Schweitzer on the Grow


There's plenty that's new as Schweitzer pursues its grand expansion. But some things about skiing a great mountain never change


Reprinted from Sandpoint Magazine. 950 words


by Nann Alleman

My first time on Schweitzer Mountain came just last winter, and it's not something I'll soon be forgetting. For that I can thank my friend Gritz.

Feeling shaky about my skiing skills, I earnestly told her I needed an easy warm-up cruise before jumping into the steep stuff. Her reply was reassuring. "No problem, bud!" chirped Gritz. "We'll hit the Ridge Run. That's a friendly groomer, perfect for some wide-open turns."

I followed her off the Great Escape Quad and on down the cat track that traverses the top of the South Bowl. Throwing in a few warm-up turns, Gritz suddenly laid in a hard, screaming left, caught air off a cornice between a pair of snow-caked firs, and soared out of sight down what I later learned were the black-diamond chutes of Headwall.

I stopped in my tracks, ski tips half over the abyss. After hollering a couple Hail Marys out to the surreal backdrop of Lake Pend Oreille and the powder field below, I sucked in what I assumed might be my last breath and pushed off.

I was in a secret stash of unmarked powder. No one else was in sight, not even Gritz (I quickly learned to get used to that). I didn't worry how I looked, slouched and snowplowing around trees, then pointing straight down and hitting mock-schnell speeds in utter panic. I took a dozen tumbles to avoid face-plants into unforgiving firs. But when the trees opened up I found what every skier wants.

I was in light powder. The in-your-face kind of powder. The turn-poof!-catch-your-breath kind of powder. When I finally caught Gritz at the bottom, I was a massive, snow-packed heap.

"That was incredible," I gasped, legs burning and totally beat.

"Wasn't it?" Gritz chortled, as I pounded my head to empty snow from my ear canal. "I've skied this mountain almost every winter since '69, bud," she said, "and I still love it. Great runs, incredible view, no lift lines... ."

This year I look forward to following Gritz to more of her secret spots on the mountain before she flies ahead out of view. Some things never will change.

But other things most certainly do change -- especially up on Schweitzer Mountain. This winter, there will be plenty of noticeable changes at Schweitzer Mountain as the resort enters the fifth year of its ambitious 10-year expansion master plan.

The first thing most skiers will notice are a plethora of new residential developments. The Glades triplexes sit adjacent to Musical Chairs and Happy Trails. Just below are cozy single-family units, called The Cabins. The Peaks, a string of four-level townhouses, are nestled right into the side of the slope adjacent to the parking lot. A trail has also been cut for another new development southeast of Schweitzer Village, The Woodlands, where home sites go up for sale this winter.

But there's more than new lodging going up on Schweitzer. This will be the first winter skiers can spot people relaxing outside in their bathing suits. Those scantily clad individuals will be guests at the Green Gables Lodge, which now has its own private waterworld behind the lodge. With a new heated pool, heated decks, three hot tubs and a cabana, guests can unwind at the end of a long ski day -- or even in the middle of a long ski day.

Day skiers will find new parking arrangements. Two lower parking lots have been leveled, graded and paved, and a free shuttle will take those using the lower lots to and from the village on weekends and holidays. Or they can get a quick warm-up by skiing to the base of the Musical Chairs chairlift for a ride up to the village. Going that route they'll see more changes.

The base of the Happy Trails beginner run has been shifted and expanded to create a smoother fall line with more room to load on Musical Chairs. Beginning skiers and snowboarders will have an easier time overall on the beginner hill, as the narrow entry at the top of the Happy Trails has been widened and given a gentler gradient. A surface "platter" lift is planned in the future to service the upper stretch.

That's not all for beginners. This winter Schweitzer is doing even more to get people to try skiing. From the season opener until Christmas, any new skier can reserve a day of free ski rentals, lift tickets and lessons.

Snowboarders, too, have plenty to look forward to. On the runs east of Chair 1, resort planners are working with snowboard experts and local clubs to create a snowboard park that will take maximum advantage of the mountain's physical features. Coming soon will be a half-pipe, jumps, bumps, swoops, swells and swales -- all in hopes of fulfilling snowboarders' air-raising dreams.

Off below the Chair 4 staging area there's a haven for a different kind of snow buff. Cross-country skiers can indulge in a day of solitude along 8 kilometers of groomed track leading to a panoramic view of the lake. There is plenty new on the nordic system, too, as the resort built a whole network of trails last summer to host mountain bike races. The new trails may require some route-finding skills; ask about them at the Alpine Shop.

But the wonderful thing about Schweitzer is skiers rarely need to go off-piste to find untouched areas. With 2,350 acres, almost 50 named runs and 2,400 feet of vertical drop, there's almost always virgin snow to be had at Schweitzer. Especially if you know where to look ... or are willing to go exploring.

And so I'm already prepping myself for another season of skiing those remote powder caches, following in Gritz's tracks. Even now I can see myself buckling my boots, adjusting my goggles and white-knuckling my poles as I on hop the quad next to my friend.

Again I will tell her, "Let's start on a mosey-paced warm-up run, Gritz."

And again she'll reply, "Sure, bud!" And I'll see her gaze out at the lake or to the snowy Cabinet Mountains, then drift to a disconcerting, sheer powder face off in the distance. She'll try not to let me read the smirk hidden behind her eyes.

I can already feel the hackles raise under my neck gaiter. Even at Schweitzer, some things never do change.

Nann Alleman is a Sandpoint Magazine staffer who has been known to call in sick on days when suspicious weather conditions prevail.

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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.