Outdoors

Sluggish economy won’t stop skiers

As the Great Recession grinds on, one gains a greater appreciation for life’s essentials: food, shelter, family … skiing and snowboarding.

Jobs are scarce. Consumer spending is in the toilet. The kitchen remodel is on indefinite hold. But Skisnowboardus Animosus is a resilient species with the instinct to adapt and thrive in adversity.

People running ski areas around here know this. Instead of fretting about the economy, Brad McQuarrie, John Eminger and Tom Chasse are looking forward to a strong season.

“People are buckling down, but they still want to get out,” said McQuarrie, general manager of Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park. “Stay and play is the theme. We’re optimistic about people sticking around. It’s going to be a good season for people coming to their local mountain.”

Eminger, president and general manager of 49 Degrees North, said the economy is likely to be a boon, rather than a boondoggle. Compared to other parts of the country, accessible mountains and low prices make it easier for skiers and riders to continue indulging their passion here.

“We need to remind ourselves just how good we have it,” he said. “When you look at regions like the Cascades, Sierras and Wasatch, skiing here is incredibly affordable. And Spokane is a great ski town. We’re lucky to have so many ski areas so close.”

This year at mountain resorts in Summit County, Colo., which includes Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Arapahoe Basin, a lift ticket costs up to $97. You’ll pay $82 at Sun Valley and $91 Canadian at Whistler.

Lift tickets at the five member resorts in Ski the Northwest Rockies (aka the Inland Northwest Ski Association) average $46. Last season’s prices are holding at Mt. Spokane, 49 Degrees North, Silver Mountain, Lookout Pass and Schweitzer.

“When I rewrote my brochure this year it was pretty easy,” Eminger said. “No price changes in the rental shop, ticket office, ski school or racing program.”

McQuarrie and Eminger said ski swap outcomes are a prime indicator of what to expect for the local ski industry.

The Mount Spokane Ski Patrol (MSSP) held its annual ski swap at the Spokane Fair and Expo Center last weekend. MSSP director Dan Edwards said business volume was about 5 percent above the $1.2 million and 18,000 items that exchanged hands during the 2008 swap.

Chasse, president and CEO of Schweitzer Mountain Resort, said weather, more than economics, would be a greater factor on the upcoming season. A weak-to-moderate El Nino that sometimes brings warmer, drier winters to these parts is raising anxiety among the faithful, but Chasse is thinking positive.

“Good snow will win out over a bad economy every time,” Chasse said. “I’m not a weather forecaster, but I’m cautiously optimistic. The last time we had an El Nino (2006-07), we were fully operational on November 28 and had a great season.”

Chasse said Schweitzer gets about 28 percent of its business from destination visitors outside the regional drive market. Lodging booked through December at Schweitzer is about 25 percent ahead of last year.

A definite answer to whether winter 2009-10 will be good for the industry will remain elusive until it gets here. Meanwhile, snow levels will fall to about 4,400 feet late today and reach 2,500 feet this weekend.

Forecasters say accumulations in the mountains could be “healthy.”

Bill Jennings can be reached at snoscene@comcast.net

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Rich Landers

Rich Landers

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