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Resorts Need Snow And Common Sense

Tue., Nov. 5, 1996

The lawn has stopped growing. Bright yellow leaves cascade in crispy clouds from the trees. Campaign signs have begun to lean, fade and fall.

It must be time to wax the skis.

Bring on the snow. We’re ready.

The Inland Northwest may not have Sun Valley’s fame or Aspen’s prices, but our four-season climate gives us, most years, a pretty darned respectable skiing season.

But ski resorts are in a challenging business, made more so by the quirkiness of weather.

This year, several of the area’s resorts are going through transition.

Near Chewelah, Wash., 49 Degrees North has changed hands. Longtime operator Denny Burmeister sold the resort to John Eminger, a friend who said Burmeister will continue to manage the facility. When the sale was announced in June, the new owner held out hope for expansion consistent with the resort’s focus on serving area families.

Silver Mountain near Kellogg also changed hands, as Von Roll AG of Switzerland sold its interest to Eagle Crest Partners of Redmond, Ore. Von Roll, which tried to groom Silver as a four-season destination resort, had to write off millions in debt.

Last week, Schweitzer Mountain Resort near Sandpoint entered receivership, a move that keeps it going and gives it time for financial reorganization. This resort, like Silver, has a spectacular setting and had invested to become a major destination.

Mt. Spokane Ski Area likewise is caught in a struggle to improve. After years of customer protests, the state Parks and Recreation Commission has decided this will be the last season for the ski hill’s longtime operator. A non-profit group, committed to investing in service and facilities, is to operate it in future years. But litigation swirls around the outcome like a thick December fog.

Perhaps the competition and financial stresses will force investors to think realistically about whether to build for Aspen’s jet-setters or for the average families who form the bulk of the Inland Northwest’s customer base. In the struggles at Silver, Schweitzer and Mt. Spokane, there may be a lesson about identifying and heeding the customer.

The region’s skiers can only wish the resorts good luck and common sense, for this business is more than a tourist attraction - it’s a valued piece of our quality of life.

Some things, the resorts control; one thing, however, they don’t: weather. According to Bob Quinn, an Eastern Washington University professor with a knack for long-range climate forecasts, we are in for early, heavy snows. If he’s right, this transitional year could equip the resorts for the future they and their customers want.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Webster/For the editorial board

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