Great Escape Web

Views from Schweitzer courtesy of Steve Stuebner


Triple swing to Schweitzer, Silver and Lookout a must-do tour for the skiing, culture, food – it’s got the whole package

By Steve Stuebner 

On the first day of a three-day tour of Northern Idaho’s ski areas, my partner Wendy and I stood on the summit of Schweitzer Mountain by the elegant Skyhouse lodge, and a magical moment unfolded before our eyes.

Looking off to the east, we watched a persistent cloud bank and valley fog burn off, revealing the giant expanse of Lake Pend Oreille – Idaho’s largest and deepest lake – shining cerulean blue, surrounded by  Idaho Panhandle mountains.

I’d been hoping for that million-dollar view since we arrived that morning, seeing hints of the sun hidden in the clouds above. Score! That view seemed totally mesmerizing. Wow, what a gorgeous spot in my home state of Idaho!    

Moments like that, combined with perfect snow conditions, served up a peak experience at Schweitzer on a mid-week uncrowded day. Our vacation coincided with spring-tease bluebird weather, providing sunny warm days to enjoy cold and spring snow at Lookout Pass and Silver Mountain as well.

All in all, I felt it was a homerun Ski Idaho vacation, combined with the chance to stay in Sandpoint on the lake for two nights, enjoy the unique culture of downtown Wallace, and finish it off with a night with friends in Coeur d’Alene while munching on the best pizza in town, Fire.

Wendy and I split our time between Boise and McCall, skiing Bogus Basin, Brundage Mountain and Tamarack as our main downhill destinations. We love them all. Sun Valley is a rare treat.

But it’s always fun to ski/ride new mountains. My advice? Don’t overlook a North Idaho stay-cation to spice up your ski season while you still can. Turning the page into March, we’ve got 45 days left in the season to enjoy. With Schweitzer, Silver and Lookout located in close proximity, it’s easy to hit them all in a three-day tour.

March is often a time when warmer weather in the valleys can bring other outdoor activities into play. As the Idaho forecaster for, I’m seeing long-range forecasts that are calling for wetter and colder weather than normal for the month of March. A low pressure trough is predicted to dig into the Northern Rockies from Canada by March 5, and it appears we may be getting a Northwest or Polar flow of snow storms pushing down from Canada for weeks in March.

This is all good news for skiers and riders. If the models hold true, we should have a resurgence of sweet *pow* days with multiple doses of cold snow. Bring it on!

Day 1 – Schweitzer Mountain

We left McCall on a Wednesday morning after skiing perfect groomers at Brundage Mountain the day before. We drove to Sandpoint on U.S. 95 in light traffic. It took 6 hours and change on dry roads to reach Sandpoint. Easy! We stayed at the Best Western Plus - Edgewater Resort on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille. Arriving at 3 p.m., we took a walk on the pier and the Sandpoint City Beach, all lightly covered in snow.

We had a mouth-watering halibut dinner at Baxters on Cedar, just steps from our hotel. I always appreciate chefs who don’t overcook seafood.

Thursday morning, we arrived at Schweitzer at 9:30 a.m. with boots on and ready to roll. We managed to find a parking spot about 100 yards from the base area. Even on a mid-week day, people were out in force to ski/ride Schweitzer.

From the main village area, we took the Basin Express quad to the Lakeview Triple to reach the 6,390-foot summit on the south side of the ski resort. We ripped some cold-snow turns on Bud’s Chute, a groomed black diamond run to start the day. Schweitzer is an impressive ski mountain with a ton of steep fall-lines, and Bud’s is one of them. Woo hoo! Invigorating!  

Next, we took the Great Escape quad chair to check out the black and blue runs accessible from that lift. The blacks were super fun, one run after the next, Pend Oreille, Stiles, Sundance (several times), Quicksilver and Abracadabra, working our way over to the Sunnyside lift. Due to the fresh grooming, emerging sunshine and easy-turning snow, I felt all of those runs were skiing more like blue runs, making it easier for Wendy, who is improving daily as an advanced intermediate skier. 

By this time, we were ready for lunch. We took Great Escape to the Skyhouse, a classy ski lodge with glass windows in all directions. We found a table upstairs. I had a chicken quesadilla and Wendy had a chicken sandwich. While we lunched from 12:30 to 1 p.m., the fog and clouds really began to burn off, and we knew it was going to be great afternoon.

Moving to the backside, we toured Outback Bowl. What a huge amount of terrain over there! The best skiing in Outback were on the slopes served by the Stella chairlift, ski runs in the sunshine. Man, it just felt wonderful to soak up the sun on the lift, and rip down Timber Cruiser, Cathedral Aisle, Zip Down, Stella’s Run and Springboard.

We loved the old historic structure that houses the bottom of the Stella lift. The lifties had some great tunes going. Stella is a 6-person lift, with special gates that open when you’re supposed to load. But don’t hesitate! I saw several people get pinched by those lift gates!

Finishing off the ski day, we returned to the front side by taking the Colburn Triple to the Skyhouse, and then took Sundance to the base area.

Next up, a hot tub at the hotel, followed by dinner at Trinity at City Beach restaurant, the in-house restaurant at the Edgewater Resort Hotel. I had lobster-stuffed ravioli, a hearty meal after a big ski day, and Wendy had a seafood bowl of mussels and clams. Delicious!  

Day 2 – Lookout Pass

Eagle Peak expansion area web

Eagle Peak expansion area at Lookout Pass courtesy of Steve Stuebner

We drove to Lookout Pass from Sandpoint, arriving about 10:30 a.m. Knowing it’d take a few hours for east- and south-facing slopes to warm up, we weren’t in any rush. By the time we reached the charming base area at Lookout, the fog and clouds had burned off, and it was another postcard day.

We met up with friends Dave Lindsey and Randy Bell from Coeur d’Alene, and they showed us around the mountain. We visited Lookout on a Friday, because they provide free ski lessons to kids on Saturdays, so visiting the day before was perfect. The slopes were uncrowded and open for cruising.

Lookout Pass is a little bit more like a “Ma and Pa” ski area with no lodging accommodations at the base area, but just a friendly, homespun ski area that operates under a special use permit from the Forest Service.

“Schweitzer is a big-time resort, and it’s nice to have that option in this region, but we also like skiing Lookout and Silver because it’s more low-key and Private Idaho-type experience,” Randy says.

That said, “Lookout is getting more busy all the time. We’re seeing a lot of new people here from Western Montana and even Spokane.”

Skiers and riders will have plenty of elbow room at Lookout in the future, however, when the Eagle Peak expansion occurs next season, doubling the skiable acres at Lookout and increasing the vertical drop to 1,650 feet. Two new chairlifts will serve Eagle Peak, providing access to 14 new ski runs, plus glade skiing.

Lookout is offering $100 cat rides for skiers/riders to tour Eagle Peak this season. Screaming deal!

Dave and Randy took us on a tour to look at Eagle Peak, and it looks fantastic. Both Randy and Dave pack skins when the powder is good, and they’ll climb the mountain to sample the new ski runs. Much of the terrain already has been cleared, so it’s quite the perfect spot for backcountry skiing!

Lookout is a three-sided mountain, so there is quite a bit more terrain available than you might imagine, looking at the ski slopes on the front side by the lodge, known as the “Idaho side.” The sun was shining on the sunny side, known as the Montana side of the mountain, so we ripped a bunch of runs on Cloud 9 (true!), Rainbow Bridge and Keystone, all blue runs. Hero skiing in softening snow. Perfect!

We ventured back to the Lookout lodge for lunch. I grabbed a bacon cheeseburger (pre-cooked in foil and ready to go) and fries; Wendy had a burger and salad. We were burning the calories, racking up the runs, skiing with Dave and Randy, who love to ski fast.

We toured the North side of Lookout after lunch, and the Idaho side, but the Montana side was still skiing best because of the angle of the sun. We tackled Whitetail, a steep mogul-filled black diamond, which was super skiable with soft snow, almost too soft!

We finished out the day on Cloud 9 and headed for the lodge to enjoy a pitcher of beer on the 2nd floor of the main lodge. It’s a nice roomy area with the feeling of a Sports Bar. It’s got large-screen TVs playing sports, and plenty of seating for the après ski crowd. Great way to round out the day.

The Ryan Hotel in Wallace was our destination for night 3. It was highly recommended. The interior of the hotel has a bed & breakfast feel to it being an historic building in an historic part of town on Cedar Street, where several brothels used to operate until the early 1990s.  

We did dinner at Blackboard, an Italian restaurant located just below our hotel room, in the Blackboard Marketplace. There’s a coffee shop, bookstore and retail clothing store in the charming quarters there. I had shrimp linguini for dinner, Wendy had steak alfredo. Still hungry, we had mud pie for dessert.

Day 3 – Silver Mountain

CDA Mountains from top of Silver web

Views from Silver Mt. courtesy of Steve Stuebner (pictured: John King and his son is Connor)

Randy and Dave warned us that we might not find as much spring snow at Silver Mountain because the ski slopes are more north-facing, so we timed our visit to meet in the parking lot at 10 a.m. to take the gondola to the mountain lodge and begin our ski day by 10:30 or so. We started on Chair 2, catching a blue run called Sunrise on an east-facing ridge. It was the best slope with sunshine at the moment. We also skied Klondike Express, North Star, Northern Lights and Silver Bell on Chair 2, skiing on soft cold snow on the sides of the slopes, avoiding more icy conditions in the middle of the ski runs.

We stopped for lunch to let things warm up some more and have some beers on the lodge deck. Dave ran into two friends on the deck, two women he knew well and skied with a bunch, who joined us for the afternoon tour. I powered a burger on the deck; Wendy had a salad and shared my fries.  

The front runs on Chair 3 seemed sunny, so we ventured over there, and skied Paymaster, Terrible Edith and then dropped back over to Chair 2 on Happy Jack, a steep mogul run. Dave took me over to Chair 4 to see that area, because we had to tour the whole mountain, but that area was pretty icy. So we finished out the day on Chair 3.

Our plan that evening was to check into the Best Western Plus in Coeur d’Alene, take a hot tub, and then meet up with Dave and his wife, Carol, at their home in CDA for from Fire Artisan Pizza. Great stuff!     

We drove the I-90 to Ritzville, US 395 to Tri-Cities, and I-84 back to Boise the next day, ready for a day of rest after our N. Idaho ski tour. It’s a fast way to return to Boise on dry roads, about 6 hours and change with short stops for gas and food.

I couldn’t imagine how things could have gone better on our N. Idaho ski tour. All in all, a fantastic time, and super-affordable because it’s Idaho!

Steve Stuebner is a professional writer and the Idaho forecaster for