Inland Northwest ski resort operators are anticipating a strong ski season, especially in light of long-range weather forecasts of above- average snowfall.
“The forecast is looking really good,” says Brad McQuarrie, general manager at Mt. Spokane Ski & Snowboard Park. “It’s the best forecast I’ve seen in quite a few years.”
Neal Scholey, spokesman for Silver Mountain Resort, near Kellogg, says the forecast of up to 125 percent of normal snowpack is bringing big excitement to the industry.
“We will be ready to open Nov. 25 if Mother Nature cooperates,” he says.
John Eminger, president and owner of 49 Degrees Mountain Resort, near Chewelah, says this year has the “potential to be excellent,” though he’s not counting on record skier visits.
“To get record numbers, it takes two years of very good conditions,” he says. “Last year was a rebuilding year.”
Last ski season was an average snowfall year, following a snow-drought the year before.
McQuarrie says remodeling projects are now complete at both lodges at Mt. Spokane Ski & Snowboard Park, about 30 miles north of Spokane.
The ski area also has an all new rental fleet of skis and snowboards for the upcoming season, he says.
Mt. Spokane also has invested $500,000 in slope maintenance equipment since last ski season.
“Two operators were doing slope maintenance all summer, providing a significant increase in vegetation management and trail maintenance,” McQuarrie says.
Mt. Spokane visitors should notice a smoother drive approaching the ski area.
“The state park did some major road improvements,” McQuarrie says.
Mt. Spokane will host a job fair at the main lodge Saturday morning, Nov. 5, and is looking to staff up with about 300 to 350 employees for the peak season.
Returning employees usually get hiring preference, followed by people willing to work on most any day, McQuarrie says.
He adds, however, “We do also need a significant number of people who can just work weekends.”
Mt. Spokane has five chairlifts, 45 runs, and a vertical drop of 2,000 feet.
Full-price adult lift tickets are $55 on weekends and holidays, and $41 on midweek, nonholiday dates.
49 Degrees North
At 49 Degrees North Mountain Resort, about 60 miles north of Spokane, Eminger says he plans to sign a development agreement with Stevens County early this month to move forward with a $500 million master plan to turn the resort into a destination ski community.
The development agreement would include Alpine Glades, a 50-acre, 190-lot mixed-use development, near the base of the Sunrise Quad Chairlift. Alpine Glades will be the first of three subdivisions in the overall master plan for 320 acres of private land surrounded by the ski area, which is mostly on U.S. Forest Service land.
“We should have the final plat at the end of November,” he says. “Then we can sell land.”
Meantime, the resort currently is constructing an eight-unit condominium building, a five-unit townhome-type structure, and a large single-family home.
Eminger says the condominiums and most of the townhome units are reserved. He expects the condos will be ready for occupancy in January and the townhomes will be ready in March. Vandervert Construction Inc., of Spokane, is constructing the multiunit structures.
The resort also has extended and paved 1.25 miles of roadway into the ski area and constructed a skier access tunnel under the road.
Two large yurts with a big deck have transformed the base of the Sunrise Quad chairlift, Eminger says.
One yurt is the resort’s Discovery Center, which displays the master plan. The other yurt is home to Cy’s Café.
Even with a limited menu, Eminger says food and beverage sales last year were stronger than expected at Cy’s Café.
“We totally underestimated the magnitude of use,” he says.
The resort has added three gender-neutral bathrooms near the base of the Sunrise Quad chairlift for the upcoming season.
Eminger estimates the resort will staff up to about 185 employees during the season.
Season pass sales are up over last year and the year before, he says, adding, “It’s like there’s pent-up demand.”
Even the ski shops are seeing a resurgence in skier interest, he asserts.
The 2,325-acre ski area has seven lifts, 82 runs, and a vertical drop of 1,850 feet.
Adult lift tickets are $56 on weekends and holidays, and $49 midweek.
Silver Mountain Resort, near Kellogg, about 70 miles east of Spokane, was purchased last month by Seattle-area resident Tryg Fortun, who plans to announce improvements at a later date, says resort spokesman Scholey.
For this season, though, not a lot of big changes are planned, he says.
“Crews been out doing a lot of brush cutting and grooming so we can open more terrain earlier in the season,” Scholey says.
Silver Mountain will reopen the Mountain Snack Shack on Chair 4, so skiers and boarders won’t have to leave the slopes if they want to eat.
The resort has expanded its operations to be open every day from Dec. 16 through April 9.
“Seven-day skiing is back,” Scholey says.
Season pass sales have been strong and remain open through Monday, Nov. 7, at Silver Mountain, he says.
Weekend lodging is selling out at the resort, so guests should book early, he claims.
Silver Rapids Water Park is helping attract more visitors throughout the season, Scholey says. Entry to the water park is included in the resort’s lodging.
The 1,600-acre Silver Mountain Resort has 74 runs, two terrain parks, and a vertical drop of 2,200 feet. In addition to its famous gondola, Silver Mountain has five chair lifts on the ski hill and a conveyer lift on its tubing hill.
Adult full-day lift tickets are $55 most days, and $60 during holiday periods.
Phil Edholm, president and CEO of Lookout Pass Ski Resort, says he’s anticipating a bit colder temps with above-average snowfall during the upcoming season.
“It looks especially favorable for our neck of the woods,” Edholm asserts.
Lookout will celebrate its 75th year of offering a free ski school for children.
“It’s the longest-running program of its type that we know of that provides free ski lessons for youth,” he says.
The free school offers one-hour ski lessons for youths ages 6-17 and snowboarding lessons for youths ages 7-17 every Saturday morning from Jan. 7 through March 11. Preregistration is required.
Edholm says Lookout Pass had 80 applicants at its recent job fair, and the ski area is looking to bring its staff up to 100 to 120 employees.
“We still need to fill a lot of positions,” he says. “We’re looking for lift operators, food-service employees, and rental shop technicians.”
Edholm says summer season pass sales are strong.
“We’re about 30 percent ahead of last year in season pass sales,” he says.
Early in the season, the resort will be open Thursdays through Mondays. In January and February, however, Lookout will bring back Powder Wednesdays and be open six days a week.
Lookout Pass has three double-chair lifts, a rope tow, 34 named runs, and a vertical drop of 1,150 feet.
Adult lift prices are $44 on weekends and holiday periods, and $39 midweek.
Schweitzer Mountain Resort will open Nov. 25, snow conditions permitting, says Dig Chrismer, marketing manager for the resort near Sandpoint, about 90 miles northeast of Spokane.
Chrismer says Schweitzer also has scheduled a mid-December grand opening of its $3.8 million lodge at the summit of the Great Escape quad lift.
The 9,000-square-foot lodge will offer new dining and lounge venues with a full-service restaurant and bar.
The lodge also will have a cafeteria, event space, and a new home for Schweitzer’s ski patrol dispatch.
Schweitzer also has invested more than $900,000 in capital improvements, including a new food and beverage technology system, upgrades to its ski rental fleet, and the purchase of a Prinoth winch cat for steep-slope grooming.
The resort anticipates having 550 employees, with the potential to hire more around the Christmas holidays, Chrismer says.
The 2,900-acre ski area has three terrain parks, 92 runs, and a vertical drop of 2,400 feet.
Adult full-day lift tickets are $77.
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