Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park kicks off its 79th season as the city’s designated winter playground today. In all those decades, perhaps none have been more significant than the one just ending.
Cheney Cowles founded the Mt. Spokane Ski Club in 1931. The world’s first double chairlift was installed there in 1946. Terrain and amenities expanded until a long, slow decline began in the 1970s.
Washington State Parks granted Mt. Spokane 2000 the concession to run the ski area in the summer of 1997. This group of community leaders and passionate skiers took over a hill on the verge of ruination, with no season pass sales to fund operations.
Mt. Spokane 2000 rallied investors from the community and got the mountain back on its feet. Current Mt. Spokane general manager Brad McQuarrie showed up in 2002 to succeed Kirk Duncan in the effort to raise the ski area to industry standards.
“A lot of great work had already been done by the time I got here,” McQuarrie said. “They put in a lot of elbow grease to build pass sales and rebuild trust with the community.”
McQuarrie’s family owns and operates The Sportsman’s Cove Lodge, a remote fishing resort on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.
“I wanted to work a different season so I moved down in December of 2001,” he said. “I was working construction management in Portland when my wife told me about a resort in Spokane looking for a general manager.”
When McQuarrie visited Mt. Spokane for the first time, he was surprised to find it bigger than he expected. He was excited about its potential.
“I was pretty impressed,” he said. “I couldn’t believe Spokane had such a nice mountain so close. Most ski areas are pretty remote. It was exciting that my kids could go to public school and have a normal life. We could be part of a decent sized community and still work at a mountain.”
McQuarrie’s first couple of years in charge were tough.
“The early 2000s were just ugly as far as skier visits,” he said. “In 2004 the weather was so bad we had a 29-day season – the worst on record – which we’re kind of still recovering from.”
Since then, millions of dollars have been put back into the mountain. The improvements accomplished under McQuarrie’s tenure have enabled the community to enjoy more – and expect more – from their local ski hill.
The latest changes skiers and riders will see today include a remodeled lodge that lets in more sunlight with expanded seating. The top station of chair two has been replaced with a new building, deck and ramp. Lighting on Alison’s Way is ready for night skiing.
The most significant addition may be the new tubing hill, complete with rope tow and lighting, near the main lodge. McQuarrie said it opens as soon as safety inspectors can make the trip to certify operation.
Meanwhile, Mt. Spokane 2000 presses on. Last summer, runs were flagged in the proposed expansion area on the backside. Environmental studies for that project continue. Plans for a new lodge have been drawn up and avenues of funding are being explored. Depending on how long that takes, an expansion of the existing lodge is also being developed.
But the only thing that matters today is Mt. Spokane has opened for business, better in many ways that the season before, once again.
BACKCOUNTRY -- Here's the source of most of the area's smoke woes -- the fires in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Here's a shot I made today as I hiked south ...