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Skiing Schweitzer: Fluffy snow, family fun

Updated January 2011

I love skiing. By that, I mean I love standing at the top of mountain in my skis, wearing the appropriate clothing, in ideal weather with dry, fluffy snow -- then skiing down nearly empty runs fast but in control.

I hate getting ready for the skiing: driving in bad conditions, finding and hauling the gear, getting dressed in all those layers, clomping around in ski boots, realizing you have to pee and then stripping off all those layers of tight clothing, redressing, hoisting yourself up ice-covered stairs, waiting in interminable lift lines. I hate all of that. But I love skiing so much I'm usually willing to put up with it.

I wasn't crazy about the idea of going through that with a small child, though. In fact, I couldn't envision skiing with my 4-year-old son Luke until he was well into his teens and could haul all the gear around.

Then we went to Schweitzer, in Sandpoint, Idaho. This extremely family friendly resort took nearly all of the above complaints away and made it possible for me and Luke to spend nearly all of our time skiing, eating or relaxing. Luke didn't actually relax, of course, but he did watch a few movies. Love the inventor of the portable DVD.

First, we didn't need to drive at all. We took the short flight to Spokane and caught a shuttle for the 90-minute drive to Schweitzer. Sandpoint is a cute little Northern Idaho town with surprising Seattle sensibilities (there's a Starbucks; John Kerry held a benefit there) and it has several appealing restaurants (transportation can be arranged through the hotel) if you decide to venture off the mountain.

After an extremely curvy and steep ride, during which I was incredibly relieved to not be driving, we arrived at the charming Schweitzer Village, which manages to look both new and settled-in.

We dumped our bags in our spacious room with separate living area and small kitchenette and immediately headed for the pool -- thanks to the check-in woman who volunteered the idea to Luke. We had the pool and hot tub to ourselves and it was very comfortable to swim outdoors on a mountain while a light snow fell. The trip probably could have ended right there for Luke.

But the next morning he was up and eager to go as I layered him up -- not my favorite process -- and found all the necessary gear. We had rented our ski equipment the afternoon before and stored in it one of the lodge's handy complimentary lockers.

After a bagel and a coffee (there's a wide range of places to eat in the village, from pizza to fine dining), I took Luke over to the child care/ski school. The area is large and cheery, with separate spaces for different age groups and lots of toys and activities.

Luke wanted to get out skiing, and I think he was feeling hot under all of his clothing. It was an exercise in restraint to not crack up as I watched the patient instructors get Luke and two other beginners back into their coats, into their helmets and on their skies. I wanted to stay and watch him try to do "the pizza" (what I learned as the snowplow) but they zipped down the bunny hill without me so I headed for the real lift.

The skiing was ideal: perfect snow, lots of wide-open runs, few to no lift lines and enough hard blue and easy black runs to keep me skiing for weeks. If I could design a ski resort for myself -- an eager, intermediate skier who doesn't get out there nearly as often as I'd like -- it would look just like Schweitzer.

The school provides lunch for the kids, but I picked Luke up midday to share a snack on the nice outdoor deck. The view from there is lovely, surrounded by snow-draped craggy mountains, but at the top of the lift it's breathtaking. You overlook Lake Pend Oreille and can see into three states and Canada. Luke didn't want to talk about the view. He wanted his afternoon lesson.

I don't have much experience with children's ski instructors, but I do have a lot of experience with children's caregivers, and these people were amazing. Not only could Luke kinda, sorta ski by the end of the second day, but they made him love it, despite all the falls and frustration of learning a new skill that's hard for most adults.

I took a lesson, too. I realized that if I don't keep my skills up, eventually we might not be able to ski together after all.

Seattle freelance writer Audrey Van Buskirk has fallen off a lift and driven off a mountain but has continued to enjoy skiing when someone else drives. She generally writes about more indoor pursuits.

Schweitzer Mountain Resort

  • Phone: 208-263-9555, 800-831-8810.
  • Lift tickets: adults $59-$65; ages 7-17, $44-$49; 6 and under, free; college students and 65 and over, $49-$55.

Where to stay

  • In-village lodging is available in the White Pine and Selkirk Lodges.
  • Vacation packages are available.

Planes, trains and automobiles

  • Schweitzer is located about 350 miles from Seattle, a 6-hour drive.
  • The closest major airport is Spokane International, with service from most major airlines. The Payless Airport Shuttle (888-870-7433) and OMNI Bus (208-667-6664) provide transport to Schweitzer and Sandpoint.
  • The good news: You can take Amtrak to Sandpoint. The bad news: It arrives in Sandpoint at 2:47 a.m.

Fun for kids

  • Grown-ups can enjoy a leisurely dinner on their own while the children get dinner and a movie in the Selkirk Lodge on Friday and/or Saturday nights. The Refuge offers kids 12-18 a chance to climb on the bouldering wall, play XBox, watch videos they made and just hang out.

Special needs

  • The Mountain Learning Center provides downhill skiing or snowboarding lessons for athletes of all types, including kids with disabilities. Several instructors have received specialized training with adaptive equipment to handle physical disabilities.

Ski school and childcare

  • Childcare for kids as young as 4 months is available for full and half days.
  • Kids ages 4 to 6 go to Kinder Kamp. The full day includes two ski lessons, lunch and play and art time.
  • Seven- to 12-year-olds are called Mountain Riders and can join either full- or half-day programs of ski or board instruction, practice and fun.

Special events

  • Next Snow SEARCH is an all-mountain, all-equipment, all-person snow sports competition, where style, attitude and personality matter. Contestants are 9 to 13, boys and girls, skiers and snowboarders, and adaptive athletes.
  • Sandpoint's annual Winter Carnival brings a week of happenings to the town including "Taste of Sandpoint," a Winter Carnival Parade, snow sculptures, a pie-eating contest, a pizza cook-off, and a torchlight parade and fireworks at Schweitzer Village.
  • Stevens Pass and Schweitzer host the Harbor Stomp Games, a professional and amateur freestyle ski and snowboard event.

This article originally appeared in the January, 2005 issue of ParentMap.

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