Though bare of snow, the slopes of regional ski resorts are buzzing with mountain bikers and loads of activities as summer becomes an increasingly important season.
Winter skiers will always make or break ski resorts, but keeping locals and tourists trekking up the mountains nicely complements a resort’s winter appeal, said Bill Mullane of Schweitzer Mountain Resort.
“I’d say we aim our summer activities toward both locals and tourists who come through Sandpoint,” he said last week during the kickoff for Schweitzer’s summer schedule.
As Schweitzer and Silver Mountain Resort in Kellogg continue developing their respective reputations as destination resorts, filling the summer with concerts, bike rides and festivals keeps people thinking about the resorts.
Schweitzer opened its Great Escape chair for rides last week, and has added Icelandic pony rides to its schedule of summer fun.
Silver Mountain began its summer concert series in June to go with horseback rides and challenging mountain biking, said Tim Newhart, marketing director.
The concert series, featuring such acts as Kathy Mattea and the Everly Brothers, have put ticket sales “way over our projections,” he said.
Superb mountain biking can be had at all five regional ski hills this summer. Mount Spokane has highly regarded bike trails where national races are held. Plenty of good biking can be had at 49 Degrees North in Chewelah and at Lookout Pass near Mullan, Idaho.
Schweitzer wants to land a national bike race of its own, said Mullane, a mountain biking fanatic himself. “If we were to get one, it would really anchor our summer.”
Silver Mountain has some of the best-mapped and best-marked trails for bikes in the region, Newhart said. The trails extend far beyond the ski resort’s boundaries, allowing ambitious riders to ride 20 miles or more toward Pinehurst and Big Creek.
Silver Mountain’s first summer was its best in terms of numbers, as curious locals crammed the gondola to see what the new ski hill was like, Newhart said. Visitors dropped off the second year, but as the mountain draws bigger-name acts for concerts in its fifth year, the summer has become more profitable, he said.
A growing source of income for Silver Mountain has been catering to big groups at its lodge. Spokane’s Itron Inc. recently held its company picnic there with more than 400 people, he said.
As a line of Icelandic ponies “tolts” - a gait just below a gallop - past a group of tourism-related visitors kicking off the start of Schweitzer’s season, Mullane said summer visitors remember the good times they had in July when thinking about skiing in the winter.
“It’s important to keep people thinking about Schweitzer, and this is a great way to do it,” he said.