Canada/USA 2008.

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We have been visiting Canada for many years now but this was the first time we had an 18 month old in tow. It meant we had to plan our itinery and where we would visit around Craigs needs. It was quite a challenging trip but very rewarding.
Over the last few years we have used the services of either Ski Safari or Frontier Ski to book our trips as they usually came up with very competitive prices which I could not match by booking myself. This time it was Frontier who got the nod. We are based in Dumfries in SW Scotland and have always flown to Calgary or Vancouver from Glasgow via Heathrow using British Airways or Air Canada. Having a toddler with us we decided to use Fly Zooms direct service from Glasgow. As Craig did not have to pay for a seat we upgraded to the premium cabin and it was well worth it. The service on board was really good and we have booked with them for next season already.
After an 8 hour flight we decided that we would pick up the hire car the next morning so it was an easy walk out of the airport, across the road and we checked in at the Delta Calgary airport Hotel. This hotel is ideal although the nightly rate is expensive. Next year we have decided to pick up our hire vehicle right away and go to the Sandeman Hotel which is only 5 minutes drive from the airport and is significantly cheaper.
Our hire car was booked through Thrifty. Ourselves and Jills sister Julie and her husband Callum who were with us had prebooked 4x4 vehicles. We were told at the desk that they did not have any available that day ! In the end Julie and Callum took a minivan and we got a luxury Chrysler 300 car. We were given $250 refund each. All the kit went in the minivan and we had lots of space in the car. We brought Craigs own carseat over on the plane with us at no extra cost. It would have cost nearly $140 to rent one and there was no guarantee that one would be available.
The 190 mile drive down to Fernie was trouble free. We stopped at Castle Mountain for lunch. This is a great little ski hill that we have been to before. They have opened up more beginner/intermediate terrain this season and they also now have kinder care facilities. Not too many places to stay except for the ski lodge at the base and a few B&Bs near Beaver Mines including Aspen Grove where we stayed a couple of years back and is highly recommended.
We were soon at Fernie and checking in at the Lizard Creek Lodge. We had a 2 bedroom condo and it was excellent. There was so much room and it was beautifully decorated and equipped.
We had Craig booked into kinder care at the daylodge for 3 days. He was happy and contented and the staff were very friendly and efficient.
We had snowboarded at Fernie a couple of times in the past and when we arrived the snow was in good condition. The groomed runs were excellent. We ate at Kelseys, the Italian restaurant near the general store then down in Fernie we went to the “Corner Pocket” where the Bison was excellent. On the final night we ate in the Lizard Creek restaurant and the food was excellent - Alberta tenderloin with Lobster. Prices were reasonable at Fernie for food and drinks. A pitcher of Kootenay Mountain ale in the Griz bar was $12. The kinder care bill for 3 days was $171 and that included lunch.
I had heard good things about Schweitzer Mountain down in Idaho so we decided to spend 4 nights down at Sandpoint. We left Fernie and drove down highway 93 to the border crossing at Roosville. Last year we had crossed into the States at Patterson to go to 49’North and the experience was not much fun, but at Roosville the US customs were brilliant, they chatted away and shared a few jokes and generally made us feel welcome. After paying our $6 visa fee we were on our way down towards Eureka then onto the town of Libby, Montana for lunch. It was a very scenic mornings drive along Lake Koocanusa. Fuel was $3.19/gallon and it was only $35 to fill the car up. We drove on past beautiful Lake Pend Orielle to Sandpoint. We did not stay in the resort but at the “Western Pleasure Ranch” which was a 35 minute drive from the ski hill. We stayed in the meadowview guest house which was in a lovely quiet setting away from the main ranch.
We went down into Sandpoint for dinner at a lovely Italian restaurant called Ivanos where everyone was so friendly.
We got discounted lift tickets at the ranch the next morning and drove up to the ski hill and checked Craig into the kinder care where the staff were the friendliest people you could imagine.
As soon as we parked the car I knew right away that I would enjoy this place. Firstly the skiable area on the front side of the hill looked far bigger than I had imagined. They have recently put in a couple of new lifts. A new triple and a new quad chair. Basically the hill is split into two well linked parts. The front Schweitzer Bowl and the Outback Bowl. The snow was excellent and there had been a few inches of new snow overnight. There were not many people on the hill and we had no queues all day. The middle of the village has a few nice condo blocks as well as about 8 eating places, 4 bars, a general store and 3 ski/board shops. I would certainly recommend staying on the hill as it has more life to it than Fernie has. We had 3 days riding here and I felt we really just got to know the place and had just scratched the surface of what Schweitzer has to offer. There is terrain for all levels including a small beginners park and the “stomping ground terrain park” which had some pretty big features. A lot of the front side of the hill is floodlit for night skiing at weekends and during the holiday periods. From the Basin Express then the Lakeview triple chair the possibilities are endless. There are lots of chutes and wide spaced gladed runs as well as nice cruising pistes lower down. From the base area you can also take the Great Escape quad and this opens up some decent intermediate/advanced terrain. After day one on the front bowl we handed in our boards for a service ($10 each board) and dreamed of hitting the Outback bowl the next morning.
We woke the next morning to find some fresh snow down in the valley. On the drive back up to the ski hill we could see that there had been quite a few inches of fresh stuff. Just as we parked the car the sky cleared and the sun came out. The views from Schweitzer are some of the best I have ever seen from a ski hill. You are looking down towards Sandpoint and the massive and weird shaped Lake Pend Orielle.
We picked up our newly serviced boards from the “Ski and Ride Center” where the friendly ski/board tech was happy to chat away and tell us the best areas to hit after the new snow. We made our way over to the “Outback Bowl” which is served by a fast modern 6 pack, a rickety old 2 man chair and a T bar named “Idyle Our”. In this area there are long and wide cruising blues but the best stuff is the Black diamond and double Black diamond trails through the trees. We followed the advice we were given in the morning and made fresh powder tracks all day. It was amazing, down at the bottom of the Bowl is the “Outback inn” which was a great place to stop for a refreshment. It was full of old locals who seemed to use it as a social club. I was amazed at what I found at Schweitzer and it certainly betters Fernie in my book. The statistics for the hill are pretty decent :-
2900 Acres, Longest Run- 1.7 miles, Vertical drop - 2400ft, Top elevation - 6400ft.
Average annual snowfall - 300”, Ski season - Nov to April.
Childcare was $55/day including lunch.
The resort was very family friendly but had terrain for all levels of skier or boarder. Puccis Pub in the village was good for a beer and the Lakeview Café was good for lunch ($64 for 4 including beer).
I would recommend Schweitzer to anyone and we will certainly be going back.
It was then time to leave this lovely area in the north Idaho panhandle and drive back to Canada to return to Red, a place we have visited many times and one of my favourite hills in the world. We drove to Priest River, crossed into Washington state , headed up to Usk and then across past 49’ North , up to Colville, Kettle falls and back into BC at the Patterson crossing. From the border it is a short drive to Rossland and up to the Rams Head Inn. We have stayed here a few times before and it is a beautiful B&B just a short walk from Reds base area. We were sad to hear that the previous owners ,Greg and Tauna Butler had sold up as we had got to know them well on our previous stays. The Rams Head Inn was just not the same, firstly it had been expanded to take more guests and in the mornings it was too busy in the lounge at breakfast time. The guy who worked at the Inn was great but the woman owner would come in to do breakfast and she was not very approachable or friendly. She hardly spoke a word to us and when we asked for something it all seemed too much of an effort for her. We were quite sad about this as the place had so many great memories for us. We met up with the previous owners and they were also sad to hear that things were not as they were ! Greg and Tauna have now got a new place in Rossland and we are booked to stay there for 3 nights next March followed by 4 nights at the Prestige Inn which we had a look round this year and seems to be a nice place.
Our first night at Red means one thing, a family reunion down at Trail where we all go to the “Collander”. This traditional Italian family restaurant is an institution in the area and is well worth a visit. The food is superb, service first class and value for money it is hard to beat. This year we had relatives over from Vancouver, Alan was born and bred here and he was meeting up with some of his old mates and he had a surprise for us. We had known about the old cabins up on Granite mountain for a few years but never really knew where they all were as they are hidden in the woods. Well we were invited to visit one of them for a drink and a bite to eat. “The Stagger Inn” had been built by some of Alans friends years ago and at weekends they would go up there and stay in the cabin. It was an amazing place and so warm and homely inside. As for boarding on Red and Granite mountains I just cant think of anywhere else I would rather be. For this season the resort had created a few new trails from the new Silverlode chair, these were easy blues and greens but its good to see Red providing more trails for beginners and early intermediates. The only fault I could find was that the new chair was a fixed speed quad and a lot of people had trouble getting off at the top. One good thing was that the new chair rises higher than the bottom of the upper Motherlode chair giving a nice easy cruise down to it.
At the base of Red things are changing with new condos taking shape and I just hope the place does not grow too big too soon.
Craig was booked into kinder care at Red and on two of the days he was the only one in. Jenny who runs the place is excellent and Craig is already booked in again for next winter. The new trail map is split into 3 sectors and is still not very representative of what is on the ground. For people coming here for the first time it can be confusing. Once you get to know the area the worlds your oyster and you could ski here all season and still find new delights.From the top of Granite you can drop down anywhere in the knowledge that you will come out onto Rinos run or easy street and get back to the Motherlode chair. Rinos run is now what used to be called Long Squaw, they changed the name as it was thought to be politically incorrect !
We met up with Greg and Tauna and had a morning blasting the blue runs from the Paradise chair. Names such as “Southern Belle”, “Gambler”, “Ruby Monday and “Southern Comfort” all provide fast carving sport. We stopped for a break at the warm and welcoming “Paradise Lodge” for coffee and a muffin then went on a hike up the side of Mt Roberts, it was a hard 30 minute slog then we dropped down through the trees in deep untracked powder arriving back at the bottom of the Paradise chair. Next years hike will be up Grey Mountain.
A day lift ticket at Red is $58 but they are available as a discount through the travel operators and via some of the accomodation. Kindercare for Craig was $55/day.
The terrain park at Red is quite expansive and has various kickers, boxes and rails.
For eating , as I said earlier the “Collander” in Trail is a must visit but nearer the hill we always like walking down the road to the “Rock Cut Pub”. The owner Warren is always very welcoming and helpful and it serves great pub food and has a fine selection of beers.
We cant wait to return to Rossland and Red Mountain next season.
It was time to leave for Banff and my main concern was the continual snowfall and having to get over the Kootenay pass. We had about an hours delay as they blasted the snow away on the Creston side. Once down the other side we were soon at Cranbrook for a fuel stop then headed on to Fairmont Hot Springs for lunch. We liked the look of this place so much we have booked to stay a couple of nights at the end of next years trip.
It was then on up to Banff and to the Banff Springs Hotel. We had visited the hotel before but had never stayed there. The place is beautiful but I feel it is over rated and not as good as some of the other hotels in the chain. There were only two of the restaurants open so after a couple of drinks in the Rundle bar we went to the Italian restaurant where the food was really good.
Next day it was back to Calgary for the flight home.
Next year we are flying to Calgary and going down to Big Mountain, Montana. The resort has now returned to its old name of Whitefish mountain. We then have 7 nights at Red and then a couple of nights at Fairmont Hot Springs before flying home.
This year we drove a total of 2028km.

Fernie on a fine day - Feb 2008.

Jill at Fernie

Fine conditions at Fernie.

Downtown Fernie

Face lift, Lizard Bowl,Fernie.

Bluebird day at Fernie Alpine Resort.

Jill riding at Fernie,Feb 2008.

Jill stops for a rest.

On our way to Kindercare at Fernie.

Lost Boys Cafe at Fernie.

Craig at Lizard Creek,Fernie.


Schweitzer Mountain Idaho 2008

Over the years we have done loads of road trips to Canada and have visited most of the bigger well known resorts as well as a few of the smaller areas such as Phoenix Mountain. Our favourite places such as Red, Whitewater, Castle Mountain and Fortress are all places we are keen to revisit and Red has become like a second home to us in recent years.
Our trips are now based around Red , whether its flying to Vancouver and visiting places en-route to Rossland or arriving in Calgary and doing a circular route via Red visiting a few other resorts on the way.
Through my friend Q who has “Offthebeatenpath” , a website all about ski resorts in the US but primarily about the lesser known areas I began to take an interest in what was available just a short hop over the Canadian border. With a copy of the Rand McNally Pacific North West map I began to take a closer look at what resorts/ski hills could be visited either from Red or as part of a Canada/US road trip. Washington, Idaho and Montana have lots of these “Offthebeatenpath” type of areas. Sitzmark, Loup Loup ski bowl, 49’ North, Mount Spokane, Schweitzer Mountain, Turner Mountain, Silver Mountain and Big Mountain (Whitefish) were all possibilities for cross border raids into the US.
I had plenty to think about.
In 2006 we had an interesting day trip down to 49’North which is near the town of Chewelah in Washington state. It was less than two hours drive south from Rossland and although the snow was plentiful it was really heavy following some overnight rain which had fell on Chewelah peak. We spent a couple of hours riding , chatted to a few locals who had seen very few Europeans visit the ski hill, had lunch then headed back to Rossland. We could see just how much fun could be had here at 49 if conditions had been more favourable and decided that we would try and visit some more of the PNW resorts/ski hills on our future trips.
While planning our Feb/Mar 2008 trip we had another major thing to think about , Craig had been born on Sept 06 and would only be 17 months old when we headed across the pond. We had to check closely to find out which areas could provide us with day kinder care. At Red the minimum age was 18 months but they said they would still take him so that was a relief, Fernie ticked the box and after a phone call they said they would take children from 6 months old. It was then I asked Q about Schweitzer as I knew he had been there in the past, he told me that I would like it and as he knows what sort of areas I like that was good enough for me. I then booked up our 2008 road trip which would start in Glasgow with flights to Calgary with Zoom. We would stay a night at the Delta Calgary airport hotel, pick up vehicles the following morning and drive down to Fernie for 4 nights before heading down to Schweitzer Mountain, Idaho. It would then be onto Red and Banff before returning to Calgary to fly home.
Things nearly did not go to plan on our first morning at Fernie as when we took Craig along to kindercare we were shocked to be told that the minimum age had been increased to 18 months ! This was a new policy that had just been brought in for this season. I got my e-mail correspondence out and explained that I had called the previous summer to make sure things were ok and had been told it was fine and they took my booking. After some discussion they phoned the RCR head office and I was relieved when they said it would be fine.
We had another fine stay at Fernie but I was keen to get down to Schweitzer. It was a clear sunny morning when we headed down to the Roosville border crossing. The US customs and immigration guys on duty were first class. We shared a few tales and jokes with them, paid our $6 for our visitors visa and were on our way.
We headed south on highway 93 cutting off before Eureka to hit the 37 to Rexford where we stopped for a fuel stop. Although gas had went up in price since last year it was still cheaper than in Canada. We travelled down the eastern shore of Lake Koocanusa past McGuire mountain where the highway was hard packed snow and the trees were covered in last nights fresh fall of the white stuff. It was a relaxed and scenic drive down past the Libby dam at the end of the lake. It was then we saw the direction sign for Turner mountain.
Q had told me about this small hill and we had hoped to stop there for lunch and maybe a few quick turns but it was not to be as its only open at weekends. Instead we headed into the town of Libby where we had lunch at the Libby café, this delightful place was a 1950s themed diner with great food.
After lunch we followed the Kootenai river past Troy and over the border from Montana into Idaho. At the town of Clark Fork you get your first sight of the magnificent Lake Pend Orielle ,pronounced Ponderay just like the town next to Sandpoint. As we drove towards Sandpoint we got our first glimpse of Schweitzer mountain as it looked down onto the lake.
On booking this part of the trip we had decided to stay “off the hill” and while looking to see what was available we came across the “Western Pleasure Guest Ranch” which was located about 15 miles out from town on a flat plain in a wooded setting. We had reserved the isolated “Meadowview House” which was away from the main Ranch and lodgings. It was a lovely spacious bungalow with great views and we were soon settled in, we were also able to get discounted lift tickets for $49 instead of $55 from the Ranch.
We drove back down into Sandpoint in the late afternoon to take a look around. It was easy to see this pleasant town was a real summer destination with lots of lovely holiday homes along the lakeside. After a stroll around we found a real nice Italian restaurant called “Ivanos” where we decided to have dinner. This place had lovely staff who really did want to spend time chatting with us and after a good feed we said our goodbyes and went to pick up a few groceries from the supermarket before heading back to base for an early night.
The next morning we were up at 6.45am and as usual the first thing I do is look out the window to see what the weather is doing and today I was greeted with a dull, overcast and misty scene but at least it was dry. We had breakfast, got the car parked up and set out for the hill which was around a 40 minute drive away. It took around 20 minutes to reach Sandpoint then about the same again up the ski hill road which was not too steep and well maintained. We arrived at the big parking lot which was not very busy then took a walk up to the village centre to find out where the kinder care facility was located. The resort centre is well laid out and compact with everything you need within a few minutes walk of each other, a few bars/restaurants, shops, a welcome centre where the kinder care was located and the on mountain lodging.
We soon had Craig registered and settled and we were then able to set of and explore the hill. The area is basically split into two bowls. The front bowl which was called the Schweitzer bowl and the Outback bowl. Today we would stick to the Schweitzer bowl and our first port of call was the Basin Express quad chair. The views from the top overlooking Lake Pend Orielle were truly amazing, some of the most scenic I had seen in North America. The snow was in exceptional condition and I was amazed to see lots of untracked powder between the trees as we went up on the chair. The other great news was that it was very quiet and most people we did see were sticking to the main groomers. I was impressed with my initial look at the terrain, lots of glades and chutes which were of a nice pitch if not exactly too long. We continued up on the Face triple chair from where we had plenty of options. By heading right down the south ridge there were endless possibilities to drop in or you could head the other way along the ridge and the terrain was not so steep but you could find longer gentle gladed runs back to the base area or head over and into the Outback bowl. We done a few loops in fresh knee deep powder then headed to the Cabinet Mountain coffee shop for carrot cake which was lovely. We then explored a bit more on runs like “Headwall”, Sams alley and Heathers run all of which were great fun. At lunchtime we called in at “Puccis Pub” for a beer and a bite to eat, the bill for four came to just $40. After lunch we had a quiet time with Julie and Callum and explored the small freestyle garden before calling it a day and going back to kinder care to pick up Craig. He was having a great time and was getting kisses and hugs from his new found North American girlfriends - he did not want to leave!
It was back to the Meadowview house where we had some massive steaks for dinner washed down with a few beers before bed.

Day two at Schweitzer dawned early for us as Craig did not sleep well, perhaps he was thinking about the girls at kinder care . Although we had been awake most of the night my spirits were soon lifted on looking out and seeing a nice blue sky and it looked promising for a good day on the hill. On arrival at the base area parking lot Craig was asleep in the car so I walked up to kind care with our boards while Jill stayed in the car. We then had a coffee until he woke up.
Today we made our way to the Outback bowl and again it was quiet and the snow was in excellent shape. We spent some time on groomed runs like “Vagabond” where you could really let rip. There is a single speed old two man chair called the “Snow Ghost” which takes you back to the top ridge but it also has a half-way get off point from where there are fine runs through the trees all the way down to the “Outback Inn”. We stopped for a coffee and a muffin and while inside this cosy little establishment I felt really good and young as it seemed to be a meeting place for all the golden oldies. Looking at all the weathered faces of fit looking pensioners , who had probably skied here for many more years than I had been on this earth brought it home to me just what a healthy lifestyle can be achieved by living in a mountain environment and participating in snowsports well into your latter years. I also noticed a lot more older snowboarders here than you would normally see in Europe, it was good to see.
From just below the Inn you came to the bottom of a modern six pack named “Stella”. Inside the lift access building were a few old artefacts from the area including a steam engine called “Stella”. It was like a museum inside an ultra modern lift station , not something you normally find on a ski hill. At the top of this new modern chair there were lots of options on where to go. There were plenty of long cruisy blue runs like “Zip down”, ”Stellas run”, and “Springboard” all with virtually nobody on them. It was also easy to head off through the trees and join the groomed runs again further down.
We had covered quite a lot of terrain in the Outback bowl this morning and an appetite had been built up for lunch. We all met up at the Lakeview café which offers brilliant views over Lake Pend Orielle , especially from the washrooms of all places! We ate well, had a couple of beers and then got a bill for the four of us which came to only $63 - just try doing that in the French Alps these days. We decided on another easy afternoon and we took Callum and Julie over to the Outback bowl for a few gentle cruisy runs before heading back to base to pick up Craig from kinder care. He had been happy playing all day in what was an excellent set up for the kids. We decided to hand our boards in for an overnight hot wax at the “Ski & Ride” center.
Tonight it was back to the supermarket in Sandpoint for more big steaks for dinner then another early night.

The next morning Craig awoke at about 5am but we had slept pretty well up until then and I was soon up and raring to go for what would be our final days riding at Schweitzer on this trip. It was nice and clear on looking outside and it promised to be a good day. We were up the hill by 9am and it seemed a little busier today as well as feeling a bit colder, there had also been a good few centimetres of fresh overnight snow. We went to collect our freshly waxed boards which cost $10 each and spent some time chatting with the guy who waxed them. He was local and knew the hill inside out and he told us some areas to check out today where we were sure to find decent untracked snow. Once Craig was safely in kinder care we headed up the Great Escape quad and we were soon shrouded in some fog but it cleared as we entered the Outback bowl where we had some really nice fresh powder all the way down to the Snow Ghost chair. We then headed to the area the board tech guy had mentioned earlier which was accessed from the Idyle -Our T bar which runs along the top of the ridge line. This was one of the smoothest , most gentle T bars I had ever ridden. The snow up here was light and dry and we were now right at the far edge of the ski area boundary. From the North ridge we dropped down through “Waynes Woods” and “Siberian” in knee deep untracked powder. The terrain then opened up through the trees into wide blue cruisers which took us all the way to the Outback Inn for morning coffee.
After a nice coffee break we headed back over into Schweitzer bowl, had a couple of runs down through the baby park before we all met up for lunch back at Puccis Pub. The Moose Drool beer went down very well today. Our friendly local had also told us this morning to head up to the South ridge which was accessed from the Lakeview triple chair and ride along the ridge as far as you could then when it starts to slope up the way to unstrap and take a gentle 10 minute hike to the area boundary. The views up here were well worth the effort. It was a stunning spot, on one side was the Lake and the town of Sandpoint and then as you look further round all you can see are acres and acres of tree covered peaks for as far as the eye can see. We drank in the view for a few minutes then strapped back in and had one last blast down the South bowl chutes to the base area.
We had just finished three brilliant days riding at what is a great little resort with some really decent terrain, it’s a place for all levels of skier or boarder.
We picked up Craig from the excellent kinder care where the bill for three full days was only $160. We had a sad feeling as we drove down the ski hill road for the last time on this trip and as we drove over the lake bridge and looked back up to the hill I vowed to return some day in the not too distant future. I feel this would be the ideal place for Craig to make his early turns on skis.
The next morning we packed up and headed “home” to Rossland. We had a nice drive to Priest Lake then to Usk and over past 49’ North. It was a short stop at Colville, Washington then a final US fuel stop at Northport before crossing back into Canada where we had our usual excellent stay at Red Mountain, catching up with old friends and making new ones. Conditions were spot on at Red and all too soon we had to leave for Banff and then back home.

Facts and Figures

Schweitzer - 2900 acres
20% easy
40% intermediate
35% advanced
5% expert.
vertical drop- 2400ft
top elevation- 6400ft
ave snowfall- 300"/year.
ski season- Nov to Apr.
night skiing & riding
lifts open from 9am - 4pm
2 terrain parks

Our 2009 trip is now all booked up and we will again be crossing into the States when we will spend a few nights at Whitefish Mountain (formerly known as Big Mountain) in Montana.
Q has certainly given me the bug for visiting resorts in this part of the Pacific NW.