The Inland Northwest may not have the glitz of Aspen or Vail, the champagne powder of Utah, or the lift capacity of Tahoe.
But we’ve still got great skiing, right in our own back yard.
Skiing in our region isn’t quite like skiing anywhere else. In addition to our often spectacular scenery and generally low-key, lower-priced resorts, we’ve got some unique features that make our slopes different.
Here are a few examples:
Best “wish-you-were-there” powder
Whitewater Ski Area, near Nelson, British Columbia, regularly gets blanketed with lots of the best powder around. When the clouds lift and you look up, it’s a vision - pristine, shimmering snowfields, chutes, glades, the works.
The only problem: The lifts don’t go up there. You need telemark gear, alpine touring equipment, or - if you’re a snowboarder - snowshoes. Count on a long trek and don’t forget to check out with the ski patrol, because you’ll be heading into out-of-bounds avalanche territory if you go above the lifts.
Sure, this resort looks great in movies! Did you think you could get that kind of skiing without work, with just a mere chairlift ride?
Your alternative: Ski the powder on the runs down below with everyone else, look up every now and then, sigh and bite a knuckle.
Cheapest adrenalin rush
Red Mountain, near Rossland, British Columbia, has the kind of spine-tingling skiing that experts dream about. What’s amazing is that this no-frills resort, just a 2-1/2-hour drive from Spokane, costs so little and delivers so much skiing.
Oh, the price isn’t that unusual, at $35, but those are Canadian dollars, and the favorable exchange rate for U.S. skiers brings the price down closer to $26. Other people have to drive for days (or fly for big bucks) to get this kind of skiing terrain.
Best recycling opportunity
There’s a bright side to the beer and pop cans that often litter the runs below the chairlifts at Mount Spokane. If we all just picked up a few on each run and stuck them in a backpack, we could clean up the place, save our skis, conserve resources and maybe even make a few cents.
Better yet, if we could convince the bozos who throw these cans off the lifts to put them in a recycling bin, with maybe one at the top of the chair and one at the bottom, we could just go ski.
Best frequent-skier deal to remember next year
The great thing about Silver Mountain being a newer resort, and still trying to get established, is that it’s been offering unbelievable deals on early-purchase season passes. For $295, those who bought by Oct. 15 got a full season of skiing. Silver offered a similar deal last year and the year before.
Season pass buyers know what counts is the break-even point: how many days of skiing you’ll have to put in before you start saving over a daily lift ticket. At Silver, which features the world’s longest gondola, the break-even point is less than 10 days. That means if you ski 25 days during the season, it only costs you $11.80 per day. Silver’s regular ticket price is $31.
Best infrequent-skier deal
On the other hand, if you just want to have an occasional nice day of skiing, 49 Degrees North has a midweek (non-holiday) deal that’s hard to beat. A lift ticket at this lowkey, nicely treed resort near Chewelah is just $15 on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. And they throw in free day care for 2-year-olds on up.
Midweek skiing means you skip crowds and traffic. Now isn’t that worth wangling a day off work?
Forget the Alps. You can save the air fare, avoid the jet lag, and even speak the same language at Schweitzer Mountain Resort. The view from Schweitzer is lovely, with Lake Pend Oreille spread out at the foot of the mountain and rugged peaks in every other direction. The lake shimmers icy blue under clear skies, framed by its countless inlets and peninsulas.
There’s a short stretch of the ride up Silver Mountain’s gondola when you can see the central impound area of the Bunker Hill Superfund site. Maybe some day, if cleanup really works, the junk heap will be gone and that little desert will bloom. But it doesn’t now.
Closest accommodations to a ski hill
The newest fancy vacation homes at Schweitzer are actually built on the beginner run. This isn’t really unique, but it’s not something we’re used to around here.
It isn’t hard to imagine an out-of-control snowplower flying high into the air and landing with a giant splash in some rich tycoon’s outdoor whirlpool, or perhaps riding a flying wedge through a plate-glass view window. So let’s all stay in control. Bend those knees!
Best good-luck snow charm
Mission Ridge Ski Area near Wenatchee was the site of the crash of a B-24 Liberator Bomber in 1944. Bits of the wreckage disappeared over the years, and in 1985 the resort hung a piece of the bomber’s wing in its lodge. Seven lean snow years followed.
Then, in 1992, the resort returned the wing to the crash site, and mounted it on two steel poles at the entrance to Bomber Bowl. The legend says snow began to fall within an hour, and 1992-93 was a record snow year for Mission Ridge. They’ve had healthy snowfalls ever since. In 1994, a commemorative sign was added overlooking the crash site.
Best snow sculptures
People can do wild things with snow sculptures, but nature has been doing it longer. At The Big Mountain, near Whitefish, Mont., they call them “snow ghosts.”
They’re actually trees, but the combination of wind and heavy Montana snowfall coats the trees over and over until they become unrecognizable, abstract figures standing around the ski slopes. Some look like big, woolly, white bundles. Others extend icy, witch-like claws. They’re neat to look at, but don’t try to dance with them.
At Lookout Pass Ski Area, the kids’ learn-to-ski program is free. That’s right, free. Lookout gives away lessons for all abilities, and even has an extensive free busing program to bring youngsters up to the slopes.
The busing has been expanded in recent years, but the free ski school for kids is a tradition that goes way back. And why not? The best things in life really should be free - and when you’re a kid, knowing how to ski ranks right up there.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo