Photo: Re Wikstrom
Quick, what’s Idaho’s biggest ski area? Yeah, that’s what most people think. But in fact Sun Valley is almost 30 percent smaller than its lesser-known neighbor to the north. Plus, getting to Schweitzer is arguably easier. The views are even better, thanks to magnificent Lake Pend Oreille in the near distance (1,150 feet deep). The town—sorry, city—of Sandpoint (population: 7,354) isn’t quite Ketchum, but it has similar charms (minus the conspicuous consumption). And if it’s powder you seek, forget about it. British Columbia is just 60 miles to the north, and its famous Powder Highway could be said to start right here in the southern Selkirks.
For three long-suffering ski buddies from back East, any scraps of powder will suffice. It’s been a sorry winter in Vermont, and as we cross the two-mile bridge into Sandpoint, our hopes are higher than they ought to be. This two-day visit is a preamble to a northward plunge into B.C., but soulful, shamelessly scenic Schweitzer will make us wonder if we should just stay put.
DAY ONE: Who says the light’s flat in the Pacific Northwest? Ethereal lake views and intermittent sunshine poke through the clouds. Schweitzer is huge, with terrific tree skiing, legit steeps, massive cedars. There’s scant frontside powder, but no matter—that’s a perfectly good reason to spend the afternoon cat-skiing the back side with Schweitzer’s secret weapon, Selkirk Powder Co. It’s spellbinding: sun-splashed glades, shin-deep powder, lots of laughter.
Day two: The light is, um, a little flat here in the Pacific Northwest. Ten inches fell overnight, and it’s still pounding. The wind-blasted summit is what Antarctica must be like, and traversing the ridge to the R Chutes requires blind faith. (Every run, someone eats it on an invisible drift, to everyone else's great amusement.) But then...R1, R2, R3—it doesn’t matter where you drop in. It’s steep enough and deep enough to slough heavily in places. And don’t think three Eastern guys aren’t going home talking about that. It’s storm skiing at its best, and we throw ourselves at the mountain like giggling idiots until wind finally shuts the triple down around 3 p.m. Then we wrap up the day with beers and new friends at Pucci’s Pub.
They say Schweitzer is an irresistible vortex. Lifties come for a winter and just lose track of the years. We manage to escape, but with real regret. It’s still snowing sideways as we head down the hill. Schweitzer disappears behind us in a swirling whiteout.
SLEEP » Choose between the Selkirk and White Pine lodges. The former is more hotel-like; the latter, condos with kitchens. schweitzer.com
EAT » Chimney Rock Grill is steps from the snow inside the Selkirk Lodge. In town, try Trinity, right on City Beach.
DRINK » Taps, atop the base lodge, has billiards and huge windowfuls of the beautiful view. Pucci’s has the vibe: good people and well-curated wall kitsch.