Warm weather and a lack of snow have forced Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park to suspend operations this week while crews on snowcats try to move enough existing snow to reopen runs by the weekend.
The announcement Tuesday came after mild temperatures, wind and rain have eaten away at what has been a subpar snowpack across the Inland Northwest. Temperatures on the mountain were in the upper 30s on Tuesday.
“It’s been coming for a while,” said Brad McQuarrie, general manager of Mount Spokane 2000, the nonprofit organization that runs the park.
The National Weather Service said it appears more winterlike temperatures could arrive by Monday along with a chance of snow showers on the mountain.
If the park remains closed through the weekend, it could mean the loss of work for some 200 people who run the lifts, give the lessons and provide lodge services.
McQuarrie said that despite the poor snowpack, the ski area had good attendance this season. Two weekends ago, the park had one of its biggest turnouts ever, he said.
But for now, the operators of the park’s six cats “have run out of snow,” he said.
They peeled away snow from the Chair 4 area, closing part of the mountain there and pushing the snow to the more centrally located runs. The same tactic was used along Chair 1, he said.
In some cases, the crews have pushed the snow more than a quarter-mile to cover areas with lean coverage, he said. The work has increased operating costs.
Mild overnight temperatures have softened the snowpack so much in recent days that the snowcats are sinking down to dirt in some places, stopping their progress.
McQuarrie said he has been having his cat drivers start work well after midnight hoping overnight temperatures would turn the snow cold enough for them to keep moving. Colder weather, even without new snow, will help get the area reopened, he said.
The last time the ski area struggled with a snow-challenged season of this magnitude was in 2004-05, McQuarrie said.
He said the park builds its budget every year with a contingency for a bad snow season.
An announcement from the staff at Mt. Spokane indicated that safety was a consideration in suspending operations.
The park reported 6 inches of snow at the lodge and 42 inches at the summit on Tuesday.
The mountain had been open Wednesdays through Sundays with night skiing Wednesdays through Saturdays.
In addition, the schedule called for the mountain to be open on Presidents Day.
McQuarrie said he is optimistic.
“Right now, we need more snow,” he said. “It will come.”
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