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No business like snow business

Most ski areas these days, emulating the business model of mega-resorts, are on a quest for real estate money. Developers will never make millions at Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park. The benefits there are for everyone else.

Pulling into the rapidly filling parking lot on opening day last Friday, it was apparent that Mt. Spokane’s non-profit business model is working well. Bad driving conditions and bitter cold didn’t dissuade what management estimated to be 1,000 people from showing up at their earliest opportunity.

A snowstorm earlier in the week that shackled the city liberated Mt. Spokane with 24 inches of snow in 24 hours. The day was calm. A nightmarish wind chill that was forecast failed to fully materialize. Sunlight illuminated a mountain dressed in its finest white suit of clothes, made sharper by a deep blue sky.

To slide well in the extreme cold, I wiped liquid Teflon on the bases of my skis. An application wears off quickly, but it’s fast while it lasts.

Riding the chair over Two Face with Roy Jennings, my uncle and longtime ski buddy, deep untouched snow tempted us. We understood that rocks and stumps were hidden under the smooth surface. But acres of sparkling white confection is an irresistible draw. A skier ahead of us succumbed first. He was bogged down hip-deep near the top as we passed over.

At the ski patrol bump shack, high on stilts in the low coverage, we asked a patroller about skiing powder. He advised against it, but suggested a steeper pitch like Rock Slide if we must. “Sit back and keep your tips up” were the last words I heard as I skated away.

Dropping into Rock Slide, I floated on the surface for a moment. Attempting a turn, I dove to the bottom, banged on rubble and stopped. Fortunately the snow was light, the run was short, and I was able to pull out. We would have to settle for groomed runs.

Turning laps on Northwest Passage off chair two, we watched our trail-blazing compatriot as he made slow progress down Two Face. He had clicked out and was post-holing his way to the bottom by the time we decided to explore other aspects on the mountain.

We were reluctant to leave the sunshine, but skiing was better in the shadow of the backside. Racing through Lamonga Pass with the sun behind us, sparkling ice crystals fell through wisps of glowing water vapor as clouds began to form and a breeze arrived.

Some earlier snow had survived on the Ridge Run, leaving a base for the fresh powder. The consistent fall line and soft snow made it easy to find a relaxing rhythm. But the cold was getting to me. To keep my speed down and work up body heat, I made as many short turns as possible. At speed on the runout, I put my hands behind my back to keep them from freezing further.

After several rides, the chill in my hands and feet eventually crept into my core. It was time for us to seek shelter.

We weren’t alone. The Foggy Bottom Lounge was packed. But we clomped in just as a table opened right next to the stove. I unbuckled my frozen boots and nearly bear-hugged the searing cast iron. Roy fetched a pitcher of ale.

Snow began to fall. Peals of laughter punctuated the din. I thought about the joy a ski area brings to a community. It was good to be back.

Bill Jennings can be reached at