Dream Days at Schweitzer

On a great mountain, with great snow, the question is:
What are your dreams made of?

By Sandy Compton
Copyright 1996 © Sandpoint Magazine

There is a quality to skiing that can lead a day on the mountain to become as a dream. These dreams are like wood smoke. They show up around the end of November and dissipate in early April.

Ask Schweitzer skiers to retell a dream day they had on the mountain and they will often get a faraway look in their eyes and say, "There have been so many, it's hard to say." But then they launch into storytelling.

A legendary snow day produces the most dreams, and often a name shared among those who experienced it - like last season's Miracle of White Wednesday.

Erich Thompson has skied at Schweitzer for 25 years, but when I asked him to tell me his best day on the mountain, he hesitated only an instant before remembering White Wednesday.

"Last year, I was working at Hope and it was sunny everywhere else, but there was a big lenticular cloud over Schweitzer. I called the top of Chair 1 and asked what was going on. They said, 'It's snowing two inches an hour and nobody's here.'

"I went home and got my gear. On the way to the mountain, it was blue sky all around, but by the time I got to the last switch back, I could hardly see.

"I only made eight or 10 runs, but how many do you have to make for it to be right? The snow was boiling up around my waist, and every time I made a run, there were no tracks, they were filling in so fast."

Then there was what has been variously referred to as Six Per Cent Saturday, or Super Saturday. The snow has been described as 3 to 7 percent moisture, the temperature anywhere from 3 degrees to "perfect," but everyone dreams their own dreams.

Ski patrolman Brandon "Moondog" Moon remembers it well.

"Saturday morning I don't know the date. 18 inches 5 percent moisture. It had been snowing all week. We had clear skies." He pauses. "I don't know if I should divulge this or not "

Then, he takes the plunge.

"We were on the lift at 7:30. We had gone up early to do control work. We got to the top and did our assessment, and found there was none to do." Standing at the top of B Chute in the South Bowl, the crew decided the snow needed to be "vertically checked."

"We had 45 minutes," Moondog confessed, "and it was just a race. Every turn was face shots. It was absolutely phenomenal. That was the day I bought my first neck gaiter. Your turn rhythm was 'inhale, compact snowball, spit it out inhale.' It was as good as it ever gets."

Sometimes, to have a good dream, you must first suffer through a nightmare. With a friend from Colorado, Jay Sherman learned that lesson.

"It was on Quicksilver where I had the best and worst runs of my life. Three years ago, it rained one evening, and the next morning, Peggy Fleming on her ice skates shouldn't have gone down Quicksilver. We were riding Chair 4, and like a fool, I brought my friend down that run. He had never seen ice like that in his life."

"Last season, the same friend was here." Jay smiled at the thought, as if relishing the resiliency of certain relationships and the beauty of redemption. "We woke up to 20 inches of fresh, with 11 inches more in the first two hours of the day. We rode Chair 4 and took the quickest route back to get on again Quicksilver. We were first tracks, choking all the way down."

Not all dream days are powder days, and not all are strictly about skiing.

Steve Klatt, who wears the hat of county commissioner, remembers a run that he made years ago. "I was standing at the top, on a foggy, foggy day and noticed a sunbreak 100 yards away. 'I might as well wait there,' I thought."

When he skied into it, though, it began to move, and he followed it down slope, over Headwall, clear to the bottom of Chair One. "There were about 10 people standing in line on Chair One, and they thought I was crazy, because they could hear me whooping and hollering, and then just before I got to the lift, the sunbreak disappeared."

Many times, dream days are the interlaced tracks of friends and family.

Sandpoint artist Mike Turnbull remembered a day with his brother, uncle and father in 1979. "Before my brother died, we used to come over here for Christmas. There was a day when we were all like Kamikaze skiers, trying to find every jump on the mountain. I was 18, and my dad and my uncle were like old guys, but I remember us launching off the breakover on Zipdown, all of us."

Kathe Murphy and friends Steve and Linda Navarre, Ray and Mary Bird and Claire Lavendal spent a "gorgeous, sunny day, going up and down, up and down, up and down. We had all just seen 'Pulp Fiction,' and when we skied by each other, we'd throw one-liners at each other. We all took turns riding up with different persons. We sat at the Outback and put our faces in the sun. Every one of us said, "This is the best."

Conditions can give dreams a sharp edge. Snowboarding massage therapist Melinda Propp, new on the mountain last year, tells about boarding in a blizzard. "It must have been 50 below and the wind was howling, but there was 18 inches of powder. I think I was one of only two people on Chair 1, and it was glorious. If me or the other guy would have stopped, they would have closed the mountain."

Then, there is romance. Swans Landing owner Alex Verhoogen met his partner Mary Lee Judy on the mountain in 1993, and they skied together all day for two days. Still together, they had a dream day later when the weather was good but the snow wasn't.

"The first time we tried fat skis," Mary Lee told me, "everyone else was inside. The snow was really cruddy, and we skied all day by ourselves. We laughed so hard our sides hurt."

And sometimes, a dream day on the mountain has nothing to do with skiing at all. Jim Armbruster, a bartending legend in the old Bierstube for years, found his fondest Schweitzer memory in an airband contest in the Tube in the early '80s.

"I was Jivin' Jim Wormsweat and they were the Sweatettes; Christine Owens, Colleen Mullane, Patty Mullane, Pam Aunan Mary Bowne.

"Charlie Elliot, Tom Anderson and Jay Hall did 'All Along The Watch Tower,' three girls from Red Mountain were the Supremes. Robin Abbot was Janis Joplin." He laughs. "It was a night we wished the clock would stop."

It may not stop, but time slows down on the mountain, particularly on the days that become dreams. I wake from my own such dreams almost never in my bed, but more likely standing on my skis at the bottom of Chair 6 in Colburn Basin.

I find on waking that I, like all dreamers, would rather stay in the dream. I shake my head in disbelief, but the truth is in me, shining out of me by virtue of a well-lodged, goofy grin. The grin begins to fade before I remember that soon, I will dream again. ·

Sandy Compton spends time dreaming when he's not busy running Cabinet Crest Communications. He's also author of "Jason's Passage," available at local book stores.

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