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by Suzanne Schreiner & r & When it comes to this Sandpoint ski resort -- named for the Swiss hermit who shut himself away in the Selkirk Mountains -- the accolades come from far and wide. National Geographic Adventure says it's "where to live and play now." USA Today decrees it a classic, where Norman Rockwell meets Ansel Adams. With the lake and the mountains to choose from, Outside magazine says, there are no dead spots here.

Why all the hoo-hah? For starters, it's gorgeous. Standing at the top, you can gawk at three mountain ranges (the Cabinets, Selkirks and Bitterroots), three states and the hockey-besotted, maple leaf republic to the north. While you're gaping at all that geography, you may ask yourself, who needs Vail? As for Aspen, we say, Schmaspen.

But let's do the numbers: about 67 trails on 2,900 acres, plus open bowl skiing. The surface lift up the ridge, called the Idyl-Our T-Bar, gives advanced intermediate and expert types 400 new acres of challenging backcountry terrain. Named for a famous bar from the Colburn Basin's past, it opens up five new runs, including one down Little Blue Ridge, which Schweitzer will groom all winter.

Then there's Stella -- Idaho's only six-person, high-speed lift -- which will whoosh you up the slope so fast your hair will be snapping in the wind behind you. Nordic types haven't been neglected at this all-encompassing resort, either: Twenty-five kilometers of trails offer everything from gentle ups-and-downs to challenging treks into the clouds. It's all above 4,700 feet, so the views are spectacular in every direction.

If you're the unfortunate non-skiing member of a clan of snow freaks or just all schussed out, Schweitzer has thought even of you. Fridays through Sundays, let your inner tube do the swooshing at Hermit's Hollow Tubing Center. And for kids of all ages, the latest in inflatable snow toys are the flying "airboards" -- steerable sleds that go vroom all the way down the slope.

WHERE: Sandpoint, Idaho & r & Phone: (208) 263-9555 & r & Web site: & r & Vertical drop: 2,400 ft. & r & Average snowfall: 300 inches & r & LIFTS: 4 double, 1 high-speed 6-pack, 1 high-speed quad, 1 handle tow, 1 T-bar & r & HILL INFO: 2,900 acres, 67 trails: 20% beginner, 40% intermediate, 35% advanced, 5% expert & r & HOURS: Daily 9 am - 4 pm; Nights 3 pm - 8 pm Friday and Saturday & r & Lift tickets: $30-$49 & r & MAJOR EVENTS: Dec. 24: Ski with Santa; Jan 12-15: Sandpoint Winter Carnival; Jan. 21-22: 25th annual Selkirk Classic Telemark Race

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