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Idaho Panhandle avalanche expert sizes up current conditions

WINTER SPORTS — The Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center will begin issuing regular avalanche advisories on Friday mornings beginning Dec. 16, said Kevin Davis, Forest Service hydro tech in Sandpoint.

The center is working on a new website with information that will be available to smartphones.

Meantime, read on for Davis’s observations on current conditions for winter backcountry travelers.

Area Ski Slopes Opening Early

Lines were 10 deep at the ticket window and every chair was full as Lookout Pass opened for skiing and snowboarding Friday morning, maintaining its tradition of being first among the Inland Northwest’s five resorts to launch the season. “I’m here to get my shred on,” said Tanner Puyleart, 22, a snowboarder who came up from Coeur d’Alene with three friends, all North Idaho College students. “This is one of the best first days I’ve seen in a long time and I’ve been snowboarding 16 years,” said his friend, Jeff Elder, 26. Saturday, two other Inland Northwest ski areas will join Lookout in opening part of their terrain – Schweitzer Mountain Resort in Sandpoint and 49 Degrees North in Chewelah. Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park and Silver Mountain Resort in Kellogg plan to open next Friday. That means all the resorts will be open to take in lucrative holiday-season revenue/Alison Boggs, SR. More here. (Kathy Plonka's SR photo: Skiers and snowboarders pack the lift during opening day at Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation on the Idaho/Montana border Friday)

Question: Do you play in the snow much?

49 Degrees North joins bandwagon; chairlifts to open Saturday

WINTER SPORTS — Officials from 49 Degrees North ski area have just announced that a big dump of snow in the past 48 hours will allow them to open chairlifts and start their season on Saturday.

Schweitzer Mountain Resort and Lookout Pass also will be open

Schweitzer will open Saturday; Lookout Pass opened today.

Here's the word received from 49 Degrees North, slightly revised from what the resort sent earlier today:

OPENING DAY IS SATURDAY! 16 inches of new snow in the past 48 hours with more on the way today.

The mountain will be open Saturday through Tuesday from 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Chairs 1,2,3,5 will be running with access to hundreds of snow covered acres.

Lift tickets will be $40 for everyone 7 years and older on SATURDAY.

We will close Wednesday and reopen again Thursday for Thanksgiving Weekend. Due to early season conditions, we advise skiers and riders to stay on the groomed terrain.

Northwest Avalanche Center begins daily forecasting

WINTER SPORTSThe Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center  began daily avalanche forecasting this week, and the season has started with a bang.

An avalanche watch went into effect last night as new snow has piled up in the Cascades and Olympics over the past few days, and more is on the way.

NWAC produces daily mountain weather and avalanche forecasts for the Olympics and Cascade Mountains from Mt Baker to Mt Hood. Backcountry recreationists and those crossing the mountain passes are encouraged to check the avalanche forecast before heading out into the mountains in the winter.

In the Inland Northwest, check the Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center.

Banff Mountain Film Festvial starts three-day run at the Bing

ADVENTURE FILMS — Adventure, humor, awareness and awe, plus a   good dose of pucker factor, are coming to   Spokane this weekend in a road show of top outdoor adventure films.

And if you don't already have tickets, you may be out of luck.

The cream of the crop from the 31st annual Banff Mountain Film Festival will be traveling from Alberta to The Bing Crosby Theater tonight through Sunday.

But tickets are sold out through TicketsWest.  Call the Mountain Gear Retail Store, 325-9000, to see if any tickets are left for this popular annual event.

The World Tour shows will take the audience to extremes, from ascending to one of the coldest places on earth to rappelling into the hottest place – to take a sample of molten lava from the bowels of a volcano.

The films feature all sorts of outdoor pursuits, including climbing, wildlife, pedaling and paddling.

See above for the always popular festival film clips compiled into the exciting World Tour into segment.

Then click here for details about this year's festival as well as links for clips on many of the top films.

Schweitzer opens lifts Saturday, day after Lookout Pass

WINTER SPORTSSchweitzer Mountain Resort announced today that it will open for the season on Saturday, the earliest opening for the resort since 1984.

About 20 inches of snow was reported at the resort this morning. That combined with the work of a snowmaking system will allow two chair lifts to open.

Reduced prices will be in effect this weekend and mountain parking will be free.

Schweitzer joins Lookout Pass ski area, which announced that it will open Friday.

Mt. Spokane Ski & Snowboard Park has announced on its website that it will open on Dec. 3.

Silver Mountain Resort and 49 Degrees North have not set dates for opening.

Skier Jamie Pierre was hot model before avalanche death

EXTREME SKIING — This short video show's an easy day of cliff skiing for Jamie Pierre, the Montana skier and ski-film star who died in an avalanche on Sunday.

The video is fun to watch. Basically it's a commercial for the various ways Go-Pro video cameras can be attached to a skier. And they found a guy who could do it with ease.

Ski-hucking record holder is West’s first avalanche victim of season

BACKCOUNTRY SKIING — Professional skier Matthew Jamie Pierre died in an avalanche he triggered while snowboarding at the unopened Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort Sunday afternoon.

Pierre, 38, of Big Sky, Mont., was snowboarding with a friend in the South Chute area when the avalanche swept him off a cliff, said Unified Police Department spokesman Lt. Justin Hoyal.

The area where the two were snowboarding would be considered within the boundaries of the resort if it were open, Hoyal said. But until the resort opens, no avalanche control work is being done.

Pierre appeared in numerous Warren Miller films and in 2006 set a world-record cliff jump on video at Wyoming’s Grand Targhee Resort by dropping 245 vertical feet.

“It wasn’t some yahoo stunt,” Pierre told The Associated Press after setting the record. “I chose to do it so it would open up doors so I could witness my faith in Christianity.”

Powder magazine has published this look at Pierre's career.

Lookout Pass plans to open lifts for skiing Friday

SKI RESORTS — The weekend storm dumped 21 inches of new snow on the Montana-Idaho border, giving Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area the jumpstart it needs to start operating its lifts and open for the season at reduced rates starting Friday (Nov. 18).

Lookout is the first of the area's ski resorts to announce an opening date.

The majority of the front side of the mountain will be open with top-to-bottom skiing off Chair 1 with a minimum of 10 runs, the resort announced this morning. The beginner rope-tow will also operate.

“Our groomers are busy packing down the weekend snowfall and conditions should continue to improve throughout the week,” said Phil Edholm, President and CEO of Lookout Pass. “We anticipate open powder, packed powder and freshly tilled corduroy on Friday.”

Reduced lift ticket rates will be in effect. Prices will be posted on skilookout.com prior to Friday’s opening. Additional lifts and terrain will open as soon as conditions allow.

Some are calling this the best-ever ski movie

All.I.Can. Teaser 2 from Sherpas Cinema on Vimeo.

ADVENTURE FILMS — Voted best full-lenght feature film at the recent Banff Mountain Film Festival, All.I.Can. takes ski movies to another level.

Here's a mini-review from Spokane Mountaineer Steve Reynolds:

“All.I.Can” just released, some already saying the best ski movie ever. With a message much larger than skiing, it also sets new standards in outdoor cinematography and movie-making. The 2 year-effort for this is understandable. From the same makers of the best avalanche educational video available, “The Fine Line.” 

Because it's a feature-length film, it may not be in the lineup of about 15 films to show in Spokane this weekend for the World Tour of Banff films at the Bing Crosby Theater.  

But I'll keep you posted.

Winter Sports Kickoff at REI on Saturday

WINTER SPORTS —  Pick up season lift passes for your favorite mountains, talk to vendors, enter to win outdoors gear and get free info on outside in the winter on Saturday (Nov. 12) at the annual Winter Sports Kickoff, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. at REI, 1125 N. Monroe St.

Ski resort chain offers guarantee for bad skiing days

DOWNHILL SKIING – Tired of paying big money for bad skiing? A condominium and home-rental company is offering a fix.

ResortQuest, which has properties in Colorado, Utah and Idaho, is offering clients a snow guarantee that allows guests to move to one of its other resort destinations at no extra charge in the event of less-than-favorable snow.

The resorts involved include Aspen, Breckenridge, Keystone and Steamboat in Colorado, Sun Valley in Idaho and Park City in Utah.

Resort proposes putting powder days in spotlight

SKIINGWhitefish Mountain Resort is proposing putting up beacons in downtown Whitefish to signal skiers when there are ideal conditions at Big Mountain.

The Missoulian reports resort marketing director Nick Polumbus presented the idea to the Whitefish City Council.

Under the proposal, a pair of beacons would be installed on the Great Northern Brewing Co., the tallest building in downtown Whitefish. A blue LED light would flash on days when the summit received at least 6 inches of snow overnight and an amber light would flash on inversion days, when the summit is above the clouds. The beacon would only be on between 8 a.m. and noon.

Polumbus says the resort had three inversion days last season and 18 days in which it received more than 6 inches of snow.

Are You Ready To Ski?

Ski Patrol members Dick Zollars and Dallas Ward, center, unload merchandise on Thursday at Kootenai County Fairgrounds in preparation for the 13th annual Winter Swap hosted by Lookout Pass Ski Patrol and Silver Mountain Ski Patrol. The event happened Saturday. (SR photo: Kathy Plonka)

Question: Are you ready for ski season?

Skiers already making tracks in Canada’s Selkirks

SKIING — Eat your heart out, backcountry skiers. 

The people doing the early Nov. 1 snow surveys on the Durrand Glacier in the Canadian Selkirks found plenty of snow — and it looks like they haven't lost their form for turns in the months off since last season.

Good things to come!

And to further help  you get in the mood, check out the Winter Wildlands Backcountry Film Festival set for Nov. 11 at Gonzaga U. 

Panhandle Nordic Club to consider Fourth of July trails

CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING — The Panhandle Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Club will discuss what needs to be done to continue developing and grooming the ski trails at Fourth of July Pass when it meets for this week.

The club's first meeting of the season will start at 7 p.m. Tuesday (Nov. 1) in the U.S. Forest Service Fernan Ranger Station (around the back and down stairs) at 2502 E. Sherman, Coeur d'Alene.

All interested persons are welcome! 

Senate approves allowing ski areas to develop offseason activities

NATIONAL FORESTS — A proposal that would allow ski areas to potentially expand activities to biking, zip lines and rope courses — legislation that likely would create jobs in mountain towns — passed the U.S. Senate late Tuesday and is likely to be signed quickly by President Obama.

The measure passed unanimously in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The proposed law would allow ski areas to apply to use national-forest land for activities in the spring, summer and fall. Though some areas already boast summertime activities on nearby private land, this bill would allow areas to apply to build whole summer activity parks on public land with National Forest Service approval.

Read more from the Denver Post.

Wildlife biologists scope out Mt. Spokane ski runs

SKIING — Washington Fish and Wildlife Deparment biologists recently hiked through the sites on Mount Spokane where the State Parks Commission approved  new ski runs for the expansion of the Mt. Spokake Ski and Snowboard Park.

The WDFW formally opposed the expansion of the new runs on the back side of the mountain because of their potential impact on wildlife habitat.

Indeed, Howard Ferguson, district wildlife biologist, reported the group found several of the runs as currently planned will require logging in and around wetlands, old growth and perennial streams. Extensive landscaping and backfilling will also be needed. 

“We saw a bull moose and also found a lot of moose scat, wallows and beds scattered through out the area,” he said.

The biologists will make a report with suggested areas the ski area managers should avoid and evaluate mitigation for potential impacts.

Work on clearing the new runs is likely to begin in 2012, ski area officials say.

REI’s ‘Diva Night’ focuses on getting women active outdoors

WOMEN OUTDOORS — The Spokane REI store is devoting an evening to providing women with information on programs and events designed especially for getting women active in outdoor activities.

Diva Night is set for Oct. 20 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at 1125 N. Monroe.   That's a week a way, but the first 30 women to pre-register for Diva Night will receive a complimentary gift bag of fun prizes!

Topics to be covered range from  health and wellness to camp cooking, backpacking, climbing and more.

 Participating groups include the Susan G. Komen Foundation, The Souper Bowl, Emde Sports, Belles & Baskets, Gals Get Going, the YWCA, Jazzercise, Fitness Center, Rossignol, Superfeet and Moving Comfort, Petzl, Columbia, Black Diamond, Asics and ZipFizz and Girl Scouts.

The REI climbing wall will be open for women to try out.

Would-be Tamarack Resort rescuer faces financial questions, AP reports

A would-be buyer of Tamarack Resort in Idaho is the subject of new questions, as AP reporter John Miller reports that Matthew Hutcheson is being investigated by the U.S. Department of Labor, plus faces liens on his home plus bad checks and a former employee's lawsuit totaling $350,000. Click below for Miller's full report.

Tamarack homeowners work to buy, open ski lifts

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Tamarack Resort homeowners want to buy two ski lifts that Bank of America has been trying to tear out. Tamarack Municipal Association director Tim Flaherty told The Associated Press on Tuesday he's been in discussions with the bank. Bank of America was stiffed on the lifts by Tamarack majority owner Jean-Pierre Boespflug, who disappeared this year when the bank sought $4 million. Even with Boespflug on the lam, Flaherty says he's also working to open the ski resort for a second straight year. Tamarack Municipal Association ran a limited season last year on a $1 million budget, earning a small profit. Flaherty is now in talks with Idaho over another sublease to 2,100 acres of public land where the ski runs are located, in advance of a Dec. 15 opening.

Ski season’s greetings: Colorado resort opening Saturday

SKIING — Wolf Creek Ski Area near Pagosa Springs in southwest Colorado says it plans to open for skiing Saturday and Sunday, after a storm left 3 feet of snow.

Ski area officials will probably decide Saturday whether to keep going daily for the rest of the season.

This is the earliest Wolf Creek has offered skiing.

Loveland was the first ski area to start the season in Colorado last year when it opened for daily operations Oct. 24.

Mt. Spokane Ski Patrol gearing up for Ski Swap


SKIING — Start taking inventory on what you need to acquire and swap for the ski season: The 47th annual Mt. Spokane Ski Patrol Ski SWAP is set for Oct. 28-30.

The swap is set to expand into another bay at the Spokane Fair and Expo Center to offer more room.

Read on for more details.

Long-range weather predictions spell good news for NW skiers, river runners

La Niña, which contributed to extreme weather around the globe during the first half of 2011, has re-emerged in the tropical Pacific Ocean and is forecast to gradually strengthen and continue into winter. Forecasters with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center have upgraded last month’s La Niña Watch to a La Niña Advisory.

NOAA will issue its official winter outlook in mid-October, but La Niña winters often see drier than normal conditions across the southern tier of the United States and wetter than normal conditions in the Pacific Northwest and Ohio Valley.

“This means drought is likely to continue in the drought-stricken states of Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center. “La Niña also often brings colder winters to the Pacific Northwest and the northern Plains, and warmer temperatures to the southern states.”

Afghanistan soldier mourned by 49 Degrees North Ski Patrol

SKIING — He was far more than a soldier, of course.

Among other things, Staff Sgt. Wyatt A. Goldsmith of Colville was a Green Beret and a ski patroller at 49 Degrees North Mountain Resort.

Goldsmith, a medical sergeant with the 3rd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne),  was killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack by insurgents in Helman province, Afghanistan, according to The Spokesman-Review's front page story today. 

A longtime member of the 49 Degrees North Ski Patrol, Goldsmith is remembered as someone who was always happy to be in the mountains when not serving his country. 

“Whenever Wyatt was on leave, he would be up here on the mountain.” said Brad Northrup, resort spokesman. “Every time I saw him on the slopes, he had a huge grin on his face.  He really loved skiing.”

His military awards include Bronze Star Medal with “V” Device, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal (2nd Award), Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghan Campaign Medal with one campaign star, Iraqi Campaign Medal with two campaign stars, Global War on Terrorism Medal, Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, NATO Medal, Parachutist Badge, Military Freefall Parachutist Badge, Special Forces Tab and Combat Infantryman Badge.

He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, and the Meritorious Service Medal.

And he loved to ski.

Crystal Mountain’s ski season finally coming to end

SKIING — Washington's Crystal Mountain ski resort near Mount Rainier says its ski season will end Saturday, nearly nine months after it opened in November.

The resort (see map) says the longest season in its 48-year history was made possible by record-breaking snowfall and the new Mount Rainier Gondola.

The resort measured 612 inches of snow — 51 feet — from November to June.  The previous record at Crystal Mountain was 592 inches in the 1998-99 season.

Lookout Pass ski expansion eyed by backcountry skiers

SKIING — The Phase1 plans for the proposed expansion of Lookout Pass Ski Area is being watched by the Stevens Peak Backcountry Coalition.   Here's the group's latest update, and a map.

In a related topic, the coalition posts this update on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests response to a request for a comprehensive winter plan.

Two Tamarack lifts targeted for removal, neither was used this season

Two ski lifts that weren't used this past season at Tamarack Resort are targeted for removal by Bank of America's leasing division after the bankrupt ski resort near Donnelly defaulted on payments; the bank is filing paperwork with the state to remove the two lifts, the AP reports; they're partly on state land that was leased for the resort. The two are a transport lift for homeowners, and a high-speed chairlift accessing intermediate and advanced terrain on the resort's northern boundary; their removal could hurt chances of reviving the resort. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Schweitzer opening summer season with free lift rides — and snow

MOUNTAIN RESORTSSchweitzer Mountain Resort will open its summer season on Saturday with food, outdoor games and activities, food, live music and FREE chair lift rides.

Normally, hikers and mountain bikers would take advantage of this summer-opening special in conditions you might expect in the top photo.

But this year the resort's upper slopes are still covered with snow patches and the biking trails are snow-clogged or muddy, as you can see from the photo at left, snapped Tuesday by Sean Briggs, showing the resort's outdoor climbing wall, patchy snow on the slopes and a waterfall draining the mountain.

Read on for details about the weekend — and a look at what the resort's summer season slopes will look like when summer catches up with the late spring.

Mt. Bachelor opening for summer skiing

 SKIINGMt. Bachelor ski area near Bend, Ore., will open for summer skiing and snowboarding on July 1 with expanded holiday opportunities July 2-July 4 including intermediate and advanced skiing from the summit, snow and weather conditions permitting.

Mt. Bachelor will be open for skiing 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tickets: $30 for all ages.

The first 250 skiers and snowboarders purchasing tickets each day will receive a commemorative t-shirt celebrating skiing and snowboarding over the July 4th Holiday.