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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Bill Jennings: With spring thoughts turn from snow to dirt

By Bill Jennings For the Spokesman-Review

Last week I didn’t write nice things about spring’s arrival as winter continued to roar in the mountains. Spring was feckless. Winter was bold. The outcome of this confrontation was one of the best powder days in my recent memory. But now spring is gaining the upper hand in my mind.

Instead of riding skis on a mountain Saturday, I rode a mountain bike. It was sunny and relatively temperate for a spring day around here—the ideal combination for classic spring skiing. The temperature and conditions were also ideal on local singletrack. I could take my pick from the best of both worlds.

The spring freeze/thaw cycle in the mountains produces a wonderful carving surface on snow. The Goldilocks zone is just a few hours long, bookended between ice in the early morning and slush in the afternoon. The firm, tacky surface of spring singletrack holds up all day.

This was my rationale for choosing wheels over boards. Our route hugged the shoreline of the Spokane River. The spring flow is just starting to rise. The ride had flowing continuity. Some of the most fun technical sections of trail that often become inaccessible during flood stage, or too sandy for good traction in mid summer, are as good as they get.

The inland northwest snowpack typically peaks in April. About the same time, skis are being stored and bikes take their place at my tuning bench. According to the National Climate and Water Center, eastern Washington and north Idaho snowpacks are about 115 percent of normal.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has evidence showing the La Nina that helped produce our great skiing and riding season has started to decay. According to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, in the next 90 days our region has equal chances for temperatures either below normal, above normal, or just plain normal.

As for precipitation, the odds are favorable around here for about 10 percent above normal. The condition of the snowpack and the shoreline singletrack will depend on which temperature card we draw. Mountains could release their water at either a gradual or accelerated rate. The Spokane River will let us know.

The river trail is a smorgasbord of rollers, dives, grinds, a few unnerving exposures, rock gardens and fast flowing curves. Occasionally the trail comes to a viewpoint where you can rest and enjoy a view of the former snowpack as it rushes by. According to United States Geological Survey data, Saturday it flowed at nearly 10,000 cubic feet per second. Last spring the maximum flow of the Spokane River reached nearly 35,000 cubic feet per second.

There are plenty more chances left to ski. It will be hard to pass up free skiing at 49 Degrees North, which started Monday and continues until its season ends Sunday. Schweitzer has extended its season until April 15. Lookout will persist until April 21. Silver Mountain will be open on weekends, at least through April. Skiing and mountain biking on the same day will be a possibility.

Saturday our route took us through several miles of trail on both sides of the river. Along the way we paused to rest and refuel a few miles downstream from the outlet of Latah Creek. A distinctive brown band of sediment, eroded from farmland south of Spokane, flowed with the jade green of the rushing river. Buttercups were popping up all around. Sun warmed my back. A rich smell of earth and evergreens filled the air.

Only a week earlier I was skiing deep powder in a spectacular snowstorm. The juxtaposition in my mind filled me with a deep sense of satisfaction and gratitude. Life truly doesn’t get any better than this.

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