Tired of snow, sludge and gray skies? Sick of sitting around indoors in these dark winter months wedged between Christmas and springtime? Here are at least seven resort-ful reasons to get off your cold winter bum, strap on a board, a pair of snow boots or skis and head out for some fun and fresh air in the great Inland Northwest.
SANDPOINT WINTER FESTIVAL
The small town of Sandpoint, Idaho -- neighbor to Schweitzer Mountain Resort -- will open up with its upcoming Winter Carnival. A fudge-making contest, a K-9 keg pull and a Parade of Lights are only a few of the activities set to go January 17-21.
"The carnival's a community affair that's been going on for many years," says Rhonda Cripe, the Plan Center coordinator for the Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce. Cripe is involved with preparing programs and organizing events. "This is Sandpoint's centennial year, so the carnival will open the series of events in our 'Bridging the Century' centennial celebration that's going on throughout the year."
The traditional Parade of Lights downtown on Friday night will feature a variety of community entries, including floats, school bands and other local marching units.
"It's not elaborate like some big parades -- it's more of a fun parade," says Eldonna Gossett, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.
While most years feature the presence of a grand marshal, this year's parade will be led by two front vehicles and 12 grand marshals.
"This year we have 12 Women of Wisdom," says Gossett. "A local group called 'Women Honoring Women' has designated women who have given to the community, so the 12 marshals this year are ladies who've had a long history with the community."
New on the list of carnival activities is a Winter Thrills Raffle on the 21st, a chance for winter sports fanatics to win some great gear.
"First prize is a new 2001 Summit 800 Skidoo," says Gossett. "Second prize is a ski package with new skis, poles, boots and a pass to Schweitzer -- all worth about $2,000 total. The raffle will help raise money for the Visitor's Center."
The Ice Carving competition is also a novel addition to this year's events. On Saturday, various professional chefs will set their creative powers to work on some nice, ice-cold blocks at Swan's Landing.
"They'll be doing some great ice sculpting," says Gossett. "We want to really call attention to the chefs and the culinary artists who produce these things."
While some chefs are carving ice, others in town will be offering their warm delectables for the Taste of Sandpoint on Thursday night at downtown's Coldwater Creek retail store.
"It's an opportunity for people to sample the best specialties of 12 local restaurants," says Gossett. "Overall, we've got a number of great local things with local members. The carnival was pretty much started as a time to celebrate fun and sports in Sandpoint."
Anyone looking to inhale some fast fresh air need only look a few miles from Sandpoint, up to the steep slopes of Schweitzer Mountain Resort. Partly in conjunction with the Sandpoint Winter Carnival and Centennial Celebration, Schweitzer promises its own set of exciting mid-winter activities, complete with $20 discounted lift tickets.
"The mountain has received overwhelming support from the community of Sandpoint," says Ingrid Campbell, marketing director for Schweitzer. "This is a great way to return the support as well as get people to come and see how good the skiing is."
On Saturday, Jan. 20, something akin to a flowing flame will appear to move down the mountainside at dusk, as 50 to 100 skiers holding long torches take part in a torchlight parade. A flashy show of fireworks will follow.
"The torches in the parade look kind of like candlelight, but they're big flares," says Campbell. "It's exciting to watch in the dark, as you get the best visuals that way."
January 30 will find a whole different movement on the mountainside, as Schweitzer plays host to the regional Special Olympics.
"It's something we do on a regular basis for the Special Olympics," says Campbell. "It's a nice thing to come out and support. They're pretty good -- cute kids, all ages, with every disability you can imagine. It's a pretty big heartthrob to watch."
Schweitzer will also play host to the Idaho State Master's Championship race on January 19-21. All adult skiers in the Master's Program -- a racing-based program for intermediate- to expert-level skiers interested in technical improvement -- can participate in the race.
Any Toyota owners driving their vehicles to the mountain on that Friday will be privy to a free ski ticket (one per car) through the Toyota Ski Day program hosted by the INSA (Inland Northwest Ski Association).
On the opening weekend of February, Whitefish, Mont., will steal the carnival stage both in town and on the slopes of Big Mountain Resort with its own Whitefish Winter Carnival.
"It's a conjunction of events on the mountain and in the town," says Brian Schott, director of public relations for Big Mountain. "It'll have snow sculpture contests, a torchlight parade and a penguin pond where people jump into the Whitefish Lake."
Silver Mountain Resort in Kellogg, Idaho, might earn itself a figurative gold medal for its faithful offering of night skiing. Not only are the runs open and well-lit for skiers every Friday and Saturday night, but those wanting a little inside entertainment after a chilly run on the slopes can enjoy live music every Saturday night at Mogul's Lounge.
Unique to this year's activities at Silver is the Jessica Case Memorial Ski Day. Dedicated to the memory of a well-known, well-loved local girl who died of cancer last year at the age of 13, the February 2 event is a fund-raiser for Deaconess Children's Cancer Center.
"We just started it," says Danylle Bailey, marketing director for Silver. "Skiers go out and get pledges from sponsors and see how many vertical feet they can ski. I know the local community support for this will be phenomenal. I think it will be something a lot of people will want to participate in -- based on her name alone and the reason for the event."
Jessica's mother has worked at the resort for nine years and went through a two-year struggle to save her daughter from cancer.
"She lost the battle, and it was a pretty tragic event," says Bailey, "But everyone holds dear to it, and a fund-raiser in her name will be great."
49 & deg; North
Known as the Inland Northwest's "premier family resort," 49 & deg; North will be home to a variety of events in the next couple of months, including a Boarder Cross Race on January 20, a Slope Style Terrain Park Competition on February 3 and an infamously wild St. Valentine's Day Bike Massacre on February 10.
"It's basically a bunch of grown-ups driving bicycles down a mountain in the snow," says Mark Bingham, marketing director for the resort. "It's open to the public, but most people just watch. Those mountain bikes love to go down just about anything."
Here's what one might stumble upon in the plaza area of Big Sky Resort in southwestern Montana on any given Saturday night: As various fires blaze away, kids roast marshmallows and watch smart dogs search for clothes or other clues in massive piles of snow.
"We have a large, really successful Avalanche Dog program," says Dax Schieffer, public relations coordinator for Big Sky. "The dogs are specially trained to find people. The Ski Patrol runs presentations every Saturday night: They bury clothing or whatever, and then the dogs have to find it."
And if that's not enough to keep you entertained while you're off your skis, Chet's Bar features the Crazy Austrians every night of the week from 4 to 6.
"It's a family show with all sorts of fun music," says Schieffer. "The Crazy Austrians have been here for years and originally came over to the U.S. for school. There's a lot of audience participation in their show, with the chicken dance and the polka. It's all kind of goofy."
While the resort's on a roll with eccentric events, why not mention Dirt Bag Day? This one-day event on March 10 kicks off with an in-costume parade followed by a powder 8 competition that culminates in the evening with a Dirt Bag Ball.
"Everybody dresses up in goofy costumes with the '70s disco thing," says Schieffer. "Some people even find '50s ski gear. It's a crazy day on the mountain. It's organized by the Ski Patrol, and ends up in a big party down the mountain. We even name a Dirt Bag King and Queen."
Other events at Big Sky include an Ice Sculpture Contest and exhibition on January 20 featuring regional, professional, chain-saw-wielding sculptors as well as snow making for the kids. March 19-24 will play host to the USSA Disabled National Championships.
"Basically, it's a championship race that's sanctioned by the USSA," says Schieffer. "It will have all four disciplines: slalom, giant slalom, super G and downhill, and the whole thing will be featured on ESPN."
The local slopes, too, are in on the mid-winter action. Mount Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park will play host to a Race Festival Weekend on January 26-28 as well as a Technical Slope Style Competition on January 20, an event featuring a timed run on a marked course. Both Terrain Park events are open to skiers and snowboarders.
"People are starting to get more into the technical aspects of what they're doing," says Kirk Duncan, Mount Spokane's general manager, "so it will be interesting to see."
On January 31, the mountain will offer Chicks on Sticks -- an independently coordinated event targeting skier development for women.
"We also have our Big Air Contest on February 3," says Duncan. "It's a timed event where people get judged on style and how high they got off the ground and how well they land. We'll have at least 100 to 150 people show up and participate."