What will Alterra’s acquisition of Schweitzer mean for the resort’s environmental practices and future?

Brad Smith
Reader Contributor

Like many other local skiers and riders, I was curious to see what the acquisition of Schweitzer by Alterra Mountain Company (AMC) would mean for lift tickets and season passess. Last year I bought an adult unlimited season pass for $800. The same pass jumped to $909 for the 2024-2025 season. I worry about the future of snow sports and the ability of low income and even middle-class families to be able to continue to participate. Hopefully, increases in pass prices are at least serving to lift wages for workers at the resort, who are challenged to make ends meet and find affordable housing.

I’m also interested to see what AMC’s ownership of Schweitzer will mean for the resort’s environmental policies and practices. If climate change isn’t currently at the forefront of AMC’s executive leadership, then it should be. I have been skiing at Schweitzer since I was 6 years old. I can’t remember a season quite this bad. It was alarming to see streams running through the middle of Sundance, Lower Stiles, Gypsy and other runs in late December and January. I also observed skiers and riders using mountain bike trail features for jumps and tricks, which should be buried under snow during the skiing and boarding season.

It’s encouraging that Alterra’s website lists goals to reduce carbon emissions by 50% at all of its destinations no later than 2030. AMC has also set goals to procure 100% renewable energy and achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.

Unless meaningful action is taken to reduce carbon emissions, the long-term prognosis for Schweitzer isn’t good. At 3,900 feet base elevation, the Stella Chairlift will be the first to go, followed by the new Creekside Express, Sunnyside, Cedar Park Express, Great Escape, Basin Express, Lakeview Triple, Colburn Triple and Idyle Hour T-bar. Alterra should consider developing a climate action plan specifically for Schweitzer.

AMC can also demonstrate its commitment to the environment in other ways. The development of the mountain and the village aren’t great examples of environmental stewardship and sustainability. For one, the installation of heated streets isn’t exactly in alignment with the need to reduce carbon emissions, but other developments have caused environmental impacts on the ground. 

The soils on Schweitzer Mountain are prone to erosion, and Schweitzer Creek is designated as impaired with too much sediment, as is Sand Creek, into which Schweitzer Creek flows. Special care must be taken to avoid causing landslides or sediment from running off into streams whenever new ground is broken for trails, roads, condos, lodges and parking lots. Very little was done to prevent soils from washing into Schweitzer Creek last year when the new parking lot at the bottom of the Creekside Express was underway.

What’s more, whenever development occurs at the rate we are seeing at Schweitzer, it’s important that sewer management improvements happen at the speed and scale necessary to keep pace with the growth. Until now, Schweitzer has disposed of its sewer wastewater by applying it to the land in several places near the resort, including directly adjacent to Schweitzer Creek. While the size of the application areas have expanded in recent years, it is time for the resort to consider building a sewer treatment facility that filters out pollution. The land can only absorb so much before water quality is impacted. 

Limiting the potential for negative or even deadly interactions between humans and wildlife also deserves AMC’s attention. The village has no trash collection service. Instead, residents and guests transport their garbage to a set of dumpsters next to the fire station. This site is notoriously problematic because the dumpsters are often overflowing, with trash blowing around, but also because the dumpsters are frequently raided by black bears. This situation puts people (and bears) at risk for attacks, injury or even death. 

Although there have yet to be any confirmed sightings of grizzlies at the dumpsters, it’s only a matter of time — unless Alterra and Waste Management find a solution to bear-proof the dumpsters.

Locals are always curious to know what changes are in store when the ownership of Schweitzer changes hands. One of the reasons that I live in Sandpoint is because of the opportunity that the mountain provides for recreation with my family and friends. I am also a conscious environmental steward, and I look for ways to balance my use and enjoyment of the outdoors with the impact on the environment. 

Alterra is new to the community, but its website suggests that AMC is dedicated to environmental values and practices. I am hopeful that Schweitzer will do more for the environment under its new owners, but only time will tell.

Brad Smith is the conservation director for the Idaho Conservation League.

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