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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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The truth about vertical feet is in the skis of the beholder

“Vertical feet” is a statistical category the ski industry likes using to measure the potential of a mountain experience. Ski area marketers try to include every scrap of elevation in their total.

Some of the biggest vertical drops in North America are in our neighborhood. Jackson Hole in Wyoming, about 10 hours from here by car, has the longest continuous vertical in the U.S. at 4,139 feet. Big Sky in Montana, about eight hours away, claims 4,350 vertical feet.

But sometimes numbers lie. That’s where comes in. Ski areas compute vertical by starting with the elevation of the highest lift and subtracting the elevation of the lowest loading area. MountainVertical is a website dedicated to reporting the “true-up vertical drop” of ski areas.

True-up vertical drop, according to MountainVertical, is the “most vertical distance at a resort that can be achieved on commonly skied, lift-served, continuous fall-line runs.” At Big Sky, true-up vertical is a mere 4,016 feet.

If vertical factors in your decision to visit a ski area, MountainVertical points out things to watch for. Check the trail maps in detail to see if you really can drop from the highest to the lowest point. The website shows a map from Brian Head, Utah as an example. Brian Head’s advertised vertical is 1,690 feet, but true-up vertical is 1,135.

Beware the solitary trail that inflates vertical with nothing extra for your trouble. Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont is called out on that one, with a true-up vertical 530 feet less than the 2,610 advertised. Sunday River in Maine had its 2,340 vertical docked 700 feet because the highest and lowest points are connected by a long traverse up and down several lifts.

On, true-up vertical and elevation differential match up closely for the ski hills surrounding Spokane.

Mt. Spokane has the biggest difference between metrics. Topographically, 2,014 feet in elevation drops between the top of chair one and the bottom of chair four. Technically, you can work your way down there. But Mt. Spokane’s true-up vertical is 1,565 feet. You get that with no alibi – best done at speed, top to bottom non-stop.

At 49 Degrees North, a scant 20 feet separates topographic and true-up vertical, which is 1,875 feet. You can drop through it a number of ways. One of my favorite routes from the Chewelah Peak summit is down Silver Ridge, with a sweeping left at Silver King, straight to the Boomtown Bar.

Silver Mountain Resort touts vertical at 2,200 feet. True-up vertical registers 2,160 feet. If your thighs can handle it, get every inch by starting down Silver Belt from the top of chair two. Drop left into Rendezvous, one of the purest lines around. Cross the cat track at the bottom of chair three and continue down Lower Centennial. By the time you load on chair four, you’re glad the ride is slow to the top.

At Lookout Pass, topographic and true-up vertical match at 1,030 feet. Get the best of it on a powder day straight down the chair three lift line. Schweitzer is also completely honest at 2,400 feet – from the Lakeview Triple to the bunny hill. You can do better dropping 2,200 feet from the t-bar down Little Blue Ridge to the Outback Inn, conveniently located for the refreshments you’ll need.

Bill Jennings can be reached at
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