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Mountain Of Memories Schweitzer Visit Can Be Relaxing And Invigorating

All day one recent Saturday, we skied in blizzard-like conditions - snow flying, wind blowing, visibility nil. Then early Sunday morning, we flung open the curtains of our slope-side room and were blown away by dazzling blue skies and a layer of delicious powder beckoning us to be first up the chair.

Ah, the rewards of staying on the hill. No early morning drive up the mountain. No jockeying for a parking place and juggling your equipment up the slippery slope. You’re already there.

Schweitzer Mountain is the only ski resort in easy driving distance (yes, I like Montana’s Big Mountain, too) where you can carve turns by day and slumber at night. The Green Gables Lodge has been open since 1991, but with the recent controversy over who’s in control of operations, I was somewhat skeptical about booking a stay there.

I needn’t have fretted. Everything was swell. I’ve stayed at the Green Gables several times and have always appreciated the view - either of the runs off Chair 1 or - on a clear day - the meandering shores of Lake Pend Oreille.

You can book a standard room, with a couple of queen-size beds and a tiny bathroom. Or, spend a few extra bucks and spring for a mini-suite.

These rooms have space to spread out - a fold-out couch beside the queen bed, an armchair with an ottoman near a reading light, a big closet for storing your gear, plus a wet bar with a coffee maker, a small fridge and a microwave.

The only difference between this season and last was the absence of plates and eating utensils. Before this year, these units were sold as mini-kitchens. Now, if you want to cater your own meals, you need to plan ahead and pack paper plates.

Which is exactly what we did. Reinforcing the cliche that food never tastes better than after a hard day on the slopes, we gobbled heaping plates of chicken curry that I made at home and nuked in our microwave. When we checked in with our cooler and a bag of groceries, my husband joked: “The Clampetts have arrived.”

So what? It’s one way to beat the high cost of skiing.

If you don’t want to cook, there’s a restaurant in the Green Gables, but I recommend checking out the creative chow at Club St. Bernard instead. It’s located just down the road near the now-shuttered Overnighter Lodge. It’s open only Friday through Sunday, though. They’ll be happy to give you directions at the front desk.

Other apres ski pleasures you can indulge in if you’re staying on the mountain include checking out the action in Taps, the lounge in the lodge. (It’s non-smoking this year.) On the weekends, there’s almost always live entertainment with no cover charge. The bar in Jean’s, located in the Green Gables, is a fun spot to people watch.

Or, you can soothe sore muscles in one of three outdoor hot tubs located adjacent to the hotel through a covered walkway. Be brave and dive into the heated outdoor pool. It was a real treat to do the backstroke while studying the stars and being surrounded by walls of snow.

Other pluses to staying slope-side at Schweitzer are a ski storage room and covered, heated parking in the garage on the ground level. (Though there aren’t nearly enough spaces to accommodate all guests. More reserved parking is located just a few steps from the front lobby.)

Even non-skiers will find the Green Gables a pleasant place to hang out. The lobby is filled with overstuffed chairs and couches. I saw lots of folks sitting by the stone fireplace reading books. In another corner, there’s a TV in front of more seating, where kids were watching videos.

There’s also a gift shop, where you can find everything from warm things to wear to nifty knickknacks. Just steps away, in the main lodge, there’s a small store that carries a limited assortment of groceries, beer and wine, as well as a selection of movies and VCRs to rent.

Finally, if you need to give your body a break from skiing, hop on the shuttle into town and explore Sandpoint. It costs $1 each way and runs regularly. The front desk has the schedule.

Regular room rates at the Green Gables are $130 for a standard room, $140 for a mini-suite. There are ski and stay packages available and the prices drop during the off-season. For reservations, call (800) 831-8810.

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