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Before the First Snowflake Falls

From the Winter 2021 Issue

Locals' tips on preparing for winter

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!

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