Idaho’s lakeside retreat does wintertime right with plenty of snow sports, cozy urban wineries, and a cool new music venue. Crai Bower shows us the best of Sandpoint.
Christmas comes early for powder hounds in these parts when Schweitzer Mountain Resort—the biggest in the state—opens for the snow season (weather permitting) in early December. Downhill skiers share Schweitzer’s 92 trails and 2,900 acres with nordic skiers and snowshoe enthusiasts. If you’re new to winter pursuits, you can sign on for a hosted snowshoe hike through the old-growth forests of Hermit’s Hollow or bundle up for an evening “moonlight” hike, hot chocolate in hand. Intro skiing lessons are given twice a day, with beginner-friendly trails to choose from. But maybe the biggest takeaway is the view: From the top of Schweitzer Mountain, you can see a trio of mountain ranges (the Selkirk, Cabinet, and Coeur d’Alene); three states (Idaho, Montana, and Washington); and all the way into Canada.
A solid start
Sandpoint was founded in the 1880s as a mill and railroad hub. Today, trains still rumble through daily, and hearty breakfasts befitting lumberjacks are de rigueur across town. Close to the redbrick depot, you can load up on prime-rib hash and eggs at Trinity at City Beach, which has a premium perch abutting 43-mile-long Lake Pend Oreille. Nearby, above the boardwalk on Sand Creek, Spuds Waterfront Grill ups the ante with housemade sausage. Get it scrambled into your eggs or as an extra alongside thick slabs of French toast.
Few things feel as pinch-me perfect as dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh. Western Pleasure Guest Ranch brings the Budweiser commercial to life with rides powered by teams of draft horses. The 2-mile loop takes you around the ranch’s woodsy property before ending at the lodge, where guests warm up with hot drinks and fresh popcorn beside a fire. Sleigh sizes vary, so call ahead to reserve the one that best suits your group.
For years, Sandpoint’s only notable eatery was Joel’s Mexican Restaurant, a taqueria still beloved for its fish tacos and vegan options. The only problem? It closes at 4 p.m. Thankfully, Sandpoint recently got an influx of new dining options that stay open past happy hour. Last year, the Pend d’Oreille Winery added an on-site eatery, The Bistro Rouge. House Cabernet is served alongside charcuterie and cheese plates, bison burgers, and flatbreads. Down the street, brand-new The Hound Downtown keeps it simple with some of the state’s best pizza, including the Thor’s Hammer pie, topped by pepperoni, Canadian bacon, and Italian sausage.
The new buzz
Off the slopes, Sandpoint’s winter entertainment long centered on The Panida Theater, a 1927 landmark that hosts film festivals, readings and talks, and theater productions put on by the Pend Oreille Arts Council, which also curates a contemporary art gallery next door. The Panida is as vibrant as ever—this month, look for a one-day performance of The Nutcracker by the Eugene Ballet Company—but last year, it got a little après competition. In a former brothel and theater space downtown, The Hive music venue opened its doors and began staging concerts. In December, it will stage The Lil’ Smokies, an up-and-coming bluegrass outfit from Missoula.