Tell a Bostonian you’re planning an Idaho vacation, and you’ll most likely be met with confused looks and a few bad jokes about potatoes. And for the people of Sandpoint, Idaho, named America’s “most beautiful small town” by USA Today and Rand McNally in 2011, they’d just as soon keep it that way, thank you very much. Because if word got out about the stunning mountain views, the dazzling 43-mile-long Lake Pend Oreille and the unsurpassed skiing, hiking, mountain biking and fishing, it certainly wouldn’t be one of the final American frontiers for long.
For those who’ve been let in on the secret (Viggo Mortensen and Ben Stein are often spotted strolling the town’s streets), Schweitzer Mountain Resort is the premier destination this time of year. Located in the Selkirk Mountains, Schweitzer is home to 2,900 skiable acres, 92 downhill runs, 11 cross country trails, three terrain parks and two open bowls. And with an average annual snowfall of 300 inches, fresh powder is almost guaranteed. Forget amusement park-esque lift lines; here they’re nonexistent—probably why Ski Magazine named it North America’s best-kept secret. And with ziplining, tubing, snowbiking and snowshoeing, thrill-seekers and play-it-safers alike will find something to write home about.
Lodging options range from mountainside condo rentals to RV parking, but first-time guests should consider booking a room at the resort’s rustic-European-style Selkirk Lodge. Only a few steps from two main chairlifts and in the heart of the quaint Schweitzer Village, it’s the closest to ski-on/ski-off accommodations you can come by. Families and larger groups would be best served by the condo-style White Pine lodge, just across the way from Selkirk and complete with gas fireplaces, lake views and full-size kitchens. For après-ski, hit Selkirk’s Chimney Rock Grill, where Maine native Kelly Kennedy, formerly of Bristol’s Coveside Marina & Restaurant, serves up creative cuisine (think zucchini tacos with crispy fried chickpeas or baked brie with pecan brûlée and warm crostini).
While you could easily spend an entire week and never leave the resort, that would be an enormous mistake. Some of the region’s best fare, art happenings and nightlife can be found in downtown Sandpoint, “an artsy hippie town that grew up,” as one local put it. Live music echoes from underground venues nearly every night of the week—locals’ favorites are Downtown Crossing and the “beatnik” Eichardt’s Pub—while those with a more-refined palate can catch bluegrass, jazz or Americana acts while sipping vino at Pend d’Oreille Winery, where five tastes will only run you $5 and experts offer commentary free of charge. If you’d rather pound beers, MickDuff’s microbrewery is just around the corner. (Note: Do not miss the beer cheese soup.)
When it comes time for dinner, townies will recommend Trinity at City Beach. Don’t be alarmed by its proximity to the Best Western: Inside are vast floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the lake and providing a view of a charmingly quirky 7-foot reproduction of the Statue of Liberty. The corn and crawfish chowder will make you rethink your devotion to the clammy stuff, and the pine-nut-crusted Idaho ruby trout gives cod a run for its money.
Book a trip for Presidents Day weekend to attend the annual family-friendly Winter Carnival and witness the one-of-a-kind “ski joring” competition, where riders on horseback pull skiers through snowy obstacle courses over jumps and gates. Other weekend highlights include wine tastings, a wacky float parade and “Cirque de Sandpoint,” where local acrobats and aerial artists mimic the popular Cirque du Soleil.
If a sunny getaway’s more your style, plan your vacation around the summer music festival in August. For eight nights, festival-goers catch world-class acts like the Avett Brothers, the Steve Miller Band and the John Butler Trio from beach blankets under the starry sky. Whether you’re a snowbird or a serious shredder, Sandpoint is sure to please.
-The resort is a two-hour drive from Spokane Airport in Washington state, so be sure to book a rental car with your airfare.
-If you’re traveling in winter, don’t forget a four-wheel-drive vehicle—the snow-covered roads leading to Schweitzer shouldn’t be toyed with.
Schweitzer Mountain Resort | 10000 Schweitzer Mountain Road, Sandpoint, Idaho | 877-487-4643 | schweitzer.com
Downtown Crossing | 202 N. First Ave., Sandpoint | 208-610-8820
Eichardt’s Pub, Grill & Coffee House | 212 Cedar St., Sandpoint | 208-263-4005
Pend d’Oreille Winery | 220 Cedar St., Sandpoint | 208-265-8545 | powine.com
MickDuff’s Brewing Company | 312 N. 1st Ave, Sandpoint | 208-255-4351 | mickduffs.com
Trinity at City Beach | 58 Bridge St., Sandpoint | 208-255-7558 | trinityatcitybeach.com