So what if there’s only a foot of packed snow at the bottom of the hill at 49 Degrees North?
“The skiing has been good,” said veteran downhiller Bill Holcomb.
A year ago at this time, 4 feet of snow was piled around the region’s ski lodges. This year, every inch counts.
Some places still haven’t gotten their snow yet. Mt. Spokane Ski Area and Ski Bluewood near Dayton have yet to open because of thin snowpacks.
“The law of averages will get you,” said Gary Deaver, director of the Ski Patrol at 49 Degrees North near Chewelah.
While the snow isn’t deep, the resort is making the best of what it has. The mountain has few big outcroppings, so a foot of packed snow covers a lot of the terrain, especially the groomed lower slopes.
“You only ski on the top inch,” said Denny Burmeister, resort manager.
A lot of skiers are finding that out. At 49 Degrees North, a record turnout of 4,800 skiers - many of them frustrated Mt. Spokane fans - showed up over the three-day New Year’s weekend. An estimated 1,800 downhillers were reported last Saturday.
Even though the resort opened more than two weeks late, those kinds of crowds can turn a bad season into a profitable one in just a few weeks, Burmeister said.
“We are catching up,” he said. “It really boils down to what kind of January and February we have.”
The Stevens County resort has a group of faithful who’ve skied the mountain for years. One of those is Holcomb, who coaches the Mity Mites ski team for grade-school children. He said he likes the family atmosphere, especially on weekdays.
His 72-year-old father, Bill Holcomb Sr., has been skiing 49 Degrees North since it opened in 1972. He belongs to a group of skiing seniors who make the resort a kind of winter home.
“You’re out in the open air, and it’s just kind of exhilarating,” he said.
“You get out here skiing and you forget about all your worries you might have back in Spokane.”
Ski Patrol member Jan Rogers of Chewelah was making her first ski trip of the winter Friday.
“It feels great. The snow is really a lot better than I thought it would be. It’s an excellent base for more snow,” she said.
Rogers got new skis for Christmas but took her old skis on last week’s outing because she was afraid the new ones would get scarred on sticks and rocks.
After a couple of runs, she wished she’d brought her new ones along.
Inside the lodge, bartender Carrol Harlan said people like the smallish resort because it usually has short lift lines.
Still, visitors from far-off places are discovering those advantages.
“In the last two weeks I’ve served people from Switzerland, France, Australia and Guam,” Harlan said.
Buck Gossett, a farmer from Harrington, Wash., said he doesn’t mind the two-hour drive to the resort. “This is one of the better little ski resorts around,” he said.
This is a man who spends much of his time circling his wheat fields in a tractor. Winter is when he takes time off.
“It’s just nice to get away from the flat land,” he said.
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