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Saturday, March 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

2016 Ski Preview: Nearby Mt. Spokane provides plenty of bang for your buck

By Bill Jennings Correspondent

Mount Spokane’s snow-capped peak looks close enough to touch the morning after a winter storm. The mountain’s proximity allows for powder turns in the morning and work in the afternoon – if you can get away with such things. The short drive also makes spending an entire day there with the family easier. But Mt. Spokane Ski & Snowboard Park has a lot more to offer than convenience.

At its best, the variety of terrain – both in and out of bounds – creates the effect of a big mountain in a small package. While a proposed expansion of lift-serviced terrain has inspired passions and headlines over the years, mountain management continues to quietly invest millions of dollars to improve the guest experience.

Add the promise of an above-average snowfall this season, courtesy of the La Nina climate phenomenon, and the skiing and riding at Mt. Spokane could be as good as it has ever been.

“It’s looking good and we’re definitely gearing up for a big one,” said Brad McQuarrie, general manager of the ski area. “It’s already snowed and everybody is stoked. We’re coming off a great season and we’ve been building on that all through the summer to have another great year.”

On the slopes, you should notice a significant improvement in early-season conditions. The ski area’s new vegetation management equipment has allowed it to mow down tall stands of alder that had grown in places out of reach of the older machinery. Certain large, problematic rocks have also been removed. A new variable-frequency drive was installed on Chair One.

If you frequent Mt. Spokane, you know the mountain has had mechanical challenges with the older drives. They tend to overheat, especially when the chair is starting and stopping a lot for small children and lesson programs. A variable frequency drive works like the transformer for an old HO gauge train. It can be dialed down to turn very slowly without stopping, before immediately accelerating to normal speed.

“We did the conversion to Chair Three a few years ago and it made a world of difference for us from an operational standpoint,” McQuarrie said. “I don’t know if the average guest would be able to tell, but if you’re riding Chair One a lot you’re going to notice better efficiency and fewer starts and stops.”

Last year, an extensive remodel improved the service and restored the alpine character of Lodge One. This year, Lodge Two received the finishing touches of a remodel that has progressed in stages over the past couple of seasons.

The windows in Lodge Two, installed when the building was erected in 1961, appeared to be permanently fogged up. Those have been replaced to let the sun shine in. The building has also received new siding and interior treatments, as well as new slope side entrances.

“Lodge Two will still be busy and crowded on weekends, but everybody can find a seat now, and it hasn’t always been that way,” McQuarrie said. “The upper mezzanine is always a good spot not everyone thinks of. You can stake your claim to a big table that holds about eight to 10 people.”

You won’t see any obvious year-to-year changes in the Lodge Two restaurant, but McQuarrie recommends thinking beyond burgers to try the fish tacos, or one of their “giant breakfasts.”

To beat the crowds on a busy weekend, he said Lodge One has been a closely held secret – perhaps until now. More people started migrating there last year after the remodel. You could experience better service there during the lunch rush because there aren’t nearly as many people.

In addition to facility upgrades, McQuarrie said a new infusion of human capital is preparing to take the resort in new directions.

“We’re looking forward to a new season with new managers and fresh thinking,” McQuarrie said. “We’re implementing a lot of new ideas that are going to be exciting to see once we get some folks up here.”

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