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GCSA Schweitzer

2023-04-15 11 min read Snow Updates marco

[previous] Alright, so the first resort was technically not in Canada, and was a last second idea. I had read there was a resort on IKON right around Spokane, where I had to be, anyway. So I decided to try it out if I felt like it.

I woke up in the morning in Coeur d’Alene, checked my mojo after the mandatory six shots of espresso, and decided I was not going to spend all day moping around until I could pick up Tim at the airport. I was going snowboarding!

I had never heard of Schweitzer before, but it sounded good. It was fairly large (3000 acres or some such) and located right off a beautiful lake. I would have to drive straight North, then take a windy mountain road, and finally snowboard on what looked like a decent enough mountain.

Getting There

The drive itself started pretty dull. First, an insane strip mall that went on for miles and miles. And the drivers, I must report, seemed to be either way too slow or way too fast. Some ignored the speed limit entirely and blew past me 20 or 30 miles too fast. But others would drive on a 65 mph zone with the seats reclined back, barely making it to 45 mph in the left lane.

Things started looking up at Cocolalla Lake, where the views got much better and the traffic was more reasonable. Then you cross the lake (Pend Oreille) into Sandpoint. That’s a tourist destination if I’ve ever seen one – similar in a way, but less fancy than, Breckenridge.

You take a left on Scheitzer Basin Road, then go around a traffic circle (they made it to Idaho!), and the turn right on Boyer Road. Left again and you are on your way past the Shuttle Parking Lot up the hill. The road conditions were good enough and I didn’t want to deal with the vagaries of the shuttle schedule on my way down, so I drove.

I was hoping I could get a parking spot at the upper parking lot, especially since it was named Lakeview Parking, but no such luck, I had to get down and take a tragically icy road onto a secondary lot. The good news was that I could take the beginner lift (Musical Chair) to the main lodges and lifts.

The Mountain

Now, long story short, Schweitzer was amazing!

Long story long: After a brief ride on Musical Chair, I was already introduced to two salient facts about the place. First, the weather was extraordinarily good, and the usual fog/cloud cover was not present as it had been for much of January. Second, locals were so in love with the place, they rarely went anywhere else. I guess that was already a good start.

At the lodge, things were not crowded. There were two main chairlifts to hit, Basin in the West and Great Escape to the North. They both looked good, but the former had a slightly longer line, so I beelined it to the latter.

I got to the top of Great Escape and I was in heaven. Views as far as the eye wanted to look, a lodge that seemed to come straight out of a tourist brochure, and ominous double black signs right off the lift exit. Don’t get scared: the ridge Great Escape lets out on is, if anything, too flat for comfort and you need to push yourself in any direction. But right off that ridge, my my, there are drops like you’ve never seen before! (Telluride called and asks if it’s chopped liver.)

I hopped to the next lift, one that Google Maps calls Snow Ghost but that the trail map decided is really Colburn. I looked down and there were chutes. Not like the ridiculous stuff that Steamboat or Beaver Creek are known for: two turns and you are done. No, these were steep descents of madness even on the day’s fluffy powder. I would have loved to report on their quality, but sadly I didn’t want to die on my first (and yet unofficial) day of the trip, nor did any of the locals try their luck. Something for next time, and I have a sense there will be one.

This whole side of the mountain is the Outback Bowl. Frankly, of the two sides it’s the much more exciting one, with the sides steeper and the center mellowing out into trees. I spent half a day just looping around, on the local express lift (Cedar Park), on the two-seater that led to the top (the aforementioned Colburn) and then just to try it out the far off Stella. This one is an interesting setup, as its bottom housing is in a converted and very old-looking barn.

You can do Outback a number of different ways. You can pick a line in the middle and go groomers. Or you pick either of the far sides and drop into trees. The initial part is marked double black on both sides for very good reasons, and even the blacks are scary. Favorite run of the morning: Australia or Shoot the Moon, but Siberia would have been just as much fun if the snow had cooperated more.

The Stella side of the bowl was not as much fun, mostly because it seemed to attract all the tourists (ahem!). Its slopes were gentler, which explains a lot. But there was also some kind of kids’ competition happening, with the local schools all very prominent in the signage.

I did not manage to make it to the Sky House, the main lodge, because by the time I gave up on my loops, the place was already mobbed. I wouldn’t want to give up the seats at the window, either, so I begrudgingly left for the front side, Schweitzer Bowl.

Because of the location, the snow on this side was not as good. It was in parts frozen over, in parts crunchy. The only sections that worked were at the top of the mountain, and you needed a separate lift to get there. A slow lift. Probably my only complaints on this mountain: to get to the good stuff, you had to use slow lifts. Even Great Escape, which led to chutes and drops, did only get you there from the front side: if you wanted to ride them, you had to come back on the slow lift.

The front side has four lifts. I mentioned Great Escape and Basin. These two are complemented by a South-facing Sunnyside (gee, I wonder where the name came from?) and the top of the mountain Lakeview. As mentioned, the lower mountain snow on Sunnyside and Basin was nothing to write home about, but the face was pretty amazing. The chutes off the top were pretty nice (although too wide to really be considered “chutes”) and I had a great time here, too.

I stopped at the Village briefly to see if they sold any T-shirts, since I liked the logo, the vibe, and the mountain. But they didn’t have anything.

I headed back to the car using the beginner runs and thought about this place. If the rest of the trip was better than this, then I was never going to go back!

Heading to Spokane

Next was the drive back into town to pick up Tim at the airport. I started out by getting the car down from the parking lot, then heading for the Starbucks on US 2. There, I checked the news. Tim had made it into Salt Lake City and was waiting for his connecting flight. He was supposed to be in Spokane at 18:00 (6p). I had plenty time, as it was barely 15:00.

I drove off, knowing I could be at the airport in two hours. I dilly-dallied in Sandpoint, where I looked for a shirt again (no luck – apparently Schweitzer people are not like Coloradans, who can’t get enough branded gear). Then I drove back the way I had come, missing the opportunity to take US 2 all the way (it would have been slower and slightly longer, but I had plenty time).

Before Coeur d’Alene, a gem of a town, Maps sent me on a slow, slow route around town. Again, same deal: some drivers tried to get around a long column of cars by zooming on the shoulder, while the column was following a super slow person driving wildly under the speed limit.

Quick errands and a drive into the early winter sunset. By the time I hit Spokane Valley (a town, not the actual valley), the sun was shining right into my eyes and I felt as blind as the night before, driving into the headlights.

Spokane Airport. Cell phone lot. I still have over a half hour before landing.

And then I get the news. The plane is late. First, it’s a “mechanical failure.” I learned from a pilot friend that they love to claim that because that way people can’t get upset. I asked specifically why planes these days seemed to always have “mechanical failures” and if that meant they were maintained poorly. He said that, no, the planes were fine, but that if “overscheduled staff” had been the official reason, then people would be upset at the airline.

Regardless, the “mechanical failure” turned into “finding a pilot,” which then turned into a host of other issues. Instead of landing at 18:00, now the plane was supposed to make it past 21:00. It would take us another three hours from the airport to Canada, so instead of turning into town by sleepy time, we’d be driving through it.

Heading to Canada

Tim made it and we drove off. We had speculated he was going to drive, but I didn’t want him to face driving a new (to him) car in the middle of the night in what was surely going to be sub-freezing temperatures. I drove off and we headed North.

The drive would have been an easy one. We had to take US 395 (the same one that got me from LA to Mammoth and Lake Tahoe!) to Colville, then follow the Columbia River to Northport. We’d cross the border there and get past Rossland (RED) to Trail, again on the Columbia, where our AirBnB was located.

Sadly, Google Maps had different ideas. It told Tim that there was a faster route, three minutes speedier. I couldn’t see the map, but didn’t care. Colville was the starting point of both routes, so I assumed they led to the same border crossing. I told Tim to check if the crossing was open, and he replied he didn’t even know border crossings could be closed.

We left the highway in Colville and drove on. At first, it was on minor roads. Then, a surprising sharp turn onto Aladdin Road. That didn’t sound like a road that would continue for much. We followed along, thinking we’d get back to a major highway, soon. But nope, we stayed on this road forever. Miles and miles and miles. The road surface looked frozen, and at times I stopped the car just to check if it was. We moved on.

Eventually, we turned onto Deep Lake Boundary Road. That sounded like something that would lead to a border of some kind. More driving on minor road. Then a sudden U-turn onto Northport-Waneta Road. And suddenly, after a turn around a hill, we found ourselves in a fortified location that could have been straight out of Iraq in 2004. Only that nobody was around. The place was closed and a giant, lit sign informed us that the border crossing was weekday only, and was open 9 to 5.

It was midnight by then or past it. Would we sit in the car until the early morning hours? Not so early, in fact? We couldn’t believe Google Maps sent us here, to a place with no crossing and no reception. We couldn’t even find our way out, and were contemplating driving all the way back to Colville, braving the hour plus to get ourselves back to civilization.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed. While we had no maps, we remembered that the road we had been on was Northport-Waneta Road. The border crossing was called Waneta, so following the road in the other direction might get us to Northport. I remembered the name as one of the places on the way, so that might cut off some of the drive back.

We drove. It turns out that this road (marked as minor trail that wasn’t passable on Google Maps) was actually better than Aladdin Road. We made it into Northport, found our footing, and got ourselves to the border past 01:00.

The border agent was only concerned with ATF: did we have any alcohol, tabacco, or firearms? Nope. He then asked about our plans, we said we were going snowboarding, he asked where, and we rattled the six resorts off. He was satisfied, we might be crazy to cross the border in the middle of the night, but we certainly had memorized ski resorts.

Nothing much to report from the rest of the drive, as it was pitch black. We made it into Rossland, the super-touristy location of the resort, then into Trail. We found the AirBnB, let ourselves in, and fell asleep. [next]