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The Mountain Report 

Tips for newbies and veterans headed to local ski areas.

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Whitefish Mountain Resort

Maybe you’ve mastered the slopes at the local resorts years ago. Or maybe you just really like driving to Montana. Whatever the reason, Whitefish Mountain Resort could be your home away from home this winter.

You can ski all 360 degrees of Whitefish’s face. It offers both new and experienced winter athletes the chance to bust out their inner Shaun White.

Want to stay overnight? Don’t fret. Whitefish has you covered. Each of the more than 200 hotel rooms, condos and townhomes, (with appropriate names like Snow Ghost, Moose Jaw and Sunrise Ridge) come with wireless Internet and a gas fireplace, perfect for thawing out after a long day on the slopes.

Whitefish is also known for its friendly nature. Skiers, snowboarders and snowman-builders of all experience levels are welcome on the mountain.

Tips for Veterans

Be mindful of the weather. Don’t throw a fit if the wind is blowing something fierce or the sun has melted the snow on one side of the mountain. “There are always lots of protected places to find good lines in good snow,” says Whitefish’s Public Relations Manager Donnie Clapp.

There are also three terrain parks “for your shredding pleasure,” and night skiing if daytime hours just aren’t enough for you.

Tips for the Uninitiated

Take advantage of Whitefish’s learn-to-ski package. For $69, skiers and snowboarders ages 7 and up get two days of lift tickets, equipment rentals and lessons. Once you’ve completed the course, show off your newfound skills at the Magic Park or the Magic Carpet.

Go ahead and join the Freestyle Team if you believe in beginner’s luck. Either way, the Ski/Ride School is taught by top-rated instructors, so you should be ready for the Olympics in no time.

Lodge Amenities

Grab breakfast at the Base Lodge Café, visit the highest restaurant in northwest Montana, Summit House Restaurant, for lunch, stop in for a snack at Aunt B’s, and finish off the night with live music at the Bierstube.

Be sure to check out Glacier Gifts for unique souvenirs and Stumptown Snowboards for, you guessed it, snowboards. Snow Ghost Outfitters will help you dress the part and Remedies Day Spa is the perfect stop for anyone who has had too much of that icy winter air.

With its inclusive atmosphere, affordable price and endless amounts of food and fun, Whitefish could soon become one of your favorite resorts.


Schweitzer Resort

With enough backcountry and black diamonds to appease the most veteran of riders, lessons for those just beginning or looking to improve, and plenty of amenities for those just who just came along for the ride, Schweitzer Resort, just outside of Sandpoint, Idaho, has something for everyone.

Schweitzer is actually spread across two different mountains, each featuring plenty of amenities. Big Blue — the taller of the two mountains — stands out with an elevation of 6,400 feet, making it the highest mountain in the area. Combined with Little Blue, the resort is able to offer almost 3,000 boardable (or skiable) acres accessible by Idaho’s only six-person high-speed lift (named Stella), the two high-speed quads, the T-bar or any of the other four lifts.

Once you’ve reached the top, choose any of the 92 different trails to make your way back down.

Tips for Veterans

Take the T-bar to the backcountry and board without fear of being interrupted by novices. Whether you prefer tree-boarding or open powder to glide through, there’s always a spot in the vast white wilderness to give you what you need.

Tips for the Uninitiated

Most runs have different trails for riders of all different experience levels, which makes it easy for families to stay together and still allow each person to get what they need from the mountain. The Hermits Hollow tubing park offers 1.5-hour long tubing sessions where you can tube down one of two different lanes reaching just over 100 feet, and be pulled back to the top to do it all over again. They offer four separate terrain parks that easily accommodate all types of riders, including the brand-new Starfish Terrain Park. Starfish also provides hiker-friendly, far-from-daunting features perfect for those looking to get tricky. Should you feel like spending some time off the slopes, extensive cross-country ski trails and snowmobile tours are excellent alternatives.

Lodge Amenities

If your idea of fun lies within the warmer spectrum of things, or if you’ve starved and frozen yourself all day on the hills, there’s plenty to remedy the situation. Grab a bite and a beer at any of the four restaurants in the village, warm yourself up in the hot tub before you take a dip in the pool or just pamper yourself at the Solstice Spa. And with Sandpoint just down the road, there’s no shortage of entertainment.


Silver Mountain Resort

You’re not going to wipe out on the drive. Compared to many mountains, the roads are harmless. This feature is all but taken for granted at other resorts, where journeys to the mountain peak can include treacherous roads.

Once you arrive at Silver, you have two mountains, 73 trails and 1,600 acres of terrain to choose from.

Silver doesn’t boast the most runs or highest elevation, but the resort is perfect for snow bunnies with quick attention spans. Tired of moguls or single track runs? Go cat skiing. Let the monstrous snowmobiles usher you into hidden glades and open bowls. Ill-fitting boots? Step into a pair of snowshoes or plop ass-down on a snow tube. Their moving “magic carpet” will even bring you back to the top of the mountain.

Plus, Silver Mountain is the only place you can ski and surf in the same day. Once you’ve lost circulation in your hands and reached the point of suffocation inside your snowsuit – a dip at the Silver Rapids indoor water park feels well deserved.

Tips for Veterans

Get off the beaten path. There is plenty of tree skiing just waiting to be explored and in between those pristine pines, there’s always hidden powder. The resort just added a new gladed area off the Chair 2 basin.

Tips for the Uninitiated

Silver Mountain is home to North America’s longest — three miles and 20-minutes long — gondola ride. The ride to the top is gorgeous. Before you finish for the day, seek out the handful of steep slopes and deep runs. If you’re up to par for a diamond back, head toward the Eureka, Sunset and Corkscrew runs.

Lodge Amenities

Always bring your swimsuit, a wad of cash and a healthy appetite. The Gondola Village at the bottom of the mountain hosts boutique sportswear, equipment rentals and an American hybrid of restaurants serving everything from eggs Benedict to chicken wings.

The Mountain Haus on top of the hill offers cafeteria-style (or restaurant style) dining and a full service bar. Sit by the fire and drink the pain away from an afternoon of slips and falls.

Then get in the water (if you’re staying at their Morning Star Lodge). The FlowRider wave gives the illusion of surfing, while the lazy river and water slides are good for all ages. Adults can even sit at the bar or sink into the hot tubs, while overlooking the waterpark. Ahhh.


49 Degrees North

You’ve heard about it. You know other people who’ve experimented with it. So it’s perfectly natural you’d be curious about trying out a yurt. You can crawl into the cozy tent-like structure at 49 Degrees North. No big deal. It’s just one of many things to try at the ski resort, which was revamped in 2009.

Said yurt is located in the resort’s Nordic Center, which also features an extensive setup for those who are into the various incarnations of Nordic skiing — telemarking, cross-country, etc.

The center has 16 km of groomed trails, and a bevy of other ungroomed routes. It’s open on the weekends, Friday through Sunday, when lessons are available. Also, the yurt has refreshments.

It can do no wrong.

For the more adventurous, 49 Degrees has a complete terrain park with jumps, rails, boxes and hits. The area is marked with orange ovals, which signify that it is a freestyle area. Don’t go into this area if you feel like you can’t handle peoples’ bodies rocketing toward your face. Rookie mistake.

Tips for Veterans

You are awesome at what you do, yes, but lessons can make for some good upkeep. Considering you may have lost some technique, got elaborate new equipment, or just want to err on the side of perfection, a lesson could do you some good. 49 Degrees offers both group and private lessons for all ages and abilities.  

Tips for the Uninitiated

Talk to the 49 Degrees North Mountain Hosts. (They’re the ones wearing blue jackets with the words “Mountain Host” on the back.) They are there to act as your guide at no charge. They can answer any questions you have about the mountain or resort, guide you down the slopes and give tours at specific times (published on the resort’s website.) They aren’t there to teach you to ski, but they can definitely help gear your experience to your skill level and needs, making it more likely you’ll enjoy yourself, and less likely you’ll wind up going down a run with a name like “Devil’s Armpit” your first time out.

Lodge Amenities

A ski resort would be no kind of resort at all without booze. At 49 Degrees, you can check out the Boomtown Bar, which also has a lunch and appetizer menu. For those who are just looking for a bite to eat, the Quick Turn Café serves breakfast and lunch. The resort also has a daycare, repair and rental shop as well as the Alpine Shop, where you can pick up all those things you forgot, like sunscreen and lip balm.


Lookout Pass

Lookout Pass may not be the biggest ski area in the region (it’s the smallest), and it may not be the most conveniently located, relative to Spokane (it’s the second furthest). And no, it doesn’t have a gondola.

But there are several good reasons to skip the drive to Schweitzer sometime this winter and bypass Silver for once on your way to the Idaho-Montana border.

Lookout cites Forest Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration statistics showing the little resort’s location earns it more snow earlier and more consistent coverage than anywhere else in Idaho. “We’re known for the best quality snow in the region and the most snow,” says Lookout president Phil Edholm. “We’re usually the first to open and the last to close.”

Not only that, but because their slopes face northeast, the ski area is protected from nasty weather conditions, meaning they’ve never had to close for bad weather. The location, the weather patterns and some tree-thinning this summer, they say, also give them some of the region’s best powder.

Tips for Veterans

Veteran skiers used to Lookout’s intimacy should know Lookout is about to get a lot bigger. Edholm says the ski area has tripled in size in the last seven years, and they have an application before the Forest Service right now that would massively expand their offerings in the next 20 years — adding 2,000 acres, eight lifts and a second base area.

Tips for the Uninitiated

Access to the region’s oldest ski area (celebrating 75 years this year) is incredibly easy. Pull off I-90 directly into their parking lot, pull on your boots and walk right up to the lodge.

Weekend lift tickets run only $35 for adults, and lift lines are generally short. There are no high-speed quads here, but the three double-chairs will lift you to some great skiing in two different states — try Bonanza on the Idaho side and the challenging, single-diamond Whitetail on the Montana face. Or check out the 50 acres of new glade skiing that were opened up this year by a beetle kill that precipitated some serious forest-clearing.

Lodge Amenities

You’ll also find the small, family-style atmosphere of Lookout in its recently remodeled lodge, where a full-service rental shop and an upstairs pub brimming with microbrews overlooks the mountain. The kitchen, of course, serves steaming bowls of the famous Lookout Chili.

“It’s one of the nicer lodges in the area, even more so Schweitzer and Silver,” veteran snowboarder Kyle Walters says. “It’s more homey, and inviting than those places. It’s hometown total Idaho.”


Mount Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park

Tired of those danged kids complaining of their eternal boredom and pestering you to take them to the movies? Well, now you can bundle them up in their ski and snowboarding gear and send them hurtling down the hill for about the price of a 3-D IMAX movie.

Sensitive to the ever-bleaker economic outlook, Mount Spokane decided to drop its prices — night skiing (4:30-9 pm, seven days a week) is only $19. But it’s not like they’re skimping on what they’re offering. With five lifts (and a tube tow), 45 downhill trails and cross-country skiing available in nearby Mount Spokane State Park, it’s a package worth the 40-minute drive from downtown.

Sure, the lodge is a bit old — but they know that, man, get off their backs about it. They’re trying to petition the Legislature to allocate some funds for an upgrade. In the meantime, they still have most of the amenities you need when you’re out for a full day’s ski or snowboarding trip: food, rentals and lessons, the holy trifecta for would-be butt-draggers. 

Rather than sitting around on a weekend afternoon and watching the X-Games on TV — or spending time planning a trip to a mountain farther away — try Mount Spokane instead. It’s a beacon shining on the horizon for those looking for a little quality powder time.

Tips for Veterans

The tree and out-of-bounds skiing is some of the best in the area. And the aforementioned cheapness of night skiing, combined with the mountain’s proximity, means you can sneak up there on weeknights to avoid the crowd while still getting in plenty of runs. Rather than spend the money to go up somewhere two weekends, why not just go for two weeks’ worth of nights?

Tips for the Uninitiated

Go for lessons — the instructors can have beginners as young as 9 on the blue runs by the third day of lessons. Plus, there are plenty of kids’ programs that will allow your young’uns to get the hang of things with kids their own age. Just make sure you keep an eye out, as some of the easier runs might mean faster skiers come zipping by every now and again.

Lodge Amenities

Though things can be a little cramped, Lodge 2 still offers the full bevy of services. Rentals, a retail shop, a ski school, food service, dining areas and the Foggy Bottom Lounge are all available, as is free wi-fi. You can get to most of the lifts from Lodge 2, as well as the Ski Patrol. Lodge 1, open weekends and holidays, is a bit more utilitarian, but you can still get lift tickets, come out of the cold and take a breather. The tube hill is located right below.

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