Spokane Journal of Business

First flakes give Inland Northwest ski hills an early lift

Resort operators anticipate strong sales, plentiful powder

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-—Lookout Pass
Skiers hit the slopes at Lookout Pass last weekend. Matt Sawyer, Lookout’s director of marketing, says it’s the earliest opening he can recall.

The combination of a strong ski season last winter and an early snow fall this month has some Inland Northwest ski resort operators looking to open early. 

Already, Lookout Ski Resort on the Idaho-Montana border kicked off the season last weekend.

Matt Sawyer, Lookout’s director of marketing and sales for the resort, says it’s the earliest opening he can recall.

“Generally, we open around the third or fourth weekend of November,” says Sawyer. “But conditions were awesome, and we had a full parking lot for most of the weekend.”

While four other area resorts closest to Spokane have yet to start the ski season, most say season pass sales are strong and optimism is high for early openings.

“We’re keeping an eye on the weather,” says Dig Chrismer, marketing manager for Schweitzer Mountain Resort, north of Sandpoint, Idaho. “But if we continue to get more snow, we would love the opportunity to open early.”

Brad McQuarrie, general manager at Mt. Spokane Ski & Snowboard Park says this winter is looking like another La Niña year, which means below-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation.

“There’s a lot of excitement,” says McQuarrie, “We couldn’t ask for a better start to the season.”

Last ski season brought cold and snowy weather with several bouts of ice, following an average snowfall the year before.

Mt. Spokane

While Mt. Spokane Ski & Snowboard Park, about 30 miles north of Spokane, now has enough snow to consider opening, McQuarrie says the resort is currently waiting on lift inspections and will likely open the weekend of November 17.

“Once we have our lift inspections and staff trained in, we’ll be ready to open,” he says. “So far the weather pattern is excellent.”

McQuarrie says season pass sales have increased 10 percent this year over last, and the ski hill’s lesson programs are already booking quickly.

“Last year was a record year, and this year people have been very proactive about purchasing season passes and getting in on lessons ahead of time,” he says.

McQuarrie says the resort also saw a good turnout for its annual job fair, which was held last weekend.

“Most of our positions are filled,” he says. “We’re expecting about 300 staff for peak season this year.”

McQuarrie says this summer marked the start of the resort’s long-planned $2.5 million Red Chair ski-trail expansion, following a decision by the Washington state Supreme Court not to hear an environmental challenge to the project.

The project, which will open up 279 acres to skiers and snowboarders on the north side of Mount Spokane, includes clearing seven new ski runs, and installing a chairlift. 

While the new ski runs will be open this season, McQuarrie says there will be no lift service available, as the chairlift won’t be erected until next summer. 

“Once the season gets rolling, we’ll do more grooming and perhaps open it up for a weekend,” he says. “We just want to take our time and make sure it’s all done safely.”

Mt. Spokane has five chairlifts, 45 runs, and a vertical drop of 2,000 feet.

Full-price adult lift tickets are $58 on weekends and holidays, and $44 on midweek, non-holiday dates.

49 Degrees North

At 49 Degrees North Mountain Resort, about 60 miles north of Spokane, John Eminger, the resort’s president and owner, says the expectation is for a robust season. 

“There’s nothing like snow in the mountains and a great weather forecast,” he says. “We’re seeing really good indicators for an excellent season.”  

Eminger says the resort is getting ready for an early start by grooming trails and preparing to make snow.

“We’ve created better gladed tree skiing and done some slope maintenance,” he says. “If all goes well, there’s a good chance we could already have limited operations open this weekend (Nov. 11-12).”

Eminger says he also expects season pass sales will increase this year, with sales continuing through Nov. 15.

This year, he says, 49 Degrees North also is looking for new ways to market to the community, selling lift tickets at Costco, as well as offering discounted lift tickets with the purchase of gas at area Zip Trip stations.

“The nice thing about Spokane is it’s an outdoor-oriented city,” he says. “Each year, we get a sales boost from new residents coming in who are outdoor enthusiasts, as well as the usual seasonal visitors.”

Eminger says the resort plans to bring its staff up to about 200 for the peak season. 

The 2,325-acre ski area has seven lifts, 82 runs, and a vertical drop of 1,850 feet.

Adult lift tickets are $59 on weekends and holidays, and $49 midweek.

Silver Mountain

Silver Mountain Resort, near Kellogg, about 70 miles east of Spokane, is preparing for a slightly later opening than other area resorts, says Willy Bartlett, the resort’s marketing coordinator.

“We have a bit rockier terrain and a larger area so we usually need a bit more snow cover before opening,” he says. “But weather permitting, we should be open Thanksgiving weekend.”

Bartlett says last year was a strong season for the resort, and this year, which marks its 50th anniversary, promises more of the same.

“The forecast for this winter puts us at about 115 percent above normal snowfall, which should be great for skiing,” he says. 

Last year, Silver Mountain was purchased by Seattle-area resident Tryg Fortun, who Bartlett says has been working to improve the resort.

Bartlett says this year the resort has added a new intermediate run in the Chair 2 Basin called Klondike Express, and lengthened its snow-tubing lanes.

“We’ve done extra maintenance this year, with lots of glading in our North Face Glades area and extensive brush cutting,” he says. “We’ve also refurbished the gondola cabins and added a new donut and coffee shack at the bottom of the gondola ride.”

Bartlett says the resort also plans to reopen the Jackass Snack Shack in the Chair 4 Basin, and has added some new ski programs designed to focus on newcomers.

“We have a new sport school director who’s implementing some new packages that we hope will make these sports more accessible for beginners,” he says. 

Bartlett says this year’s season pass sales are already running ahead of last year’s, which finished at a record high.

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 $56 most days, and $61 during holiday periods.

Lookout Pass

Lookout Pass, located about 90 miles east of Spokane, just off of Interstate 90, opened for the season last weekend.

Sawyer says the resort had anticipated an early start to the season, even extending its sale of season passes into the first few days of November.

“We gave it an extra three days, as some people had a bit of trouble with online purchasing,” he says. “Season pass sales were substantially better than last year.”

Sawyer says the resort is still hiring staff and looks to total just over 300 employees for the peak season.

Work currently is underway on a new expansion to the top of Lookout’s Eagle Peak, he says. The expansion, which will include 14 new runs, will double the resort’s total acreage, and increase its vertical drop by 500 feet, to 1,650 feet total.

“This season, we do plan to have one new run open that’s part of the expansion and will connect to our existing lift structure,” Sawyer 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 $45 on weekends and holiday periods, and $42 midweek.


Chrismer says Schweitzer Mountain Resort is scheduled to open Dec. 1, but could open as early as the Friday after Thanksgiving.

“It all depends on if we can get enough natural snow, and temperatures stay perfect for creating snow,” she says. “So far, things look favorable for an earlier opening.” 

Chrismer says the resort spent most of the fall preparing trails, with a particular focus on brush cutting in its north bowl area. 

She says this also will be the first full season the resort’s Sky House lodge at the summit will be open.

“Our season pass sales are ahead of what we’d budgeted for this year,” she says.

Chrismer says the resort also had a record 1,000 applicants to its open positions this year and is expecting a staff of 600 for peak season. 

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 $79.

LeAnn Bjerken
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Reporter LeAnn Bjerken covers health care at the Journal of Business. A Minnesota native and cat lover, she enjoys beachside vacations and writing poetry. LeAnn has worked for the Journal since 2015.

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