Summer Thrills at Schweitzer, Idaho

by Dan Shryock

The steep, rock-strewn trail drops in front of me. Small rubble is not a problem, I calculate, but those big chunks of granite as much as a foot wide trigger panicked concern. I control my speed and repeat the mantra Sean Mirus, my coach for the day, instilled for the past hour.

“Trust the bike.”

Mirus is right. This mountain bike knows what to do. I steer a path of least resistance and let the extra-wide bike tires absorb each impact. Gravity does the rest as the machine rolls over obstacles and onto firm soil as we glide downhill toward Schweitzer Resort. My first mountain biking experience is a success.

Here’s another first: Spending a summer day at a ski resort. Schweitzer, near the northern Idaho town of Sandpoint, is a popular destination with 300 inches of snow each winter. It’s also a warm-weather destination in the Selkirk Mountains where wildflowers bloom, birds sing and huckleberries ripen under the Douglas firs, hemlocks and Ponderosa pines.

“There are plenty of activities for the whole family, even if someone doesn’t like to ride bikes,” says Mirus. 

One can experience the trampoline jumper, climbing wall, swimming pool, horseback riding or a zipline at the resort village. There’s also tennis and pickleball. Kids can pretend they are searching for silver, the region’s profitable mineral, in the miniature Cranky Jennings Sluice Box. 

Or consider a stunning 1,700-foot ascent on the Great Escape Quad to the Sky House restaurant at the top of Schweitzer mountain. Enjoy views of Washington, Montana, Canada, and nearby Lake Pend Oreille while the Sky House staff serves food and drink on a rotating menu. “Our scenic chairlift rides to the summit are probably the biggest hit,” Mirus says.

Daring cyclists bring their bikes up the chairlift and then ride back down. That’s no surprise; the continued growth of gravity mountain biking—allowing gravity to power the downhill run—makes ski resorts such as Schweitzer with its intricate trail network a popular place to ride. Lift-serviced mountain biking typically is available from late June through the Labor Day weekend. And while most riders bring their own bikes, Schweitzer provides rentals for first timers and spur-of-the-moment thrill seekers.

My morning mountain bike ride, which included a brief attempt on a short yet difficult single-track path, is contrasted with an afternoon e-bike tour on wider, double-track trails. Fat tires and the electric motor help make this a leisurely spin through the forest. 

“E-bikes provide the opportunity for more people to get out on the trails,” Mirus says, “from those who have never tried it to those who no longer ride traditional mountain bikes.”

With e-bike assistance engaged, afternoon guide Stewart Howe leads us uphill and into the woods. We stop to enjoy the views and eventually reach a far corner where huckleberries are ripe for the picking. After a flavorful feast, we turn for one last downhill run to the village, trusting the bike all the way down.

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There are five types of accommodations on the mountain ranging from hotels and condominiums to RV parking. Humbird, the newest property, is a 31-room boutique hotel with massive cross-laminated timber construction and wood throughout. “This was the perfect fit considering Schweitzer and Sandpoint’s longstanding heritage in the logging industry,” Mirus says. “The name Humbird pays homage to the first mill in the area, the Humbird Lumber Company.”