Snowmobiling Around Priest Lake

by Michael Bowen & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & f you want a winter adventure that takes in the beauties of Idaho's Priest Lake and the Schweitzer Mountain Resort -- both in one day -- there's one best way to travel: by snowmobile.

Trent Presley of the Cavanaugh Bay Resort in Coolin, Idaho points out the beauty of being able to take a motorized sled from Priest Lake over to Schweitzer Mountain Resort.

"You can ride up there to the parking lot at the quad chairs -- take you half a day," he says. "You get there in the morning, ride to the lodge, get something to eat, shop a little, then ride back in the afternoon. It's like two whole different areas."

Two-person snowmobile rentals at Cavanaugh Bay range from $100 for a half-day to as high as $250 for a full day. But as Glenda Presley notes, "We're 90 minutes from that first mall in Spokane and an hour from Sandpoint," so that "about 75 percent bring their own sleds."

And those sleds are tricked out. "Some of them have wild paint jobs," says Glenda Presley. "They look so futuristic, with hoods that are clear and the workings underneath all lit up with neon. Some people put 30, 40 thousand [dollars] in their sleds."

They're into group sledding, too, apparently, because the Presleys have three- and four-bedroom units in the $200-$250 a night range that sleep 10 to 15 people. There are also several other resorts open through the winter around Priest Lake.

"But people who are into snowmobiling don't care that much about their rooms," says Glenda. "They're up here to sled."

And Priest Lake offers room to roam. "We have 400 miles of trails," Trent Presley reports. "Just to get to the other side of the lake -- if you rode at a good clip, didn't get sidetracked, that'd take you all day."

Glenda adds that "The scenery on the trail system is very good for families that are riding around. But you can go off the trails, too -- the more professional riders like to go into the bowls. They like the fresh powder."

Presley says that because the groomed trails melt in the spring and efficient engines with low emissions, snowmobiling doesn't leave much of a footprint. (Of course, around Priest Lake, even in Idaho's deep, mountainous snow, "after-market" snowmobiles can reach 70 mph.) Still, as for complaints about noise up in remote elevations, says Presley, "You're not bothering anybody, because everybody who's out there is on a snowmobile."

Or else they're a moose. Presley refutes concerns about endangering the larger forms of wildlife: "The moose have quadrupled in this area. Instead of being up to their bellies in snow, the moose can follow our snowmobile trails. Their habitat has spread out to 300,000 acres."

Presley also helps guide backcountry snowmobiling expeditions. He says that "We had some Seattle people in last week -- a whole family -- the grandkids, there were 15 of them. And the kids were goin' around on the little-bitty 120s. We were back in the hills 13 miles. We'd find little ridges -- rock bluffs above the tree line, there's nothing up there. And the scenery from the trails -- mountain slopes, rabbits and lynx, even waterfalls -- it was beautiful."

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About The Author

Michael Bowen

Michael Bowen is a former senior writer for The Inlander and a respected local theater critic. He also covers literature, jazz and classical music, and art, among other things.