While it's technically spring down here in the valleys, it's still very much winter up on Schweitzer Mountain. They've received about nine inches of snow in the last two days and it's supposed to snow more today and tonight.
To celebrate "winter," Schweitzer is throwing a Winter Fest, replete with all sorts of bells and whistles up on the mountain, including live music from The Rub, a '90s dance party and, perhaps most intriguing, a mini beer festival. There will be 12 different beers on tap from breweries like Iron Horse, Ninkasi, Goose Island (it's in Chicago), Elysian, Widmer, Firestone Walker and, if you'd rather go European, they've got Stella.
$10 gets you a sampling package with a glass and four samples. Additional samples are $2 and full pints are $5. The beer tent opens at 11 am.
Yeah, sunshine might be nice, but fresh snow and cold beer isn't too bad.
On Friday evening, people were lining up at the doors of the Spokane Convention Center for the first day of the Snowlander Expo and PowderKeg Brew Festival. Once the doors opened at 4 pm, there were people everywhere retrieving their season passes, claiming their free lift tickets, and checking out the gear that all of the vendors had set up. There was no dull moment due to the prizes, lager and festivities happening all around. About 3,000 people attended on Friday and Saturday.
Now in it's 38th year, the SANPOINT WINTER CARNIVAL is back with its 10 days of frosty fun from Feb. 17-26. There's the Shop and Dine Around Sandpoint events, the Bio-Luminesce Fire Dancers, the rail jam competition, a performance by X Factor finalist LeRoy Bell and a K9 keg pull. You know, the usual.
Up the hill at Schweitzer, they're getting into the act, too, with special lodging deals and a full slate of events throughout the village and resort, culminating with the Outrageous Air Show (Feb. 24-25) and Torchlight Parade (Feb. 25). But all through the Carnival's run are events like guided snowshoe hikes, scavenger hunts, live music, campfires, night skiing and stuff for the little ones, too.
This carnival is not without its quirks. Ever heard of skijoring? The Scandinavian sport, making its second appearance at the carnival, combines skiing and horseback riding, with horses and their riders pulling skiers around a course of jumps and gates. Participants will compete on Saturday, Feb. 18, and Sunday, Feb. 19, combining their two-day times for a shot at the prize money. Also on Sunday is the skijoring style competition, in which skiers and snowboarders try to land tricks and jumps while, yes, being pulled by a horse. This year, there are also skijoring divisions for juniors and women. Both days of competition are from noon to 4 pm at the Bonner County Fairgrounds.
The Sandpoint Winter Carnival will be held from Feb. 17-26. For more information, visit sandpoint.org/wintercarnival or call (208) 255-1876. For information on Schweitzer activities, go to Schweitzer.com or call (208) 255-3081.
For two days last week I was in a skier's dream. A brand new, freshly tuned and waxed set of skis every run I took (except for that one pair which reminded me that I wasn't dreaming. If you were with me, you will know exactly which ones I am talking about). I have had dreams that are similar in content although usually involve a foot of fresh snow. The first day brought us brilliant sun and fast moving groomers. The second day brought a fresh blanket of snow and less than ideal visibility but a good day to switch out the Red Sol-X lens for my favorite Smith lens, the Red Sensor Mirror.
This is the third consecutive year that I have attended the WWSRA Ski & Snowboard demos at Mission Ridge just outside of Wenatchee, Washington. The conditions are typically not ideal for testing out the big boards, which seems to be all the rage with rocker, camber and sidecut flowing smoothly from all of the ski reps mouths. Attendees range from shop employees, owners and representatives from area ski resorts. Exhibitors are from all over showing off next years alpine and tele skis, snowboards, ski poles, boots, helmets, goggles, GoPro's, foot beds and even some clothing lines.
For two days you are ripping down the mountain at mach speeds, laughing, talking shop, and being stoked about next season's gear (even though we are still enjoying the current one). There are shot-skis filled with whiskey, brats cooking on BBQ's, kegs of IPA and what seems like an endless supply of canned beer. Goggle tanned faces, smiles and friends surround the Salomon fire pit which makes returning to the hotel after the first day nearly impossible. The party does finally dissipate and makes it way to downtown for more of the same.
The morning comes too early after dinner, hot tubs and more apres-ski activities. The morning brings more skiing, more socializing and then reality sets in. It's time to go home and return to my skis. Fortunately, I love my skis but in previous years after returning from the two-day demo party, I have had a hard time motivating myself back on my skis as they just didn't have the same response or the same feel as the new ones I had just been spending the last two days ripping around on. This is when the real hangover kicks in.
There are great things on tap for the 2012-2012 line-up. I am already looking forward to skiing the 2013-14 lineup and, more importantly, attending the demos next February.
My minds jumps back to a time I can hardly remember when I see this image. Winter in Seattle. It was the winter of 1996-97. I had just graduated from college and was living on my own for the first time. I bought a new car and was living in a studio apartment on Capital Hill. I was meeting new people and got reintroduced to skiing. And then it snowed in Seattle. Trying to maneuver in a city outlined with hills, hills and more hills and populated with people driving SUV's and Audi's like they are going out of style. The only problem; most of them aren't equipped with winter tires. Skiing was put on the back burner as I explored other aspects of city living.
Over the course of the next couple of years, I would ski here and there but worked a crazy schedule and had a hard time making it a priority. Until one day it dawned on me that if it is raining in Seattle and 40 degrees, there was a good chance it was snowing in the mountains. This is when I got obsessed with skiing. It was my escape from cold, dreary, wet city weather and let me dream of the white fluffy stuff falling in the mountains. And then it snowed in Seattle. When it snows in Seattle there is little you can do to escape the madness even if you are the best winter driver in the world. It was a hard to comprehend - a bunch of new snow to enjoy but if it wasn't the city streets prohibiting you from being able to get to the mountains then it would most likely be the mountain passes that would prevent it. These memories are in a distant past but I am reminded of that time every so often and usually when Seattle is in the midst of their own "snowmageddon".
As I am hearing reports of stuck travelers at Sea-Tac International airport and read Facebook posts of friends and family inter-lodged in their homes for days straight after a Seattle snowstorm, I sit back and remember my Seattle days and enjoy the falling snow outside my window as I feel the result from skiing powder four days in a row throughout my legs and think to myself how fortunate I am that I am able to avoid the city streets of Seattle and mountain passes of Western Washington to get to the ski hill.
It's this time of year where I remember back to my only family Christmas ski vacation. It was December 1989. I was a freshman in high school. My family had moved to the suburbs of Chicago two years prior from the foothills of Mt. Hood outside of Portland. While living in Oregon, I had been introduced to skiing, hiking and the wilderness but in those first two years living in the midwest, I had quickly transformed into a 'flatlander'.
For my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary, my Dad took us on a family ski vacation to Panorama Mountain Village in British Columbia. Our journey began one early morning flying out of O'Hare International in Chicago, over to Seattle where we would be joined by my Aunt and cousins then on to Moses Lake to pick up my other Aunt and Grandparents. There were 11 family members in total. Our caravan would eventually land us at Panorama where we had a condo waiting upon our arrival.
As I am writing this over 20 years later, memories are starting to pop back up about that trip; the Panorama Springs hot pools, listening to the "Moonstruck' Soundtrack on repeat during the entirety of the trip, the day trip to Banff and the first and only time I attempted snowboarding - my cousin, Stephen, got one for Christmas so we all tried to descend outside the condo on a snow covered golf course, crashing and burning several times over the course of the 25 yards.
A ski vacation isn't a ski vacation unless there is skiing involved so one day was spent at Panorama. There might have been additional days for my cousins and siblings but for me, I only remember one day. As I recall, it started off casual. I was a little intimidated by loading a 4-person chairlift. I had never seen one of these before and wasn't too comfortable with the idea of having someone on both sides of me. This became apparent when I went to unload the chair. When my nerves got the best of me, I thought it was a good idea to take my Dad down with me. So, there I was, my first experience skiing in the Canadian Rockies, and there my Dad and I are, laying on the ramp with ski gear intertwined. My Dad was less than stoked. Still, to this day, less than stoked.
The day got better as I started to feel good and found my comfort zone. As the day was nearing to an end and all the cousins, siblings, Dad and Aunt got back together, the suggestion of 'going to the top' came up and I was convinced that I was proficient enough to be able to descend down from the top. Trusting this was the case, I clicked back into my skis and loaded the chair with my family.
A little back story on the day. I had been skiing on the bunny hill under low cloud cover. I had no concept of what an inversion was or what might be up there except for more clouds. As the chairlift made it's way over the terrain I had been skiing and through the clouds, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of what was above the inversion. A cloud layer that looked like a white sea that was complimented with some of the most amazing mountain peaks I had ever seen. The chair went forever and finally I was informed it was time to unload. So I did. Unfortunately, the beauty of what surrounded me also intimidated me. I couldn't see the bottom. I had gone from skiing a 'green circle' all morning to having only one 'blue square' and several 'black diamond' options. Needless to say, I was scared stiff. The memory still holds pretty clear in my mind but there are certainly details that have been forgotten. Mainly how many turns I attempted before I finally took my skis off and started walking down the mountain. To this day, my Dad likes to remind me of that adventure. Me, walking down the mountain, grasping my rental skis and poles.
Over 20 years later and this memory is vivid. Every day there is an inversion, I think about it. Every year when I see the arrival of families from all over the country unloading their cars on the start of their ski vacations, I think about it. Every time I see an intimidated skier attempting to walk down a slope greater than their ability, I think about it. But mostly, every time I think about it, I think about the time that was shared with family and the memories that were created and now remembered on my first, and only, family holiday ski vacation.
Enjoy your holidays and may you create memories that will last a lifetime.
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