It’s not uncommon for the occasional skier to drive into Mount Spokane State Park after work, attach climbing skins and trek up to the mountain summit for a night-time workout and moonlit run down the alpine ski area’s groomed slopes.
But even though he’s a regular after-hours slope poacher, Steve Reynolds of Spokane was surprised a few weeks ago to find a cable running hip-high down one of the slopes.
“They were winch-cat grooming on (a ski-run named) Hour Glass,” he said. “That’s where they run a cable between two groomers so they can winch one groomer up a hill that’s too steep to go up on its own power.
“But you cannot see the cable when the groomers are far apart. That can be dangerous.”
Reynolds said people have been hiking, skiing and snowshoeing to the top of the mountain and back after dark for decades.
“It’s an established use, but I don’t know whether many people know about this hazard,” he said.
Brad McQuarrie, Mt Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park general manager, said there’s only one standard answer he can give to the issue.
“We ask people to enter the ski area only through our control points, which are our chairlifts,” he said. “That’s the only way we can warn people about conditions.”
Signs at the bottom and top of the chairlifts enable the operators to inform the public what’s going on around the mountain, he said.
When the chairlifts are closed, the ski area is essentially closed even though it’s within a state park, he said.
“We’ve been winch-cat grooming since 1989 because there’s less impact to the snow,” McQuarrie said. “Instead of pulling the snow downhill, we can groom upward and keep the snow on the steeper slopes and burn less fuel. We do this regularly on Hour Glass and Two Face and other areas depending on conditions.
“There are multiple possibilities for danger on the ski hill, not just the winch cat. Certain areas could be closed off for avalanche danger, fallen trees, downed wires or areas the Ski Patrol hasn’t been able to check out.
“I know a lot of folks are out there backcountry skiing and what not, and there are places to do that, but we ask people not to enter the concession area. We’re responsible for people in there, and we can’t keep them safe if they don’t enter through our control points.”