Mt. Spokane is expanding its skiable area, and adding a piece of local history. On Feb. 21 the board of directors announced the mountain purchased a historic ski lift from Montana’s Bridger Bowl Ski Area. Known as "The Red Chair,” it will add runs on the backside of Mount Spokane.
Although the chair was built in the '60s, it's fully outfitted with modern lift technology and is in many ways better than the lifts Mt. Spokane currently has, says Brad McQuarrie, general manager of Mt. Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park.
"We got an old lift," McQuarrie says. "Let's just admit that."
Although much of the technology will be new, the Riblet chair itself will fit right in on the mountain. The lift has a unique Spokane connection — it was originally built by the Riblet Tramway Company, which was based out of Spokane before reportedly closing in 2003.
All of Mt. Spokane's current chairs were made by the Riblet Tramway Company, McQuarrie says. In fact, Mt. Spokane was a sort of product testing ground for the Riblet factory. That's why when they started shopping for a lift, they only looked for Riblets, he says.
"Bar none [Riblets are] the best in the world," he says. "This is the best Riblet left ... that we know of anywhere in the world. It's like the Cadillac of Riblets."
Despite its quality, Mt. Spokane paid only $50,000 for the chair — McQuarrie says that's a steal. Bridger Bowl was just happy to see it go to someone who would really appreciate the lift for what it is, he says. As part of the deal, Mt. Spokane has agreed to pay for the removal and transportation of the lift, and construction is expected to begin in the spring.
According to a press release, the chair will be able to handle 1,250 people per hour and will service seven new runs. Mount Spokane received approval for the construction from Washington State's Parks and Recreation Commission. A local environmental group is trying to block the expansion in court, but Mt. Spokane plans to start construction after the final hearing this spring.
"What it accesses is just going to be phenomenal terrain," McQuarrie says.