49° North, Monday, 3/11/19
Drive time: 1h15min there; 1.5h back
Pros: Amazingly fun terrain, awesome snow, great views
Cons: slippery walk from the parking lot, slow lifts
Favorite runs: Klondike; Silver Ridge/Silver Queen
Really awesome day today at 49° North! Fresh-groomed runs were packed powder, ranging from soft-and-fast to firm-and-faster. Different shades of perfect. The great terrain at 49° North really shines on a day like this--lots of awesome steeps, but also plenty of gently rolling options, and the different facets, gullies, ridges, etc. make it a really interesting mountain to ski. Off-piste was fairly soft when I sampled it, but day-old groom was stiff Styrofoam.
They're only running Angel Peak (in the middle distance in the shot above) on weekends right now, and Lift 4 is down for the rest of the season, so I stuck to Lifts 1 & 5 today. But that encompasses a lot of terrain. And when each run was so much fun, there was way more than I could explore thoroughly in a day. Snow was perfect up top. Perfect down at the base. Perfect in the sun (corn!) and in the shade. East, west, and northern exposures were all skiing beautifully.
I grabbed a quick lunch... overpriced but OK pizza in a somewhat run-down cafeteria. I also noticed two out-of-order urinals and numerous missing trail signs (made figuring out where I was a challenge a couple times)… definitely feels like their might be something to the rumors of an impending sale, as it looks like the current owners aren't making any capital expenditures right now. New owners and progress might be a good thing, but it's pretty hard to argue with what they've got going now when it yields a ski day like today. Replacing some of their creaky old lifts with something faster would be nice, but on the other hand the current layout of Lifts 1 (including midway loading), 2, 4, and 5 seem perfect, and I doubt you're going to get all the same options if they start replacing them with detachables.
Sunshine & scenery were fantastic. Above, I believe, is Calispell Peak with British Columbia in the background.
A nice view of Mt. Spokane, too... makes me all the more eager to try out that new terrain!
On the way out, I stopped into the ticket office to see whether I could apply the cost of today's lift ticket to a season pass (I've been a few places that offered that option in the past). They said no, so I left without a pass. I'm not yet sure whether it'll be this year or next, or on a 49° North pass or the Indy Pass or collections of multipacks, but I definitely plan to experience and explore more of 49° North.
Pacific NW/AK/BC Finding a New Home Mountain in the Inland Northwest (intermediate trip reports)
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I skied 49 Monday also, but was likely gone before you arrived if your quick lunch was before you hit the snow. Regarding the slippery walk from the parking lot: I carry my boots into the lodge and change inside. Regular winter boots make the walk a little less hazardous. Another option is to drive up to the sunrise lift parking lot. Most of the time they don't check for lift tickets at the sunrise lift. So one could board lift 5 and then ski down to the ticket office to purchase a ticket. The early skiers, like myself, may have opened a parking spot for midday arrivals.
Do note that 49 is offering a ski free week April 1 - 7. One still needs to pick up a lift ticket at the ticket office.
Based on your trip reports thus far this season, my recommendation is to hold off on purchasing a season pass anywhere yet because you seem to like to explore and you have more exploring waiting for you at the region's ski areas.
I got in the habit of booting up while sitting on my trunk lip after I quit smoking in my car, but before I quit smoking entirely... booting up was a great time for a cigarette. But maybe it's time for a new habit, now that I don't need that cigarette Although, as you say, real winter boots will make a real difference, and I need to buy some before next season. Boarding at Sunrise without a pass also sounds like a good thing to try.
Mt. Spokane: Sunday, 3/17/19
Drive Time: 55 min each way
Pros: Fun, long runs; great snow in some spots
Favorite Run: Upper Geronimo
Late start today, but I made it up to Mt. Spokane just after noon, and just in time to park right next to one of the pathways up to Lodge 1. I booted up, slathered on sunscreen, and regretted that I hadn't brought a lighter-weight jacket as I pulled mine on, then hiked up the slush-covered path to Lodge 1. I had trouble locating ticket sales--positioned right next to the food, I thought the cashier was selling that (and maybe she was doing both, not sure). But soon enough I had my ticket and was hiking once again, up to the base of Lift 1 so I could boot up. Hiking when I want to ski is a pet peeve of mine. It's one thing if a particular run I want to do requires a bit of a hike... I could do it, or pick a different run... but I really hate having to hike before I even get on the lift. And Mt. Spokane is probably the worst I've encountered in that category, assuming you get close parking (if you count hiking up the parking lot, too, then Sandia is probably worse). Mt. Hood Skibowl West has the opposite problem... you have to hike up from the bottom of the runs to get back to the lodge/parking lot, and somehow in my mind that's not so bad.
Anyway, since I got to explore and enjoy Lifts 2 & 3 last trip, this time I was focused on Lifts 1, 4, & 6. These three lifts are all over 1400 vertical feet, so they all represent some fairly serious skiing. Very little was groomed beneath Lift 1 today--I started out on Teakettle, which was very nice before slushing up a bit at the very bottom.
Lift 6, the new one, had nicely-pitched runs, and the snow was ok, but a little chopped up already. Only a couple runs there were groomed today, unfortunately. Great views from over there, too... since I posted a pic of this area from 49 North in the last report, now it's time to return the favor. Calispell Peak is pretty close to center, and I think Mount Chewelaw is one of the bigger humps just to its left.
The only lines of the day were on #6... first, ski patrol was evacuating someone, which took some time. Next run, it was just a few chairs' wait. I also really like the Skytrac triple chair... the lower bar in the back is positioned just right for me to get lumbar support from it; and regardless, I think it's a nice change from the aging center-pole doubles around the rest of the mountain.
But one of those old Riblet doubles was the start today--Lift 4 was fantastic. Ridge Run was partially in shade by the time I made it over there, but the snow was fantastic in the sun and still ok in the shade. Upper Geronimo was picture-perfect spring corn, and a really fun run to boot. I wish the grooming went all the way down, but instead, skiers are filtered over to Ridge Run. That makes for a bit of a bottleneck on lower Ridge Run, particularly the section where it turns into a narrow catwalk returning to the lift. But none of that could undermine just how fun these runs were today. And they were surprisingly uncrowded--maybe they were firmer earlier, and just finally softened up to perfection around the time I arrived? Half Hitch/Lamonga Pass was another really fun run under Lift 4... a long cruiser alongside a near-deserted park full of big and interesting-looking features. I really didn't understand why no one was taking advantage of that great terrain park. I mean, I get why I wasn't (landing hurts!)... but not everyone else
As it approached closing-time for Lift 4, I decided to try out Pond Run heading back--it was marked with a blue square, so I expected a bit more challenge than the green alternatives. But it proved entirely the wrong kind of challenge--I hiked a little bit up to the run, then poled along it, then skied down a tiny bit onto the saddle between the Lift 2 & 3 summits. So apparently the "challenge" of Pond Run is that it's a zero-vertical run that requires a bit of hiking/poling no matter which direction you go.
Once I was under Lift 3, it took me just a few turns to realize that the hot sun had done its work, and it was all soupy slush. There was time for another run or two on the frontside, but the slush just felt like too much work... I took the catwalk back over to Lodge 1, skied down to the car (the bright side of that hike... I took off the skis about 10 feet away from my car) and was soon headed home.
The drive down in clearer weather presented new challenges... without needing to exercise caution for icy patches, it was very easy to pick up too much speed. My car's first gear is really punishing, but on second gear I was riding the brakes, so just had to keep switching back and forth. I don't think I really appreciated how steep that road was last time around.
My second visit to Mt. Spokane confirmed that it's a very fun ski area, with some terrain that really goes beyond reasonable expectations for a "local hill." Everyone was friendly, and it was surprisingly uncrowded for such a nice day. I think a good goal for the next few years is to lose a bunch of weight, and then spend a season as a regular at Mt. Spokane, when I can do those hikes up from the parking lot when carrying maybe 60-70 pounds less.
Mt. Spokane: Saturday, 3/30/19
Drive Time: 50 min. there; 55 min. back
Pros: Fun, long runs; great uncrowded spring skiing
Cons: hiking, the catwalk back to lifts 1 & 2.
Favorite Run: Ch. 6 Run 3
Really nice spring skiing day at Mt. Spokane this morning! I managed to drag myself out of bed quick enough to get a pretty good parking spot by 9:30. Still a hike up to Lodge 2 (Lodge 1 was closed), but the snow down there is all gone so at least it was solid footing. The front side started out really fun, but was quickly softening, particularly down low. Chair 3 was nice but getting soupy; Chair 2 the groomers up top were fantastic, but then there's that nasty slushy catwalk back.
After a bit I headed to 1 and skied No Alibi, which seems like a really cool run but with less-than-perfect snow--definitely heavier than I would've liked, and turning slushy down low. I'd love to catch Chair 1 at Mt. Spokane on a good day--1500 vertical feet of fall line fun! But today wasn't that perfect day, so I headed to the backside, where things were looking much nicer. Firm packed powder with a bit of hardpack and plenty of corn sprouting on top. I had Runs 3 & 4 pretty much to myself, which is a good sign that they were too firm for most people, but I found them really enjoyable. Both are long, straight-shot uninterrupted runs, but they roll with the terrain nicely. We had a bit of cloud cover, so my guess is they stayed perfect for me even longer than I could stay, followed by some real nice softening... it's good that Mt. Spokane was able to get this north-facing terrain opened, since it really improves their warm-day offerings. But I needed to get back, so I headed over to 2 again--Northwest/Old Northwest were still in fantastic shape, and then It was the slush pile to the catwalk, and then back to the car. The drive down the hill I was going 5 to 10 mph over the posted limit, but I still quickly built up a line of cars behind waiting to pass. That upper part 40 mph+ certainly doesn't feel safe to me, but that's what the prevailing traffic was doing.
Everyone was friendly. Only lift line was when maintenance stopped #6 for a few minutes to inspect one of the chairs, and even then the line wasn't bad. All in all, a great morning on the slopes!Slide of Hans likes this.
Admittedly, the cut up stuff on the afternoon of a powder day can be tricky (getting aggressive in that stuff works for me) but once you master that, then by comparison the powder morning becomes easy.
@New2 Last time I was at 49 it struck me how to avoid the walk up from the parking lot. Drive up the road and park in the pay parking.
I skied Mount Spokane's new runs on Friday. I really like them. They could be a game changer for me as it is less than 25 miles from my driveway to the parking lot. But the other things I don't like about Mount Spokane still exist: parking, main lodge location relative to the lifts and the parking lot, lift layout, fog, highway 206's curves. Lift 2 wasn't running Friday. They almost never run it during the week. Neither was lift 4 operating. Probably not enough skiers to run it. I did ask the lift 6 attendant about fog. He said the new area doesn't usually get the heavy fog which sometimes plagues the front side. I've already bought next season's pass for 49° North and my home situation is such that I doubt that I could get away often enough to justify a second season pass.
49° North, Tuesday, 4/2/19
Drive time: 1h15min each way
Pros: Fun terrain, nice spring conditions
Cons: slow lifts
Favorite run: Claim Jumper
I took a day off work today to enjoy what might end up being the last good day of the season (if the rainier forecasts hold true). And it was a good day up at 49 North. Conditions varied quite a bit around the mountain, so I was exploring around, making the best guesses I could, and skiing the stuff I liked as long as it lasted. The long ridgelines here (also at Schweitzer and Silver) make me feel like there's lots to know about the mountain--lots of potential secrets if I really get to know the mountain.... as opposed to Mt. Spokane, which is not much smaller but somehow feels like I already know the whole mountain.
I wish 49 North would try mixing up their grooming schedule a bit more. Most of the fresh-groomed stuff had been packed repeatedly so it's pretty icy at this point. Even when they're spray or slush on top, it's still pretty firm and pretty slick just beneath the surface. Sections of Blast Face and Claim Jumper that were not fresh-groomed today (but definitely were fresh-groomed 15 days ago when I was here, and likely at least some of the time since) offered nice bottomless smooth slush. Nicer than the slush-on-crust for sure. The only time I shared a lift ride with someone else today I heard that the groomers stayed icy all day yesterday... maybe alternating grooming would help with that, too. Plus, occasionally grooming some of the other terrain would present some nice smooth opportunities to explore more of the mountain.
Northern Quest Casino/the Calispell Tribe is providing free skiing for everyone April 1-7, which is very nice. I parked in pay parking just long enough to walk up to the table and grab a pass, then drove over to the Sunrise parking lot, which was very convenient. The parking lot was the fullest I've seen, but the mountain stayed uncrowded... about 30 seconds was the longest lift line. Whatever most folks are doing for Spring Break, it seems like they're missing out (though I bet it was a great day at all the other ski areas in the area, too).
Lift 2 seemed to be going much slower #1 and #5. Each ride on #2 felt like it took just as long as one of those longer lifts. Not sure whether that's always the case, but it's a shame--it would be nice to be able to lap the lower section of the mountain a bit more quickly when the weather's right. I kept admiring some of the off-piste terrain near the summit, so second-to-last run I took Klondike and wandered into some of the bumpy section--teeth-chattering hardpack sent me quickly back to the slush-on-crust groomed path. I decided I had to go hunting at lower elevation, so I took Huckleberry Ridge out for my final run. Out past where I'd been before... there were signs warning me of a "moderate incline." So I kept momentum, then poled a bit and cut the corner to get over to Roller Coaster. Looking at the trail map, looks like there are 5 more marked runs up the hill and down past where I turned... seems to me like if they ever want to sell condos/homesites out that way, they're going to need a lift up to the false summit there... because it's not "ski-in, ski-out" if it requires a hike. Anyway, Roller Coaster is a great run--a big wide swath of uneven/oddly spaced steeps, gentler slopes, and sideways slopes. And the surface was just what I was hoping to find, though I don't know the name for it.
2 hours earlier, I would've called it "coral reef." Hardpack that sat in the sun long enough to turn into slightly-crumbling Styrofoam, a perfect dance floor. A few snowboarders came up while I was taking pics, then side-slipped back off in the direction of groomed terrain--maybe it wasn't quite to their liking, but this is really one of my favorite snow conditions. Seems like the snowmelt has been draining out from the bottom, so it's lightweight but firm. Not slick at all, but not grabby either.
I'm crossing my fingers that the next few days' storms come in colder than forecasted, and I can get another nice day or two out of this season. But if not, it's certainly been fun exploring around, and this would count as a nice cap to the season.
Lookout Pass, Friday, 4/12/19
Drive time: 1h 40 min each way
Pros: Nice fall-line skiing, no crowds, great snow
Cons: Not-so-great snow, limited terrain
Favorite runs: Interstate, Rainbow Ridge
For weekday skiing, Lookout Pass is the only game left anywhere near town, so I used a vacation day to head up today. The forecast was cloudy, up to 2 inches of snow Thursday afternoon/overnight, up to an inch in the morning, and turning to rain sometime after noon. The forecast was wrong. Lookout reported 5 inches in the past 24 hours; then this morning/early afternoon was mostly sunny, with just a trace of snow from a couple flurries. I like catching surprise sunshine, for sure--though others on Pugski would've likely been more excited about the surprise 5 inches. It looked to me like the powder fans at Lookout are pretty spoiled--once there was a set of tracks down, no one else would go there. Nor did I see many tracks at all in the trees.
Anyway, a bit of traffic in town and construction around 4th of July Pass, but a smooth drive and I was in the lot by 9:25. I parked maybe 35 feet away from the lodge--it was definitely less crowded than my visit 4 months ago (which was also a Friday). Picking up my Liftopia-purchased ticket was super-easy, and I was off. The sun-cloud interaction meant much of the frontside was well-lit early, but it looked like the Montana side was shadowed, so I stayed in the front for a while (the north side was scheduled to open at 11:00). My impression of the front remained similar to before--it's really nice terrain, despite the short vertical. The snow was pretty heavy on the most sun-exposed slopes (Silver and Copper), and at the very bottom around the lodge (my guess is the snow line went as high as ~4800' yesterday). But, either through the magic of the mountains or sheer dumb luck, the lodge and very bottom stayed in shadows pretty much the entire morning, so they weren't too bad. On the other hand, the northwest-facing Interstate run was in great condition--fast-but smooth, softening with the morning into silky-but-still-fast.
Groomer Golden Eagle is at left; Bonanza is through the trees; Interstate is the groomed run mostly in the sun with a steeper slope visible; across the thin row of trees is Montana Face; Idaho Face is just to the right of the lift; Gold Run is the groomer crossing right beneath the lift here.
Once I headed over to Lift 2, I found that the top sections of all those runs were amazing--a few hundred feet of nice, smooth, fall-line packed powder. But then those 5 groomers from the top consolidated down to 3 groomed runs the rest of the way, all of which were over-skied, had bare spots/unmarked obstacles, and had snow varying from heavy slush to hardpack. Rainbow Ridge and Tamarack were nicer because way fewer people were on the lower sections, though they also suffered from the thinning, wet conditions at the bottom. That's spring skiing, right? Fantastic zoom-snow, grabby slush, and hardpack all in the same run. Plus it started snowing while the sun was still shining, another phenomenon I think of as spring-like. In a couple spots I veered over into the lightly-tracked ungroomed snow, but I found it very heavy and had trouble steering, so went back to the corduroy.
When I went to scout the north side under Lift 3, the black diamond runs were roped off. Red Dog and Marmot were both open but ungroomed, and there was at least 5 inches of loose tracked snow atop each. I considered it, but decided against trying. Now that I have more time with a trail map and the grooming report, I see that I should've kept going and taken the Midway run over to the bottom of Lift 3. Next time.
The employees were all friendly. It was too empty to have the chance to ride up a lift with anyone else, though, so no real sense of the clientele's friendliness. Definitely less of a bro dude vibe this time around... maybe partly because the median age of today's patron's was probably around 75.
Lookout's scheduled to be open 15 days in April; Silver's scheduled at least 11 (not sure if they've decided yet whether to open the last weekend, which would make 13). And given that April's generally one of my favorite months for skiing, it had me thinking seriously about a Lookout pass. But fun as it is, I think I'm just too spoiled to commit to most of a season there right now... it's decidedly smaller than the other options. Maybe once they build their expansion. But I'll definitely be looking at ticket pack options or the discount card next year, because I want to experience more of Lookout, and they can clearly offer a good time even when their competitors are closed.Bad Bob likes this.
Silver Mountain, Saturday, 4/20/19
Drive time: 1h20min there; 1h5min back
Pros: I was skiing in the second half of April
Cons: wet, heavy snow
Favorite runs: Silver Belt/Alpenway
There were several spots of construction on I-90 in Idaho, and the traffic slowed to a crawl through Post Falls, but I still made it to Silver without too terribly much delay. They had half the parking lot roped off for the finish line and associated festivities for today's Lead Man race (skiing/biking/running from the top of Kellogg Peak to the gondola base). And the open part of the lot was as full as I've seen it--which meant I had a ~4-minute walk from my car to the gondola. Still not bad at all.
It rained the entire time I was there, and the snow reminded me a lot of Mt. Hood Meadows. There were numerous bare spots or rocks peeking through, but Silver seems much more aggressive about marking such hazards than Lookout last weekend. If this weather keeps up, I'm pretty sure tomorrow's closing day at Silver.
I was able to move a little easier on the groomers, but the ungroomed terrain wasn't bad, so I got to explore a little more of the mountain. Rendezvous in particular seems like it'll be a really fun run if they ever groom it (and it's got the winch poles for grooming). But before I was up there 2 hours, my legs were sore from the heavy wet snow and I was soaked all the way through, so I headed back.
Once again, everyone was friendly. Listening into some of the tailgating on the way out, it sounded like Lead Man was a relay (or at least that was an option)… if I'd known that, maybe I would've signed up for a ski leg... but biking and running, no way!
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