Seductive Little Blue
Hallowed snow revealed in 400 acres of new terrain
- By Lisa Gerber
As skiers and riders explore Schweitzer’s newest runs, they’ll be testing out a myth and tasting the fruits of sole ownership.
If a great huckleberry season is any indication of what winter will be like, then the 2005-06 season at Schweitzer Mountain Resort is more than promising. While picking on the mountain last summer during what was the greatest huckleberry season in memory, longtime local and glorified ski bum Terry Cooper expressed his belief in the myth that fat, juicy huckleberries mean epic snow is expected to follow.
But there is plenty more to speculate on besides the weather. The announcement in June of the new arrangement for the resort’s ownership raises anticipation about what the future has in store for Schweitzer.
|Photo by Woods Wheatcroft
To set the record straight, Schweitzer does not have a new owner. Rather, the dissolution of the Harbor Resorts partnership has left the resort with a sole owner; New Schweitzer LLC, a Seattle-based investment group representing the estate of Keith McCaw, commonly known as McCaw Investment Group (MIG). Meantime, Harbor has assumed full ownership of Stevens Pass in Washington. If the improvement plans for Schweitzer in 2005-06 announced along with the partnership change are any indication, the ownership consolidation bodes well for the future of the 42-year-old resort.
As of this winter, Schweitzer will grow from 2,500 to 2,900 skiable acres, the most of any resort in Idaho and bigger than the likes of Keystone and Snowbird. The opening of the Little Blue area in the North Bowl adds 400 acres of mostly advanced, off-piste terrain. A new surface lift, the Idyl Hour T-Bar, transports riders from the saddle at Siberia in the North Bowl 1,600 feet – climbing 160 vertical feet – to the top of Little Blue, giving access to steep open and treed runs, as well as some intermediate runs.
On a clear day, one can see Little Blue, the little sister of Big Blue, from the top portion of the Chair 6 ride. The open meadow at the top stares back at chairlift passengers and seductively invites those in search of powder. In the past, skiers and riders with backcountry gear would pass the gate, hike the hill and ski down the 10 or so turns only to be dumped into the heinous alder thicket, if theydidn’t turn out early enough.
But that was then. Now, this area is officially inbounds with a groomed ridgeline, a brushed run-out and five new designated runs, making it a downright luxurious journey.
Cooper has been hiking that section for years and welcomes the new lift. “I love being helped getting somewhere I want to be.”
He can attest to the fun to be had in the steeps off the ridge. And now he can also say that the ridgeline is a nice, long intermediate ride down.
“It opens up more of the mountain and decreases lift lines even further by spreading people across the mountain,” he said.
Now that this sacred terrain, Little Blue, is accessible to the masses, you would expect folks like Cooper to be disappointed,but he and others like him are actually in favor of having more terrain accessed by lifts. And for those whostill like to hike out of bounds, the new area around Little Blue gets them even closer to other sacred, out-of-bounds terrain.
While the lift for Little Blue targets advanced skiers, another improvement targets beginners and ultimately aims to help grow the sport. Critical to the industry is, first, getting skiers and snowboarders into the sport and, second, getting them hooked – and hard. Nowhere else is it so important as at a place like Schweitzer, considerably distant from any major population center.
By providing a way to get up the hill without the intimidating chairlift or rope tow, managers predict that what ensues for first timers is a much more pleasant experience, and that neophytes might actually want to try skiing a second time. In comes the Magic Carpet®. Situated above the Enchanted Forest, the Magic Carpet® will easily bring first timers up 240 feet on a slowly rolling carpet with a nice, easy pitch. By minimizing the components beginners need to worry about, Schweitzer is effectively providing a relaxed environment in which to learn and doing their deed for the industry by getting people on the slopes for the first time.
The third major improvement for this winter is the first phase in a much-needed makeover for the Lakeview Lodge. Last summer and fall, Schweitzer General Manager Ron Nova and his team did what they could with the time they had until opening. He explains that it was just the beginning of the three-year plan for the building. For 2005-06, the guest relations and tickets area are renovated, and the ground level area has an upgraded floor, furnishings and finishes. The kitchen equipment was upgraded with the idea that a real ski bar/pub will be built the following year where the current café seating is. Next year, the sundeck and ski check area will go away to make way for a large outdoor patio seating area that will wrap around the all-new pub. The following year, an expanded banquet area will be built in to the second floor, allowing Schweitzer to accommodate larger meetings, parties and weddings.
Having a sole owner at Schweitzer will likely translate to a refreshing change in the way the resort conducts business and makes decisions. MIG is a progressive business group, and the process of decision-making will be simplified, according to Nova.
Nova is excited about the change and the energy and passion MIG has for Schweitzer. “I have been managing in a holding pattern for the past two years and I’m looking forward to moving ahead on the master plan,” said Nova.
Specifics aren’t being made public just yet; however, the vision is to retain the unpretentious feel the resort has today in keeping with its Western mountain atmosphere. Real estate development on a small scale will be a priority with a prevailing philosophy that increased lodging increases skier visitation that, in turn, justifies additional terrain improvements.
But for now, what’s left to do is try out the new lifts and test out the huckleberry-snow myth.