A few snowmobilers have been illegally venturing into the boundaries of the Mt. Spokane Ski Resort, leaving ruts and threatening skiers on the south side of the mountain.
While skiers and ski patrollers are on edge about the incidents, nobody is more disgusted than members of the Spokane Winter Knights snowmobile club.
“I don’t care whether there’s a sign or not, no snowmobiler should be so stupid to think you can ride up into a ski area,” said Mark Augustine, club president.
Club member Tom Yocum is particularly annoyed, having invested countless volunteer hours into expanding opportunities for snowmobilers in the region.
“I worked with Mt. Spokane Ski Area to get permission for the corridor (up the south face of the mountain) for snowmobilers to ride up to the summit,” Yocum said. “It took 20 years to get that corridor, so I get pretty angry when a few people want to go over into the ski area and ruin all that effort. They could shut down access to the summit.”
“This is nothing new to have snowmobilers riding up (from the groomed summit road) and veering off to play in the ski area,” said Steve Christensen, Mount Spokane State Park manager. “We’re understaffed with only three rangers. We can’t be everywhere.”
The situation has been more tense lately, said Mt. Spokane ski patroller Phoebe Duke
“About two months ago, one of our off-duty patrollers was skiing the south side and came across a snowmobiler stuck in the ungroomed alpine area,” she said. “The patroller explained that he shouldn’t be there and the guy tried to beat him up.
“Last month, I was off-duty and skiing on a route skiers take down the south side and onto the Summit Road before cutting back into B29 (ski run). I met eight different snowmobilers in there. I talked to all of them, being very reserved and polite because I know some of them have real attitudes.
“The first two groups were cool; they said they just followed somebody else’s tracks, and they left. The last group told me to go to hell. As I skied out down the road, three times they raced at me and veered off to spray snow on me. I definitely felt threatened.”
All of that south face area, including that portion of the summit road, is within the ski area boundary and not considered out of bounds even though most of it is not groomed, Duke said.
Recently, the park has requested patrolling help from the Spokane County Sheriff’s Department and state Fish and Wildlife officers.
“They’ve been writing a lot of tickets up there, mostly for registrations, but their presence makes a big difference,” Christensen said.
“They put up a lot more signs and with the extra patrolling, there are fewer tracks coming into the ski area,” Duke said. “But some are still coming in.”
Keeping signs up and readable is labor intensive on the mountain, Christensen said. Sometimes they simply disappear.
“It’s pretty frustrating,” Yocum said. “I worked on the agreement to keep snowmobile access to the Inland Empire Paper lands on the other side of the mountain. They asked us to put up signs the keep people on the trails so they wouldn’t break tops off the young trees.
“That worked for a year or so, but they didn’t patrol, so after a while tracks were going everywhere and people started ripping the signs off. I put up 22 signs myself. Last year, there were only four left.”
Meanwhile, Christensen said he’s applying for an additional grant to increase snowmobile patrols next year.