other hand, it’s small enough to reconnect with family or friends easily during a day of skiing. The straightforward layout consists of two main sections, Schweitzer Bowl and Outback Bowl. It’s hard to get lost at Schweitzer, because basically all the runs either lead to the village at the bottom of Schweitzer Bowl or the bottom of Outback Bowl on the backside.
Likewise, the village has all the necessary restaurants, shops, services and amenities of a true “destination resort” base area, but it’s far from a sprawling corporate megaplex of ski-related commerce. In the upper level of the Lakeview Lodge, Taps Lounge is the prime apres-ski spot. Powder Hound Pizza handles any pizza dinner cravings. Chimney Rock Grill serves as the village’s option for a nice sit-down meal.
“We have everything you need here, but we’re not flaunting that as in-your-face kind of thing,” says Schweitzer’s marketing manager Dig Chrismer. “You need a get a good bite to eat, we’ve got good food. You want a nice place to stay. We have that. You want to ski great terrain. We have that.”
When it comes to challenge, everyone’s “just right” is different based on ability and ambition. Schweitzer’s diverse terrain can satisfy those various levels of skiers and boarders. “In the sense of Schweitzer being the biggest resort in Idaho, those words are intimidating, but the mountain is not,” says Chrismer. “Yet, if you want to come here and find things that will challenge you and go big, you can find that. But other people in the family are going to be able to find terrain that’ll keep them happy.”
Schweitzer does not match up to resorts such as Jackson Hole or Snowbird in terms of extreme terrain, but it has plenty of slopes to keep experts and advanced skiers entertained. The advanced trails off the Lakeview Triple chairlift make up a prime single black-diamond playground in Schweitzer Bowl. The challenge jumps to double-black status near the top of Outback Bowl on runs including Lakeside Chutes, Kohli’s Big Timber and Wayne’s Woods. Again, Schweitzer’s toughest terrain doesn’t really reach the maximum consequences level of extreme, but it’s certainly steep and challenging enough to merit experts’ full attention.
The challenge for intermediates also comes out to be “just right.” The bevy of blue trails won’t strike fear in the minds of intermediate-level skiers and boarders, but the blues aren’t just glorified greens either. The Stella six-pack chairlift in Outback Bowl accesses an excellent selection of such blue runs.
Beginners have their own section for learning off the Musical Chairs chairlift that actually extends below the village base area. Although the beginner area is at the resort’s base, the topography allows first-timers to still enjoy Schweitzer’s renowned views of Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced “pond oh-RAY”).
Schweitzer also overlooks the lakeshore town of Sandpoint. Lake Pend Oreille makes the town a huge summertime tourist destination. During the winter, Sandpoint may not be as lively and crowded as places like Aspen or Park City, but the town doesn’t completely close down and hibernate either.
The quaint town has an appealing genuine character. A concentration of restaurants and bars can be found along First Avenue. The Hive gives the downtown street an acclaimed venue for live music on most weekends. The nearby historic Granary District is becoming another draw with the recent opening of the Matchwood Brewing Company brewhouse and restaurant. The local provider for Schweitzer Resort’s coffee, Evans Brothers Coffee Roasters, also has a location in the Granary District.
Located just 65 miles south of Canada, Schweitzer is hard enough to reach to keep away the crowds, but it’s a much easier trip than the masses recognize. “Our geographic location has kind of kept us protected in a sense. You really have to go off the beaten track to get here,” says Chrismer. “You have to think out-of-the-box. I think that scares people initially, because they think if I’m not going to Colorado or Utah, it’s going to be really complicated and crazy to get there. When they finally make the effort to get here, they realize that’s not the case at all.”
The airport in Spokane, Wash., serves as the gateway for destination travelers. Six airlines combine to offer non-stop service from 16 cities. Beyond those cities, usually just one more connecting flight is needed. Incidentally, the Spokane airport fits the “Goldilocks” description as well. It’s big enough to be considered a major airport, but small enough to be very convenient. The easy 90-mile drive from the Spokane airport to Schweitzer runs largely through a flat valley without any traffic congestion.
From a skiing perspective, Schweitzer is more isolated than Colorado’s I-70 resorts or Salt Lake City’s resorts, but it isn’t alone either. North Idaho (locals proudly say “North” rather than “Northern”) also includes Silver Mountain in Kellogg and Lookout Pass smack on the border of Idaho and Montana. Along with an indoor waterpark, Silver Mountain offers extensive terrain with about 1,600 skiable acres. Averaging the most snow in the region at 400 inches annually, Lookout Pass is a smaller area with a fun down-home vibe. Overall, by factoring in other ski areas located in Washington and Canada, 13,749 skiable acres at seven resorts can be found within a three-hour drive of Spokane International Airport.
Considering the Three Bears found Goldilocks sleeping, Schweitzer’s lodging has to be “just right.” Along with a selection of independently owned on-mountain condos, the Selkirk Lodge and White Pine Lodge are the main ski-in/ski-out properties at the resort. Schweitzer’s lodging tends to be cozy, clean and convenient. It’s nice, but not so luxurious that it costs an absolute fortune. The Selkirk Lodge has primarily a traditional hotel room set-up. The White Pine Lodge has multiple bedroom layouts suitable for families or groups.