Spokane Journal of Business

Inland Northwest skier visits remain stable

Numbers equal to or better than previous strong year

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-—Photo courtesy of Silver Mountain Resort
Silver Mountain Resort, pictured here, reports that skier visits in the 2012-13 season were on par with last year.

Five Inland Northwest ski resorts report they had good to excellent skier and snowboarder attendance during the 2012-2013 ski season, despite a late start and a mid-season lull in snowstorms for most of the area's slopes.

Mt. Spokane Ski & Snowboard Park, in north Spokane County, says it recorded likely the biggest increase in skier visits, while Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation Area reports it collected a record number of skier visits.

Also showing an increase over the year-earlier season was 49 Degrees North Mountain Resort, near Chewelah.

Silver Mountain Resort, near Kellogg, Idaho, reports skier visits were on par with the year-earlier season, which was one of its strongest in recent years, and Schweitzer Mountain Resort near, Sandpoint, Idaho, which was the one of the first of the resorts to open for the 2012-2013 season, says skier visits were close to last season's record level.

Mt. Spokane ski area, about 30 miles northeast of Spokane, saw a big hike in skier visits, topping 101,000 compared with the year-earlier ski season in which the resort tallied 75,000, says Brad McQuarrie, general manager.

"Skier visits were excellent this year," McQuarrie says. "We're happy and fortunate folks were getting out and recreating even though it wasn't the best snow year."

He says Mt. Spokane's ski season started a couple weeks later than in the year-earlier season.

"As soon as we did get open, it was phenomenal through December and January and into February," he says.

McQuarrie describes the overall snow conditions, though, as average at best.

While the mountain had adequate snow, the mild late-winter weather conditions in Spokane and surrounding lower elevations may have kept snow sports off of skiers' and snowboarders' minds, as visitor numbers began to taper off, he says.

The resort, which closed April 7, employs about 280 people during the peak season, McQuarrie says.

Mt. Spokane's operations crew this week is at the Bridger Bowl ski area near Bozeman, Mont., where the resort has purchased a double chairlift. The crew is there to disassemble the chairlift and transport it back to Mt. Spokane.

The resort's plans to install the chairlift on the north side of Mount Spokane, however, are on hold while it addresses a Spokane County hearing examiner's decision earlier this month that a Spokane County-issued permit to cut timber to make room for the lift was improper.

The Lands Council, a Spokane-based environmental group, is leading the opposition to the ski area's expansion plans, and in a separate action, has appealed the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commissions' approval of a land-use classification that would allow the expansion.

The expansion project, if allowed to resume, would cost about $2 million, a portion of which already has been spent on environmental studies, McQuarrie says.

49 Degrees North

John Eminger, owner of 49 Degrees North Mountain Resort, says that ski area, which is about 60 miles north of Spokane, saw close to 90,000 skier visits this season, up from 80,000 the previous year.

The season opened with the debut of a new chairlift that enabled skiers to access 200 acres of terrain with nine new runs on Angel Peak, which is northwest of the resort's Chewelah Peak summit.

"It was very well received," Eminger says of the new lift. "I believed that helped us out."

The resort opened the day after Thanksgiving and enjoyed strong Christmas holiday traffic.

"Then it kind of stopped snowing," he says.

He described March as uninspiring. "To really get enthusiasm out there, it takes a storm or two," Eminger says.

Business picked back up toward the end of the season, he says, and the resort closed April 7 following four days of free skiing.

Eminger says he's pleased that skier numbers were up, despite the fact that Stevens County has a high unemployment rate. "That's a tough business climate to work in," he says.

During the peak season, 49 Degrees North employs 145 people; of those, a dozen employees have year-round contracts and another 10 employees have 10-month contracts.

Eminger says 49 Degrees North plans to construct infrastructure this summer for a three-story, 4,800-square-foot midmountain lodge. The resort plans to complete the lodge construction next year, he says.

He estimates the cost of the Angel Peak chairlift and planned lodge at $2 million.

Silver Mountain Resort

Silver Mountain Resort, about 70 miles east of Spokane, enjoyed a strong season, says Neal Scholey, the resort's director of marketing and sales.

Skier numbers were right at the year-earlier season level, Scholey says, although he declines to disclose specific visitor numbers.

"The season was basically solid, although it tapered off in March." he says.

The resort opened a new advanced-skier run, called Bootlegger, near Chair Four.

"It has been well received," Scholey says. "It's a nice flowing, great-powder run."

Vacation rentals at the Morning Star Lodge sold out often during the season, especially during the three spring break weeks spread out among Washington, Idaho, and Montana schools, Scholey says.

Some nonskiing families came primarily for the resort's lodging and Silver Rapids indoor water park, he says, adding that most of the nonskiing families also tried out Silver Mountain's tube runs.

"You could be on a tube in the snow and on a tube in the lazy river at the water park in the same day," he says.

For a number of years, Silver Mountain has extended the season through April by opening up on Saturdays, ski conditions and public interest permitting.

This week's Silver Saturday (April 27) coincides with the resort's annual Leadman Triathlon, an event that includes skiing, mountain biking, and running.

Summer activities include mountain biking and competitions, golf at the Galena Ridge course, and a handful of festival-type events, such as a microbrew festival.

Klamath Falls, Ore.-based Jeld-Wen Corp. owns Silver Mountain Resort, although the company has the resort up for sale, having stated it intends to focus on its core window-manufacturing business.

"It's business as usual here," Scholey says.

Lookout Pass

Although Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation Area opened for the 2012-2013 season at least two weeks later than the year-earlier season, it still tallied 66,000 skier visits, surpassing last year's record number of nearly 64,300 several days before the end of the season on April 13, says Chris "Cash" Barrett, the resort's marketing director.

"We've done really well," Barrett says.

Lookout Pass, which is about 90 miles east of Spokane off Interstate 90, draws nearly 70 percent of its skiers from the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene area, and most of the rest come from the Missoula, Mont., area, he says.

Barrett says Lookout Pass usually is the first ski area to open in the Inland Northwest, but snow came later than normal.

"This year, Schweitzer was the first to open" in North Idaho, he says.

Eventually, Lookout's snow accumulation surpassed other resorts in the region, with a peak accumulation of 325 inches, he says.

"It came in good lumps, and we had a fantastic year as far as people per day," he says.

Schweitzer Mountain Resort

Skier visits at Schweitzer Mountain Resort, about 90 miles northeast of Spokane, approached last year's record attendance, says Sean Briggs, Schweitzer's marketing director, although he declines to disclose specific visitor numbers.

Schweitzer had opened two days after Thanksgiving, and snowfall was comparatively consistent throughout the season, Briggs says.

"We had a great season with a lot of snow," he says. "December started strong and we had a lot of skier days."

Briggs says snow at Schweitzer totaled close to 300 inches.

"We had a great snowpack through the end of the season," he says. "On closing weekend, we had one of the best powder days of the season. It was a great way to go out."

The resort had replaced the drive system and chairs on its beginner chairlift. "We had a variable speed drive that made it easier for beginner skiers to load and unload," he says.

Schweitzer also replaced the electrical system on one of its high-speed quad chairlifts, helping to maximize the time skiers could spend on the slopes, he says.

Mike McLean
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Reporter Mike McLean covers real estate and construction at the Journal of Business. A multipurpose fisherman and vintage record album aficionado, Mike has worked for the Journal since 2006.

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