Monday, February 06, 2023

Ready to hit the slopes?

by Nick Rotunno
| November 8, 2010 8:00 PM

Halloween has come and gone. The tamaracks are golden-hued, and the weather is turning frosty.

All these signs point to one sure fact: Here in North Idaho, ski season is on its way.

Up at the Idaho/Montana border, in the historic town of Kellogg and on the high peaks above Sandpoint, Panhandle ski areas are gearing up for what is predicted to be a snow-filled winter. At Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area, a family-friendly place known for its deep powder and diverse terrain, there's about eight inches of snow at the 5,560-foot summit, reported president and CEO Phil Edholm.

Warmer temperatures this week have melted some of the white stuff, but snow rarely piles up before mid- to late-November.

"We always hope to be open by Thanksgiving, and we almost always are," said Lookout ski school director Ric Clarke. "All it takes is 14 inches at the base."

The chair lifts have been inspected, the ski school is ready to go and Lookout's rustic lodge is prepared to receive guests. And with a La Nina winter in the forecast, fresh powder should be in the offing.

"We are expecting a big year," Clarke said. "Partly because of anticipated snowfall, and the excitement that news of the expansion has generated."

Lookout is currently working with the United States Forest Service on an expansion plan. If the plan is approved, Lookout will open a second peak on the western edge of the existing ski area, adding more runs and chairlifts.

Among the skiing and snowboarding community, word of the expansion has spread and anticipation is mounting. Barring any delays, construction could be under way by the summer of 2012, Edholm said.

In the meantime, powder hounds can enjoy Lookout's famous trees, where the Forest Service cleared 1.5 million board feet of beetle-infested timber last summer.

"That has opened up a lot of glade skiing for us," Edholm said, particularly in the Lucky Friday, Buffalo Gulch and Meadows areas.

One of the oldest ski areas in Idaho, Lookout will celebrate its 75th season this winter.

Silver Mountain Resort, located in Kellogg, has a large project of its own this fall. After 20 years of use, the heavy cable on the resort's three-mile gondola - the longest gondola in North America - was replaced last week, according to general manager Jeff Colburn.

"It's about had its life, so it's time for a new one," Colburn said.

Two spools of cable, each weighing 65 tons, arrived at Silver Mountain last week. Manufactured in Switzerland, the spools hold 6.2 miles of 2.25-inch diameter cable - enough rope to carry skiers up the mountain and down again.

According to the Silver Mountain website, the installation process should be completed by Nov. 15, well before the resort opens.

Like almost all Northwest ski areas, Silver didn't receive a great deal of snow last winter. But plenty of people still went skiing and snowboarding, Colburn said.

"The upside of (less snowfall) is we saw a lot more sunny days on the slopes," he added.

Colburn said he's also heard the winter forecast - much more snow this year than last, La Nina hitting North Idaho full-force. There's already snow at the Mountain Haus, and that's good news for local riders.

"It seems like skiers in our region love the powder," Colburn said. "We're tracking ahead on season passes right now. We're expecting a good year."

Dave Kulis, director of sales and marketing at Schweitzer Mountain Resort near Sandpoint - a mountain that boasts 2,900 acres of lift-serviced terrain - said the snow has already arrived up north.

"Well, we did get a bunch of snow (two weeks ago)," Kulis said. "We had anywhere from about a foot of snow in the village to two feet or more up top."

The weather has grown milder, though, which melted off some of Schweitzer's inches. Kulis said the mountain hasn't scheduled an opening day; it will depend entirely on snowfall and conditions.

"Typically, we can open anytime from Thanksgiving weekend to early to mid-December," he said. "We do have fairly extensive snow making. As soon as we get some cold temperatures we'll fire up the snow guns."

Skiers and boarders will find a smooth ride at Schweitzer this year - the resort has purchased two new Prinoth BR-350 grooming vehicles, Kulis said. The groomers will be laying down tracks all season long.

"We're excited to put those to good use. We'll be using them extensively throughout the winter," he said.

Schweitzer plans to sell tickets differently, too, Kulis said. Using an innovative new system, skiers will now be able to purchase tickets on their cell phones, making the whole process more convenient.

"We're using a fair amount of new technology this year," Kulis said. "We hope to have (the ticket system) running by opening day."

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