Secret Best New Hotel in Skiing is a Game Changer
It was a banner year for new ski and snowboard hotel openings, following two sluggish winters in which the industry was grounded by the global COVID-19 pandemic. But while the biggest buzz in ski travel revolved around new luxury accommodations at the nation’s first and second largest ski resorts, both with rates per night in the four figures, the one that got me the most impressed so far is off the radar – and much cheaper.
See the “most important new ski and snowboard hotels for this winter season – and next” here.
The 31-room Humbird Hotel is the linchpin of a multi-million dollar, multi-year, ongoing expansion and revitalization of Idaho’s family-run Schweitzer Mountain Resort. Schweitzer, in turn, is one of the largest ski resorts that many travelers outside of the Pacific Northwest have never heard of, largely because it until now lacked a hotel. skis worthy of a destination like the Humbird. For more than six decades it’s been relegated to “hidden gem” status in the ski world, but surprisingly Schweitzer, who is in Idaho just across the border from Washington, is the largest station in either state, larger than much more famous. Valley of the Sun. In fact, it’s bigger than many famous ski resorts and, at just under 3,000 acres, is in the nation’s Top 15 for all important steep terrain criteria. It is also one of the few mountains in the world to offer ski lifts, sno-cat skiing and heli-skiing in one place.
In recent years, Schweitzer has added new high-speed elevators, condos, homes, and now, the Humbird, which opened last month. A contemporary approach to chalet architecture with floor-to-ceiling glass walls and exposed wooden beams, it has been built largely with local materials, in a very green way, and is a celebration of history of the region’s timber industry, adapted from the ski resort. itself was originally built by a logging company. It’s filled with historic black-and-white photos from the era, and even the odd name is an ode to the past, as Humbird Lumber was the mill that put nearby Sandpoint on the map.
Interestingly, the resort owners chose to go it alone and, in a highly unusual move, didn’t align the Humbird with a hotel brand for management. Instead, they operate it themselves, just as they have for years with their three impressive but less complete timeshare resorts with ski-in/ski-out access. The curious result is a ski hotel designed and built by skiers, and that has proven hugely beneficial when it comes to the little things – and in hospitality, it’s the little things that count.
For example, one of my pet peeves has long been how many “top” ski resort hotels lack hooks, yet everyone who goes skiing has plenty of gear, from jackets to bibs to gloves. and helmets, all of which need to be hung up and dried often. It’s as if luxury brands find the very idea of hooks demeaning and, as they move from urban settings to the mountains, can’t change their philosophy. The Humbird doesn’t just have hooks, it has the most creative hooks I’ve ever seen and another tribute to the lumber industry. Each room is outfitted with an artistic wooden pegboard with movable hanging poles that can be configured to meet your exact equipment needs. Okay, maybe not life changing, but symbolic of the creative approach to problem solving here. And that’s not the only one – they even solve problems that don’t exist.
A few weeks before visiting the Humbird, I stayed in a city hotel from one of the most famous luxury brands in the world, and it was noisy, with lots of ambient city noise. After my stay I wondered why they didn’t equip the rooms with white noise machines, a modest investment compared to the Italian espresso machine or bedside tablets. Thinking about this, I realized that in 25 years of traveling to famous luxury hotels around the world of all shapes and sizes, this was a feature I had never seen. Less than a month later, I’ve seen that every room in the Humbird has one – even though it’s a quiet place. Each room also has a high-end Molekule air purifier, always a good idea but very desirable in the age of COVID. When was the last time your hotel had this?
Any other touches to note in the room? Unsurprisingly, the developers weren’t happy with the generally poor condition of hotel blackout blinds, so they looked for serious ones that are as dark as possible. Each room has a shoe and glove dryer. The coffeemakers come with award-winning Evans Brothers coffee, roasted at Sandpoint, and the cool cups are locally handmade pottery. Toiletries are also locally made, premium natural products, all wood furnishings are custom made, and due to the great views of Lake Pend Oreille and the opportunity for wildlife viewing, each room has binoculars. On a very practical level, they have installed more outlets and additional USB ports than I have ever seen in any other hotel. Even the seats in the lobby bar have USB ports. Why? Because the people who planned it know skiing and snowboarding, know that phones and other electronics have much shorter battery life in the cold, and ski travelers often have more charges these days. here, from heated gloves to boot warmers to GoPros. Like I said, it’s the little things that count, and here they really add up.
Hooks, boot dryers and charging ports are a bit redundant, given that the Humbird has ski storage in the form of the most sophisticated European ski lockers you can imagine, complete with boot dryers and gloves and more outlets, all controllable by guests via a smartphone app. (being finished and will be ready for next winter). But when it comes to guest comfort, the hotel has taken the tact that more is better, and they’re right.
There are 30 rooms and one apartment with kitchenette, all well equipped and with oversized luxury showers. Rooms are the highlight here, but the hotel also has a large and charming outdoor dining and drinking patio with gas fireplaces next to the main restaurant and bar, Crow’s Bench. This one offers a menu of global alpine dishes reflecting ski areas of different cultures, while highlighting local ingredients from the Pacific Northwest. The roof terrace has heated floors and an oversized hot tub, while all new sidewalks in the surrounding village center are also heated. The final phase to come is a new spa and wellness center, which will open this summer.
The folks who run Schweitzer are quite humble and describe the Humbird as “boutique”, ostensibly refusing to use the term “luxury”. They explained that once you arrive, hand over your belongings to the reception staff and check in, you have to park on your own in the underground garage – there is no valet – and reception is not not open 24/7 (although it’s at the condo hotel 50 steps away which can help). Despite these limitations, the Humbird is nicer than many “luxury” ski hotels I’ve stayed at, costing twice as much or more (winter rates start at under $450).
But at the end of the day, Schweitzer isn’t for everyone. It’s a low-key, laid-back spot with no European shops, limited dining options, and a decidedly mom and pop vibe. Sandpoint has a lot more fun shopping and dining options, but it’s a long enough drive that you only go there once in your stay.
On the plus side, once you leave the Humbird, it’s time to go skiing, and that’s where the resort also proved to be surprisingly impressive. Most major ski resorts are on land leased from the National Forest Service or other government agencies and are bound by paperwork. Schweitzer owns all of his land and can thin trees and undergrowth as he sees fit, and the tangible result is that they’ve turned just about every stand of forest between the trails into manicured clearings, so that the whole mountain becomes skiable, unlike just about any other I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been to just about every destination ski resort in the country. Not only does this greatly increase the effective size of the already plentiful mountain, it also increases variety, as these clearing areas are available in locations for all abilities, so there is a significant amount of otherwise rare intermediate clearings, as well as many accessible slopes. You don’t need to hike to access the good stuff here. And in a season where crowds and logistical malfunctions at ski resorts have been all over the news, there are simply no crowds, no lift lines, and on a glorious powder day, I don’t kept pinching myself as the only person on the trail. This despite joining the popular Ikon Pass program this winter (if you have one, you ski here for free).
Traditionally, Schweitzer has been a resort town, stretching as far west as Seattle and as far east as Missoula, Montana (just three hours). But with recent improvements, the industry-wide thirst for empty powder racing and the Humbird, it suddenly has national appeal. The closest major airport is Spokane, just under two hours away, with a few shuttle providers.
Pray for snow!