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Ski expansion plan nears finish line

Expanding Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park has been trapped in a painfully slow bureaucratic process. After 12 years of studies, public meetings and changes in that process, the suspense may be coming to an end.

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission approved a new master plan for Mt. Spokane State Park last summer. Next spring the commission will decide if an expansion of the ski area is included as an addendum to the plan. Its decision rests on how land proposed for expansion will be classified.

The commission is evaluating what Mt. Spokane general manager Brad McQuarrie hopes will be the final environmental study. The data was submitted to Washington State Parks a few weeks ago.

At issue is the Potential Alpine Ski Expansion Area (PASEA). A planner for the parks commission coined the term “Pasea” back in 1999 when studies began. Since then, everyone involved refers to the 850-acre area on the northwest aspect of Mt. Spokane as the “puh-say-uh.”

Land in Mt. Spokane State Park is classified several ways. “Natural Area Preserved” is the most protected. “Natural Forest Area” has fewer restrictions. “Resource/Recreation” has fewer still. “Recreation” is the classification the ski area needs to expand.

In 1999 the Pasea was classified Recreation. But the federal government came in and said the land had the potential to be classified Natural Forest Area. Because the Pasea has always been land the ski area is responsible for as part of its concession, the parks commission delayed a decision on that classification until it could evaluate a plan to develop the acreage for skiing.

Mt. Spokane 2000, the group of community leaders running the ski area as a nonprofit operation, submitted an expansion plan in 2006. It included about 400 acres of the Pasea. An old rope tow shack is still back there, plus a snowmobile corridor, cell phone towers and the foundation and parking area of the original lodge that burned down in 1952. Even so, the parks commission has spent the last four years evaluating whether the Pasea is untouched wilderness.

“That part of the Pasea had been developed before, because it had the best skiing on the mountain,” McQuarrie said. “It’s on land that was donated for a ski area long before there was a parks commission. Our biggest challenge has been trying to convince everyone this is not a pristine wilderness.”

Five years and about $500,000 in economic and environmental studies later, the parks commission is on the cusp of deciding whether it agrees.

The commission will conduct an internal review of the final study and make a staff decision Feb. 15. That decision is up for public comment from Feb. 16 to March 15. A final decision will be made on how the Pasea is classified May 19.

McQuarrie likes his chances.

“I believe the commission is going to look favorably on our plan,” he said. “Expanding terrain at Mt. Spokane by 25 percent will have a great economic impact on the community. We’re going in with a minimum alternative that leaves most of the Pasea untouched, but a lot more folks are going to be able to take advantage of it.”

Most of the developed area will be intermediate – what Mt. Spokane needs more of to be competitive. Allowing people back there would decrease the pressure on the cat track off chair three, which can become a demolition derby on a busy day.

“All the data from the latest studies show this is the right thing to do,” McQuarrie said. “I’m pretty confident we’re going to get it done.”

Bill Jennings can be reached at