The premise is a little old-school, but oh, so appropriate for the wilds of North Idaho. For more than 40 years, men have been gathering at Priest Lake to engage in a sport called snowshoe softball, which is exactly what it sounds like. Women found a game of their own, snowshoe volleyball.
Both of these games are still played annually, often with competitors who've returned year after year for this seemingly bizarre but endlessly entertaining tradition. The popularity has not waned over the years — there's a waiting list for softball, and this February's volleyball tournament is filling up fast.
"We were called the Original Priest Lakers and played [every year] until we were the last of the original teams," says Suzie White of the inaugural tournament. She was joined on that team by Teri Hill, whose father George founded Hill's Resort on Priest Lake. When George passed away, they moved the tournament down to the resort itself and named it in his memory. Teri and her siblings still own and operate the popular resort — and still support the volleyball tournament.
The games are held on two different courts on the shores of Priest Lake with nine-player teams, meaning you don't have to run around too much, or at all, if your squad can cooperate. The tourney is double elimination, so you could play all day if your team keeps winning. If you can manage a top-three finish, there are prizes ranging from sweatshirts to champagne awaiting you and your chilly teammates.
The softball's not exactly as laid-back. The tournament features two weekends of preliminary play (with different teams each weekend) culminating in a championship battle on Feb. 1 and 2 that coincides with the volleyball tournament.
If last year's play was any indication, the dudes who gear up to smack a ball in sub-freezing temperatures are there to win. Things get heated, calls are carefully monitored, and there are even rivalries that extend year to year. Teams from as far off as Northern California make the trip to the corner of Highway 57 and Luby Bay Road, where two fields, complete with backstops, are set up in what's usually an empty field. Oh, and there's beer. Lots and lots of beer.
Both contests prove to be surprisingly entertaining spectator sports. If you don't mind standing around in the cold, of course. ♦
To register a team for the George Hill Snowshoe Volleyball Tournament, call Suzie White at 208-290-7945 by Jan. 24.