Isn’t it funny the things from our own childhoods that really stick with us? These things that we say “I’m never going to do that” or “Why would my parents make these choices?” Making note of all the things we will do very differently when we are a parents, of course.
One such thing was skiing. My father owned his own business and, being an orthodontist, relied on working with his hands (albeit it in children’s mouths). We enjoyed fabulous family vacations, don’t get me wrong, but not many ski vacations. Worried about falling and an injury that would put our family out of work (you see, my entire family worked in the office), he was not riding the lift up with us or coaching my siblings and me down the mountain. Some of this could also be attributed to his fear of heights. Sure, they took us on some snowy vacations – I remember taking ski lessons with my sister on a family vacation to Central Oregon. We were horrible and I’m fairly sure that we crashed each time we tried to exit the lift. But, if your family isn’t invested in the “ski effort,” it’s really hard to get enough learning hours under your belt to successfully get down the mountain.
Now you see, me being a dismal skier wasn’t the end of the world. While I did grow up in Northern California, I was hours from the mountains. I remember a few invitations with friends to join them at their family cabins, but it wasn’t as if snowy peaks were right outside my door nor a weekly ski bus leaving from school on Friday afternoons. It wasn’t until I went to college in Oregon and met the man pictured in these photos (along side our children), that I started to wish that I was a more experienced (let’s be real, any experienced) skier.
Fast forward a decade (or two), and now we’re raising children in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with the cascade mountains as our neighbors. The ski bus leaves every Friday afternoon from the middle school parking lot. Their elementary school classmates are members of the ski team.
With a goal of becoming a ski family, we started with weekly lessons at the closest mountain. And while the convenience was tops (aside from any pass closures), we often found ourselves holed up in the busy lodge as the kids skied through freezing rain and manufactured snow. On the rare occasion that we did all get out on the mountain, it was a zoo of fellow Seattlites, resulting in long lift lines and crowded runs. After several years of this, we decided to invest our ski school dollars instead into family ski vacations.
Enter Idaho. Washington’s closest neighbor to the east, we fell in love with the Idaho Panhandle, specifically the beautiful town of Sandpoint, last year as we were driving through on our way to visit Glacier, National Park. We loved this little town on the banks Lake Pend Orielle (pronounced Pond-e-ray), snuggly situated between Spokane, Washington and The Selkirk Mountains to the west and Montana (a mere 75 miles east) and The Cabinet Mountains. In fact, we had such a great time passing through, that we returned later in the summer for one final outdoor hoorah – floating in the swimming hole, hiking in the woods…and driving a mere 20 minutes from town up Schweitzer Mountain to check out the resort; making our plans for a winter return. In the summer heat (I love this high alpine climate), it was difficult to imagine the place covered in snow and teaming with snow sport enthusiasts. Yet with obvious construction underway and preparations being made, we could tell that this was a place to return to; and we booked another trip to Sandpoint and our first ski vacation to Schweitzer.
The photos above are taken on a snow-covered City Beach, a central feature of Sandpoint’s small downtown. In the snow, we had it all to ourselves; however, months earlier it was filled with swimming kids, sunbathers, and a dock full of boats.
Skiing with kids is not easy. It is a testament to all of the patience, preparation, and persistence required of parenting. Do you have everything? Have you gone to the bathroom? You’re cold. Too hot. Missing a glove. Oh…and you don’t want to do ski lessons?
Let me assure you. Ski lessons are a requirement. Aside from the obvious; we can all make the connection between professional instruction and improved skiing. Oh, and the fact that parents then get to ski by themselves (we’ll get to more on that in a moment). Lessons with the Schweitzer ski school team were FUN. They all had fun, we all had fun.
Our family was greeted by an instructor who immediately recognized us (and not just by the confused looks on our faces, she actually knew our names). When I signed the kids up for these lessons, I provided score cards from last year’s lessons, so the kids were immediately assigned to groups of their levels. (Although I had this material at the ready, I’m sure that Schweitzer’s knowledgeable ski school team could adeptly place kids in groups based on their skills). The kids then spent the morning sharpening their skills before taking a lunch break…in a yurt. Following lunch, they skied for couple more hours; exploring the mountain (including several trails through the trees, complete with jumps), further perfecting those turns.
Meanwhile, John and I took a few leisurely runs before turning in for an early lunch at The Skyhouse, the lodge atop the mountain. We shared an order of chicken poutine before heading back out to enjoy the view above the clouds and ski for the remainder of the afternoon.
You may notice that I am on a snowboard. Well, I met this boy my freshman year of college. At the time, he was a snowboarder. After several months of dating, my parents allowed me to join his family on a ski vacation (What were they thinking?? Will I allow my kids this adventure in the coming years?? Only time will tell). After flailing after him on the mountain and realizing that all of my college friends were avid skiers (many from the Pacific Northwest), I decided to take up the sport in earnest. As I retell to my children, I took lessons and rode that ski bus (except the one I was on was leaving from my college campus).
Fast forward again to after this college boyfriend and I got married and had three children. We returned to the snow after a very long hiatus. And wouldn’t you know it? He decided to pick-up skiing again. Now, to be fair, John grew up skiing and is an advanced skier. And, with our three kids on skis, it makes a lot of sense for him to be on two boards. But me? I’m securely strapped into one. Never really having learned to ski, this is where I feel the most secure. And while I’m not good (I’ve warned my kids to not expect any of the tricks they see on YouTube), I can hold up the rear. Which has proved helpful when skiing with kids.
After one day of lessons (and a date afternoon for the parents to ski together), we enjoyed 2 more days of family skiing. I feel like we have finally arrived! After years of lessons and our fair share of frustrated, cold, and hungry moments (which, still do happen on occasion), we can ski together as a five-some! At Schweitzer that meant a breeze through non-existent lift lines then dividing into two groups to ride the chairlifts; a parent with each. The kids can exit the chairs safely (with only a couple of mishaps involving yours truly) and then patiently wait for me and alternatively complain about me being on a snowboard.
The two days that we skied as a family, we experienced fresh snow. All the more fun for kids that like to head through the trees and practice their jumps. Which, of course, their father can lead and keep up with. Me? I stay safely on those groomed trails. With the Schweitzer Bowl and the two new lifts on the Outback Bowl, there are plenty of blue runs on both sides of the mountain for families to be entertained all day. And, during our mid-day break, the staff at the village coffee shop gave our kids the royal treatment, with hot cocoa complete with extra whip and candy canes. With new snow, no lines, wide open trails (with breath taking views of Pend Orielle), it’s no wonder Schweitzer claims their resort is like having your own private mountain! Just what we were looking for!
Another thing I was going to do differently as a parent? Fly. Growing up, I just wanted to fly to a destination, like all of the other people (the ones who also spread yellow mustard on their sandwiches). Instead, we would pile into the family Oldsmobile (later the Suburban) and drive up to the Pacific Northwest, or head east; the desert Southwest and Rocky Mountain states were among our favorite destinations. Here in lies the irony in parenting…we (John and I) live for a good road trip. My kids just want to fly, probably to someplace exotic like Hawaii.
So prep that Audible playlist and be sure to pack chains, as adventure awaits east of the Cascades in the beautiful wonderland of the Idaho Panhandle. Whether you come to bask in the warm summer sun on the shores of Lake Pend Orielle or to hit the slopes at Schweitzer (and why not both?!), this area is sure to make you an Idaho convert as well.
A very special thank you to Schweitzer Mountain for partnering with me on this post. It is a pleasure to share this ski resort with you, dear reader. As always, you can expect all opinions to be entirely my own.