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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Exceptional conditions’: Local ski areas recovering from diminished snowpack

Skiers prepare before heading downhill at Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park.  (Michael Wright/The Spokesman-Review)

Snowpack on northwest mountains may have gotten off to a rough start this winter, but local ski areas say the conditions are prime for spring skiing after some fresh snow fell in the past few weeks.

At Lookout Pass Ski Area, located on the Idaho-Montana border, conditions are “the best we’ve had this season,” spokesperson Matt Sawyer said during a Thursday interview. “We’ve had sunshine, we’ve had 91 inches of snow in the past two and a half weeks; conditions are on point.”

Lookout Pass had 52% of its average snowpack Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. That’s a big improvement from in early January, when Lookout’s snowpack was at just 33% of normal levels.

Quartz Peak, near Mount Spokane, was at 84% of normal snowpack Thursday, compared with 73% back in January. Schweitzer Basin was at 74%, up from 48% in January.

All runs will be open at Lookout this weekend, Sawyer said, and he encouraged skiers to come out.

“People should come now while conditions are good, and then if we get more snow, that’s always a bonus,” he said. “Some people in Coeur d’Alene or in Spokane, because of the modest and mild winter, have written off skiing; they just haven’t gone out, and they’re missing out.”

Sawyer said getting snowpack levels back to normal before the season ends isn’t likely, but that doesn’t mean conditions aren’t great.

“The truth is that nobody’s going to catch up this year with the snowpack, but we have exceptional conditions. I mean, you only ski on the top 2 inches of snow anyway, so from this standpoint, right now conditions are incredible,” he said.

49 Degrees North, a ski area near Chewelah, is almost there, said the resort’s spokesperson, Eric Bakken.

“December, January, even into early February, we were probably running at about 70% of our normal snowpack, but by the middle of February, that all started to change. We started getting feet at a time,” he said.

In the last week, 49 Degrees North has gotten almost 4 feet of snow.

“Our snowpack right now is probably 90% of where it should be for this time of year, and the skiing has been fantastic,” Bakken said.

Throughout the season, 49 has been using snow machines to curb the effects of diminished snowpack.

“We made snow a lot when we had cold snaps through February, just because we want to go as long as we possibly can into the spring,” Bakken said.

That made a huge difference, he said, and “most people didn’t realize that we had as low snowpack as we did.”

“I’m looking outside right now. It’s beautiful sunshine, cold snow, fresh powder, lots of people. Spring skiing is the best,” Bakken said.

And there might be more snow to come for northwest ski areas, National Weather Service Meteorologist Krista Carrothers said.

“We are still in winter, and even during spring they can get snow through March and April and sometimes even into May, since they are at a higher elevation,” she said.

Falling weekend temperatures could bring snow to resorts, including Lookout Pass, Schweitzer and 49 Degrees North, Carrothers said. Rain is forecast in Spokane over the weekend and through next week, which could translate to snow up on Mount Spokane.

Roberta Simonson's reporting is part of the Teen Journalism Institute, funded by Bank of America with support from the Innovia Foundation.