Spokane Journal of Business

$85 million in new development envisioned at Schweitzer

Early snow, coronavirus delayed new hotel work; opening pushed back

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-Skylab Architecture
This $35 million boutique hotel is slated to be constructed at Schweitzer Mountain Resort, near Sandpoint. It’s scheduled to open in the fall of 2021 now.

The owner of Schweitzer Mountain Resort envisions about $85 million worth of enhancements at the North Idaho ski resort over the next decade, executives there say. 

The planned work follows $9.5 million in chairlift work and new-run development completed on the ski hill near Sandpoint last year and includes a previously announced, $35 million boutique hotel. Foundation work has started but the construction timetable has been pushed back, due to early-season snow last September and premature closure due to coronavirus in March. 

Schweitzer CEO Tom Chasse says the resort, which Seattle-based McCaw Investment Group owns, has flexibility with its timetable—and management will take as much time as necessary to make sure projects are done right—but he expects work to be completed over the next five to 10 years. 

The largest part of the envisioned improvements involves a $50 million project, called Mid-Mountain.

“Mid-Mountain will be a dedicated day-skier area catered more for beginners and intermediate skiers,” Chasse says. “The new construction calls for additional runs, more parking, and a facility for a ski school and ski rental.”

Resort expansion is more than justified based on annual attendance increases at the resort, he says.

Chasse, whose been at Schweitzer for 14 years, says when he first arrived, the resort had 195,000 skier visits per season. The 2018-19 season saw a record turnout of 261,000 hitting the slopes.

“We were on a similar trajectory this year (2019-20) before COVID-19 shut us down,” Chasse says. The resort closed for the season on March 18, more than three weeks ahead of the planned April 12 closure date, he says. Even so, the 2019-20 season drew 225,000 skiers.

The new chairlifts and ski runs debuted to skiers this past season in the form of two new high-speed lifts and the opening of seven new ski runs on the backside of the resort, he says.

Chasse says of the first phase, “The seven new runs and high-speed lifts just completely transformed the north bowl.” 

Construction of the new hotel was supposed to be completed in time for the 2020-21 ski season, but Schweitzer has pushed that back a year. 

Spokane-based Walker Construction Inc. is the general contractor for the hotel, and Skylab Architecture, of Portland, Oregon, designed it. The hotel will feature a high-end restaurant, bar, and retail spaces. The occupants of those spaces have yet to be determined, he says.

Walker began work on the project last year before snow in September brought an end to construction. Work crews began snow removal last month after the resort closed early, he says.

Says Dig Chrismer, Schweitzer’s marketing manager, “There were a variety of things that have thrown us some challenges we weren’t quite expecting. So, we’ve decided to just slow down the construction schedule a little bit and take our time getting what we can get done.”

Chasse and Chrismer say the region’s population growth primarily has fueled the annual attendance increase at the resort.

In October 2017, Schweitzer officials commissioned a site study and solicited the opinions of other ski resort industry experts to help determine Schweitzer’s immediate and future needs. The end result was the decision to make changes incrementally, they say.

Chrismer says she’s most excited about the Mid-Mountain concept.

“We realize that on weekends and holidays some of our infrastructure gets squeezed. This is our plan to address that,” she says.

Established in December 1963, MIG owns 7,000 acres around the mountain and the ski operations take 2,900 of that.

“Being privately owned ... it makes it very easy for us to make strategic plans and implement them a lot quicker,” Chrismer says. “We don’t have the red tape to go through the way a lot of other resorts have to with (U.S.) Forest Service land. If we want to do something, we go through a standard (Bonner County) permitting process.”

During the resort’s peak season, ranging from Christmas to the end of February, Schweitzer employs an annual average of 600 workers. The resort’s offseason is from the end of April to the end of June. Upon re-opening for the summer season at the start of July, Schweitzer typically employs roughly 200 people. She says the resort has between 80 to 100 full-time, year-round employees.

“It was an interesting year. December started a little bit slow for us in terms of heavy snowfall,” she says. “But then January was amazing in terms of conditions and visitation. We had some really strong weekends and had a wonderful January and February.”

Closing for the season was a tough choice to make, she says.

“There was a recommendation for people to keep active and be outdoors while maintaining social distancing,” she says. “But the reality was that it was too big of a risk for the safety of our employees and community. It was a hard decision but the right decision.”

Chasse says the resort’s board of directors and executive team are comfortable with the future growth plans they’ve outlined.

“Schweitzer’s goal isn’t to grow to become a 500,000-skier type of resort,” he says. “We’re growing organically with the growth in Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, and Sandpoint.”

Kevin Blocker
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