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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

2016 Ski Preview: Schweitzer Mountain

Schweitzer is known for an impressive 2,400 feet of continuous vertical and incredible views of Lake Pend Oreille. (Schweitzer Mountain Resort / Schweitzer Mountain Resort)
By Bill Jennings Correspondent

People have differing points of view about Schweitzer Mountain Resort. For those accustomed to the expense and crowds at North America’s world-class resorts, Schweitzer is often described as a “hidden gem.” To many locals passionate about skiing for skiing’s sake, Schweitzer is a pretentious, overpriced Sun Valley wannabe.

From an industry standpoint, Schweitzer is definitely a player compared to its neighbors. But this destination resort above Sandpoint falls somewhere in between the extreme, opposite viewpoints.

Sun Valley can lay claim to a rich history as the wonderland of Hollywood movie stars and skiing icons. It is also renowned for an impressive 3,400 feet of continuous vertical. But Schweitzer is a lot bigger: 2,900 acres compared to Sun Valley’s 2,054 acres. Its sprawling size offers a greater variety of terrain that receives a lot more snow: an average of 300 inches, versus 220 inches at Sun Valley.

You can drive about two hours from Spokane to get more variety and better snow at Schweitzer for $77 per day this season. Sun Valley has yet to release lift ticket prices for 2016-17, but last season one single-day lift ticket was $125. From that perspective, Schweitzer is a bargain. Plus, in other ways, it may never be like Sun Valley.

“As much as Schweitzer is a true resort in that sense of that word, its still a very intimate place and everyone knows each other very well,” said Dig Chrismer, Marketing Manager at Schweitzer. “This is very unique for me, because compared to other resorts I’ve worked at, Schweitzer is definitely more of a family. That includes all of our guests.”

If you hold a season pass at another resort, you don’t have to allow a season to go by without a little taste of the big time. Schweitzer’s Ski3 package lets you do that at a reasonable price: three lift tickets for $179, fully transferable, with no blackouts. That works out to roughly $60 per ticket before taxes, compared to the average full price of around $55 at our other local hills.

“To get the best value at Schweitzer, get your Ski3 and make plans,” Chrismer said. “Save one for a powder day, use one when you want to ski with your kids during Christmas vacation, or just hang on to it when you need some sunshine therapy later on in March.”

You’re more likely to encounter thick fog than sunshine in the heart of winter at Schweitzer. But the resort is so big; you can often find better visibility on another part of the mountain. Because of its size, the toughest decision you could face at Schweitzer is where to go first.

On a powder day, competition for fresh tracks is intense in areas like the Lakeside Chutes, or backside terrain accessed by the t-bar on Little Blue. But Chrismer risked inciting the wrath of locals by giving away a little secret.

“If you’re smart, when everyone else is heading straight toward the triple and the t-bar, take the Great Escape Quad to the Headwall,” she said. “You can easily get two or three laps there before everybody else has arrived and usually the powder holds up because the trees are so perfect.”

When you’re done slaying the Headwall, take a break at the new Summit Lodge, an 8,000 square-foot, two-story building located to the right of the Great Escape Quad. Under construction since the summer of 2015, the Summit Lodge is scheduled to open in time for the holiday season. Ski patrol headquarters and sorely needed summit restrooms are on the first level. A restaurant and full service bar with 360-degree views provides indoor/outdoor seating for up to 180 people on the second level.

Vail has the Two-Elk Lodge on top. Sun Valley has the Seattle Ridge Lodge. Now Schweitzer has a Summit Lodge of its very own. Does that make it a player? It depends on your point of view.