Priest Lake, A Shangri-La for Snowcatters

With 400 miles of trails, stunning Selkirk Mountains terrain and an ardent snowmobiling community, Priest Lake is a top destination for snowcatters

Reprinted from Sandpoint Magazine. 936 words

By Billie Jean Plaster

Priest Lake on the west side of the Selkirk Mountains known in summer for the exceptional beauty of its lake is fast becoming renown in winter as a snowmobiler's mecca.

Besides thousands of acres of open country all the way to the Canadian border there are up to 400 miles of groomed trails for snowmobilers to explore. Locals agree the best riding is at the north end of the lake, where groomed trails lead snowmobilers into the backcountry bowls of the Selkirks.

"The north trailhead system sends you into the heart of snowmobiling country," said Mike Szybnski, a local snowmobiler and part of the family-run Elkins Resort. "It's quite spectacular. You can reach areas here in the winter that you can't reach in the summer."

"The views are just awesome up on the trails," added Dorothy Benscoter, one of the owners at nearby Grandview Resort. "You can see both ends of the lake from the mountain tops on the groomed trails."

Both Elkins and Grandview at Reeder Bay on the north end of the lake cater to snowmobilers. Elkins opens its restaurant and bar on the weekends, and keeps the store open the rest of the time. Likewise, Grandview has a restaurant and bar open on the weekends, except for the holiday season when they are open daily. For guests without their own sleds, both Elkins and Grandview offer rentals at their lodges through Indian Creek Resort. Both resorts offer snowmobile gas. Szybnski and his father-in-law Bob Davis, who is chairman of the Priest Lake Groomer Association, are both available at Elkins for advice on snowmobiling in the area; phone 443-2432. The Grandview can be reached at 443-2433.

The Nordman Store on Highway 57 at Nordman is also a good place to embark on a trip and to get advice. They offer parking areas for snowmobilers and services such as gas, food and supplies. Also at the store, Grooming Coordinator Randy Votava can give updates on grooming. Phone 443-2538.

About five miles south of Nordman at Luby Bay, Hill's Resort is another haven for snowmobilers. A full-service resort, Hill's has a restaurant and lounge open on weekends, snowmobile gas and on-site sled rentals through Four Seasons Rental. Lodging and snowmobile rental packages are available. Access to groomed trails is easy from Hill's; in fact, it's sled-in, sled-out. One of the active members of the grooming association, Craig Hill, who co-owns the family-owned resort, is at the resort when he's not on the trails himself, and is available for advice. Phone 443-2551.

On the east side of the lake, snowmobilers can alight at Priest Lake State Park., where there is free entrance and camping tent or RV in winter. From the park, groomed trails lead all around the lake, except where logging activity may prohibit trail use.

Park Manager Larry Townsend gathers the latest information on grooming conditions and posts it every day on the park's answering machine; phone 443-2200 for the grooming update. Snowmobilers can also tune in to radio station KMJY, FM 104.9 and AM 700, for grooming reports on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:45 a.m. Townsend said the groomed trails on the east side are perfect for novice snowmobilers, while the experienced riders may want to take the groomed trails to reach the open areas north of Upper Priest Lake. The park opens a store on the weekends for food and fuel.

Nearby at the southeast corner of the lake, the Inn at Priest Lake in Coolin offers snowmobile packages to guests. Snowcatters can leave right from the Inn to get into the trail system. Phone 443-2121.

The season for snowmobiling on groomed trails opens in mid-December after hunting season ends, which is when groomers start hitting the trails. They groom as late as March, depending on snow conditions.

The volunteer-powered Priest Lake Groomer Association orchestrates the grooming program. If you're from out-of-state, you can help the association by purchasing an Idaho snowmobile license. Of the $16.50 paid for the license, 85 percent will go to the area you designate. Or, you can choose to give the association a donation directly. For more on the association, contact Davis at Elkins Resort.

Snowmobile service is available at Priest Lake Yamaha & Polaris on Highway 57 in Priest Lake, phone 443-2415. For advice and rentals, try Four Seasons at one of three locations: Nordman Store, Hill's Resort or Action Marine NW at Priest Lake, phone 443-3883. New this year, guided snowmobile tours will be offered by Priest Lake Outdoor Adventures, 443-5601.

The association distributes a snowmobile trail map at many locations around the lake. It costs $1 and is essential for snowmobilers not familiar with the area.

The locals sometimes jokingly say that God lives at Priest Lake. Once you see the awesome scenery yourself, you'll know what they mean.

Sandpoint Magazine Senior Editor Billie Jean Plaster has been enjoying winters around here for most of her 26 tender years.

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COPYRIGHT 1996 by Keokee Co. Publishing, Inc., of Sandpoint, Idaho. Reprinted from the Winter 1996 edition of Sandpoint Magazine. Sandpoint Magazine is published twice a year, in Winter and Summer editions, by Keokee Co. Publishing, Inc. Call 1-800-880-3573 to subscribe.