Leaning toward winter
Schweitzer Mountain will change velocity as the new 6-pack named Stella comes into being, along with Northwest Territory.
By Sandy Compton
Its Sept. 2, and Blues and Brews is in full swing in front of the Selkirk Lodge at Schweitzer Mountain. The music is hot. The weather is not. To avoid getting wet, we are crowded into the walkway under the roofline of the Lodge, or inside the Chimney Rock Bar, mixing with beer brewers and bartenders, while under a tent in the plaza, a hardy five-some in tuxedos plays a little Jimi, fingers flying in self defense against the 40-degree air temperature. The Great Escape Quad is running, hauling folks into the clouds hanging halfway down Schweitzer Peak. They come back shivering, damp. They talk about snowflakes falling from the late summer skies.
This, I think to myself, stuffing my hands into the pockets of my shorts and wishing for gloves, is a good sign.
Up in those clouds someplace is winter delight, coming to cover the subalpine firs in the North Bowl, the talus slopes of the Face, and the huckleberry bushes growing in Stiles. There is white stuff up there, made to fill in around the trees in Kathys Yard Sale and Phineas Forest. It is slippery, slick, ready to slide over. I am ready to jump off the edge of the world, lean into my skis, accelerate into the season. Ski season is just a few short weeks away. Isnt it?
OK, so Im ahead of myself. From Sept. 2 to Thanksgiving is really 11 weeks, but thats not quite a dozen. That could be counted as just a few. Call me optimistic. Ski season is the season, as far as Im concerned. Keep your boaters, your backpackers, your huddled mountain bikers. Give me two sticks to stand on, two sticks to steer with, and a cliff with snow sticking to it, and Im a happy guy. And Lord, let it be at Schweitzer.
Looking up through the misty air, past the temporary Devos Burritos stand in the Plaza, past the lady selling kettle corn, past the top of Musical Chairs, I try to make the magic stuff appear. Snow. Cmon, snowflakes. Heeeeere, little ice crystals. Fly down out of the sky. Cover the ground. Im ready.
There are those who are not. Laura and Mike White, operators of Mountain Horse Adventures, look ready, dressed in their oilskins, but they are just finishing up their first season of trail rides at Schweitzer. The one-horse sleighs they will operate this winter are still in storage. Contractor Ivan Rimar, hiding under the roof with the rest of us, is wary of the weather. Hes got a crew in the Outback, building a barn to house the experience that will be Phineas T. Schweitzers stupendous mountain conveyance, Stella.
Schweitzer marketing director Ingrid Campbell is willing to wait for snow a while longer. Today, she confesses to wearing at least five layers, and she pours Black Butte Porter with her gloves on, but she has a lot to do before the mountain opens. It is she who came up with Schweitzers Stella-celebrating tagline, Change Velocity. Stella will indeed do that. Stella is the name of the high-speed, 6-passenger replacement for slow, old Chair 5.
The guy in charge of building Stella is not very anxious to see the white stuff, either. Mark Haselby, construction supervisor for Garaventa CTEC, manufacturers of the new lift, wants to see it running before it snows. He squints at the sky, happy that the helicopter already flew the towers on his new baby into place last week.
Stella will be quite a child when she begins service in November. A combination of Swiss and American technology, she will be initially capable of moving 2,000 skiers an hour up the hill, with a peak capacity of 2,800, up from 950 on Chair 5. The ride up the hill drops from 14 minutes to about five. Be still my shaking legs. I used to ride Chair 5 to get some rest. Between the Quad and Stella, we are in for some thigh-burning days.
From the same anchor point as the bottom of the village. A good deal of great new skiing has been added to Schweitzer, and, even after a decade of winters, I have yet to see all the skiing it already offered.
Its still Sept. 2, but it wont be always. Soon, Ivan, Mark and Geoff will be done with their jobs. Soon, the huckleberry brush and tag alder and talus slopes will be blanketed by our more-than-generous share of winters great blessing. Ingrid may go to six layers when that first layer of white descends, but shell also get out her skis. Stella will feel winters cold caress for the first time, and the Volkls, those two sticks to stand on, will come down from storage in the peak of my roof. The world will change velocity. Cmon, winter. Im anxious.