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Deal-seeking skiers think ahead

As Inland Northwest ski areas convert to mountain biking and summer operations, May is still prime time to think snow – and net deals on next year’s season passes.

All of the region’s ski resorts are offering big discounts on 2010-2011 passes:

•49 Degrees north is offering as much as 60 percent off on season tickets until June 4, plus the option to pay half now and half later.

•Mount Spokane’s current sale, including youth passes as low as $169, ends May 31.

•Schweitzer is offering savings up to $100 on season passes if purchased before May 31.

•Silver Mountain also is offering discounts for winter and summer packages.

Big discounts offered last spring helped boost skier visits in the region this past winter despite lower than normal snowfall.

“At 49 Degrees, we had the second most skier visits in a decade,” said Brad Northrup, ski area spokesman. “A lot of people had the passes they bought during the spring sale so they came up to the mountain even though the weather news wasn’t the greatest.”

Often they were pleasantly surprised, he said.

“Overall, we had really good conditions all things considered. The way things were with the economy and the weather, we did pretty darned well.”

Emphasis on selling cheap passes during spring was a factor in boosting visits last winter throughout the West.

Ski industry associations report the Pacific Northwest resorts exceeded 10-year averages for visits by 5.7 percent and Rocky Mountain resorts by 4.3 percent despite receiving 20-30 percent less snow.

Schweitzer accumulated only 177 inches of snow compared with its 300-inch average yet its skier visits increased 7.5 percent.

“Our challenge this year was battling the perception of our snowpack level,” said Schweitzer CEO Tom Chasse.

Schweitzer and many other resorts benefited from late-season snowfall enabling them to extend their seasons.