Skiers were able to venture to a new part of Mt. Spokane for the first time this weekend after the launch of a new, state-of-the-art chairlift connecting the park to almost 280 ski-able acres.
Jill Stengle, safety and risk manager for Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park, said the 279 new acres, which opened Saturday, are split into seven runs, most of them ranked at intermediate difficulty. She said the new lift, a 4,600-foot triple chairlift built by Skytrac, is the largest the company has ever built. She said she and the guests at the park love the new area and it’s a change of scenery for people who have skied Mt. Spokane’s slopes for years.
“It’s a whole new mountain,” she said.
Brad McQuarrie, general manager of the park, said the project has been in the works for about 15 years. He said that in addition to the new chairlift and skiing area,the park has significantly improved the beginners skiing area by adding a lift, expanding the ski terrain and constructing a new building.
McQuarrie said the board is fundraising to pay for the lift so it won’t have to pass its cost on to customers. Skiing is an expensive sport, but if the board raises enough money to cover the new equipment, it will not have to raise their prices.
“The mission is to keep Mt. Spokane affordable and accessible to everybody,” he said. “Most business models would say, ‘Oh, we’ll increase prices and that will pay for these improvements,’ but we’re very passionate about keeping prices as flat as we can.”
He said so far $800,000 has been raised to pay for the $2.2 million lift.
Only a few small areas of the trails have names so far, but the board that governs the ski park intends to allow donors who help pay for the $2.2 million lift have naming rights over some of the trails, McQuarrie said some longtime skiers hope to have one track named after ski instructor Gary Peck, who died in April.
The group’s goal is to raise $100,000 in Peck’s honor.
Nicknames grow naturally over time, and one area in the new set of runs has already developed a name, Broken Thumb, so named for a 1,000-pound piece of an excavator known as the thumb that fell off during construction of the new lift. .
Jandro Jaramillo, 19, one of the early skiers on the new terrain, said he and other local teens have used the weekend to explore the new side of the mountain while much of the area is still untouched.
Jaramillo has skied on Mt. Spokane for years, but said he was especially excited to be one of the first skiers to try the expanded area because he can find the best spots before anyone else has discovered them.
“It’s kind of like making a trail when you go on a hike,” he said.
McQuarrie said until the rain on Sunday, the weather had been sunny and beautiful. He said a little rain was actually helpful since the snow had been powdery and dry.
“It is what it is,” he said. “People were still having a good time. Skiers are pretty hardy.”
According to the National Weather Service, weather is predicted to improve later in the week with sunshine on Friday. Saturday is predicted to be cloudy with a a 20 percent chance for rain or snow, which grows into a 30 percent chance for snow Sunday.