Priest Lake, a crooked finger of water stretching through the Idaho panhandle, is one of the Inland Northwest’s best summer destinations, with its deep water and forested mountain surroundings. But Priest Lake attracts adventurers in winter, too.
“Because we have such good snow … we get people who come from all over,” says Eileen Kain, executive director of the Priest Lake Chamber of Commerce.
“We have over 400 miles of groomed snowmobile trails in the area, which is a big thing,” she adds. “And the trails range from really easy to really high-end stuff.”
Kain herself is more of a cross-country skier, another attribute Priest Lake offers in spades.
“[But], once every couple years, my husband and I will rent a snowmobile for a day and just go kind of play,” she says.
The conventional joys of powder sports aren’t the only events to be found around Priest Lake. Kain tells of some great offbeat local events too, like dog-sled racing and snowshoe softball, which will take place in January in a field near Millie’s Restaurant on Highway 57 in Priest River.
“There are people who have been doing this for 30 years and they wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
For those more intent on enjoying the winter wonderland than the rigor of cold-air exercise, Priest Lake offers its own take on fine food.
The restaurant at Hill’s Resort, open between Dec. 26 and Jan. 1, as well as weekends through the end of March, is one choice. The restaurant, situated with a view of Priest Lake, offers barbecued baby back ribs, huckleberry pie, cream of morel soup and others.
For classic food mixed with something a little more exotic, try Ardy’s Café in Coolin.
“My wife is from Thailand,” says Dan Ahlefeld, owner of Ardy’s Cafe. “She cooks up Thai every Friday night.”
Since the winter season is slower, however, Ahlefeld suggests calling ahead on Friday night (dinner on Fridays and Saturdays is served from 5 pm to 8 pm) to see if the Thai will be cooking.
Carolyn Deshler, whose resort is located near Coolin, loves that Priest Lake lies in the shadow of the Selkirk Mountains.
“I like the fact that we are within one mile of getting onto the trails that go up to Sundance Mountain,” Deshler, owner of the Blue Diamond Marina and Resort, says.
It’s proximity that Deshler says her guests can appreciate. The resort’s two semi-contemporary cabin spaces enjoy a 180-degree view of the lake as well the mountains.
“These units are within 13 feet of the water,” she says. “You can cross-country ski from the front door.”
Blue Diamond was built in the early 1900s as a logging truck repair center for Diamond International Corporation, according to its website. It was repurposed as a marina in the 1960s but eventually fell into disrepair. The mid-1990s brought a rebirth and renovations, and the facilities still serve as a seasonal marina when they aren’t serving as an intimate winter playland.
The cross-country and snowmobile trails will be groomed regularly starting Dec 15, Kain says.
That means your horizontally oriented snow extravaganza may begin . . . right now.
Welcome to Snowlander, Vol. III
Wow! What a November and early December this has been. While we’re less than a month into the season, many avid riders in the region are boasting double digits for their ski day totals with still many days (and months!) of winter left to go. How many do you have?
If coverage or conditions are your concern for having not clocked your first day, there’s no need to have this worry. Conditions and coverage are historically better than many can remember. All ski areas opened within a week of each other, and 100 percent of the terrain in the region is open. Many of the resorts opened earlier than they have in recent history. The rain during the last week of November actually helped the current snowpack, which is why area resorts are still boasting great coverage even without any recent snow. But keep in mind that it is still early season so remember to ski and board with care.
With the shortest day of the year almost upon us and a lingering high-pressure system, valley fog is masking the beautiful sunshiny days up in the mountains. Soon, the days will start to get longer, and we’ll be back to enjoying long afternoons full of sun.
The holiday season is in full swing and the Inland Northwest has the most epic start to the best time of the year — ski season. So what are you waiting for? Get up to the mountains and enjoy the snow, sun and laughter with fellow snow-riding enthusiasts.
Happy holidays and see you on the slopes!