Schweitzer, ID: 03/03/21

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Schweitzer, ID: 03/03/21

Postby jamesdeluxe » Fri Mar 05, 2021 10:33 am

After two enjoyable days at the artist formerly known as Jackass Ski Bowl, I headed north to Schweitzer Mountain. My wife and I skied there in March 2013 and really liked its extensive grab-bag of terrain. Apparently, Schweitzer had been part of the Powder Alliance for a number of years but discontinued its membership before this season due to the overwhelming number of visitors who were taking advantage of it. Instead, they made reciprocal deals with like-minded independent mountains including Loveland, Grand Targhee, and Whitewater, so I used the three free days from my season pass.

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I can’t recall if it was covered in other TRs, but if you want to know why it's called Schweitzer Mountain, the general story that you read online and hear from locals is that in the early 1900s a peculiar hermit-like immigrant from Switzerland lived on the road to the mountain. His name was never cited; he was simply referred to as Schweizer (which means "Swiss man" in German). Following reports of odd behavior, the police searched his dwelling and found the skins of numerous house cats that had gone missing from nearby residents nailed to the walls. Upon questioning, he claimed to have made cat stew out of them. He was later committed to a mental institution and forgotten; however, by adding a "t" -- to make it easier for English-speakers to pronounce -- the Swiss man lives on as the namesake for the biggest ski area in Idaho with 2,900 skiable acres.

From the summit, you can see three states (WA, ID, MT), British Columbia, three mountain ranges (the Selkirks, the Bitter Root, the Cabinet), and beautiful Lake Pend Oreille (French for "hanging ear" -- pronounced pond-o-RAY), which you can admire from many parts of the ski area. Topographically, the ski area is composed of two large bowls: Schweitzer Bowl on the front side and Outback Bowl on the back side.

Following are pix from Wednesday. I skied three full days there with the last two in full sunshine, which provided nice views of the lake. With no fresh snow since the previous Thursday, conditions were clearly transitioning into spring, so the best thing to do was stay on the south-facing runs in Schweitzer Bowl until around 11 am and then move to Outback Bowl. Here’s the Pend Oreille trail mid-morning.
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A bit further down:
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The Great Divide trail along the ridgeline between the two bowls is a favorite for enjoying the scenery:
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Throughout the day, I kept running into an expert sit-skier who promptly left me in the dust before I could get my camera out. Here he is toward the bottom of Outback Bowl:
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As Tony mentioned in his report, Schweitzer is a premier mountain for low-visibility storm days due to its more than 1,200 acres of tree skiing ranging from mellow to quite steep. The big improvement since my previous visit is that they replaced the old Snow Ghost double chair in Outback Bowl with two new lifts, a high-speed quad and a fixed triple, which make it easier to pick and choose your routes and accumulate vastly more vertical.
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The barn housing the Stella six-pack:
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Toward the end of the day, I tagged along with a group heading toward the chutes off the South Ridge:
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Due to being comparatively protected from the sun, the farthest run, Ayer's Alley, held pleasant winter-like snow so I did it twice.
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During non-pandemic times, the traditional MO of destination skiers who fly into Spokane is to head to Canada to highly-rated Red Mountain, Whitewater, et al; however, after visiting all five ski areas on the U.S. side within 60-90 minutes of Spokane -- 49 Degrees, Schweitzer, Silver, Lookout Pass, and Mount Spokane –- I can once again recommend the Inland Northwest region. It’s a shame that the closest ski areas in Idaho to the south, Brundage and Tamarack (which snowave mentioned as benefiting from a more continental climate with drier snow), are something like five hours away.

I smiled at Wednesday's front page news in the local paper underscoring the obvious –- that red-state America has moved on from the pandemic. Other than in liftlines at Schweitzer Mountain, during my week there I only saw a small minority of people wearing masks inside restaurants, cafes, stores, and lodging. Anecdotally, I spoke with five different people on chairlifts who mentioned having had the virus at some point.
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Here’s the pleasant local diner in Sandpoint where I ate breakfast all three days. I dig the 1950s Vegas-style sign out front:
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Re: Schweitzer, ID: 03/03/21

Postby ChrisC » Sat Mar 06, 2021 6:50 am

Great views of the lake!
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Re: Schweitzer, ID: 03/03/21

Postby snowave » Sat Mar 06, 2021 10:44 am

great report! I need to make it back up there sometime.

as far a masks... I, too was surprised (kinda, not really) at how everything was "back to normal" up there (even though non-enforced mask mandates were still in place in Kellogg and CDA)... especially considering that area got hit pretty hard as recently as a few months ago. But then again, it's N. Idaho... probably enough said on that.

Glad you seemed to enjoy your week as much as I did. I'd just had several weeks of almost endless powder days, so I appreciated the sun and mild temps!
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Re: Schweitzer, ID: 03/03/21

Postby Tony Crocker » Sat Mar 06, 2021 11:34 am

We have definitely noticed that Idaho is the most wide open state we have seen as far as pandemic protocols are concerned. Here's a hotel pool in Pocatello at 10:15 last night:
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Fortunately for this road trip I had my second vaccine Feb. 16, Liz had her first Feb. 18 and is working on getting #2 the week after Iron Blosam, where we will arrive tonight.
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Re: Schweitzer, ID: 03/03/21

Postby Tony Crocker » Sat Mar 06, 2021 12:12 pm

jamesdeluxe wrote:The Great Divide trail along the ridgeline between the two bowls is a favorite for enjoying the scenery:

Maybe during your week. I've skied Schweitzer 6 days in 3 seasons, only had a view of the lake on two of them, and even on those days for maybe half an hour at most. Great Divide gets a lot of blowing snow and bad visibility.

... the best thing to do was stay on the south-facing runs in Schweitzer Bowl until around 11 am and then move to Outback Bowl

My impression this week was the opposite. Sometimes the south facing didn't hit prime corn mode until noon or even later, so best to ski north facing winter snow early in the day. Ayers Alley would be a good example of that though we found the snow in the South Bowl Chutes just before Ayers softer. Those were the last two runs we skied during our visit because only then did the fog lift above the Lakeview lift.

In Outback Bowl I'd expect north facing Whiplash, Australia and Shoot the Moon to have packed powder winter snow. Shoot the Moon was our favored entry into the Outback side of the mountain. Did the alpine bowl under the upper Colburn lift retain winter snow? What about the tree runs dropping off North Ridge?
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Re: Schweitzer, ID: 03/03/21

Postby jamesdeluxe » Sun Mar 07, 2021 7:14 am

Tony Crocker wrote:My impression this week was the opposite. Sometimes the south facing didn't hit prime corn mode until noon or even later, so best to ski north facing winter snow early in the day.

Your days there with fresh snow were closer to winter with a dollop of spring, My mostly overcast Day 1 was a transitional winter/spring affair. Days 2 and 3 were more like late March.

Due to COVID SOP (as mentioned above, Schweitzer was the only place on my entire trip that even made an attempt at pandemic protocol), you and Liz probably didn't share chairs with anyone but I did with single skiers on quads and the six-pack. Locals all recommended starting on the fun Quicksilver trail near the Sunnyside triple, then progressing to the skier's right through the Great Escape sector by 11 am, after which the snow start getting a bit heavy on the lower half.

I found the snow off the South Ridge in nice shape toward the end of the day.

Tony Crocker wrote:Did the alpine bowl under the upper Colburn lift retain winter snow? What about the tree runs dropping off North Ridge?

I skied the open runs left and right from the Colburn triple many times and they stayed winter-like all afternoon. I wasn't comfortable doing the double-black tree lines like Australia by myself. I've never hit a tree but any screw-ups in there and you're stuck for possibly hours because so few people were skiing them. I don't believe that patrol does sweeps of trees (certainly not 1,200 acres worth) at the end of the day.

Locals also noted that 2020-21 has been a below-average season, only 200 inches YTD, and that Schweitzer would normally be around 300 by March. I didn't notice the comparative low-tide conditions that much; however, one suspects it will become apparent on south-facing terrain in the coming weeks.
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Re: Schweitzer, ID: 03/03/21

Postby Tony Crocker » Sun Mar 07, 2021 7:30 pm

jamesdeluxe wrote:Your days there with fresh snow were closer to winter with a dollop of spring.

Our days at Schweitzer were 100% winter. I was comparing to our skiing in Montana during the same days you were at Schweitzer. Schweitzer is lower and probably warmer than Montana Snowbowl or Discovery so softening on comparable exposures might come earlier. But it's good to hear that the open terrain under Colburn retained winter snow.

jamesdeluxe wrote:Locals also noted that 2020-21 has been a below-average season, only 200 inches YTD, and that Schweitzer would normally be around 300 by March. I didn't notice the comparative low-tide conditions that much; however, one suspects it will become apparent on south-facing terrain in the coming weeks.

We heard the same from Lono at Whitefish. Long term these are among the areas most favored by La Nina and overall the weather this year has certainly fit the La Nina mold. But the specific storms have most often tracked farther north in Canada or farther south into central Idaho and Wyoming while leaving the areas close to the border (including Red and Fernie) below average.
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Re: Schweitzer, ID: 03/03/21

Postby jamesdeluxe » Thu Apr 22, 2021 9:46 am

Schweitzer joins Ikon and posts a detailed FAQ that anticipates every possible passholder complaint:
https://www.schweitzer.com/ikon-faqs/
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Re: Schweitzer, ID: 03/03/21

Postby Tony Crocker » Thu Apr 22, 2021 11:38 pm

jamesdeluxe wrote:Apparently, Schweitzer had been part of the Powder Alliance for a number of years but discontinued its membership before this season due to the overwhelming number of visitors who were taking advantage of it.
#-o
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Re: Schweitzer, ID: 03/03/21

Postby jamesdeluxe » Fri Apr 23, 2021 7:47 am

jamesdeluxe wrote:Apparently, Schweitzer had been part of the Powder Alliance for a number of years but discontinued its membership before this season due to the overwhelming number of visitors who were taking advantage of it.
Tony Crocker wrote: #-o

On the NY Ski Forum, we've been discussing over the last year or so the bean counting that a ski area has to do to decide which multi-area pass to align with -- how much (if anything) it receives for each visit, the likely on-mountain F&B/lodging impact (and how it differs between various passholders: Ikon, Epicpass, Indy, Powder Alliance, or the reciprocal agreements with independents like Loveland and Whitewater), managing larger crowds and not upsetting local passholders, etc.

Schweitzer addresses a lot of that in their FAQ but we don't have many details other than that Powder Alliance generated an average of approx 5,000 skiers over the course of a season (one assumes that Ikon will deliver multiples of that number) and that they plan to upgrade lift capacity, parking, and ticketing procedures in anticipation of the new destination visitors.
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Re: Schweitzer, ID: 03/03/21

Postby Tony Crocker » Fri Apr 23, 2021 10:11 am

I believe current Schweitzer skier visitation is extremely weekend concentrated. There was a huge contrast between the Thursday and Friday of my recent visit. I also had even better deserted powder days on Wednesday and Thursday of my prior visit in 2012. Surely Schweitzer sees the potential of growing destination business with not much impact upon their Spokane area weekend locals.

Also, once the border opens the combined attraction of Schweitzer and Red Mt. will be attractive to some Ikon passholders and can easily keep them busy for a full week.
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Ski Records
Season length: 21 months, Nov. 29, 2010 - July 2, 2012
Days in one year: 80 from Nov. 29, 2010 - Nov. 17, 2011
Season vertical: 1,610K in 2016-17
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