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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Local ski areas say they’re blessed with snow, but are planning ahead for changes in climate

Patrons don snowshoes at Schweitzer Mountain Resort. Threatened by warming trends, the resort has been working to diversify its offseason attractions, becoming a four-season destination. (Spokesman-Review)
Patrons don snowshoes at Schweitzer Mountain Resort. Threatened by warming trends, the resort has been working to diversify its offseason attractions, becoming a four-season destination. (Spokesman-Review)

Lookout Pass Ski & Recreation Area’s management team wasn’t thinking about climate change when they started planning new runs on Eagle Peak’s 6,150-foot summit.

But when the 14 new runs open at the resort on the Idaho-Montana border, they’ll will give skiers access to terrain that is 500 feet higher in elevation then current terrain.

All of the new runs are expected to open with lift access for the 2019-2020 ski season. As global temperatures warm, they could become “a buffer against climate change for us,” said Matt Sawyer, Lookout’s director of sales and marketing.

Nationally, the ski industry has been proactive in preparing for climate change, which expected to raise snow levels and shorten the winter recreation season across the U.S. Local ski areas are also engaged.

Lookout Pass lies in a “snowbelt,” frequently receiving 400 or more inches of snow during the ski season, Sawyer said. The ski area anticipates continuing to get good, natural snowfall in future decades, he said. But, “it’s important for us to follow and understand this trend,” Sawyer said of climate change.

Lookout Pass also encourages skiers to carpool and find other ways to reduce their carbon footprint, he said.

John Eminger, the owner of 49 Degrees North in Chewelah, said Inland Northwest ski areas are well positioned to adapt climate change. Like farmers, they already deal with year-to-year variability in the weather as a business risk.

Eminger is an avid reader of the Northwest history, including the journals of early fur traders and mountain men. Those accounts detail a wide range of winter weather conditions going back a couple hundred years, he said.

“When I sit down to design a chairlift or a trail do I look at climate change?” Eminger said. “Of course I do.”

When there’s an opportunity to build a chairlift or a trail at a higher elevation, he’ll go farther up the mountain. At some point in the future, terrain at 4,400 feet might have snow while terrain at 4,000 feet is spotty.

Schweitzer Mountain Resort has been working to diversify its offseason attractions, becoming a four-season destination.

That’s part of a national trend at ski resorts to help diversify revenue streams. The Sandpoint resort offers mountain biking and gondola rides in the summer, including dining at the mountain’s Sky House, said Dig Chrismer, Schweitzer’s marketing manager.

“We’re looking at how can we weather proof our business as much as we can,” she said.

After Tom Chasse came to Schweitzer as the president and CEO in 2006, the resort expanded the use of snow-making, Chrismer said. Chasse had previously worked at ski area in New Hampshire, where snow-making is more prevalent.

Schweitzer makes snow so the resort can open for Thanksgiving. The early opening helps the resort’s bookings for the Christmas holiday, giving skiers confidence that the resort will have enough snow to be open in December, Chrismer said. But by Christmas, Schweitzer has enough natural snow to operate, she said.

“There are ways to expand and keep the mountain culture and mountain experience going,” she said, regardless of what happens with climate change.

Silver Mountain Resort in Kellogg has also worked to become a four season destination, with mountain biking, a 9-hole golf course and a water park, said Willy Bartlett, the marketing manager. The four-season resort was envisioned long before climate change become a household term, he said. Community members wanted a tourism operation that employed local residents year-round.

The strategy was an asset during the “snow drought” winter of 2014-2015. Silver Mountain’s water park remained a draw for out-of-town guests, Bartlett said. Though snow conditions weren’t great, families skied a half a day on the mountain, and spent the afternoons at the water park.

“It really saved our bacon,” he said.

Without the water park, many out-of-town skiers probably would have canceled their trips, Bartlett said.

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