Stay or Play
From the Winter 2021 Issue
Schweitzer Resort's options for mountain living
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.