Reflecting Sandpoint's beautiful place in the world since 1990.

Memorable stories

Following are links to stories that Sandpoint Magazine’s original contributors mentioned as most memorable, in our “Turning 30” interview. Click the links for a trip back in time to read’em!

Stories by Sandy Compton

“All Ahead Slow” from Winter 1992 • Click to read»

“Hazel Hall, That’s All” from Winter 2010 • Click to read»

“Who We Are” from Winter 1996 • Click to read»

“100 Years of Sandpoint” from Winter 2000 • Click to read»

“Stories from the Ski Patrol” from Winter 2007 • Click to read»

“Two Trips Home” from Winter 1991 • Click to read»

“A Good Idea that Got Out of Hand” from Winter 2008 • Click to read»


Stories by David Gunter

“Feature Interview: Gunther Schuller, Festival maestro” from Summer 1991 • Click to read»

“Feature Interview: Leon Atkinson, classical guitarist” from Winter 2010 • Click to read»

“Is Sandpoint an Arts Community … Really?” from Winter 2009 • Click to read»


Stories by Susan Drinkard

“Feature Interview: Ed and Nancy Kienholz” from Winter 1992 • Click to read»

“Feature Interview: Charley Packard, musician” from Summer 2014 • Click to read»

“Feature Interview: Marilynne Robinson, author” from Winter 2006 • Click to read»


Stories by Chris Bessler

“Mountain of Change” from Winter 1991 • Click to read»

“Back to the Continental Mine” from Summer 1994 • Click to read»

“Feature Interview: Christopher Boyce, Soviet spy and bank robber” from Winter 2014 • Click to read»


Stories by Billie Jean Gerke

“Timber Town” from Summer 1994 • Click to read»

“Feature Interview: Patrick McManus, humorist” from Summer 1995 • Click to read»

“Feature Interview: Dr. Forrest Bird, inventor” from Winter 1995 • Click to read»

“Feature Interview: Jerry Kramer, Green Bay Packers and SHS football star” from Summer 1998 • Click to read»

Before the First Snowflake Falls

Tips for homeowners to prepare for winter

by Beth Hawkins

Summers are when we fall in love with Sandpoint, buy houses, and pinch ourselves about how lucky we are to have discovered paradise. Winters are when we stock up on snow shovels (before they sell out in a rush), trade in our front-wheel-drive cars for SUVs, and maybe even question our decision of living in Sandpoint!

Without a doubt, outdoor recreation fun abounds in winter—skiing, skating, fat tire biking, and more. But it’s a good idea to approach North Idaho’s most unpredictable season of the year with a healthy dose of preparation. It could be a big winter, it could be a mild winter, who knows? So whether you’re new to the area, a longtime resident, or house hunting, we’ve gathered sage advice from local homeowners who have survived—and still thrive!—in North Idaho winters.

Rural homeowner Chip Lawrence, 63, has lived in the Selle Valley for 20 years, and said his best advice to others is to be prepared. “Get ready for winter early and always assume it is going to be a huge winter.” He runs through a laundry list of things to do to get your home and property winterized: store firewood, blow out sprinkler systems, mark the road with snow poles, store away outdoor furniture, clear rain gutters, check the roof and waterline heat tapes, block foundation vents, and get snow removal equipment serviced.

His go-to snow removal equipment is a tractor with a three-auger snow blower. “If you are on acreage where we get deep snow drifts, a blower can be a far better tool than a truck plow,” Lawrence said. “You can use the bucket if the snow gets wet.”

When the Lawrence family was first looking for a house with land, they had a few requirements including south and east-facing windows—North Idaho winters are long and dark—and a roof designed to hold snow as insulation. “The construction needed to be designed for snow load and Idaho winters,” Lawrence said about his property search.

He advises others to pay attention to roof pitches, making sure they don’t drop snow on the access sidewalks, and having ready access to firewood storage if you’re planning to use a wood stove or fireplace insert for heating. Even with lots of planning, there’s one problem area that continues to give him grief: “I totally failed on the driveway, as I have a north-facing roadway that can get very icy.”

Lawrence said his least favorite thing about winter is what folks around here refer to as “mud season.” “We like snow and temps of 29 degrees. It is the worst when it just goes above 32 and everything turns to mud!” But he recalls the big winter of 2008 as one of his most memorable in Sandpoint. “We had three yards of standing snow at the ranch,” he said. “Every night the wind would fill in the road. You could not even see the tractor from a short distance down the road, but you could see the pure white column of snow flying straight up and then floating away as it blew the snow. It was very memorable and beautiful.”

While he does find the silver linings in winter’s wrath, the Lawrence family usually makes an escape to the Caribbean or the Bahamas in the middle of winter, most times aboard a catamaran. “We go sailing where there are few people, but a few restaurants and amazing sights.”

Paying attention to roofs and driveways is also advice reiterated by homeowner Stephanie Rief, who was born and raised in Sandpoint, and has lived here most of her life with the exception of a few years in Montana (which also would count for ‘surviving winter’!).

Rief lives in the city limits on a quarter-acre of property, and also advises others to start thinking about how they’re going to handle winter well in advance. “Get your snow removal situation figured out now because if you are going to hire someone to do it and you wait, you will most likely be out of luck due to their already packed snow removal list.”
Rief’s top choice for snow removal equipment is a snowblower. “Depending on the size, they can be cumbersome and tight to get into some spaces, but a snowblower will save you time and muscle aches; it moves more snow and cuts a cleaner path than shoveling.”

Outdoor recreation is a part of Sandpoint life for Rief, and she said the top requirement on her property list was to have proper storage. “The biggest thing to consider, for me anyway, is storage space such as a shop, garage, shed, etc. Many hobbies lead to many different types of equipment, bikes, kayaks, paddleboards, boats, ATVs, and when you pay good money for your toys you don’t want to leave them out to be ruined by the snow.”

She recalls one particularly big North Idaho winter where she shoveled four feet of snow off of her house to take the weight off the roof. “I was able to walk off the roof onto the snow in the yard because it was so deep. I shoveled my roof more than once due to the amount of snow.”

While Rief doesn’t travel to a warmer climate to escape North Idaho, she admits that Arizona does sound pretty nice about mid-winter. And her biggest complaint is that winter lasts too long. But what she does love about winter is quite simple: “Watching the snow fall outside, especially big flakes.” And she also has an empathy for wildlife that sometimes require a little extra tending. That same big winter when she shoveled her roof, Rief sought some help for outdoor visitors on her property. “I had a friend with a backhoe dig a path from the back part of the property and the drive so that the deer could get shelter in my shed.”

While there’s no shortage of advice to be gleaned from other folks, homeowners can find a treasure trove of advice dispensed bi-monthly via the Co-Op Roundup—a newspaper that’s been published for more than two decades by the Co-Op Country Store in Ponderay. Editor Kathy Osborne, born and raised here, said there is a broad swath of information out there for homeowners to learn and know. “Get your chimney cleaned, stock up on all the safety things, and there’s the wood burning aspect. But for sure start with a snow shovel. Keep it by the door, because you’ll wake up one morning and you’ll need it.”

Osborne mentions that this year looks a little different for suppliers due to the pandemic. “We are in a time where not only us, but other stores, are experiencing empty shelves. Get out there early because winter does come! And by that time, you want to have those things in place.”

Speaking of supply and demand, don’t forget wintertime fun. “Make sure you have sleds and saucers,” Osborne said. “School gets canceled all the time. In the wintertime, you get holed up, so have some games and fun, snacky foods for when you can’t get out.”

With a forecast for a La Nina winter this year (think lots of snow), residents will have plenty of opportunity to discover their own tips for winter survival. But remember, Those big winters, and the mild ones too, are the stuff that make memories. Be prepared and enjoy!

Prepared to Play

Neither snow nor cold stop locals from enjoying the outdoors

by Sandy Compton

The ceremonial celebration of changing seasons is ancient tradition, but we don’t make burnt offerings these days; we put one set of toys away and get out another. In my life, every spring brings “Transition Day,” from snow to not-snow. Ski in the morning; play golf in the afternoon. Yes, it’s possible to schuss and putt on the same day. We missed last year because ski areas closed before golf courses opened. Thanks a bunch, pandemic. Just one more thingalbeit pretty minoryou screwed up.

In the season of this magazine, we move from not-snow to snow. Winter activitybesides hunkering down and praying for springhas become as varied as summer recreation.

Golf to golfor pickleball; bikes to bikes

Some people just keep playing golf. They (wisely?) abandon the north for the Southwest, where some golf courses go in winter. Golf courses that don’t migrate sometimes turn into cross-country ski courses, with a caveat that skiers stay on trails marked by groundskeepers.

Steve Johnson, who marshals at the Idaho Club, heads for Arizona about the time his course closes. Don Helander follows that model as well, but makes time for skiing before and after his southern hiatus (See his recipe for fun on the slopes on page 66). Marty Presnell plays golf as well, sometimes as much as 36 holes a day, but he moves inside come winter. “I’m not much on being cold,” he said. Pickleball is his winter sporta cross between tennis and ping-pong played on a badminton-sized court and scored like ping-pong.

Sandpoint’s Mr. Metabolism, Jim Mellen, plays pickleball as well, plus ping-pong and squash. But he doesn’t mind the cold. While many bicyclists hang up their wheels come snow and ice, Mellen, Jacob Styer, Steve Myers, and a good number of other bike aficionados keep riding. They move to “fat bikes,” named for balloon tires that allow them to ride on snow.

Groomed snow works best. Schweitzer has a designated snow bike trail, but Mellen’s favorite is close-to-town Pine Street Woods, where trails are groomed for fat bikes and cross-country skiers. Mellen does both.

Fat bikers also ride in Sherwood Forest at the end of Pine Streetas long as trails are well packed. Steve and Julie Meyers, who bike year-around and add alpine touring skiing in winter, just purchased a piece next to Sherwood Forest, and have opened a majority to public bike use. “You can come out of Little John in Sherwood Forest,” Mellen says, “make a U-turn and zoom right into the Momentum Trail on their place.”

Other cyclists take at least a few rides in the winter, fat bikes or no. Marla Groot Nibbelink rides to the office on days she deems it possible without risking injury or frostbite. Dozens participate every 29-plus-or-minus days in The Full Moon Bike Ride, touring the streets and bike paths of Sandpoint, Dover, Ponderay, and Sagle. The Full Moon is sponsored and encouraged by Greasy Fingers bike shop owners Brian Anderson and his partner Jane. The ride always starts at Eichardt’s on Cedar Street, but only Anderson knows the destination until arrival.

Schweitzer marketing manager Dig Chismer keeps it simple. Winter comes and she hangs up the mountain bike. “I don’t really have time to ride a bike in the winter because I am too busy skiing.” Well, her office is only 200 yards from the bottom of the Great Escape Quad.

Taking it to the limits of “stuff” to do

Mellen admits that seasonal transition has its challenges. “October catches me,” he said. “It will be a warm sunny morning; by late day I’m thinking words like ‘hypothermia.’ Sometimes, though, you can ride your bike and ski the same day.”

He might be the ultimate season switcher. Summer: bike, hike, backpack, run. Winter: fat bike, snowshoe, cross-country ski, downhill ski, and snowboardhis favorite winter toy. He gave up an alpine touring setup for his split board, a two-piece contraption that allows crazy…  uh, I mean, enthusiastic persons to climb mountains with the aid of skins  (we will get to those later) and then put the two pieces together and slide back down. “Split boards are stupid,” he admits, ”but if I’m going to do that much work, I want the ultimate enjoyment coming down.”

Mellen weighs negative fifty pounds, but his toys keep him bound to the planet.

Styer rides his bike all winter with special equipment like a pair of mittens integrated into the handlebars. As an accountant, he makes an Excel list every January entitled Stupid “Stuff” To Do. He, Mellen, and Jake Ostman co-conspire on filling out and fulfilling the objectives of the SSTD. While Mellen was still an AT skier, they once skied into Savage Basin, an all-day-plus jaunttwiceto set up and retrieve a remote camera station as part of a Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness mustelid study.

“The Jakes,” Mellen said, “like to ‘camp’ at the trailhead, which means throwing out their mummy bags in the snow next to the road.” The list is called “Stupid ‘Stuff’ To Do.”

About skins. Skins were first made ofsurpriseskins; strips of hide mounted on skis with the hair side down. A skier pushed against the grain going uphill and glided with the grain down. Now, they are high-tech synthetic strips with a sticky backing that adheres to skis or split boards, part of setups that allow Mellen, “the Jakes,” and others to achieve their winter “stuff.”

Open water and thick ice

Fisher folks might be the all-time best example of B.F. Skinner’s principle of random reinforcement. Winter or summer, they actively wait patiently for a leviathan to take whatever is tied to the end of the leader that is tied to the line that is coiled on the reel that is clamped to the rod that they hold in their hands while actively waiting patiently.

Ed Robinson and Brian Baxter are different types of fishermen, but they both fish all winter. Robinson prefers open water. Baxter loves the ice.

“I continue fly fishing as weather allows all winter,” Robinson said. “My friend Dan and I sometimes fish out of a kayak, even in January. We pick the best, sunny days for this kind of silliness, and quiet stretches of water, since dumping the boat would be potentially fatal. (It should be stated that kayaking in winter is stupid and not to be recommended).”

Add that to the SSTD list.

“A person needs to redefine their idea of success in the winter.” Robinson said. “A couple of tugs and a fish or two is a good day in January. It also has to be above freezing. Otherwise the fly line freezes in the guides.” Fishing guides also freeze, is my guess.

Baxter leads outdoor education classes winter and summer through his company, Silver Cloud Associates. He also fishes summer and winter. And spring and fall. Baxter likes to fish.

“In winter,” he said, “I move to different gear. I carry mini-spinning outfits averaging 28 inches long with tapered poles and mini reels in my sled. Add to those a good ice auger, a perforated ladle for clearing holes, a couple of rod stands, and a comfortable foam lid bucket and you’re all set.

“I like to fish early, but Mother Nature can surprise you any time of day with a nice fish. I leave for the lake while it’s still dark. I pull my sled through the woods just before first light, and there is a certain magic about it. Once on the ice, I have just enough time to drill holes and drop bait as the sun rises. I get to celebrate that morning event as the fish start hitting.

“I sometimes fish lakes that I fish in the other seasons. But generally, I stick to smaller, remote or hidden lakes where I can find solitude.”

Speaking of ice, niece Emily Compton and her husband James, as well as nephew-in-law Christian Thompson, have been known to change their vertical world from rock to ice come winter, trading in their climbing shoes and talc bag for crampons and an ice axe. Possibly another addition to the SSTD, but that’s just my point of view. They all love to climb.

Outdoor in. Indoor out

High adrenaline or maximum cardio is not the only thing people seek in the winter, and indoor recreation is not always at the “Y” or the gym. Groot Nibbelink notes that the population of Eichardt’s, Idaho Pour Authority, and similar businesses increases as winter comes on. There is also binge watching Game of Thrones or the like.

Sometimes, what might be traditionally viewed as indoor recreation sometimes moves out. Fly fisherman Robinson is also a plein air painter, meaning that he sets his easel up outside. “I do a lot more studio work in the winter,” he said, “but I love getting outside to paint in the winter; it feels like I’m getting away with something.”

Like his fishing, it has to be above freezing. “Oil paints work fine below freezing, but it’s a sedentary activity, so staying warm is a major issue. I’m slow, so filling a 6″ x 8″ canvas is plenty for a winter painting expedition. I sometimes bring a pad to stand on to insulate my feet a little from the snow. I have a nice pair of insulated boots (same ones I use for snowshoeing).”

Oh, yeah, he does that, too, his winter substitute for hiking and backpacking.

His wildest winter painting adventure was while painting near where Deep Creek enters the Kootenai River in Boundary County. “The county plow operators had left a flat bench of rock-hard snow a foot high next to the county road,” he recalled. “ ‘Perfect,’ I thought, and I set my easel on top of that. Later, I heard a commotion behind me, turned and saw a county plow truck bearing down on me, winging the bench I was standing on over the bank. He got to within about 100 feet, gave me a big wave and lifted the blade.”

Whew. He confessed that the painting he made that day wasn’t nearly as memorable as the day itself.

Zoom, zoom

Speaking of motorized equipment, there is also a seasonal change from power boats, jet skis, motorcycles, and off-road-vehicles to snowmobiles and snow bikes. Northern Idaho offers miles of groomed and ungroomed snowmobile riding, particularly around Priest Lake and the Trestle Creek/Lightning Creek road complex. A large majority of National Forest and state lands in the Selkirks and West Cabinetsincluding some that are closed to summer motorized useare open to snowmobiling and snow motorbiking.

Snow motorbikes are a relatively recent phenomenon, basically a motorcycle refitted with a ski in the front and a chain-driven track in the back similar to a snowmobile track, only narrower. Since 2010, local company Timbersled has offeredthrough dealersa variety of kits with which a motocross or off-road motorcycle can be converted to snow use.

Stay warm out there

In any case, if you don’t follow Johnson south to the arid zone or just queue up a winter’s worth of high drama, remember to stay prepared to play in winter land. Layers are good. High-energy snacks and a thermos of hot chocolate are well worth the weight. Warm feet are key to a good day in the cold. Get up and walk around once in a while if you are ice fishing. And keep checking stuff off the SSTD list.

Stay or Play

Schweitzer has something for everyone

by Carol Curtis

There are avid skiers in Bonner County who vividly remember riding Schweitzer’s single chair lift to get to fresh powder. It was 1963 and you earned your turns. There was no question locals knew the skiing was amazing, but the secret remained predominately regional. Steady marketing, building, and terrain expansion grew Schweitzer’s reputation to its present day status: one of the largest ski resorts in the Northwest, the largest in Idaho and Washington, and the 2019 acolyte for being the third most affordable. But it isn’t just about the skiing and shredding; for a growing number of people, it’s a great place to both live and play.

Real estate at the resort substantially expanded in the ’90s when Schweitzer invested millions in mountain upgrades, including the 82-room Green Gables Hotel. When Harbor Properties purchased the resort from receivership, they chose to renovate and convert the hotel to private condos , renaming it the Selkirk Lodge. “We sold 37 of the 41 condos in three hours,” said Charlie Parrish, owner/broker at Evergreen Realty.

In 2002 Schweitzer expanded again, building upscale condos in what became the White Pine Lodge. They were additionally improving lifts and the amount of terrain, with Chair 1 being split into two high speed lifts, and the expansion of the Little Blue Terrain, complete with a T bar. The secret was now out, and every year more awards were being given to the resort by ski magazines as an “undiscovered gem,” “family friendly,” and “one of the top ski resorts in the West.”

In 2008, North Idaho joined the national descent into the real estate driven recession. Between 2008 and 2014, the local multiple listing service showed 34 properties sold under $50,000, with asking prices as low as $25,000. Twenty-seven of the sales occurred between 2011-2013, and 22 of the properties were bank owned. A platted multi-phase subdivision on the mountain, marketed as “The Ridge,” was in trouble. In July 2012, Schweitzer took a leap of faith and attended the Bonner County Treasurer Auction, successfully purchasing 41 parcels of land, approximately 20 acres in total, which was the subdivision’s dormant second phase. Schweitzer’s infrastructure subsidiary, Mountain Utility Company, or MUC, also eventually acquired the water system for that same area. Schweitzer was now better positioned to control the narrative, orchestrate the pace, style, and specific area of real estate investment, while ensuring future construction had sufficient infrastructure. The economic bell curve began its inevitable correction and Schweitzer never looked back.

Mountainside, marketed a decade ago as Trapper Creek, sits just behind the Selkirk Lodge, and began to be marketed again in 2014. Today, the 35-unit PUD development is completely sold out, and consists of finished single family homes, homes under construction, and unimproved parcels. The Schweitzer Mountain Community Association provides developers and homeowners with an architectural control committee, but there is no designated builder, so design styles are expanding from a traditional, timber-framed exterior, to more modern metal and glass architectural styles that accentuate the huge lake views.

Another development underway is a 24-unit PUD called Harrison Height Condominiums, located on Harrison Lane, which is off Blizzard Drive. The new builds are being offered by Craig Mearns of M2 Construction, who named the development after his father. Mearns has two completed in this development, three more under construction, and a total of ten current projects on the mountain, offered by Mearns and Benjamin Milbrath. “Right now two of the biggest challenges in building are the rising costs of materials, and finding employees,” said Mearns. Mearns is no stranger to building at Schweitzer, having planned and built the development off We All Ski Court, along with numerous custom single family homes.

“Although Harrison Heights are classified as condos, they are really stand-alone homes without a shared wall, and the intent is to create more of a small neighborhood feel,” said Chris Chambers, of Tomlinson Sothebys International Realty. The homes offer 3 or 4 bedrooms, are between 1,500 and 2,000 square feet, and are listed with prices starting at $599,000.

As pent up real estate demand has accelerated both sales volume and pricing, always with an eye toward the future, Schweitzer’s owners and management team created a model masterplan in 2017 that covered everything from family and life, to food, wellness, sustainability, summer, and skiing. Phase I began last spring, with the installation of a new, high speed detachable quad, a fixed grip triple chair, creating two new lifts where Snow Ghost, the classic two-seater lift, sat. Additional terrain was logged to create more runs, and the overall rollout last season was a huge success.

The press release for Phase II came in the 2019 summer season, with the award and breaking ground initiative for a new 30-unit boutique hotel, to be located at the edge of the existing upper parking lot. Although the completion time was initially set for the 2020/2021 ski season, Covid-19 changed everything. Fortunately, Schweitzer can adjust the construction timeline, manage the expectation, and pivot their focus to a myriad of other projects integrated within the larger picture.

“We are working to finish the hotel project,” stated Dig Chrismer, Schweitzer’s Marketing Manager. “There are plans to develop more real estate, but there is a lot of research underway. We want to be smart about the impact—on the environment, the resort, and its infrastructure; we want to do it right.” Schweitzer plans to hire a Chief Development Officer to help with the continued analysis of their real estate portfolio.

The final phase aims to create a Mid Mountain experience. This component will focus on the newer skier and rider.  It includes developing more instructional and rental options for the beginner and intermediate day guest.  Access to Mid Mountain would come off the roundabout, where long ago horseback riding was offered. This Phase proposes eight new runs, a second carpet, and a new lift. The core idea is that expanding access will allow for better human and traffic flow as the mountain visitation numbers continue to grow.  This phase is several years out.

From enjoyment to employment, recreation to economic investment, Schweitzer Mountain continues to deliver on its initial promise of a fun-filled, friendly, and affordable place to get some exercise, be with friends and family, and enjoy an incredible view whether you’re there just to play, or if you plan to stay a while.

Sandpoint Magazine Turns … 30!


This edition of Sandpoint Magazine marks the 30th year since the inaugural Winter 1991 edition was published in November 1990. It was a first for Sandpoint: A color glossy magazine, striving to produce excellent journalism with the singular mission “to help you get more out of being in Sandpoint,” as we wrote then.

A lot has changed since 1990—for both our town and this magazine—but somewhat amazingly, a small cadre of the original contributors who helped give birth to Sandpoint Magazine still call this town home. And for our 30th birthday, we invited four of the writers who contributed to Sandpoint Magazine in its first year to tell us about some of their favorite stories from the decades. After all, who could be better suited to spill the beans on Sandpoint Magazine itself?

Quiz: What’s Changed in 30 Years? We put together a fun quiz about it … you could win free dining and $300 cash. There are clues in this story. Read it, then take the quiz»

Original contributors joining publisher Chris Bessler for a roundtable interview via Zoom were Sandy Compton, our first columnist as well as the inaugural issue’s ad sales director; Susan Drinkard, past and sometimes present Daily Bee journalist; Billie Jean Gerke, the magazine’s first editorial staffer and subsequently its editor through 2016; and David Gunter, freelancer, musician and man of assorted talents. Following are outtakes from the conversation.


Chris Bessler: Sandy Compton, you were in that very first issue, with a couple pieces. And you’re still writing. What are some of the stories that stick out for you?
Sandy Compton: It’s funny. Between 107 stories for you and writing 250 columns for the River Journal, they all start running together. But the first one I’d have a little comment on is “All Ahead Slow,” (Winter 1992) about the photographer Ross Hall. That one has produced a lot of positive comments for me. His son Dann Hall is still using it to put on the back of the pictures he sells out of the Hallans Gallery. I also wrote a piece about Dann’s mom Hazel Hall later on (“Hazel Hall, that’s all,” Winter 2010). Ross and Hazel were both such extraordinary people.
CB: I well remember the piece on Hazel. You wrote that you had a crush on an older woman.
SC: Oh man. I saw a picture of Hazel as a young woman … well we won’t go there.
David Gunter: Don’t start on the early Hazel Hall pictures. What a cutie.
SC: Actually I saw a picture of Hazel in Dann’s studio when he had that little studio over there by the Hydra. He had this picture of this really beautiful young woman hanging on the wall, and I said, “Dann, who’s the babe?” And he said, “That’s my mom.” I went “oops.” (laughs)
Another story was “Who We Are,” (Winter 1996) the original story in response to all the publicity Sandpoint was getting because Mark Fuhrman moved here.
That was an epic piece, and I think it was an important one for us at that time because Sandpoint was this focal point of national attention when Mark Fuhrman moved to town after the O.J. Simpson trial. He was the detective in that case. And it also focused people back on the fact that we had Ruby Ridge happen a few years prior to that and the Aryan Nations was around. North Idaho was getting painted as a haven for racists. And your story was a response to that.
SC: The history pieces are memorable. The “100 Years of Sandpoint(Winter 2000). The stories about Schweitzer, particularly Schweitzer history. The “Stories from the Ski Patrol” story I did in 2007 (Winter 2007) was a lot of fun for me and also it was great to get to know the ski patrollers better, particularly John Pucci. He is an incredible guy. And then the story I wrote about Jack Fowler’s involvement in Schweitzer’s launch (“A good idea that got out of hand,” Winter 2008).


CB: Okay, now Mr. Gunter: Stories that stuck out for you.

DG: An area I sort of got tapped for was the Q&A format, primarily of people in the arts, which was always fun. The first one I did was initially very confrontational, and that was with Festival at Sandpoint musical director Gunther Schuller (Feature Interview, Summer 1991). I got on the phone with Gunther and the first thing he said was, “I don’t know why I’m even talking to you, you people who are fans of Madonna and don’t know anything about classical music.” And he just went into this full-blown rant about what an obvious musical illiterate I must be. Listening to him I thought, oh, this guy does the thing where he pushes and acts like a complete ass. And if you don’t push back he’ll savage you, and if you push back he thinks you’re great. So I think I just listened for about 30 seconds and said, “Hold it, sport,” which stopped him up short. I said, first of all, I think Madonna is a poseur and her music is terrible. Secondly, my father was a concert violinist and I’ve listened to classical music all my life. And thirdly, I’m a big fan of your Third Wave Movement, that confluence of contemporary jazz and classical music. So then we were off to the races. But it was one of those moments it could have gone off the rails and been no interview at all. So just being able to salvage that one was fun.
SC: So David, how did you make those three comebacks up just like that?
DG: Sandy, you know, I’ve always been good at landing on my feet. And I love Madonna. And my dad was a VW mechanic. (laughter)
CB: Hey, there’s a lot to be said for VW mechanics.
DG: Absolutely. And it turned out to be a fun interview. I think once you get anyone talking about themselves, you can get them telling anecdotes. You guys all know. Short questions that evoke situational memories are golden. The interview with guitarist Leon Atkinson (Feature Interview, Winter 2010) was fun in that way, although it was tough to lure Leon away from his curriculum vitae because he wanted to talk about all these things that he was looking, understandably so, to get mentioned. And I was looking for a good conversation. And I think we both got something out of that. It turned out to be a pretty strong back and forth. Although I still really don’t believe he met the Beatles. But that’s okay because it’s a good story.
And then there was “Is Sandpoint  An Arts Community … Really(Winter 2009) that I enjoyed because that’s a term that had been bandied about Sandpoint forever. It was fun to kind of pin that down because, first, what does that even mean? And secondly, do we clear the bar? It’s fun to look back at all those people who were involved in what was a really robust art scene then, and it’s kind of weirdly moribund now. But we have lots of bars with music, so I guess we’ve got something.
Billie Jean Gerke: (holding up the Winter 1991 magazine): Sandy’s very first column in the very first issue.
CB:Two Trips Home,” yeah.
BJG: (reading) “The first time I saw Sandpoint I was awed. But everything is awesome to someone six months old … we have mouths that hang open and drool a lot at that age.” (laughs)
CB: Some things never change.
DG: Yeah, he’s still drooling.
CB: He’s coming full circle though.
SC: Right. That’s right


CB: Okay. Next, Susan, you’re up.
Susan Drinkard: My stories are so inappropriate… But the most memorable would have to be the Kienholzes.
CB: The interview with the artists Ed and Nancy Kienholz (Feature Interview, Winter 1992). I’ve heard this one before but please, go on.
SD: You remember, I told you. Well, when I got to their house Nancy was taking a shower and Ed had just come from a shower and he just had on these little shorts. So I started asking him questions and he took his weenie out and he just thought it was hilarious. Because of the way I reacted, trying to ignore it. I couldn’t believe it, you know, that a human would do that. Kienholz, he was a rascal, he was such a rapscallion. So he just showed it to me and then he giggled and then his wife came down and of course it was gone. And I kept thinking, did that really happen? Maybe it didn’t happen? But it did.
SC: This is going in the magazine, right Bessler?
CB: Geez. I don’t know.
SD: You know he was so into shock value. He loved that. And it was reflected in his art, you know. But it was also just such a memorable experience because they let me see all the work they had in the old school in Hope there. One piece, I’ll never forget it. They had made a bedroom, an entire bedroom, bed, dresser, the whole shebang, out of adding machine tape that had been used. Adding machine tape. It was just amazing and interesting. That was memorable. Plus the fame factor. You know, he’s in encyclopedias.
CB: They were very influential artists internationally, although most people here had no clue, basically.
DG: And now he’s part of the #MeToo movement.
CB: Yeah, you just made him part of the #MeToo movement Susan.
SC: Way to go.
CB: Way to go. Way to ruin a legacy.
SD: No I really respected those guys … (sighs). He just wanted to throw me.
CB: Okay. Moving on.
SD: Another one was, the musician Charley Packard… I got to interview him in 2014 (Feature Interview, Summer 2014). I just really liked his music. I think some of his songs, like that song “Gimme an Ol’ Gal,” somebody should have picked that up like Willie Nelson or somebody of that caliber. Charley didn’t live a lot longer after that. He was very sick when I interviewed him. I was just happy to have that opportunity.
The interview that impressed me the most was the one with the author (Sandpoint native and Pulitzer Prize winner) Marilynne Robinson (Feature Interview, Winter 2006). I had just read her book “Gilead” while I was in Costa Rica, where I had no distractions, no TV, and I was in the jungle so I read every sentence carefully. I just thought she was the best writer in the world. And I had the ability to focus because it’s not a very easy book. Then I just called her and she answered her phone. I thought Marilynne would be hard to reach. But I just called her at home, and she answered. She was studying Calvinist theology… for fun.


CB: I’m saving Billie Jean for last so I’m going to mention a few stories I did that were memorable. The very first issue, the “Mountain of Change (Winter 1991) was about Schweitzer just after they had done the big upgrades there and built the Green Gables Lodge, and they’d torn down the old original Bierstube—actually, they burned it.
SC: They burned it. They tried to tear it down and it wouldn’t come down so they burned it.
CB: And people in town were kind of shocked by that. But that was really the transformation of Schweitzer and it’s so unfortunate the Brown family ended up losing the property. That one sticks out because I was trying to imagine how the mountain would change after they put in the first high-speed quad, and how that would change skiing the mountain. And now, Schweitzer just put in some new chairlifts on the backside and Mr. Compton is writing in this issue about how it’s changed skiing on the mountain.
Another one I wrote was “Back to the Continental Mine(Summer 1994). That was just kind of fun, because the first book our company published was “The Klockmann Diary,” by A.K. Klockmann, who founded the Continental Mine up in the Selkirks. For the story I was retracing his steps by the route he first went up there in the 1890s, by way of Priest River and Priest Lake. I canoed up the Upper Priest Lake and then I hiked up the Cedar Creek drainage and ran into bears… anyway that one sticks out.
Finally, the interview with the Soviet spy and bank robber Christopher Boyce (Feature Interview, Winter 2014) was memorable because I’m sure I probably had a beer with Boyce when I lived in Bonners Ferry in the 1970s and he was hiding out from the FBI up there. I was working at the Bonners Ferry Herald and my boss and I would go drink at the Mint Club after deadline, and Boyce said he would drink at the Mint Club, and who knows? But it’s interesting, we chased him, Billie Jean chased him, trying to get him for an interview for years when he was still in prison and when he was released to the halfway house. We finally got the interview after he was released and had written a book.

And that brings us to Billie Jean, with the biggest list of stories. Billie, give us a few of your most memorable ones.


BJG: I told you I’m not a good speaker and I wouldn’t have anything good to say.
SC: That was perfect. Thank you. Thank you very much.
SD: You’re so succinct.
BJG: Okay, my first cover story was the Summer 1994 issue, in which I wrote the “Timber Town” cover story. And of course, as we all know, I married a local logger.
CB: That’s really getting into your work right there, Billie Jean.
BJG: I wrote the story two years after we got married. So that was kind of cool, talking to the old-time loggers. So many of the people I talked to for that story, of course, have passed on. It was just really great looking into the history and seeing all these great historic photographs, many of them by Ross Hall. Also, just having that connection with my own family being a family with multiple generations logging.
One of the best things about my job was getting to meet people that I otherwise normally would not have a chance to meet. My first feature interview I believe was the humorist Patrick McManus (Feature Interview, Summer 1995). So that was really cool to meet him. I went out to his home. They had a second home on the Clark Fork River at the time.
I believe the second feature interview I got to do was with the inventor, Dr. Forrest Bird (Feature Interview, Winter 1995) and so that was terribly fascinating, getting to interview him and learn what a tremendous life he had. Getting a tour through his home and his medical research building and even getting to see how they grew all their own food. He opened up this floor in this back outbuilding to go down and see his massive pantry of canned goods… so it was so cool to see the way that he lived and the work that he did and think about all the lives that he saved. And here it was, out in the boondocks, this high technology manufacturing facility, way, way, way out of town.
Another was the interview with the football great (and SHS grad), Jerry Kramer (Feature Interview, Summer 1998). What an honor it was to meet him and spend the day with him in Boise. Of course, back then one of the questions had to do with the Pro Football Hall of Fame and why he wasn’t in it. It took another 20-some years for that to be resolved. We enjoyed talking about our common connection to his high school teammate, who was my father-in-law, Leonard Plaster, and about Wisconsin, my native state.
It was always great. You know I grew up here, partly; five years of my schooling was in Sandpoint. I went back to my home state, Wisconsin, to study journalism. I never imagined that I could have a career in my hometown. I moved back because I wanted to be back in the Northwest but I thought I would live in Spokane. But after living here a few months I realized, I did not move back to the Northwest to live in Spokane, I came back to live in Sandpoint. So I believe it was January 2, I marched downtown and I went into the Sandpoint Unlimited office and I talked to Debbie Ferguson and told her, here I am, I have a journalism degree, I want to stay in my hometown, what’s here for me? And she pointed across to the Farmin Building and she said, you should go talk to Chris Bessler, he just started a publishing company and just published Sandpoint Magazine. So I went straight from the Sandpoint Unlimited office and went upstairs in the Farmin Building and walked in with my little portfolio.
CB: Yes, you looked very businesslike. I remember that.
BJG: I had heels on in the winter, and my dress pants. And I was 23 years old. They were in this little one-room office, just him and Sandy Compton. Chris was like, I’m really busy, you’re going to have to make an appointment and come back. (laughs)
SC: He always says that and then he talks to you.
CB: All the big corporate guys are going to say that Billie Jean, come on.
BJG: I was just always always so grateful to be able to work in my chosen career in my hometown. I used to tell people, “I have the best job in Sandpoint.” And I meant it. I had the best job in Sandpoint. It was so fun. And it was a lot of hard work too, of course. Just being able to meet people I had never met before and to have a pulse on what was happening in Sandpoint…
CB: And that’s pretty good for someone who can’t speak.

Stories mentioned by the writers are listed at Memorable Stories»
And don’t forget our What’s Changed in 30 Years? contest. Go take the quiz»



Firewood Rescue

Dan McLaughlin, Pat Vanvolkinburg, Mel Dick, Mike Nunke, Margie Bush, Dan Devoy, and Dallas Cox are just a few of Firewood Rescue’s Weekend Warriors. | Photos by Paul Krames

Firewood can produce light from darkness, heat from cold, and in more than a few local situations, hope from despair.

The local non-profit organization Firewood Rescue began in 2018 when an educator, who has a long history of assisting veterans, heard one too many stories about area residents who had fallen on hard times and didn’t know how to reach for help.

“I thought ‘what about the elderly, disabled, seriously ill, and folks who found themselves in dire circumstances through no fault of their own?’ ” said organizer Paul Krames. He recognized a need, had an idea for a solution, so he did what any other difference maker doeshe started a Facebook page.

Almost immediately, volunteers and firewood suppliers were attracted to Firewood Rescue on Facebook. The activity level soon became frenetic and Krames organized a board of directors. In less than a year, board member Eileen Epstein transformed FR from a “weekend warrior project to be able to mobilize and coordinate volunteer resources throughout the week as well,” he said.

Brothers Scott & Clint Brow cut wood.

In 2018, the group would meet over a weekend, gather, split, and stack wood, load it into trucks and trailers, and deliver. Now the organization cuts and splits wood several times a month and has accumulated significant amounts of firewood in two locations in Sagle way before the first hints of cold weather.

There were more than 50 cords of cut, split, and neatly stacked wood at each location by the end of August 2019, with many more work parties planned through September and October.

A lack of firewood is usually a symptom of something catastrophic going on. That is why FR partners with Community Action Partnership. For the most part, CAP refers folks to Firewood Rescue as part of a comprehensive approach to link services with the needy.

Krames knew he was on to something when he received a tip about an elderly veteran the first winter FR started. The man had just had surgery and his only source of heat was wood. Winter had set in. Krames knocked on the vet’s door to let him know he had a whole bunch of wood with him and volunteers who wanted to stack it up.

“He was so choked up, he turned his back and started to cry,” Krames said. “This man was too proud to ask for help.”

Recent FR stories would warm any heart, including support for a wheelchair-bound amputee; a family whose father and husband was in a horrific, near-fatal crash; and a 70-year-old woman, who had holes in her roof, whose only source of heat is a wood stove.

Mel Dick, immediate past president of Sandpoint Rotary, joined with Rotarians John and Donna Lorenz and others to prioritize FR last year. Rotary donated money and labor, and Rotarian Eric Donenfeld, co-owner of Northwest Autobody, donated secured property as a waypoint for wood to be dropped off.

Current Rotary President Ken Wood applied for and received a Rotary grant to help fund repair of a log splitter and to assist in paying for gas to transport the wood. One anonymous Rotarian matched the grant and Wood made the donation in Dick’s name.

“Volunteers run chainsaws, haul wood, load and unload trucks, and make deliveries, often in the cold and rain,” said Krames. “It’s humbling and a little unbelievable. The recipients are always so grateful.”

FW Rescue is geared up to help up to 100 families this winter and is bracing for the worst because of the economic fallout from Covid-19.

Paul Krames works with the crew | Courtesy Photo

The organization attempts to serve as a bridge to help families and rarely restocks the same family more than onceexcept for rare circumstances. Previous to this year, financial difficulty wasn’t a qualifying condition for help but with many layoffs and economic devastation hitting local families this year, Krames and Esplin felt the organization had to broaden its net.

-David Keyes

Want to donate, help, or know someone who needs help? Reach the group on Facebook @FirewoodRescue or email [email protected]

A Mighty Fighter

by Annie Pflueger

(KR EAGLES photo)

The Kootenai River Eagles, often seen at the Kootenai Wildlife Refuge near Bonners Ferry, have returned to the same nest, successfully raising twin eaglets for several years. The pair have provided many onlookers with a unique and wonderful glimpse into their world.

As a nature and wildlife photographer, I routinely visited the active nest on a daily basis.

(TRIPLETS photo)

The 2020 season was especially exciting. Instead of twin eaglets, there were triplets! Three babies hatched several days apart and were vastly different in size and strength. The firstborn and much larger youngster had taken his first flight and fledged, but remained close to the nest.


Ten days later, the second eaglet was observed performing the same first flight ritual of wing flapping and hopping on the nest when its left wing came down on a branch that was vertical and erect. As the young bird struggled to free itself, the impaled branch only went deeper and further through the wing.

(D ~ NEST HANG photo)

The trapped eaglet’s repeated attempts to free itself resulted in it hanging by the trapped wing, with its feet dangling off the side of the nest. The nest was precariously placed, approximately 75 feet in the air and between two trees that leaned out over the river.  The bird’s entire weight was supported only by the branch that impaled the wing.

(E ~ TREK TO THE TOP photo)

Realizing time was of the essence, I contacted the experts in raptor rescue and a local arborist who could determine if it was feasible to access the nest and safely free the doomed eaglet. Janie and Don Veltkamp of Birds of Prey Northwest traveled to assist while Michael Richardson, Sarah Jimenez, and Matt Bennett of Skywalker Tree Care assessed the grave situation. Boat captain Genny Hoyle was also available to help.

(F~ THE BOAT photo)

The boat was positioned with Captain Genny and Sarah on board, in the event the remaining youngest eagle tried to fly from the nest and drop into the river. Indeed, when Michael ultimately reached the nest, the second eaglet did awkwardly fly from her home, landing in the water but safely at the river’s edge. Since this fallen bird was not quite ready to fly well on its own, it would be taken to BOPNW’s facility for two weeks of additional growth before being released.

(G ~ THE APPROACH photo)

Carrying a raptor hood, Michael and Matt made the long and cautious climb up the tree from the ground.  When they reached the severely injured eagle, the bird was exhausted, weak, and in shock. Placing a hood over the bird’s head helped keep the bird calm and the handlers safe. Once the bird was hooded, they gently lifted its wing off the branch.


The debilitated eaglet was placed in a large duffle bag and gently lowered down the rope 70 feet to the waiting boat below. Once in Janie’s experienced hands, the raptor’s condition was assessed. The eaglet was bleeding and her body core temperature was dangerously low after being exposed to the elements for two and a half days with no food.

(I ~ WING WOUND photo)

The wing sustained severe damage and was actively bleeding. A puncture wound larger than a golf ball was left by the branch that held the raptor prisoner. Janie provided medical attention on the spot, stabilizing the eaglet by injecting fluids, antibiotics, and pain medication.

(J~  FIRST MEAL photo)

The raptor was then fed its first meal in almost three days through a gastric tube down the esophagus into the stomach. The injured eaglet’s condition was very guarded and the prognosis was not promising. Yet despite the odds, the rescue team felt they had made the right decision in freeing the eaglet from certain doom.

(K ~ RESCUE TEAM photo)

The team celebrated and said an emotional goodbye to the injured eaglet, now named “Kootenai.” It would travel with its sibling, now affectionately called “Boundary,” to the Birds of Prey NW rehab center for additional care and observation. To everyone’s surprise and relief, at BOPNW the injured eaglet survived the night thanks to round the clock treatments of antibiotics and feedings every few hours.


The following morning, Janie took the fragile raptor for examination at Kootenai Veterinary Hospital. The bird’s wing tissue was infected and dying.  The massive puncture would require surgery. The left leg was battered but an X-ray showed no fracture, despite the bird’s hesitation to use it. After surgery and back at BOPNW, the young bird’s condition remained extremely guarded, requiring continued antibiotics and tube feeding. Yet each day the young raptor gained strength and weight.  Kootenai was a mighty fighter with a strong will to live.


Twelve days later, The Veltkamps traveled the three hours back up to Bonner’s Ferry, bringing the youngest triplet “Boundary” for release near the nest where the three siblings were born. Boundary was now strong enough to fledge and be with the family once again.

The eaglet was placed on the ground. As the original rescue team watched with hope and optimism, the beautiful eagle took off, flew across the river and perched in a tall tree.

Over the next several weeks, property owners Dave and Brenda Walters witnessed the reunited eagle family commingle in harmony, actively feeding near the nest.

Boundary’s release was a tremendous success!


Kootenai’s condition continues to improve, although the bird faces a very uncertain future. The extensive nerve damage to the wing could be a lasting injury, leaving the bird unable to fly in the wild to hunt or stay safe. For now, Kootenai remains in the great care of Birds of Prey Northwest, with the goal being to eventually release the bird back into the wild. If the injury is permanent, Kootenai will become a teaching bird to help promote raptor education and conservation of these extraordinary creatures.

(O~ CLOSING photo)

This encounter with Kootenai put me in the right place at the right time, and the series of events that followed have been life changing for me. Persistence, love of nature, and profound determination by a group of strangers working together paid off. I am forever grateful for the expertise of each and every person on the rescue team—who are strangers to me no more.

As of late August, Kootenai was recovering well. All the injuries have healed, even the half-dollar sized wound in the wing. Still, it will take some time to determine if Kootenai can be released back into the wild, or will remain at BOPNW among the 20 permanent teaching birds that help Janie educate students throughout Idaho and the U.S. about raptors and the environment. The most famous of these birds, Beauty, the bald eagle who got a prosthetic beak, is featured in Janie’s award-winning children’s book “Beauty and the Beak” (see story in W2018 Sandpoint Magazine).

The challenges Janie and the team faced during Kootenai’s rescue are among many ongoing challenges Janie faces in the rescue, treatment and reintroduction to the wild of some 150 raptors each year. During the Covid-19 pandemic, there are continuing needs for helping these magnificent birds. BOPNW receives no governmental funding to cover the costs of food, medicine, or treatment, so donations and volunteers are critical.

Learn more at

The Race is On

by Lyndsie Kiebert

The Races at Priest Lake have become a spectator favorite | Photo by Gary Davis

On several occasions during the winter months, 75-year-old Mike Courteau rises well before the sun, ready to brave the cold to facilitate a growing pastime in North Idaho: vintage snowmobile racing at Priest Lake.

Courteau said that the races have become almost a “full-time deal” for him and his wife, who manage the operation with the help of many volunteers. Though he raced snowmobiles from 1972 into the mid ’80s, Courteau takes on more of a management role for the races nowadays.

Racers round a curve on a specially made track | Photo by Gary Davis

“I used to [race], but my racing days are over,” Courteau said with a good-natured laugh. “I’m 75, so I don’t do that anymore.”

Today’s racers are lucky to have Courteau at the helm, though, as his races have grown to host hundreds of participants and upwards of 700 spectators.

Staying on the sled is crucial | Photo by Gary Davis

“It’s just grown to be the biggest thing on the West Coast,” he said. “We never thought it would get this big.”

Snowmobiles from 1985 or older are eligible to race in VSRPL events. There are stock and modified classes, including a 120 Kitty Cat class for children ages 4 to 10, junior classes for ages 11 to 16, women’s classes, amateur and advanced classes, and “even a Master’s class for th

A rider negotiates obstacles left by other riders | Photo by Gary Davis

ose brave souls who are 55 and older,” Courteau said.

“It’s pretty serious racing—real serious,” he added.

Vintage snowmobile racing has a robust history on the West Coast, according to Courteau, but the sport started to lose traction about 15 years ago. He said it’s seen steady growth in recent years, a resurgence made apparent in the participation numbers at the Priest Lake races. The first race, held in 2014 at The Inn at Priest Lake in Coolin, saw 25 registered racers. The most recent event—held in early 2020—saw 245 entries.

The kids’ races are always a crowd pleaser. | Photo by Gary Davis

“We’re starting to be pretty well recognized back on the East Coast, where snowmobile racing’s been around for years,” Courteau said, noting that racers have come from as far as Calgary and southern Utah to compete in the Priest Lake events.

Part of that growth is thanks to accommodation from the U.S. Forest Service, which now allows VSRPL to host races on the airstrip across Highway 57 from the Priest Lake Ranger Station. Courteau said working with the U.S.F.S. to utilize the space for snowmobile races has been a positive experience and an integral part of the event’s growth.

“They’ve just bent over backwards to allow us to do that,” he said.

The space has allowed Courteau and local volunteers to create an oval ice track each winter, which provides a prime racing experience. With the help of 50-year Priest Lake resident Paul Storro, who owns an excavating business, VSRPL builds a track that’s made up of 16-inch thick solid ice, which is dyed blue just before race day. The process requires two or three weeks of cold weather to create the conditions necessary to pull off such a chilly endeavor.

“It takes a lot of work to make the track, but it’s worth it,” Storro said, adding that “fast sleds go fast on ice.”

Storro has been racing snowmobiles since 1987, and taking part in VSRPL races since they began. He said his children—three boys and a 15-year-old daughter—all participate in the races as well. The Storros are just one example of a family that’s made racing vintage sleds into a “family affair,” Courteau said.

The races have become a family affair, with both kids and adults participating. | Photo by Gary Davis

“A lot of guys—their wives race and they get very serious, too,” he said. “And the kids are a big hit.”

It’s understandable why a bunch of four-years-olds on miniature snowmobiles might be a crowd favorite, and the experience often leads to a lifelong love of the niche sport.

“It’s been cool to see, since we’ve been doing it so long now, these young kids that started on 120s are up into the juniors, and some of them are up racing with adults now,” Courteau said. “As long as the weather permits, we’ll just keep doing this.”

VSRPL plans to host three two-day racing events during 2021: January 16-17, January 30-31 and February 20-21. With the help of countless volunteers and loyal sponsors, Courteau is hoping for another successful season.

“It takes a village,” he said, “and it’s good for the community.”

Learn more at, call organizer Mike Courteau at 509-599-5539 or 208-443-3089, or send email to [email protected]

Schweitzer to Canada

Scroll down for bonus video, The Hermit: When Cats Go Missing

by Cate Huisman
Drone photos by Gwen Le Tutor. Gibson group photos courtesy the expedition.

Local E.J. Jensen has skied the Schweitzer backcountry for years. He’s done the Redneck Traverse over to Caribou Creek and out the Pack River more times than he can count. He’s skied out of the West Fork Cabin up near the Canadian border a few times, and he’s snowmobiled by Roman Nose and onto the Selkirk Crest from Priest Lake.

But until last winter, he’d never linked all his routes together. To look for a route that would take him from Schweitzer to Canada, E.J. started out at home: “I bought all the topos and put them all together on the kitchen floor.” The idea was to stay on the Selkirk Crest where possible, but ultimately he chose a route that was a compromise between appealing ski descents and “actually being able to make it there.” The last piece fell into place when he found a logging road that went right to the border.


He recruited two skiing buddies, local firefighters Britian Whitley and Cody Lile, to attempt the route. They agreed that the latter half of March would be the best time window, when days are growing longer but there is still plenty of snow. Before then, they set up caches two days’ skiing apart, which enabled them to keep their pack weights down to 30 pounds, a reasonable amount for skiing. They tried out their tent, set up the route on a navigation app, and uploaded it to their phones. But despite all the planning, they didn’t know whether they would be able to complete the traverse. None of them had done anything like it before.

“March 15 was a really nice day,” Jensen recalled, so they decided to go for it then. A ridge of high pressure had built behind a major storm, and they ended up having clear weather for the whole trip. Being able to see their route was crucial, making navigation much easier than it would have been in the fog and clouds that locals know often beset the Selkirk Crest.

“Day 1 was basically the Redneck Traverse plus a little; we’d done that dozens of times,” said Jensen. Heading north from Schweitzer’s Sky House, they found that the aftereffects of the storm (which Sandpoint residents will remember from the number of trees it left in the streets) were a mixed blessing. The firm crust it created made for good traveling conditions where their skis didn’t sink into deep soft snow. But it also made the downhill runs less fun.

Arrival at their first camp led to a flurry of activity. First, they tried to get anything that was wet into the sun to dry, although there was little sunlight left. They put their stove’s fuel canisters inside their clothing to warm them up. While Lyle and Whitley set up their tent, Jensen started melting snow for water, trading in a warmed fuel canister from someone’s clothing each time the stove fuel started to cool.

“As soon as the sun went down, it was 20 degrees colder instantly,” said Jensen. They put on all their clothing, whether it had dried or not. At night they slept with their damp boot liners in their sleeping bags to keep them from freezing.



On the second morning, the team struck out into terrain they weren’t as familiar with. From the north side of Flat Top Mountain, they dropped down into a low drainage, and from there it was all uphill. “There was one little spot in the middle where we skied [downhill] a little bit,” said Jensen. For the rest, “It was eight hours straight with skins on.” Skins are strips of napped material attached to the bases of skis that enable skiers to travel uphill without sliding backward—they are essential equipment for this kind of expedition.

The team had been looking forward to removing the skins for a final descent to Fault Lake, but the fun failed to materialize.

“On paper it should have been one of the best skis,” said Jensen. Instead, it was “a quick ski, but not an enjoyable one. The snow was rock hard.”

Worse yet, they didn’t make it to their cache. It had been hard to make good time in the thick timber down low, and all the hours on skins the rest of the day still weren’t enough.

Despite an awesome sunset, this evening was the low point of the trip. “You’re finally starting to realize what you got yourself into,” said Jensen. Resigned to making do with what they had with them, they repeated the pattern of setting up the tent, drying clothes, and melting water. “The hardest thing to do was to have stoves going long enough to make enough water for three guys, plus water for the next day,” Jensen said. There was no running water anywhere on the route, and they ran the stoves for three to four hours a night just to have enough water for cooking and drinking.

For the first two days, aborting the trip would have been relatively easy; they could head down to the Pack River Road if they felt they had bitten off more than they could ski. But as they moved north on Day 3, bailing out became progressively harder. Fortunately, they also grew more confident as the rhythm of their travel became established. As Jensen said, “You didn’t really have to be fast; you just have to keep going. Once you got used to that, it was okay.” Mornings they were on their skis by 8:30 or 9 a.m., and they kept skiing until 5:30 or 6 p.m.

Beyond just completing the miles, the trio had to keep themselves safe. Because of the cold, the remoteness, the objective hazards of skiing injuries and avalanche danger, they had to take more precautions than on their day trips closer to civilization.

“Avalanche conditions were really stable,” Jensen remembered.

“It was easy to travel quickly.” Nevertheless, they had to stop occasionally to dig pits to assess the stability of the snow, and to forego some lines they would have enjoyed skiing.

Except for missing their cache on Day 2, the skiers made the mileages they had planned. Although they were out of cell phone contact most of the time, they found a spot where their phones worked on Day 4, so they were able to call and confirm their plans with the friends who were to meet them at the end of the trip.

By the evening of Day 5, the group had reached the West Fork Cabin on Smith Creek northwest of Bonners Ferry, where they spent the night. The next day, they left their packs at the cabin and skied a couple of descents to the road Jensen had found on the map, which fulfilled its promise as the last piece to fall into place. They reached the border about 4 p.m., and then sat down in the snow to drink a beer, feeling both elated at their accomplishment and sad that it was over.

Then their friends met them on snowmobiles and towed them back to the cabin, where they attempted to celebrate. “But we were all so trashed and tired, it wasn’t too much of a party,” Jensen recalled.


He figures they skied 63 miles and climbed a combined total of about 21,500 vertical feet. As far as they know, they are the first party to have completed this traverse in winter. And other than that missed cache, a broken boot buckle, and a few minor blisters, it went off without a hitch, leaving them eager to head out again. This winter, they’re thinking of setting up a base camp so they can ski some of the lines they had to pass by on their destination-driven traverse. Or maybe they’ll try a traverse through the Cabinets. They have some other friends who might want to come along. They’ll be looking for another weather window, maybe with better snow for descents.

The first traverse was clearly just the beginning. A second band, the Gibson Group, was about to embark on their own adventure.

But first, here’s a bonus video the Gibson group captured en route, complete with a fanciful tale … albeit there really was a Hermit Schweitzer who did, in fact, eat cats.

Traverse Redux: Gibson’s Group

After Jensen and friends returned from their trip to the Canadian border (previous story), winter came back to the Selkirks, and in its midst, a second group of snow travelers headed out along the crest.


The son of a Schweitzer patroller, Jasper Gibson used to hang out in the lift shack at the top of the old Snow Ghost lift and gaze over the sea of mountains beyond it. The trip he planned at the end of March with friends Zeppelin Zeerip and Joey Sackett was a chance to immerse themselves in that landscape for 10 days. While they were thinking of tapping the Canadian border, they just wanted to ski and ride—Gibson was on skis, while Zeerip and Sackett were on splitboards—snowboards that split in half so riders can attach skins and climb uphill.

For five days after they set out from the top of Schweitzer’s T-bar, it dumped snow. After being inundated with the white stuff their first night—Gibson remembers 1 to 2 inches an hour


—they traversed north to Jeru Peak and their first cache. There they paused to spend an entire day exploring. The following day took them past Fault Lake and to a fabulous ski down McCormick Ridge that Gibson said was “one of the best tree skiing runs of my life”—no small claim from a person who has been skiing since he was two. With a beautiful camp in a bowl they called “Old Man’s Hollow,” for its big trees draped with goat’s beard moss, they spent another snowy day sightseeing.

Day 6 was less fun. During a long traverse north, “The snow was clumping to our skins and the top of our skis; we were getting soaked, it was everywhere.” Gibson estimates the sticky snow added 10 pounds to the weight they were each carrying. And the day ended with Zeerip’s snowboard breaking.

So Day 7 required an exit down to the Pack River Road. Zeerip had repaired his board as best he could and descended with its tail flapping behind him. After the exit, his time ran out; other commitments meant he wouldn’t come back to complete the trip.

But Gibson and Sackett headed back in a few days later. The weather had changed again; they had nothing but sun and stars for their last few days on the crest. After a beautiful sunset ski north of Harrison Peak the first night, and a camp at Long Canyon Pass the next, they headed across Smith Peak and out Smith Creek for their final night out.


The sunny spring weather didn’t pay off for their final descent. As Jensen and his party had observed (and legions of other skiers have discovered), fair weather doesn’t always make for great skiing. “The ski down from the Smith Peak area was horrendous,”


Gibson recalled. “There was a foot of corn snow sluffing off, and it was insanely heavy.”

The road they finally reached in the basin provided fresh concerns: First they saw cougar tracks, then bear tracks, then cougar scat, then bear droppings. So they spent a fitful evening banging pots and pans, and ultimately survived the night. Friends on snowmobiles brought them out to the roadhead the next morning.

Driving back to Sandpoint, they watched the crest go by above U.S. 95. “I’ve seen those mountains my entire life,” said Gibson. “It was cool to have a new perspective on the range, a new sense of place.”


Gibson lives in Salt Lake City now, but he’s eager to come back to his home state for another traverse. One gets the sense that there will be a lot more ski and snowboard tracks joining those of the bear and cougar in the years to come.


Holy Snow!

by Sandy Compton

Photos by Woods Wheatcroft

At the end of the summer of 2019, Schweitzer Resort mountain manager Rob Batchelder and I rode the Great Escape Quad to the top of the mountain for a peek into the Outback Bowl and a check on progress of the construction of the Cedar Express Quad and the Colburn Triple. The sneak preview of the goings on in the Outback was interesting and exciting, but without the presence of the white stuff skiers and boarders dream of, it was all abstract.

A ski season later—albeit a shorter one than we would have liked, courtesy of Covid—it seems that a whole new ski area has been discovered and revealed in the environs of Colburn Lake. A first view from the top of Whiplash last December evoked two words, the first being “Holy” and the second not being “cow.” Since this is a family magazine, we will use the euphemism “snow” to replace the word that is not “cow.”

“Holy snow!” I exclaimed. “It’s a whole new mountain.”

I am not the only person who has exclaimed that. In fact, Schweitzer marketing maven Dig Chrismer, who has worked—and skied—on the mountain for a decade confessed, “This place is my playground, my backyard, where it doesn’t matter the day, the conditions, or the season, I know where I am. Imagine my surprise this past December when I dropped off Kaniksu and got utterly and completely lost.” She also noted, that after getting reoriented, she was soon skiing through a newly created glade, giggling with joy.

Just when you think you know a mountain, it changes on you. And boy—or girl—is it fun!

What’s in a word?

Back in the day when there was still a huge rock right in the middle of Upper Kaniksu, two friends whiling away the ride on Chair Six decided that the word “fun” had no direct synonym. Others come close—amusement, pleasure, joy—but none really mean “fun,” in the truest sense. It was also decided that they were having some.

That rock is long gone—did Patrol used their leftover dynamite to remove it once upon a spring?— as is Chair Six, but the fun factor in the Outback Bowl at Schweitzer Mountain Resort has increased dramatically. If you haven’t tried it, you may be skeptical, because the Outback has been fun for all the decades there have been lifts to ride back there. Last winter, however, due to some genius chair placement, extensive glading and brushing, and fanciful run creation, the factor went way up.

In fact, when Schweitzer staffer Randi Lui was asked her opinion of the new experience(s) available in the Outback, she used the word seven times in three minutes, and seven times fun is really fun.

“At first,” she said, “I wasn’t very excited, because I was very fond of Chair Six—it was my Zen place for leg recovery and peace and quiet—but after riding the new lifts and skiing the new terrain—which is really old terrain that they fixed up—it’s actually a lot of fun. You can get a lot more runs in over a lot more interesting landscape.”

Some needed more convincing than others. Chrismer said that initially there were a few negative responses from Schweitzer regulars including “trampled snow” and the loss of the chance to rest that Chair Six afforded. “But, when I reached out to them at the end of the season,” she said, “they had become very happy with the work we did.”

It is still possible to get a modicum of rest on the Colburn Triple, even though it doesn’t stop near as often as Six used to—like, hardly ever. Those who lament the loss of Six because it gave them a chance to recover from the effects of the Lakeside Chutes can take comfort that the ride on the Triple is just a few minutes shorter than the ride was on Six. And, if you want to really rest, you can glide over to the Sky House without having to push hard.

The Triple has 160 chairs that seat three, while Chair Six had 146 chairs that seated two. The ride on the triple is several minutes shorter than the ride was on Six. More people get to the top sooner and lift line time is greatly reduced. Sandpoint teacher John Hastings had his happy face on when he said, “I never had to wait in line, even on busy weekend days.” On weekdays? Ski on! Or board. Whatever. No lines. No waiting.

“Yeah, but what about all those other skiers stealing my lines?” the powder hounds howl. Don’t growl. There are a lot more lines to steal.

Less brush, more fall lines

While construction crews were busily pouring concrete and putting up towers, as well as disappearing Six—done so completely that even Schweitzer vets like Chrismer wonder where it used to be—loggers and accompanying brushing crews were doing the really important work of making new places to ski. Some secret stashes were lost, but new steeps and glades were opened up for more—for lack of a better word—fun.

In the process of reborning the Outback, a heroic amount of glading was done to keep tree skiers busy and happy. Along with this, five designated runs were created—four groomable—that peel off of Lower Kaniksu. In order of appearance, Casper, Triple Bypass, Slapshot, and Roller Ghoster are four black diamonds that drop to skier’s right. Roller Ghoster, the ungroomed one, is actually the Chair Six lift line—sans towers—beginning where Six exited the trees at skier’s right of Lower Kaniksu. The new blue run, Know Fun, is a left turn just below the Have Fun exit.

There’s that word again. Groomers are great, but it’s the new glades that are—for some—the most fun.

It’s all new, and all good

“I’ve been skiing Schweitzer since we moved here in the mid ’80s,” Don Helander said, “and I appreciated the Outback and riding the long Snow Ghost chair. I’m always open to change, though, and back there, it’s all good.”

Skier on new runs at Schweitzer | Photo by Woods Wheatcroft

Between the new designated runs accessed by the Cedar Express Quad, what once were almost unskiable thickets are now wide glades. This “fixed-up” terrain sports some of the steepest—surprise!—and thereby most fun topography on the mountain. Chunks of double, black-quality drops revealed by the logging and brushing pepper the slopes skier’s right of Kaniksu. Between Blue Grass and Casper, for instance, where Tower 19 used to point tree skiers toward a bit of heaven, lies a newly revealed two turn thrill you might want to survey closely before dropping off the edge. Where once Hastings and a skier probably not to be named later fought their way through an alder patch into the blessed relief of the Chair Six lift line, the 100 percent morass of brush and trees we … uh, I mean “they” … escaped is now open to ride.

Transversing: More turns, more fun

For the last few years, Helander—who can make a game out of anything—and friends have been enjoying what he calls “transversing.” The concept allows snow riders to get the maximum amount of powder in between designated runs. It goes like this: drop in, make a few turns, choose a direction, and traverse to a new line, then take some even number of turns, traverse to the next line, and repeat. Proceed as far as possible in the direction of your original traverse without dropping into a groomer (traversing across a groomer is allowed). Do it again. The Schweitzer Mountain Resort record for transversing pre-Colburn Triple began just to the right of the top of Upper Kaniksu and ended with four turns down skier’s right side of Whiplash to the runout on the south side of Colburn Lake.

This is still possible from the top of the Triple, with the added bonus of being able to load back on said lift just a few turns down Vagabond. But transversers have also found a new place to play.

“Cedar Park at Schweitzer—the new quad—it’s ready-made for that,” said Helander. “You unload right at the top of Lower Kaniksu, and then skier’s left and right—left particularly—you have looong traverses and you get to experience all these different fun powder lines, but not all on the same vertical line.

You get a lot of great lines in between traverses, and the run can last forever—or almost. The Cedar Park terrain lends itself to that overall.”

Yeah. What he said.

Then there’s the lift ride itself

Riding the Colburn Triple tends to reinforce the idea that you are in a whole new ski area. From the load to about a third of the way up, riders are treated to an almost unobstructed view of the Lakeside Chutes and all the slopes between Whiplash and Debbie Sue. It dawdles along to the north of Colburn Lake, even running downhill a bit before taking a sudden turn uphill. “Holy snow,” indeed. Just below Mid-Rock, a Triple rider finds themselves looking what seems straight up. The aspect is jaw dropping, and you might find yourself wondering, “Just where in the ski world am I?”

Skier on new runs at Schweitzer | Photo by Woods Wheatcroft

That question may continue into the 2021 season. Chrismer gave out that they have created more glades between Stella and Phineas’ Forest. Plans are to continue thinning brush between Whiplash and Debbie Sue. And—bonus!— brushing crews worked the lower half of Kathy’s Yard Sale.

Holy snow! A freshly debrushed Kathy’s Yard Sale? Sounds like fun to me.

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