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Resorts closing books on powderful season

A snowboarder hits the lifts at Schweitzer Mountain on Wednesday, taking advantage of the spring snow that hit the Inland Northwest. (Kathy Plonka)
A snowboarder hits the lifts at Schweitzer Mountain on Wednesday, taking advantage of the spring snow that hit the Inland Northwest. (Kathy Plonka)

Ample snowfall kept lifts running steadily at region’s five ski areas

The Inland Northwest’s five ski resorts will end regular operations Sunday, bidding farewell to a season that delivered above-average snowfall and increased business from skiers and snowboarders.

“It’s been powder day after powder day after powder day,” said Sean Briggs, spokesman for Schweitzer Mountain Resort in Sandpoint, which still has more than 14 feet of snow on its peaks.

Despite the planned Sunday closure of the five resorts, Silver Mountain in Kellogg will continue to operate on Saturdays through April, and possibly longer, depending on interest.

The regional ski areas that keep track of total snow accumulation reported 20 percent to 30 percent more snow this season than an average year. As of Wednesday, Lookout Pass on the Montana/Idaho border had about 16 feet of snow on top; 49 Degrees North in Chewelah had more than 17 feet; Silver had about 12 feet; and Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park had about 11  1/2 feet.

The Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association reported record skier visits in December, said Mt. Spokane General Manager Brad McQuarrie, who said that matched the “phenomenal” activity at the Spokane resort.

Resort officials reported increased revenues, saying people seemed to be opening their pocketbooks a little wider. At Schweitzer, although skier visits were on par with last year, revenues were up in most retail operations, including equipment rentals, Briggs said.

“The economy might not be any better, but it’s not any worse,” said Brad Northrup, spokesman for 49 Degrees North, which is offering free skiing all week until Sunday’s closing, in keeping with tradition. However, he said, “I think a lot of people’s lives have stabilized.”

Officials at Silver and at Mt. Spokane said skier visits at their resorts had surpassed all of last season by January. At Silver, spokesman John Williams said people are spending more on the mountain but still finding ways to be frugal. For example, he said, more visitors to the resort’s condos brought their own groceries and cooked in-house instead of going out to eat.

With so much snow remaining on the mountain, resorts have been fielding questions from some diehards about why they don’t stay open. But resort officials say only the most enthusiastic skiers and snowboarders, most of whom are season pass holders, show up beyond mid-April when recreationalists’ thoughts turn to biking and golf. Though there’s still plenty of snow, resorts have to gamble on the weather and usually can’t make enough money to justify the extended season, they said.

Silver Mountain, however, will take all comers for “Silver Saturdays” – as long as people continue to show up. The latest day ever was May 17 in the late 1990s, Williams said.

“We got a foot overnight last night,” Williams said Wednesday. “It’s 25 degrees. If we can keep people interested, we’ll keep rolling.”