Every year is different.
Sometimes the snow is early. Sometimes it’s right on time. Sometimes it feels just a little late.
Jim van Loben Sels, general manager at Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park, peruses webcams at all the area resorts, seeing who’s getting snow and who isn’t.
This year, it seems like every place in the Inland region is in the same boat.
“It’s just a dusting,” van Loben Sels said Wednesday. “It hasn’t really hit us yet.”
Rest assured, it will arrive, and there will be enough for winter-lovers to get out on the slopes.
Meanwhile, Mt. Spokane and all of the area hills have been preparing, finishing up big projects and making sure runs are ready to collect snow.
To van Loben Sels, Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park feels like a locals’ mountain – a place where people learn to ski as kids, and later bring their own kids to learn.
“We have some families that have four generations skiing here now,” he said.
The 1,700-acre ski area inside Washington’s largest state park is planning to open Dec. 2, though van Loben Sels said a storm needs to arrive to ensure that can happen.
There aren’t too many big changes this year, van Loben Sels said. The most noticeable will be a new beer garden space at the top of the Parkway Express lift.
The operation is a partnership with No-Li Brewing, and it started as a taphouse at the base. Using a helicopter, the beer-pouring equipment was hauled up to the top of the lift, and van Loben Sels said they’ll put up some benches and a fire pit, and it will offer a new spot for visitors to kick back and take in the views.
This is van Loben Sels’ fourth year at the helm. In that time, the mountain has added to its grooming fleet. Over the past three years, four new snow cats have been added, increasing the staff’s ability to keep the runs in top shape.
“Being able to provide a good quality grooming product is a really important component of our ski experience,” van Loben Sels said.
For information on lift ticket prices and more, visit mtspokane.com.
49 Degrees North
A new building is going up at the base of 49 Degrees North, a resort a few miles east of Chewelah, Washington.
Called a sprung structure, the building consists of a sort of fabric stretched across a frame. It’s next to the Calispel Creek Lodge, and while this year it will just be a place for people to hang out between runs, a number of services such as the rental and repair shop will eventually be housed there.
Rick Brown, the resort’s director of skier and rider services, said the structure is just the latest in a series of projects over the past three summers, including expansions to its snowmaking system and a new staircase.
“It’s been a whirlwind the past few years,” Brown said.
49 Degrees North is the second-largest resort in Washington, with 2,300 acres of skiable terrain accessed by seven lifts.
The size gives visitors a relatively uncrowded experience compared to smaller and more popular resorts, Brown said, with long lines the exception and not the rule.
It boasts runs fit for all skill levels, but Brown is especially proud of its tree skiing – places where skiers and snowboarders can weave between trees.
“Our tree skiing and riding is some of the best anywhere,” he said.
The resort was able to add to that this year, too. Thanks to a U.S. Forest Service timber sale, the resort added a couple of new runs in its west basin, under the Silver Lode No. 4 lift.
The area was previously closed because there wasn’t enough clearance for people to use them safely. Now, with some trees cleared out, there was enough space to add two runs.
They’re called Virtue and Temptation – a nod to how enticing the spot looks from the chairlift.
Snowmaking was expanded again this year, but staff still can’t use the machines to cover the whole mountain. Brown said they’re eyeing the weekend after Thanksgiving as a possible opening day, but the region will need to see some snow.
“We’re going to open as early as we can,” Brown said.
For information on lift ticket prices and more, visit ski49n.com.
Outside of Sandpoint, Schweitzer is the largest ski area in the region, offering roughly 2,900 acres and several lifts.
Taylor Prather, a spokesperson for Schweitzer, said the size is what sets it apart from the other ski areas in the region, and its variety of runs for beginner and more advanced skiers.
And, of course, there’s the setting: right above Lake Pend Oreille.
“You can’t really beat those lake views,” Prather said.
Schweitzer hopes to open Friday. This is its first winter under new owners, Alterra Mountain Company, which purchased the resort operations earlier this year.
The biggest change return visitors will see is a new lift. The Creekside Express, a four-person chair, has replaced an old two-person lift near the hill’s lower parking lot. It takes people up to the village and to lifts that access other parts of the mountain.
In addition to carrying more people, Prather said the new lift is faster, and the greater capacity will help alleviate crowd pressure there.
“That’s been kind of one of our pinch points, and a very necessary upgrade,” Prather said.
It’s also the first part of a larger development plan for that part of the mountain. Next year, Schweitzer plans to add a new parking lot there, and eventually, there are plans for a new lodge.
Prather said people should look into their offerings of afternoon lift tickets and shop online for tickets to help them save money, as lift tickets for Schweitzer are some of the priciest in the region. Those who use and reuse RFID passes can get discounts, too.
For information on lift ticket prices and more, visit schweitzer.com.
Gus Colburn, a spokesperson for Silver Mountain outside of Kellogg, said the resort prides itself on being the “ultimate family vacation destination,” complete with lodging options and a water park that stays open – and warm at 84 degrees – through the winter, seven days a week.
And, he said, the resort’s 1,600 acres and 83 trails offer options for skiers and snowboarders of any skill level.
“We have some good beginner terrain, but we also have a good selection of intermediate stuff and advanced stuff,” Colburn said. “We have terrain for the whole family.”
He said resort staff has been hard at work mowing runs and getting the mountain ready for opening day. A run at one of its terrain parks has been widened, now two routes through the various obstacles.
Elsewhere on the mountain, a new sundeck was added this year at the Jackass Snack Shack. The Mountain House Lodge has been spruced up, with new flooring, new paint and a remodeled bathroom.
Colburn is also excited about some of the events planned for this winter, such as Jackass Day on Jan. 11.
The day marks the birthday for the resort, which was originally named Jackass Ski Hill when it opened in 1967. The resort is celebrating by turning back the clock on lift ticket prices – that day, they’ll be $20.
The resort plans to open Friday.
For information on lift ticket prices and more, visit silvermt.com.
Farther east, straddling the Montana-Idaho border, sits Lookout Pass, the oldest ski area in Idaho.
“And arguably Montana,” said Matt Sawyer, the mountain’s director of marketing.
The hill opened in 1935 with three rope tows and transformed over the past 88 years into a larger ski area with five chairlifts.
The newest one opened just last year, serving the latest expansion of the ski hill on Eagle Peak. The lift itself was used – purchased from the Sundance Resort in Utah – and it ran a little slower than they’d like. This summer, they fixed that problem and reconfigured the gears, bringing it up to a speed of 450 feet per minute.
Similar to 49 Degrees North, skiers coming back to Lookout will find a new sprung structure near the base.
It will provide seating for 150 people – a 43% increase in the seating capacity at the base.
Opening day is going to depend heavily on the weather. A year ago, the mountain was already open.
This year, Sawyer is hoping they see enough snow to get the lifts running by early December. The mountain doesn’t have any snowmaking machines, so it relies entirely on Mother Nature.
The weather will provide, as it always does. Sawyer said Lookout prides itself on the quality of its snow, and the quantity of it; last year, the hill saw 453 inches.
For information on lift ticket prices and more, visit skilookout.com.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the speed of a chairlift at Lookout Pass. It is expected to travel 450 feet per minute.