Free Wheeling: Schweitzer Mountain Resort, Sandpoint

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Free Wheeling 2002 Pic A

Schweitzer Mountain Resort, Sandpoint

If hobbits rode mountain bikes, they'd live in North Idaho's rugged panhandle, a Tolkienesque sprawl of shadow and light, where massive granite knobs erupt from lichen-green waters. It's so unspoiled that visitors rave in whispers, index fingers pressed to their lips.

Melting spring snows at Schweitzer reveal a mossy labyrinth of mountain bike trails that accommodates every level of rider. There are brutal climbs and technical rock descents, like the exhilarating Butt Slide Rock and Moffit's Edge. Intermediate rides for mortals exist too, mixing woods, ridges and crumbling granite on swooping, leisurely rides.

Stay in the base-area village at the newly renovated Selkirk Lodge, just a few pedal strokes from the trailhead that leads to the more than 35 miles of fire road, cat tracks and challenging singletrack. In the lodge's lobby, Mojo Coyote is a convenient pit stop for some high-octane java before you clip in.

Tool past the Great Escape Quad lift on your way to the trailhead, following signs to Upper Grr (it's a growl, not a typo) and Overland trails. Because many of the mountain bike paths are nordic ski trails in winter, signage is frequent and reliable. Steer right onto Overland Trail to access a 4.5-mile loop that offers a number of options that would be considered technical for mountain goats. A rolling road section brings you to Rolling Thunder, a quick but difficult section of singletrack. Wend your way through glades of alder and spruce to a gradual climb that then plunges you down to Picnic Point. Dismount here and breathe in hackberry, rosehips and stunning lake views.

At 65 miles in length and more than 1,100 feet deep, Lake Pend d'Oreille has been used for military submarine testing since World War II. The lake and valley form part of the Purcell Trench, an ancient geological structure created by the splitting of a single mountain range into two separate ranges, now known as The Cabinets and The Selkirks. From Picnic Point, you can see both.

Rested and refueled, start back toward the village on Overland, skirting Bear Ridge and numerous game trails. Look for critters, especially during late spring and berry season. Deer, black bears, moose and cougars share the singletrack, and the names of nearby trails are apt: Moose Trot, Bear Ridge and Cougar Gulch. Ponder Butt Slide Rock, an exposed granite slab you may need a few attempts to master. Late summer riders should brake at Huckleberry Hill to pick the native berries, purple and pungent. Stay on Overland and push past the satellite dish on the 3.5-mile service road that leads back to the base area. Lunch at Thor's Pizza (the Hammer and the Crumpler rock) as you debate the afternoon conundrum: Slumber poolside or get a massage? Neither. Hammer downhill loops on the Great Escape Quad until you've rattled your fillings loose. Try Off The Top, a 3.5-mile downhill plunge that drops you into the liftline, or Moffit's Edge, a technical section of the NORBA downhill course. Known by locals as "Snakebite," Moffit's Edge slithers down glades and ski runs, traversing wide-open slopes, then diving back into deep woods in a testy mix of fall-line and off-camber side-hilling, culminating in a nice eight-foot rock drop.

When you work this hard, calories aren't an issue. Refuel with a hearty dinner of smoked salmon pesto pasta at Chimney Rock, and digest while enjoying a performance at the famous Festival At Sandpoint (past artists include Lyle Lovett and Wynton Marsalis). By 10 p.m., you'll flop into bed like a spawned-out salmon. Or one exhausted hobbit. ¿Buddy Levy

Making Tracks
Experience a Schweitzer summer as only locals know it: Sign on for the All About Adventures Green Owl Tour, a 17-mile downhill ride that takes you to Priest Lake, where beer, barbecue, a swim and a shuttle await ($45 per person; 208-263-6959; A bike-only option is a tour of The Valley Trail, offered by Schweitzer, on which riders ramble over 12 miles of resort-owned logging roads (208-263-9555; If you've always wondered whether you've got what it takes to compete, here's your chance to find out: Schweitzer invites cyclists of all ages and abilities to participate in The Twilight Mountain Bike Race Series (July 10, 17, 24, 31), hosted by local breweries. For inspiration, watch pros compete in the Idaho State Championships (July 13-14). July 6 is Family Fun Day at Schweitzer, with mountain biking, chairlift rides, wine tasting and live music. For more information, contact: 800-831-8810 or