What do you do when you don’t have a multi pass, you want to take a quick ski trip, and you’re hoping to avoid crowds?
(While still sticking somewhat on the beaten path…)
You look into Schweitzer.
At least that’s what I did when faced with the dilemma in March 2022.
The Low Down on Schweitzer
Schweitzer is an interesting case.
It sits 1.5 hours north of Spokane International airport, meaning if you can work out flights to Spokane, it’s actually one of then easier to get to resorts.
Its trail map looks small, but run the numbers and you’ll see it sports a sneaky 2,900 acres. That’s a total that puts it in line within much bigger mountains (or at least, bigger advertising budgets) like Breckenridge, Steamboat Springs, and even Snowbird.
And until just recently, Schweitzer was multipass agnostic. (They did recently join evil empire #2 – IKON, but that’s a discussion for another day.)
All this means that Schweitzer is a sneaky, under the radar spot for skiers looking for something a little different than the usual Denver/Salt Lake/Tahoe getaway.
Of course, it’s not all sunshine for planning a trip to Schweitzer. Literally! This mountain is known for its fog, and I experienced first hand how much poor visibility can damper a ski trip when I visited Whitefish during a legendary whiteout.
Schweitzer’s snow totals are also lower than some of the other destinations, and that snow usually comes down in the heavier, PNW variety.
The Game Plan
The first week in March, I’d fly into Spokane on Wednesday, ski Thursday and Friday, and fly back out on Saturday.
Travel Day: Minneapolis to Sandpoint, Idaho
For a mountain that’s considered “off the beaten path” by those less in the know, Schweitzer is surpassingly easy to get to.
Assuming you’ve got options to GEG – Spokane International, the mountain sits less than 90 minutes from the airport.
On my visit, Schweitzer’s reputation preceded it, and the region greeted me with heavy rain and fog to start my trip.
Even despite this, I was relieved to find the drive easy and straightforward. The road from Spokane to Sandpoint is relatively straight and flat highway driving, and definitely nothing like the mountainous treachery that awaits visitors hoping to pilot their rental cars to places like Altabird, Whistler, Jackson Hole, or Colorado’s I-70 favorites.
Uneventfully, I reached Sandpoint, where another benefit of Schweitzer’s under the radar status awaited – affordable lodging. My room at the Outdoors Inn ran just around $100 a night, and I was again relieved to find it clean, convenient, and with a comfortable bed to boot!
No desk in the room though, which gave me an excuse to “get some work done in town.”
I chose the Matchwood Brewery, because what goes together like work and beer?
Matchwood was a spacious, low key spot perfect for chilling before a big day on the slopes.
All the while, the rain kept coming down in town, and I silently hoped that the mountain’s elevation would turn that rain into snow.
Day 1 of Skiing: First Impressions of Schweitzer
Today’s forecast – rain and snow mixture.
This will be interesting!
In fact, Schweitzer’s back bowl had been closed for two days, thanks to rain on the mountain. But with temperatures dropping, forecasters were confident that winter would return, hopefully just in time for my skiing!
After some slight parking lot confusion – Schweitzer barely marks their lots and they’re not available on GPS, either – (or at least I was too much of a touron to find them on attempt number 1) I picked up my tickets and loaded the first chair!
I started the day lapping Basin Express on the front side. The snow was surprisingly deep, and I had a blast powering through the mixed snow on Charlies and Lower Sam’s alley.
Eventually, I headed to the outback, where I found Stella’s lift, charming country character and all! (This might be the only lift I’ve ever found housed in its own barn!)
I found the best snow of the day on Upper and Lower G3. Sure, the locals complained it was still a little heavy, but as someone just getting back into Western Skiing, sticking my poles down to the handle was a welcome sight!!
The snow was deep, soft, and tons of fun!
Throughout the day, the wintery mix continued, which meant plenty of deep skiing. Sure, I had to combat some of Schweitzer’s legendary fog to get the goods, and by the end of the day, the conditions were so wet that I looked like I came out of a car wash, but I had an absolute blast nonetheless!
To top it off, in the afternoon, I paired up with the Schweitzer ski school for a relatively affordable 3-hour private lesson – another benefit that would be mostly unattainable at most other destination resorts.
Day 2: Happy Powder Day!
Friday morning, and the fog had finally parted and made way for mountain views!
Even better, ski patrol was reporting 5 inches of new snow at the base, and upwards of 8-10 inches at the summit.
Mix this with the fact that most of the North Bowl had been closed because of the last few day’s rain, and some quick math meant there’d certainly be areas of the North Bowl with upwards of 20+ inches of fresh snow.
Honestly, I don’t know if I’ve ever been as excited to pull up to a ski resort than I was when I caught my first (non-foggy) glimpse of the entire mountain from the base, trees capped in a fresh blanket of white.
And… the morning delivered the goods!
After two hot laps of the frontside, I headed back to Colburn Triple.
Lakeside Chutes felt chest-high deep, although the depth and steepness made for tough sledding for this rusty skier.
I eventually found my way to the Cedar Park lift, where yet more untracked powder awaited. And the greatness continued – even main run blues off Stella held untracked lines as late as 10-11:00 AM, and I was finding great pockets all the way until about 1:00 PM!
As someone used to Denver getting skied out in a matter of runs, and Salt Lake City’s “Powder Hour” rather than powder days, this was probably the most continuous powder I’ve skied in a single day.
By 1:00, my legs were sufficiently shot, and the powder had mostly turned to deep, chopped up crud. I decided groomers were the best way to round out an already amazing day, so I spent some time lapping Stella and Cedar Park.
Eventually, I had just one thing left on my Schweitzer bucket list – see the legendary lake view.
Around 2:00, I noticed a parting of the clouds, and I raced to the front side.
Sure enough, the skies had opened up to an absolutely jaw dropping view of Lake Pend Oreille.
I spent the rest of the day leisurely lapping the front side groomers. (Minus an accidental drop in on an ungroomed and DEEP Stiles, which the tired legs were absolutely not in the mood for. Whoops!)
Either way, they’d have to pry me off the mountain on a day this good, and I kept up the lapping of blues until their 3:30 close.
That night, I checked out the uniquely described Utara Brewery – possibly the only brewery I’ve ever come across that serves Indian food along with a long line of award winning craft beer.
(The small menu of Indian food was incredibly impressive, by the way! That curry sampler was amazing!)
The next day, I checked out of the Outdoors Inn and leisurely worked my way back from Sandpoint to Spokane International Airport, checking out some of the beautiful Northern Idaho landscape along the way.
What a trip!
The snow gods tested my mettle with an initial day of fog and wetness, but then rewarded me with one of my best powder days ever.
I definitely caught a lucky break, and Schweitzer delivered the goods.
Even better, I had a blast enjoying the charming town of Sandpoint, and even snuck in a pit stop as Coeur d’Alene before reluctantly catching my flight home.
Here’s to hoping Schweitzer never changes too much!
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