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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Skiing Outlook 2020: Lookout Pass provides snowiest hill; cheapest prices

Eager skiers can often be seen cruising on the Montana side of Lookout Pass.  (John Nelson/For The Spokesman-Review)
By John Nelson For The Spokesman-Review

The snowiest ski resort in the Inland Northwest is also the least expensive.

Put those two factors together during a La Niña winter and you have a winning combination at Lookout Pass.

This family-friendly ski area perched on I-90 on the Idaho-Montana border is known for being the first resort to open as fall storms roll in. The manicured front side of the mountain needs only 18 inches of snow to open, said Matt Sawyer, marketing director of Lookout Pass.

“We’re very fortunate,” Sawyer said. “It just seems like the mountains lock the storms into a channel and they bring the snow right across our area.”

The resort averages 100 more inches of snow annually than other ski areas in the region. Once it hits the ground, Lookout grooms many of its runs, creating a smooth surface that’s particularly friendly to beginning skiers.

“We’re known for grooming and we do practice it as a perfected art,” Sawyer said. “The front side of the mountain on many days – as much as 50% is groomed and the rest is left for powder.”

If price is important to you, Lookout has the cheapest season passes and day tickets in the region. A college student can score a season pass for $99.

Beyond the resort’s familiar front side, which is visible to I-90 traffic rolling by, skiers will find low-angle cruisers and powder runs on the Montana Side of the mountain, served by Chair 2. And for those seeking steeps, the challenging North Side of the mountain is served by Chair 3.

So here’s the plan if you want to make the most of a powder dump at Lookout, according to Sawyer.

“Start on the front of the mountain, then quickly transition to the back after the first half-hour and head to Chair 2,” he said. “About an hour into the day, Chair 3 typically opens up and you’ll find the deepest and most untracked snow.”

If you’re new to the sport, Lookout is a good place to start out. The resort offers a lesson, rental and lift ticket program to learn to ski or ride in three days.

This year, skiers will see improvements on some of Lookout’s groomed runs, which have been smoothed out through stump-grinding and regrading, Sawyer said.

Future plans call for Lookout to expand into the Eagle Peak area off of Chair 2, which will increase vertical and double the resort’s size, but that’s at least two years away. In the meantime, some runs on Eagle Peak are already cut, and backcountry skiers frequently use the resort’s lifts to access this challenging out-of-bounds powder terrain.

“There is a community of people who do that,” Sawyer said. “We just ask that they come prepared.”

Like other resorts, Lookout will limit inside lodge space this year because of the pandemic, asking guests to use their cars to store gear and warm up. Masks will be required inside and when social distancing isn’t possible, and day lift tickets will be sold online in advance.

“We want people to check the social media and the websites before they come up just to see what the issues may be,” Sawyer said.