With just about every variety of terrain no more than a couple hours away, the arc from Spokane to Sandpoint is among the finest places in the country for winter recreation. It’s so good, in fact, that expert climber Jess Roskelley wouldn’t live anywhere else.
“The reason I have lived here my entire life is because it’s the center of a lot of areas to go climbing or skiing,” Roskelley said.
And so much more.
Options for skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and other well-known recreations abound in the Inland Northwest.
“Spokane: You can fly in from anywhere in the world,” said Alf Cromwell, Selkirk Powder’s director of marketing, “and within that day you can be skiing crazy cool stuff.”
But if you’ve grown tired of that usual slate of options, consider the more extreme sports available to those who want to push their limits—at just about any altitude.
One of the most exclusive extreme sports opportunities in the region is to heli-ski your way through the Selkirk Mountains. A helicopter picks you up and your group basically can decide where you want to be dropped off. And then you ski.
“Imagine you’re on a ski lift. You’re deposited at the top and have the choice of a few runs. Heli-skiing is like that but on steroids,” Cromwell said. “You go where you want to go. … You have this portable ski lift at your disposal to ski runs wherever you want that are appealing to your eye and ability level.”
In short, you get exclusivity. Which comes at a price: $1,975 per person.
“It’s that amazing, romantic adventure that’s irresistible,” Cromwell said, “and for those who are bold enough, they will be rewarded with world-class snow and ease of access.”
Selkirk Powder runs excursions out of Sandpoint Airport from March 2 through April 14.
Not for the beginner, ice diving offers the chance to explore lakes at their most serene.
Guides start by cutting a triangular hole in the ice and shoving the triangle down and under to form an opening. Then, divers take the plunge, tethered to a line at the surface. Guides mind the line while the divers—including a safety guide—explore the underside of the ice.
“It’s a bit thrilling,” said Phillip Graf, who has been leading such dives for almost two decades for Omni Divers in Oregon. “When you get underneath the ice you can look up and see the bubbles forming.”
The sediment normally in the lake settles in the cold, still water, so you can see more clearly than on a hot summer day. You can also touch the bubbles and play with them, like the Mercury effect, Graf said. He’s even done some water skiing along the underside of the ice.
Local outfitter Jake Powlison of Jake’s Diving—which, along with Atlantis Aquatics, offers dives in the Inland Northwest—cautioned that this is only for advanced divers.
“It adds another aspect of excitement because you can’t go straight up, you can’t punch through the ice,” Powlison said. “It’s exciting. When you jump in, there’s an adrenaline rush for sure.”
Guides: Jake’s Scuba Adventures in Coeur d’Alene, Atlantis Aquatics in Spokane, Omni Divers in Oregon/Washington/Idaho
Skiers and snowboarders looking for a place to hone their jumping and maneuvering skills can look to the area’s various terrain parks.
Schweitzer Mountain Resort has three, of varying levels of difficulty, from beginner to expert. Skills developed in the terrain parks transfer well to other parts of the mountain, said Matt Conger, marketing coordinator at Schweitzer.
“It’s a really good way to hone some skills for getting comfortable in the air on a man-made built feature with the proper takeoff and landing,” Conger said. “Then you can go, ‘OK, that cliff isn’t so scary.’”
They also offer another way to enjoy the mountains when the powder isn’t fresh or the ski conditions aren’t ideal for the slopes, Conger said. “The terrain park is one of those things that’s always there.”
Safety is paramount, he said, so those who want to enjoy the Stomping Grounds, Schweitzer’s largest park, are required to complete some basic safety and etiquette training.
For those willing to go a little bit farther—or to pay close attention to conditions nearby—ice climbing in this region is some of the world's best.
“We’re a really pretty day’s drive from the best place in the world to ice climb,” said Roskelley, who has climbed ice around the globe. “Ice climbing is basically when there’s either frozen waterfalls or snowmelt or the rain water table leaks through cliffs, and as soon as it ends up freezing up, guys like me decide to go hang out on it.”
Much like any form of rock climbing, climbing ice takes proper equipment and training. But if people are willing to watch the ice at local places, such as Banks Lake near the Grand Coulee Dam, or are willing to drive six hours into Canada, the reward is worth it.
If you’re new to climbing on any surface, Roskelley recommends learning at a gym and doing some rock climbing first, “and working your way up to using sharp metal objects” like ice picks.
People can also look into ice climbing guides, classes and outfitters.
Motorized Snow Biking
Take a dirt bike, remove its tires and add snowmobile treads. That’s how you end up with motorized snow biking, or Snow BikeCross, a recent addition to the X-Games as an official event.
Timbersled, a company that began in Sandpoint and was bought by Polaris three years ago, is a pioneer in the industry. It sells various kits to convert motorbikes to snow bikes. Various dealers in the area are able to outfit those who are interested.
As for where you can use them, the general rule is to follow regulations for snowmobiles. So, people should check with parks and other locations before riding.