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

Area ski resorts pour millions into improvements, headlined by 49 Degrees North’s new high-speed lift

It was just starting to snow as Eric Bakken watched mechanics put the final touches on a two-decade dream.

The general manager of 49 Degrees North was standing inside the control room of the resort’s new high-speed quad chairlift. The lift will span 6,644 feet and rises approximately 1,850 vertical feet to Chewelah Peak. In the background, the resort’s new snow-making machines shot snow into the sky.

For Bakken, who has worked at 49 Degrees North for 25 years, the completion of the lift is a big moment. When 49 Degrees North opens, possibly this weekend, the chairlift will be the longest in Washington state.

The $7 million dollar project was made possible when 49 Degrees North was bought by an affiliate of Silver Mountain.

In addition to the new lift, the resort has also installed a number of snowmaking machines. On Thursday, they were laying a firm base of snow which will allow the resort to open some of its easier runs earlier.

“It allows us to really create consistency to get open earlier with a better base and potentially elongate our season because we have that snowpack,” said Rick Brown, the director of skier and rider services at the resort.

The resort has also added four new runs and extended one.

The new runs are Tin Star, Alpine Steel Gunslinger and Gambler.

The new snow-making machines may also help the resort adapt to a changing climate.

Both Bakken and Brown said community interest in the chairlift project has been high, with some people driving up to the mountain simply to check in on the progress.

“It’s a pretty incredible thing,” Bakken said. “We worked really hard on this.”

And while 49 Degrees North headlines the regions resort projects, there’s plenty of other things to be excited about looking at the 2021-22 season.

Predicted open date: Snow dependent.


Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park

Spokane’s hometown resort has a new website, new webcams and signage. But headlining changes at Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park are chairlift upgrades thanks in part to a $750,000 grant from the state of Washington as well as more than $250,000 from the resort. The Illuminator (Chair 2), is in the middle of a a complete replacement of the Drive Terminal, according to a resort statement. Construction is underway and completion is scheduled for the end of December.

The Hidden Treasure (Chair 4) has also been remodeled with a new haul rope, variable speed drive and galvanized chairs. The Beginner’s Luck (Chair 5) also has a new variable speed drive, making loading and unloading safer.

Predicted open date: Dec. 4.


Lookout Pass

Lookout Pass, on the Idaho-Montana border, is also undergoing big changes and adding a new chairlift – the Eagle Peak Expansion – although that won’t be open this season. Work continues on that, and this season the resort will be offering cat skiing and has upgraded some chairlifts, said spokesman Matt Sawyer. Chair 2, which is on the Montana side of the mountain is being upgraded from a double to a triple.

“This is huge increase in capacity 50% more riders,” Sawyer said in an email, adding, “This is also a key linchpin in our expansion to Eagle Peak as this chair will provide transport for guests to get back to the lodge and parking lot on the front of the mountain.”

This year, loggers cut 14 new trails for the Eagle Peak Expansion, he said.

“When they are finished we’ll be offering Cat Skiing Adventures by reservation this winter so guests can experience these new trails,” Sawyer said. “A Quad chair, that the mountain has already purchased, will be installed next summer to provide lift access to these trails next winter. We Purchased a Cat with a 12-seat Cab just for this experience.”

Details on the cat skiing will be published online at by Wednesday and with operations starting around Christmas.

Predicted open date: Snow dependent.



Big things have also happened at Schweitzer with the addition of a ski-in/ski-out hotel, called Humbird, according to a resort news release. And in its first year on the Ikon Pass, the resort also has increased its uphill skiing capacity, a new dining option and expanded internet connectivity.

The 31-room hotel also has a 50-seat restaurant.

Schweitzer is the first Idaho ski resort to join the Ikon Pass program.

And, the resort spent $3 million on mountainwide capital improvements, according to a resort news release.

Idaho’s only six-person chairlift, Stella, will see an increase in uphill capacity by adding 14 new chairs to its inventory, augmenting uphill capacity on the mountain by approximately 600 skiers per hour.

Schweitzer upgraded the ticketing system to support Direct-to-Lift tickets with RFID technology and provide ticket kiosks in the village. This will allow guests to purchase online, pick up their ticket at a kiosk and go directly to the lift. The resort has also installed fiber optic cables around the mountain to improve internet connectivity.

Predicted open date: Friday.


Silver Mountain

Idaho’s Silver Mountain has purchased two new snow cats, part of the resort’s $1 million investment in new machinery. The resort has also added a covered magic-carpet ride.

Predicted open date: Friday.


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