When the crowds converge on our hometown, it’s time to seek solace on quieter, snowier slopes. Even though Tahoe saw a record-breaking snowfall last season, we intentionally scheduled trips during the busiest periods. We spent two weeks in Japan during California ski week. Then during spring break, we embarked on our favorite road trip tour to escape the crowds – a chain of powder-filled ski resorts in Northern Idaho. Here’s what we found at each of the gems in North Idaho that are near the city of Coeur d’Alene Resort.
It’s been a while since I’ve been to Schweitzer Mountain Resort. In fact, its been AT LEAST a decade maybe even two since I’ve been there. It’s interesting the things you remember when you’ve visited dozens of other ski areas in between. It’s less about something specific and more about how I felt. That it was fun. I remember vividly that the clouds socked us in and there was plenty of fresh snow. My legs were sore from riding non-stop due to nonexistent lift lines. That it had the steepest groomed trails I’d ever seen.
No matter how much we yearn to dwell in the past, one undeniable truth remains: change is the only constant. On my return to Schweitzer Mountain Resort, I was in awe at all the changes. It was akin to reuniting with a childhood friend, only to discover that he had returned from college taller, stronger, and exuding confidence. It was still quaint but now it seemed more buttoned up and organized. And yet the iconic clocktower still stood tall at the center, overlooking the village and grounding it in a sense of place.
Our road trip allowed for just two days here, and let me tell you, I’m now regretting that decision. Those two days barely scratched the surface of this expansive 2,900-acre wonderland. It felt far more vast than my memories had led me to believe. There’s a lifetime’s worth of hidden gems and off-piste adventures waiting to be uncovered.
But here’s the kicker – even if that wasn’t enough, the backcountry access is incredible provided you have the right skills, equipment, and backcountry skiing know-how. All along the ski area’s boundary you’ll discover access gates leading you into the untamed wilderness.
Fun For All
While there is plenty for experts to enjoy, its terrain offers something for all abilities and tastes. There are the big open thoroughfares reminiscent of Colorado resorts. Interestingly, the resort’s topography naturally divides the terrain based on skill level. Here’s a breakdown:
- Experts – Head to the summit for steeper slopes, as they become progressively more challenging the higher you ascend.
- Intermediates – Have pretty much the run of the entire mountain but the intermediate zones can be found off of Basin Express on the frontside and Stella on the backside.
- Beginners – If you’re just starting out, you’ll find all the easy terrain conveniently situated around the Creekside Express.
Having experienced both Sun Valley and Schweitzer, I came to a profound realization. Sun Valley is akin to a paradise for ski racers, while Schweitzer stands out as Idaho’s ultimate haven for freeriders. This northern gem boasts a wealth of steep, diverse pitches, along with an extensive expanse of glade skiing, which covers nearly half of its total acreage.
Where The Steep And Deep Is
Maybe because I was only a strong intermediate or lacked confidence, I don’t recall experiencing the expert-level terrain. Great Divide, though primarily a wide intermediate cruiser, serves as a gateway to two exciting bowls – Schweitzer and Outback. From here you can access steep terrain in either direction.
Schweitzer Bowl on skier’s right offers a thrilling descent down the front side, while Outback takes you to the backside. While both provide a steep pitch, Outback seems to offer a spicier and steeper experience. However, after the storm passed, we noticed that the J.R. Trees in Schweitzer Bowl had more untouched powder turns compared to Outback.
Our Favorite Zone
Then there were the South Bowl Chutes accessible from the Lakeview chair. This became our favorite zone on the entire mountain due to its diverse topography. It starts with tight, steep glades that quickly open up to various chutes and even some cliffs for those who dare to take the plunge. We lapped this area several times, consistently finding pockets of knee-deep powder. We also heard that the Outback Bowl is a lot of fun, but unfortunately, we ran out of time to explore it.
When To Visit
While mid-winter offers stable temperatures, we received a tip from the locals that the prime time to visit is in early spring, particularly during early March. This is when the storms continue to roll in, but the fog gives way to brilliant sunshine. The outcome is an increased likelihood of capturing breathtaking views of Sandpoint and the stunning Lake Pend Oreille.
Where To Stay
Schweitzer has certainly expanded since my last visit. It offers a few more delightful restaurants and bars for a more quiet experience. A place for those seeking a cozy retreat where you can curl up with a good book, a glass of sherry, and a crackling fire. However, if you’re more inclined to savor the quaint charm of Sandpoint’s main street, you might want to consider staying in town.
Talus Rock Retreat – In Town
If you’re the kind of person who values supporting the local community while indulging in a luxurious experience, make sure to check out Talus Rock Retreat. The Pedersen family started this B&B to provide visitors a place to rejuvenate and renew. It also is their mission to provide emergency space for victims of domestic violence and proceeds from your lodging fee goes to fund it.
The main building can house up to 25 guests and you can either rent a single room or the entire building. The architectural design is such that floor-to-ceiling windows offer breathtaking views of the Cabinet Mountains. Inside, you’ll discover spacious, high-ceilinged rooms, and their premier Arbor room even features a unique tree-themed shower.
Humbird Hotel – On The Slopes
The newest lodging option at Schweitzer. It has a Europe chic meets American comfort feel. Housed in a modern building with lofty ceilings and spacious rooms, it’s thoughtfully designed with plenty of electrical outlets to keep all your gadgets powered up. The attention to detail is evident in the small things, like the front desk offering complimentary lattes throughout the day. And in a chilly environment, the heated parking garage is a welcomed addition.
Cambium Spa – When You’re Injured
Consecutive days of skiing in deep powder can really take a toll on your body, affecting your spine, legs, and more. When Jaime’s back started bothering her, instead of taking a day off, we decided to visit Schweitzer’s Cambium Spa. We learned about it from some locals and quickly realized it’s not your typical spa like you’d find in Los Angeles.
The staff at Cambium Spa is well-trained and certified in various methods to help your body heal and get you back on the slopes in a holistic way. In addition to traditional massage therapy, they offer performance recovery options similar to what athletes use, such as the Normatec Leg Compression Session. I have to say, it really helped us recharge and feel better on the slopes.
Compared to Schweitzer, it hadn’t been a decade or more but only five years since we’ve visited Silver Mountain and the town of Kellogg. It’s interesting to revisit a ski resort in different conditions and how it changes your outlook on them. The last time we skied at Silver Mountain, we were greeted with a relentless snowstorm that extended all the way down to the town. It brought deep powder and challenging visibility, to the extent that many sections of the mountain were closed. This time, however, we had the opportunity to experience it under the clear, sunny skies.
Flashbacks Of 90s Whistler
The town of Kellogg sits at an elevation of 2,300’ feet, whereas the summit lodge, where the gondola takes you, stands at 5,700 feet. The rapid ascent from the valley, where trees were just starting to bud, to the snow-covered wonderland at the summit, brought back memories of a trip I took to Whistler in the early 2000s. It was like the gondola acted as a portal. It seamlessly transported us between the realms of spring and winter.
The storm that had pounded Schweitzer had also left its mark on Silver Mountain, but we arrived a day late to fully savor a powder day. Instead, we were treated to pristine corduroy, pockets of fresh snow and only a few dozen other die-hard skiers. I had always known Silver Mountain’s terrain was steep, but the constant snowfall during our previous visit made it hard to gauge just how steep it really was. This time with sunny skies, I finally was given the opportunity to examine it in detail.
The Mountains Dictate The Skiing
Silver Mountain while it does groom trails has a similar feel to Mad River Glen or Taos Ski Valley. A “Ski it if you can” mentality. In other words, let the mountain’s topography speak. The grooming is focused on the thoroughfares to get you places easily but the rest of the mountain is left to Mother Nature’s natural forces for the most part.
There are some exceptions to this approach, like North Star and Tamarack. However, each trail offers a unique and memorable experience, whether it’s the breathtaking valley views from Tamarack or the exhilarating, steep tree runs in the North Face Glades that’ll have you on the edge of your seat.
Big Lines And Bigger Challenges
Even though it clocks in at 1,600 acres, the ski area manages to pack an abundance of terrain within its boundaries, and it feels even more expansive than that. For every wide-open run that you can mach ten down, there’s a myriad of hidden gullies and chutes concealed within the towering Ponderosa trees. Then, there’s the peppered face off of Wardner Peak. It will make experts drool at all the different combinations of ski lines you could create. With an average annual snowfall of 340+ inches and a relatively low skier density, it’s one of those places that would be a dream to visit on a bluebird powder day.
South Of The Border
We have to spotlight the latest addition to Silver Mountain: the South of the Border terrain. In past years, this area lay just beyond the boundary lines, hence its name, “south of the border.” It was a naturally gladed section that enticed many skiers and snowboarders to venture off-piste, often leading to some lost souls and an increase in ski patrol calls. In an effort to enhance both safety and enjoyment, the ski area has brought this area inbound and established a trail. This in turns makes it easier for snow enthusiasts to return to the lifts.
For a more in-depth exploration of the terrain and the history of Silver Mountain, I recommend checking out our article: Kellogg, Idaho’s Silver Mountain Resort – Powder Without The Crowds.
A Family Resort At Its Core – Where To Stay
Despite its overall steeper terrain, Silver Mountain remains at its core a family-oriented ski resort. And so they’ve gone the extra mile to ensure an all-inclusive experience, recognizing that not all family members are avid skiers, and some prefer après-ski activities. At the base area, Silver Mountain proudly hosts the state’s largest indoor waterpark. Here adults can relax poolside with a refreshing libation while the kids enjoy a variety of attractions.
Silver Mountain’s Lodging
The rooms themselves are surprisingly spacious and exude a coastal dwelling ambiance rather than the traditional ski cabin feel. They are filled with natural light, equipped with a mini kitchen, a generously sized marble countertop bar, and ample, comfortable beds. What’s more, the price is remarkably reasonable, especially considering its proximity to the gondola, and it even includes access to the waterpark.
The last and final stop on our northern Idaho ski resorts tour is Lookout Pass. Only thirty minutes east of Silver Mountain Resort, these two ski resorts couldn’t be more different. Lookout Pass is a cruiser’s mountain. Big wide-open trails that are groomed (unless it’s a powder day). Moreover, due to its location atop a mountain pass, it enjoys consistently colder temperatures and receives over 100 inches more snowfall than Silver Mountain.
Still Just As Fun
As we geared up in the parking lot, it was evident that Lookout Pass had become more popular, albeit not dramatically so. Instead of just a handful of cars, there were now a few dozen. Yet, it retained that enchanting old-school ski resort charm that had initially captured our hearts.
The absence of long lift lines, the presence of a historic day lodge, and an abundance of snow were all still there. However, what had changed and motivated our visit was the recent expansion of new terrain. The Eagle Peak area added another 500 vertical feet and nearly doubled the resort’s overall acreage.
Although there aren’t any tight chutes or vertigo inducing steeps, if you’re a beginner, powder hound, or a trench carving fanatic, Lookout Pass is a must hit. In fact, it proudly holds the title of the snowiest ski resort in Idaho. What you’ll discover is a treasure trove of enjoyable terrain where you can let your skis glide freely without the crowds. For a comprehensive overview of what to expect, be sure to explore our Lookout Pass Ski Resort Travel Guide.
Eagle Peak – The New Style
As we mentioned earlier, our primary focus for this trip was to explore the recently added section of the mountain – the Eagle Peak expansion. Zipping over to the new area, it felt as if you’ve left civilization. The only sign of man-made structures was the chair and that’s it. The air felt crisper. The surrounding mountains appeared more rugged. It no longer felt like the same resort we had known. Even the gladed runs in this area seemed to offer a slightly steeper pitch and a bit more length compared to those on the front side. With no one else around except our friends, we feasted on the fresh snow and vowed to return.
Where To Stay
What adds to Lookout Pass’s charm is the neighboring town of Wallace. While Missouri might be known as the Show-Me State, Wallace proudly refers to itself as the “Center of the Universe.” They’ve even got their own Prime Minister, a unique distinction in the United States. Despite its small population of just 788, Wallace boasts an array of incredible dining options. Take a deeper dive into this captivating town and discover why we instantly fell in love with it – Wallace Idaho – A Mining Town With A Skiing Problem.
While we ran out of time on this trip the next time we visit the northern Idaho ski resorts, we’ll make it a point to make a stop at Bogus Basin on our way home as well to sample it.