Schweitzer's Master Plan
In October 2017, an engaged group of stakeholders met at Sky House to discuss the future of Schweitzer and what it would take to transform the resort from a regional ski resort to the top 4-season resort in the Northwest. Among the stakeholders at Sky House in 2017 were some of the country’s most experienced real estate analysts, investors, marketers and developers, branding and creative experts, landscape architects, relationship architects and storytellers as well as Schweitzer’s own senior management. The group identified six areas of the Schweitzer experience that held high promise for achieving Schweitzer’s goals. The 2017 group believed that focusing on these six things would begin the measured and sustained process of enhancing the existing customer experience and drawing new customers to the mountain:
- Family: ‘Adventurers’ may lead the charge in discovering a destination like Schweitzer, but its families who will populate most of the Resort.
- Live/Work: At Schweitzer, work-life balance takes on special meaning. The resort itself is a symbol of how people can achieve more balance in their lives. But for many visitors, because Schweitzer is more a three-or-four-day weekend than a two-day weekend, Schweitzer Mountain Resort needs to get much tech-savvier and fast.
- Food and Beverage: Americans have become foodies. Not just in the cities, but everywhere. Schweitzer needs to capitalize on this interest and support the growth of a culture that embraces great local foods and cooking.
- Health/Wellness/Sustainability: These topics need to become core values and at the heart of all decisions made on the mountain.
- Summer: It’s been said that “summer drives winter” in creating successful all-season mountain resorts. The more immersive those summer experiences can be, and the more they connect the mountain with the town and the lake, the more Schweitzer, and the community of Sandpoint, benefits.
- Skiing: Mountain improvements with upgraded lifts, new terrain and expanded services need to develop in parallel with business growth.
Since the 2017 Sky House gathering, Schweitzer has been growing rapidly. The resort has seen record skier visits in the last several years and its reputation as the best family friendly resort in the Pacific Northwest is reverberating with many who are searching out more authentic ski and snowboard experiences. With this growth, there have been some challenges – strains on the existing infrastructure, the need for more beginner terrain, and more lodging accommodations for visitors on the weekends. Identifying key areas that need improvement has been a relatively easy task, but developing a strategy to tackle these challenges becomes critical. Yes, Schweitzer is growing and so the question becomes, how does the 16th largest ski area in the US work towards a sustainable future that keeps it moving forward without changing the heart of what customers love about Schweitzer?
This question isn’t new. Since the resort first began in 1963, there have been plans to upgrade and improve the overall experience both on and off the slopes. “The resort, from its inception, has always been looking forward, searching for ways to improve and grow,” explains Schweitzer CEO Tom Chasse.
The newest master plan for Schweitzer was developed thanks to that October 2017 meeting and culminated with the Board of Directors engaging with SE Group, a company whose focus is on strategy, permitting, planning and design for communities, ski resorts, educational institutions, real estate development and public land management groups. Throughout the process, it was SE Group’s role to analyze and look into every aspect of the overall guest experience at Schweitzer. They took into account details like the exact number of hotel beds, parking spaces and lift capacity numbers, how many tables are in the restaurants, and even the number of toilets available on the mountain. They worked closely with the director team to understand how Schweitzer functions during day to day operations and what areas were facing new challenges. With no stone left unturned and studied, the latest master plan for Schweitzer was finalized, laying out three phases of growth over the next 15 years.
Phase One of the Master Plan - Completed Summer 2019
The first part of Schweitzer’s master plan was launched quickly in the spring of 2019 with the replacement of the Snow Ghost double chair serving the Outback and North bowls on the mountain. “Something we need to remember when it comes to acting on our master plan is Schweitzer’s unique situation as a private land owner,” adds Chasse. “We own all the land therefore it makes the whole process much faster. From a regulatory stand point, we don’t need to request permission from the Forest Service to move forward with projects. That's why we were able to install the new lifts as quickly as we did.”
Snow Ghost was replaced with two new lifts – the Cedar Park Express and the Colburn Triple. The Cedar Park Express quad chair starts just above the Cedar Park run and terminates at approximately the same location of the former mid-unload of Snow Ghost. This new lift provides more access to several underutilized runs like Have Fun and Snow Ghost. “The two lift configuration helps us split up our skier user groups,” explains Mountain Operations Director Rob Batchelder. “The new quad offers easier access to blue, intermediate terrain and the Colburn Triple gets us right back to the steep stuff in Lakeside Chutes. During the lift construction process, we logged approximately 300 acres and created new runs for our guests to enjoy in the North Bowl and we are pretty proud of that.”
Phase Two of the Master Plan - Completed Summer 2022
Schweitzer finalized plans and broke ground on an additional 30 unit boutique hotel in the village. “The Board of Directors is motivated to find a solution for our lack of accommodations on the mountain,” says Chasse. “It’s challenging at best to find a room over weekends and holidays so the additional units will help ease that lodging crunch.” Schweitzer started the surveying process, relocation of utilities, and excavation of the underground parking in June of 2019 with a planned delivery for the 21/22 season. “Again, thanks to owning our own land, we can move forward with this project as quickly as permitting and financing allow.”
The as yet unnamed hotel is designed by the Portland based firm Skylab Architecture. “Drawing on the heritage of Schweitzer Basin, yet contemporary in its design, it will provide a perfect venue for guests to relax, play and revel in the natural beauty surrounding them,” says Jeff Kovel, Principal/Design Director at Skylab. “Guests will enjoy spaces that heighten their connection to the outdoors and the rich local history. The building will be a state of the art facility and feature heavy timber construction (CLT) but also reuse materials (like chairlift cables) from around the Resort.”
In concert with the development of the hotel, Schweitzer and Skylab have partnered with Dunn + Kiley, a master planning and landscape architecture firm that is internationally recognized for its expertise in the planning and design of mountain resorts. Dunn + Kiley will be instrumental in improving the landscape architecture surrounding the hotel and within the existing village.
** Master Plan Rendering is from 2018 and is slightly different from how things will line-out. Please use this as a guide for future planning. Updated renderings will be shared as soon as they are available! **
Base Camp - A New Arrival
(Artist's render - actual layout and design may be different)
From Spokane to Sandpoint, the Inland Northwest continues to experience significant population increases with people moving here from all over for a variety of reasons. Here at Schweitzer, we are also seeing a growing demand for access to year-round outdoor recreation, and as we continue to evolve to meet those demands, the guest experience remains top of mind. With nearly 3,000 acres of skiable terrain and a network of high-speed lifts, the on-mountain experience is best in-class for the area. One area we are looking to improve is parking.
Last summer, we embarked on a multi-year project that reimagines the guest arrival experience at Schweitzer while increasing parking and access to the mountain. This new Base Camp project, phase three of our Master Plan, is considered more substantial than any other plan put forward for the resort.
“To keep up with demand and continue providing an exceptional guest arrival experience, we prioritized looking for solutions that directly affected parking and mountain access.,” explained Mountain Operations Director Rob Batchelder. “I’m very excited about this third phase of Master Plan development and believe Base Camp is a unique solution intended to get people on the mountain efficiently.”
The vision for Base Camp is to become a dedicated area for our day-guests, perfect for beginner and intermediate skiers and riders, with ample parking and additional rental and SnowSports school facilities.
“On the mountain we are looking to expand our beginner and intermediate terrain offering,” continued Batchelder. “When fully realized, the development of Base Camp will create approximately eight new runs, 3 new lifts and an additional carpet catering to beginner and intermediate skiers and riders.”
Physically, Schweitzer needs room to grow, and Base Camp will fulfill that need.
In order to bring Base Camp to life, there are 4 main arteries that will be created to easily connect guests to the mountain:
- A pedestrian/skier bridge across Schweitzer Creek
- The replacement of the Musical Chairs double chairlift
- A new 1,400 space parking lot
- A road connecting the parking lot to the roundabout
Schweitzer Creek is one of the main drainages for water coming off the mountain and flows year-round under the Great Escape Quad, down past the Hermit’s Hollow Tubing Hill and below the Musical Chairs lift and Fall Line parking lot. In order to connect Base Camp to the existing network of trails, we will install a pedestrian bridge just below the existing Musical Chairs loading terminal. The bridge will be wide enough for skiers and riders to cross as well as grooming equipment.
Design, engineering and permitting for the bridge is underway with plans for construction to begin in the spring of 2023.
The final piece to connect everything together is the long-awaited replacement of the Musical Chairs double. In the spring of 2022, a down payment was made with Leitner-Poma for the purchase of a new high-speed detachable quad lift, similar to the Cedar Park Express. Alignment for the new Musical Chairs lift will shift to connect Base Camp to the main village, spanning over Schweitzer Creek and terminating near the Snowsports School meeting area in the village.
“The installation of a high-speed detachable quad will be a major enhancement for all of our guests.,” said Batchelder. “Not only will it be easier for beginner skiers and riders to load and unload, the new lift will increase capacity to 2,400 guests per hour (2-3 times the existing capacity) allowing guests to upload and download safer and more efficiently. It will also provide the opportunity to transport “foot passengers” without skis or snowboards to and from the village, even in summer.”
Next summer, construction will begin on at least one new connector trail for guests to access Base Camp from other areas of the mountain. The new run will likely originate from Lower Loophole or the Cat Track to the Village.
The goal is to have the new Musical Chairs lift operational for the 2023-24 winter season with access via the Fall Line parking lot, the Village and Happy Trails run and the new run yet to be named.
The Parking Lot
The new parking lot is designed to park roughly 1,400 vehicles – nearly four times the capacity of the Fall Line Lot. This should provide plenty of room for our current guests to park and access the mountain as well as create space for future growth.
Construction of the new parking area began in the spring of 2022. Trees were cleared and dirt was moved – a lot of dirt was moved. One of the key differentiators for this arrival zone is that the lift and the parking are on similar elevations, meaning when guests arrive to Base Camp, they will not have to walk up a hill to access the lift. For our existing guests that are used to hiking up from the Gateway Lot to the main village, this will be a vast improvement.
Ever since the construction of the roundabout nearly 15 years ago, there has been a sign stating “future road” - the “future road” is almost here. In the summer of 2022, the focus was to modify the old road alignment and develop the new road by grading, leveling and widening the road corridor. Crews worked all summer moving thousands of yards of dirt. Next summer, road work will continue with final grading and alignment, installation of utilities and paving. The goal is to have guests driving on the new road and parking in the new lot in the fall of 2024.
“When you think about the amount of dirt and rock we’ll move, the magnitude of this project is massive,” says Mountain Utility Company Director Tom Trulock. “This will be the largest road and utility project in Schweitzer’s history. Most people don’t realize, it’s more than just a road and a parking lot – we have to think about our future sewer, water and power needs for the next 20 years and beyond.”
The new Base Camp arrival area will continue to evolve in the coming years with the addition of expanded beginner terrain, new lifts, snowmaking as well as skier/rider services like rentals, SnowSports School and a day lodge. There are also future plans to expand summer operations from Base Camp with new experiences, trails, RV park and more.
Batchelder points out that one of the proposed lifts from Base Camp will connect to the saddle area between Down the Hatch and the top terminal of the Stella lift, making it possible to access the backside of the mountain without needing to pass through the main village or ride the Great Escape quad.
Across the country, ski resorts have continuously faced challenges associated with growth and increased demand. The new Base Camp project is not only a big deal for our growing community, it’s a big deal for the industry, and as of the last independently owned resorts, Schweitzer’s future is very bright.
Real Estate Development - Ongoing Efforts
Unlike most other ski resorts in the Western US, Schweitzer Mountain Resort is not on National Forest Service Land. It is not owned by “the government” and leased to a licensed private operator. It is owned and operated privately, with just under 7,000 acres of total property.
Schweitzer’s "fee simple" ownership means there is strong upside potential for developing second residences and top of the market amenities on the mountain. In fact, Schweitzer also enjoys a unique ability to build on the mountain top, providing experiences most other ski resorts simply can’t contemplate. This is a huge advantage - owning the land you operate on can make any vision of unlocking the true potential of a property much more real, much sooner.
The slopeside 35 unit subdivision, MountainSide and the new addition to the White Pine Lodge, 5 Needles, were sold out quickly in the current competitive real estate market. Schweitzer is working on plans for future subdivisions and other real estate offerings. Within the current Planned Unit Development (PUD), there are over 7,000 units of density - of which, roughly 10% have been developed.
"With the new hotel, proposed new lifts, and our expansive opportunity for real estate development, I’m very excited about this master plan and the future of Schweitzer" concludes Chasse.
Employee Housing - Ongoing Efforts
Hemlock House - December 2021
In the summer of 2021, Schweitzer was able to purchase a former living facility on Hemlock Court in Sandpoint and convert the property into employee housing for winter and summer seasonal staff. Hemlock House is able to acommodate up to 16 individuals in a dormatory style building with shared kitchen and lounge. This was the first project in a long-term strategy to provide affordable housing for Schweitzer employees.
Ponderay Employee Housing - Groundbreaking Spring 2022
Schweitzer has partnered with Eastmark Capital Group, a real-estate development company, to create an 84-unit apartment complex for employee housing. The complex will be located near the intersection of Schweitzer Plaza Drive and Triangle Drive in Ponderay, walking distance to shopping, dining, and transportation services including the public shuttle to Schweitzer.
Phase one of the new neighborhood will consist of three, three-story buildings on approximately three acres with a central courtyard. Each building will offer pet friendly one, two, and three bedroom units and feature efficient, flexible designs with modern amenities including washers and dryers as well as bike and ski storage. These apartments are well-suited to individuals or employees with families who would otherwise be challenged to find reasonably priced accommodation in the area’s competitive housing market.
The $22 million housing development has already received approval from the City of Ponderay with construction beginning this spring. The full project is expected to be completed within 12 months, with employees occupying units as soon as the summer of 2023.
“Employee housing has been a focus of ours for several years,” says Schweitzer President & CEO, Tom Chasse. “Being able to offer our dedicated staff and their families a place to call home, is a huge win for them and for us. Our managers and frontline staff are the people who make Schweitzer, Schweitzer and being able to help them continue living in the heart of our community is extremely important to all of us.”
Evolution & Future
As with any development or planning on this scale, there are several factors that can play into the timeline in which the overall master plan will be completed. “We have a pretty conservative approach,” notes Chasse. “Our business is growing but we want to make sure that we are financially sound and don’t get ahead of ourselves. We also want to maintain a razor sharp focus on improving the overall customer experience with everything that we do.”
Schweitzer expects this master plan to reach full completion in 7 to 15 years as long as business levels continue to grow as predicted. “During my tenure at Schweitzer, we’ve replaced Chair 1 by adding 2 new lifts, enhanced our snowmaking capacities, built Sky House and added 2 new lifts in the North Bowl,” reminisces Chasse. “I really feel we have achieved everything we can to be competitive. The goal is to make Schweitzer a true destination ski resort with some national recognition and that’s happening. We think this master plan will help us achieve our goal to provide the best skiing and snowboarding experience around.”