SILVER MOUNTAIN & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & ver the mountain and through the valley to Silver Mountain you go. Arrive at the village in time to get a cup of joe for the ride on the world's longest gondola (only skiers and boarders at Silver Mountain are able to brag that this is how they start of their day) and arrive at 6,300 feet ready to ski or board some of the area's best terrain.
Silver Mountain has been going through quite a transition. Over the course of the last couple of years, the Gondola Village has become more mature with retail shops and restaurants, plus condos and hotels. Slated to open in 2007 is the Silver Rapids Water Park, an enormous indoor playground featuring tube slides, a family raft slide, lazy river, kids' activity lagoon and a FlowRider Surf Wave.
Up on the mountain, improvements continue with the addition of a surface lift that will help new skiers and boarders access beginner terrain and give tubers access to the new Snow Tubing Park. More runs for beginners have been added, doubling the amount of beginner terrain.
Silver is known for its great event calendar, and this year is no exception. A local favorite is Jackass Day, set for Jan. 7, 2007. The day marks Silver's 39th Anniversary and commemorates the colorful history of a mountain that was previously named Jackass.
Several events are making their way to Silver this winter season that showcase the talent and ability of some of the industry's best athletes, including a couple of sanctioned USSA (United States Ski & amp; Snowboard Association) events -- the Slopestyle Competition on Jan. 20, and the Boarder/Skiercross, Slopestyle and Halfpipe Competitions, held Mar. 3-4. Silver Mountain also hosts the Idaho Games series Feb. 24-25.
Continuing in the spring are events like Retro Day (Mar. 24) and Spring Carnival (Apr. 7), which celebrates the close of the season with pond skimming and lots of sun and snow. And there's the Third Annual Leadman triathlon (Apr. 28) -- don't worry, no swimming; just skiing or boarding, plus biking and running.
Looking for an event a little sooner? Or an event that will get you completely stoked for the upcoming season? Check out the Annual Bonfire, including a snow dance and the Red Neck Olympics, scheduled for Nov. 18.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & M & lt;/span & t. Spokane has easy access and improved terrain that will give many more folks a reason to head to this mountain when the snow accumulates. Once open, Mt. Spokane will offer area skiers and boarders new and improved terrain that has been cleared by brush-cutting crews of ever-annoying alder and overgrowth. There also have been some new runs cut for beginner and intermediate skiers and boarders, and additional glading for lovers of tree skiing.
If this is not enough to get your goose, then consider the addition of a winch cat for grooming, providing the ability to groom steeper terrain -- more than was previously possible.
Of course, Mt. Spokane has terrain park improvements, including expansion, improvement and a sponsor -- Scion, a funky automobile manufacturer. The Scion culture aligns itself well with the terrain park culture. It is a perfect partnership for Mt. Spokane -- and thanks to the sponsorship, some lucky skier or boarder will have the opportunity to win a Scion. Details are forthcoming; stay tuned. Until then, you'd better start practicing your skills.
If you're looking for a midday escape from a monotonous day at work, a quick trip up to Mt. Spokane might be the answer. Change your office scenery and head up to Lodge 2, now equipped as a wireless hotspot. Remember to bring your laptop -- but don't forget to pack your skis or board, just in case the conditions are too good to pass up.
The snow sports industry is seeing growth nationwide, and Mt. Spokane is following suit with the finalization of its Comprehensive Master Development Plan. The plan eventually will lead Mt. Spokane to reclaim the location of the original resort, create more jobs and generally create a positive economic impact that will be felt throughout the region by offering year-round operations, like other regional resorts. Resorts such as Schweitzer and Silver Mountain have seen an increase in their summer visits and are seeing record-breaking numbers as people head to the mountains to escape the summer heat.
-- JEN FORSYTH
49 DEGREES NORTH
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & N & lt;/span & ot only does 49 Degrees North have more terrain and more uphill lift capacity than last season -- there's more road to get you there. Arriving from downtown Chewelah, Wash., you will find the third phase of the Flowery Trail Road upgrade is complete. The road is now completely paved! And coming in from Newport, Coeur d'Alene or Sandpoint, you can expect a smoother ride on a wider and straighter road.
Cardio junkies who head up to 49 Degrees North will find a new parking lot for Nordic trail users that complements the addition of 10 kilometers of new Nordic trails and a new warming yurt -- located in the new parking lot -- to rest and warm up during your workout.
If rushing down hill is more your speed, then 49 Degrees North has something for you. The addition of new acreage in the Sunshine Basin and some work on the Lower Silver Ridge bring 14 new runs to the mountain. There have been some extensions on existing runs as well as enhancing access back to the lodge. The resort commissioned artist Jim Niehues to render the upgrades for a new visually pleasing trail map.
Throughout the region, terrain park enhancements seem to be the common theme, and 49 Degrees North is among the ranks with completely new rails and boxes. Skiers and boarders will find enough rails, boxes, tabletops and jumps for any level. With so many features, the goal is to allow progression of ability from the beginning rider to the more experienced rider.
Last season, 49 Degrees North was lucky enough to open on Veterans Day (Nov. 11). The Inland Northwest rallied around the opening with record-breaking sales and skier visits. As temperatures and precipitation start to drop this fall, and the days get shorter, all eyes look to the mountains to see if there might be enough snow for an anticipated opening in our near future. Although it is too early to tell if this will be the case for the Chewelah mountain this season, it's safe to say that when they do open, it will be an entirely new 49 Degrees North.
-- JEN FORSYTH
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & A & lt;/span & ffectionately called "The Big" by locals, big it is getting. Along with a half pipe so big they are calling it the Super Pipe, Big Mountain is bustling with improvements, upgrades and expansion. Topping the list is a $10-million Day Lodge expansion, premiering at the start of this season, slated to open Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 23, conditions permitting. Spokesperson for the mountain, Brian Schott, states, "The expansion comes with excitement as it is an amenity that Big Mountain users have been asking for and will better serve the overall community and day-use skiers, which is about 50 percent of Big Mountain users." Overall this expansion will create a central location for mountain services including the Snowsports School, kids' center and day care facility, rental shop, full-service cafeteria, main ticket office, guest services, seasonal lockers, group space, and day-use basket-check. In addition, the expansion includes a viewing lounge to enable guests to watch skiers and snowboarders on the beginner slopes, as well as additional parking and drop-off zones.
Additionally there is an expanded beginner area with a new chairlift. It is convenient to the new Day Lodge and covers more than 269 vertical feet with access to multiple ski runs and only a 6-minute ride time from bottom to top.
While growth can create anxiety in a community like Whitefish, Mont., which is in a major boom right now, Big Mountain has reached out to the local community for feedback. Although there are mixed feelings with this growth, Big Mountain held several open forums to gather feedback to take back to the planners, which has resulted in what has been approved by the City of Whitefish as the new master plan for the Big Mountain Village.
While specific details of the plan are still forthcoming and will require additional approvals, plans for the new village include a hotel and conference center, a new high-speed quad to replace Chair 2, and a village plaza at the loading area of the Glacier Chaser high-speed quad. As this growth occurs, Big Mountain management remains committed to keep the mountain in line with the community, which is unpretentious in nature, and not lose the rich history that makes the resort the Big Mountain that locals have known and loved since 1947.
-- JEN FORSYTH
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & K & lt;/span & now where you might find me on a Thursday morning after a storm has blown through the region? Most likely at Lookout Pass, the resort known for Powder Thursdays -- which is believable with the mountain closed Tuesday and Wednesday.
Lookout opened more than 70 years ago with a homemade rope tow. At the time, the main clientele were those who would jump off the Northern Pacific railcars. Yet Lookout Pass has operated every winter since then. To this day, you can still feel that heritage as you drive up to the parking lot and make your way to the historic lodge.
The resort is more than halfway through its five-phase Master Development Plan. The plan retains the character of the historic base lodge -- the second-oldest ski lodge in the Northwest -- that is reminiscent of vintage lodges of the 1940s. But in keeping with the needs of the area, Lookout upgraded the lodge with a 6,000-square-foot addition, which opened last season. The expansion includes a large new area for food service seating, a retail shop, locker rooms, additional restrooms and a pub lounge on the top floor, overlooking the slopes and mountains.
Besides "freshies," Lookout is known for its commitment to families -- through affordable prices, easy access and a Free Ski School Program. There is also bus service to and from Coeur d'Alene, Post Falls, Liberty Lake, the Silver Valley and Western Montana. (The Silver Valley and Western Montana have free bus service).
Although it feels like you are going back in time when skiing or boarding at Lookout Pass, the resort's staff is dedicated to keeping up with the trends of the industry. There's also a terrain park with new features like a quarter pipe, rails and jumps.
If all of this isn't enough to draw you in, consider one of the unique, fun and quirky events you might find on any given weekend -- like the Pacific Northwest National Wife-Carrying Contest, which occurs as part of the Winter Carnival on Jan. 21. Traditional events like the Ole Olson Brew Fest on Feb. 3 bring in a crowd, as do adrenaline events like the Winter Games of Idaho (hosted at Lookout on Feb. 10-11) or the "Race the Face" Snowmobile Hill Climb, scheduled after the mountain is closed for skiing or boarding on April 14-15.
-- JEN FORSYTH
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & n opening day -- as friends who are frequently called "winter friends" arrive in the Schweitzer parking lot with their season-opener smiles and finish the day with apr & egrave;s-ski grins -- most might not really be able to see the improvements that took place while they were mingling with their "summer friends."
Watching trees fall this summer wasn't a scheduled activity, but there was so much of it going on that it should have been. Schweitzer is already well known for its tree skiing but the resort has upped the ante this time. Schweitzer spent the summer glading and clearing many areas around the mountain. Bar talk ranges from optimism of more tree skiing to fear that local powder stashes might be discovered.
Groomers serve everyone in one way or another. For those who enjoy cruising freshly groomed corduroy, you will be happy to know that Schweitzer is increasing its grooming fleet by one but purchasing a total of three new state-of-the-art groomers.
The Stomping Grounds Terrain Park has added a new dedicated Park Bully, which will allow for quicker construction of park features. The emphasis for Dan Nyland, the terrain park manager, is to build more features that will appeal to all levels of terrain park users. Weekly jam sessions and coaching events are also scheduled for the new free-rider or for anyone who just wants a refresher course. And with the Stomp Games (and the Boarder Cross event) coming back to Schweitzer this season, it's time to get started reinforcing your skills.
Now to my favorite apr & egrave;s-ski activity, apr & egrave;s-ski beer: Pucci's Pub is now located in the White Pine Lodge, conveniently located next to the shuttle bus stop. Pucci's has been open daily since this summer and has already become a local favorite. Pucci's Pub offers the finest in microbrews and serves traditional grilled fare. Adding to the abundance of food options is Sam's Alley, where they'll serve pizza by the slice -- it's located next to Tap's in the Day Lodge.
Whether you're new to Schweitzer or you call it your home mountain, you'll want to make your first stop the Activity Center, located in the Selkirk Lodge. With so many new and existing activities, like dog-sledding or tubing, you'll want to get the complete overview to ensure you don't miss out on the opportunity to take a full moon hike or play in a village broomball game.
-- JEN FORSYTH
Are You Ready?
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & E & lt;/span & very year at this time, skiers and others who love to be outdoors in the winter check in with the long-range prognosticators to find out what kind of winter is on tap here in the Inland Northwest. For many people, last season had just the right combination -- plenty of snow in the mountains for skiers and snowboarders, a strong snowpack to aid our spring and summer water supply and not a lot of bad driving here in the lowlands. But the year before was a bust for snowy recreation. So what does the winter of 2006-07 have in store?
Long-range weather prediction is still a tricky business -- no one can say exactly when the big storms and arctic blasts will hit. But meteorologists now can identify global patterns that affect local weather trends -- patterns like the infamous El Nino, a periodic warming of sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean near the equator.
"We are in an El Nino," says KREM-2 Weathercaster Tom Sherry. "It appears to be weak at the moment, but indications are it'll strengthen further. Around here, an El Nino generally means warmer than average temperatures, but precipitation is the wild card."
Indeed, snowfall records bear this out. While most El Nino winters deliver lower than average snowfall totals, not every year follows that pattern: In the last 50 years, three El Nino seasons (1964, 1968 and 1977) brought snowfall in excess of 60 inches in Spokane. (Our average is 47.8 inches.)
Of course, elevation impacts snowfall as well. While warmer temperatures mean rain rather than snow in valley locations, most ski hills are high enough for that precipitation to fall as snow. Sherry suggests keeping an eye on freezing levels as you watch the nightly weather forecasts.
"Sometimes freezing levels will be high enough for snow even if it's raining in Spokane -- a freezing level of 4,000 feet generally gets the mountains around here," he says. "But you need to know what mountain you'll be at and what their elevation is."
Even if this year's El Nino keeps things drier than usual through January, the season isn't necessarily lost, says Sherry. "Many times the El Nino begins to dissipate by late in the season, to where we've had some decent late winter and spring skiing."
And for a different perspective, just consult the 2007 long-range forecast for the Intermountain Region in the Old Farmers Almanac: "Winter will be colder and snowier than normal, with near-normal precipitation."
As always, if you don't like the weather, just wait a minute.
-- ANN M. COLFORD
ON LOCAL SLOPES
Visitors to Schweitzer Mountain Resort will now be able to feel the thrill of gliding on snow at the speed of a dog. New to the mountain this year is dog sledding, which is a unique and exhilarating way to add to your on-mountain experience. (More on Schweitzer, page 19)
Is there a better way to end your day on the mountain than with a couple of runs down the tubing hill? Silver Mountain has added a Snow Tubing Park that will be open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, as well as major holidays, and there's night tubing during night skiing hours. So if you feel like burnin' some rubber, head on up to Silver. (More on Silver, page 6)
500 More Acres
The largest Pacific Northwest ski area expansion in 30 years is happening this year at 49 Degrees North. They have a lot to be proud of, mainly the 500 acres of new terrain as well their first four-person lift -- the new Sunrise Quad chairlift. With this addition, it takes 49's total patrolled area to 2,325 acres. (More on 49, page 14)
Mount Spokane has really done it this time. Not only have they upgraded their terrain park with an overall expansion, they have a new sponsor for the park: Scion. Details are still to come, but as part of the sponsorship, they will be giving a Scion away this season.(More on Mount Spokane, page 7)
Building on what Lookout Pass started last season with the 6,000-square-foot addition onto the existing lodge, there is a new food court and ticket windows with e-ticket express. This means enjoying some famous Lookout chili and purchasing tickets in a more efficient manner. (More on Lookout, page 18)
Big Mountain Resort opened their new Super Pipe last March, making it new to this year, too. The pipe is 450 feet long, 57 feet wide, with 18-foot high walls, and a 16-degree pitch -- all to Federation of International Skiing standards. Snowmaking, lights for night use during scheduled night skiing and a sound system complete the pipe package. (More on Big Mountain, page 15)
-- Jen Forsyth
HOT NEW GEAR
Electra 10 Series Snowshoes
Snowshoes just keep selling and selling -- seems they've tapped into the family-wanting-to-hike-in-the-winter market. And they've been getting more customized along the way. Just like they make running shoes especially for women, Atlas has created the Electra 10 Series for women. They've got a little more arch support and have been engineered to work better with a woman's stride. The rest is high-end, too, with single-pull bindings, a spring-loaded suspension system and stainless steel prongs and crampons for solid footing. ($180 at REI)
Mithril is the Elven steel that Frodo's chain mail shirt is made from in The Lord of the Rings. Outdoor Research doesn't invoke the impenetrableness lightly; their Stormshell has the same effect on water. A revolutionary piece, it's a softshell jacket with no stitched seams -- they are all welded, so you are kept really, really dry. Lined with microfleece, it also comes with a hood big enough to fit over your helmet. And unlike some of the newer jackets out there, it won't gobble up your winter budget.
($199 at Mountain Goat Outfitters)
Helmets are no longer optional for serious skiers and boarders, and Burton's R.E.D. series does the trick. It's got the goggle gasket for a tight seam, and the Quick Clip system that allows you to add and remove ear pads quickly depending on the temperature. Best of all, if you can't think of skiing without music, the R.E.D. earpads are designed by Audix to be speaker-compatible. Keep your noggin intact; but don't forget, these are one-timers. Any time your helmet takes a hit, you need to replace it. ($100-$120 at REI)
Covert Backcountry pack with Avalung
If you enjoy the backcountry, you probably already know how dangerous it can be. That's why there are tons of classes on backcountry safety. And the gear is getting better all the time, too. Black Diamond has been offering its Avalung for a while now, but this year they're integrating the system into a backpack. It's very bad news to get buried by an avalanche; surviving is a race against time. The Avalung allows you to draw air out of the snow -- enough to add extra minutes onto your survival time. Statistics show that 92 percent of those hit by an avalanche survive if they are dug out within 15 minutes, so this may be one of those times when money can buy you precious time. ($199 at Mountain Goat Outfitters)
Valhalla Four-in-One Jacket System
If a three-in-one jacket system is good, then a four-in-one jacket system must be great. At least that's the theory behind Columbia's new Valhalla, part of its Titanium line. They've added a vest to the mix, giving you four combinations to work with. The outer shell is Columbia's Omni-Tech breathable, waterproof material; the jacket is a wool/fleece blend; and the vest is filled with down. This jacket is so rugged and versatile, it's not even officially a jacket: Columbia calls it a "system." ($495 at REI)
DO YOU IPOD?
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & o iPod or not to iPod? This is a heated question, to say the least. Let's establish up front that I have never listened to tunes while skiing, because I think it is more important to hear what is going on around me. While on the slopes, I have been hit twice; both times I was standing still. Ironically, each time it was a snowboarder. Neither of them was wearing earphones.
Portable music has had a strong presence on the slopes since the '80s, but the difference now is that the devices are more portable and more technically advanced to prevent skipping, making them more desirable than ever. Soft goods, like jackets, helmets, gloves and sunglasses, now offer features that accommodate an iPod or MP3 player; the iPod Shuffle is smaller than a credit card, and iTunes is a household name.
When I casually bring up the issue of portable music with people who have been skiing for years, I hear mixed feedback. Some are dead set against listening to music while skiing or boarding; others wouldn't go out without their favorite tunes. I tend to be in the camp that is against listening to music. After watching the influx of ski movies this fall, I yearn for my own personal soundtrack while descending my favorite runs, just like the stars of those films. But enjoying my favorite tunes while skiing or boarding raises many issues, related mainly to safety: not being able to communicate with people who have their music too loud, or not being able to hear what is going on in the surrounding environment.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & here is a middle ground in this debate, of course. One line of thinking says it's OK to listen to music on the slopes when it's done responsibly and at the correct times. The problem is that this requires skiers and boarders to analyze each given situation and hope they make the right decision. An example of a good situation would be on a closed course -- like on the half pipe in a competition, where the competitor uses the music to find a groove, and there's no chance a snowmobile or other rider will be in there at the same time.
Arlene Cook, assistant patrol director at Schweitzer Mountain Resort, thinks the decision should be based on one's ability and the circumstances. "Using your best judgment is always the best route," she says, "although there are times when it would be best to turn the headphones off so that you are more aware of what is going on around you. It is always a good idea to keep the volume at a level that would allow the listener to hear if something or someone is coming towards them -- for example, a snowmobile. There is a certain feeling of contentment while skiing inbounds, although hazards do still exist."
Kimberley Loosemore has been skiing for almost as long as she has been able to walk. She skis with headphones on, and she is also a ski patroller. She has a play list in her iPod specifically for skiing. She says listening to music while skiing "gives me something to move to; the beat of the music assists me in my turning. The combination of the music, the cold weather and ripping down the mountain is what makes me love this sport." She adds, "I always have the volume at a level that I am able to hear what is going on around me since awareness equals safety." Another technique Kim suggests is listening to your iPod with only one earphone in your ear. That would allow you to listen to music but would help with awareness.
Thumbing through the gear guides, you'll find many items that try to answer the safety issue by using speakers rather than earphones. Speakers may allow the rider to hear beyond the music, but using speakers makes the assumption that other people on the mountain want to listen to the same tunes as the rider with the new tech gear -- an assumption that's rarely correct.
Multiple clothing manufactures are taking a stab at the new technology. There are gloves with iPod-specific fingering, and hydration systems with speakers incorporated into their design. Last season some of these were available for demo; the initial feedback was that while riding the chairlift it was great, but once getting going down hill, the sound was washed out with the sound of snow under foot.
As with any issue related to safety in the mountains, use your best judgment -- and when in doubt, err on the side of caution. The longevity of your days on the slopes -- and those of other skiers and boarders around you -- depends on this type of decision-making.
Pristine Priest Lake
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & P & lt;/span & riest Lake is known as an area where you can get away from it all, with a relaxed atmosphere that's unique to the "lake without the city," as it's called. Just south of the Canadian border and surrounded by the Selkirk Mountains, the Priest Lake area appeals to people who prize seclusion, serenity and the great outdoors. Developers have been kept at bay by economic constraints, environmental protests and state and federal government ownership of much of the lake's shoreline. The lack of commercialism at Priest Lake provides space and solitude. Winter at "the Priest" offers some of the best snowmobiling in the Northwest, as well as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Nordic sports enthusiasts appreciate the rugged beauty of the region, a wide range of terrain challenges and backcountry adventures. They also don't compete with crowds or pay high costs for these sports at Priest Lake. Eighty kilometers of groomed cross-country trails, skate lanes at the Nordic Ski Center and designated snowshoe areas are surrounded by huge swaths of public forest available for backcountry Nordic sports. Outstanding views of the lake and wintry forest scenes, including an ancient cedar grove, await skiers and snowshoers alike as they rhythmically glide along or crunch over pristine snow.
Snowmobilers love the feeling of freedom as they fly over the snow. They're also enamored with pristine wilderness they probably couldn't access any other way. Their high-powered machines take them through virgin powder and allow them to view a backcountry wonderland. Priest Lake's windswept ridges, snow-filled bowls and terrain ranging in elevation from 2,500 to more than 7,000 feet offers something for all levels of riders. Trailheads are easily accessed from the doorsteps of many of the area's resorts and lodges.
Snowmobile enthusiasts call Priest Lake a Mecca for every type and style of rider. The Big Sundance Burn in the late 1960s cleared thousands of acres around Priest Lake, making perfect play areas and hill climbs for experienced snowmobilers. But since last year's ruling by a federal judge, access to 400-plus miles of groomed trails and routes through 523,000 acres of public lands surrounding Priest Lake has changed.
Last December, U.S. District Judge Robert Whaley issued a temporary ban on snowmobile trail grooming in the northwest corner of Priest Lake in an effort to save the last remaining mountain caribou herd in the lower 48 states.
"All the businesses at Priest Lake were impacted, even though there was no change on the south side of the lake," says Glenda Presley, owner of Cavanaugh Bay Resort in Coolin. "It hurt our business because the wrong information went out."
At Elkin's Resort and Grandview Resort on the northwest side of the lake, last year's winter was grim.
"Our business was down over 50 percent last year because the Spokesman-Review incorrectly printed that many trails were closed on the west side of the lake," says Cindy Benscoter, assistant manager at Grandview Resort. "Last winter was a break-even situation for us."
Priest Lake Power Sports is the main snowmobile rental shop in the area. Owner Ed Porter says last year's rentals were down only marginally, but snowmobile licenses were down 40 percent from the previous year. Those license fees are essential because they provide money to groom the snowmobile trails.
Late this September, Judge Whaley went further when he banned snowmobiling from the federally designated caribou recovery zone of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests until the U.S. Forest Service develops a winter recreation strategy that he says adequately considers the impact of snowmobiling on the herd, estimated at 35 to 40 caribou. Environmentalists allege that snowmobiles scare caribou from feeding and calving grounds. They say a permanent ban is needed to save the endangered animals that once roamed vast reaches of the Inland Northwest.
"We're down to the last few animals," says Mark Sprengel, director of the Selkirk Conservation Alliance, of Priest River. "We need to do everything we can to protect them."
But resort owners and snowmobilers counter that past logging practices, natural predators and global warming have contributed to the decline in caribou numbers. They also think the ban protects a species that's extremely scarce anyway. Since 2000, only two or three caribou from the herd have been found south of the Canadian border.
"I've snowmobiled in that restricted area for the last 10 years, and I've never seen a caribou or its tracks," says Craig Hill, co-owner of Hill's Resort. "I've specifically looked for signs of caribou, and I haven't seen them."
Benscoter echoes Hill's findings. "I've been here 29 years and I've never heard of anyone who's seen any caribou, even guys who go into the high country," she says.
Presley concurs: "Guys living in the Nordman area for 50 years have never seen a caribou around here."
But the real question is whether Judge Whaley's ruling will impact businesses that depend on snowmobiling to keep them afloat.
"Just a little more than 10 percent of our groomed snowmobiling trails are closed -- about 50 miles on Forest Service property in the northwest corner of the system," Hill says. "The off-trail areas that are closed are only accessible by very skilled riders on the most current machines. It will affect most of the businesses in Priest Lake and Hill's to some degree."
Porter, who is also a member of the Priest Lake Snowmobile Groomers Association, has a different opinion: "The really great snowmobiling is on the east part of the lake," he says. "It's easy to get to and not impacted by the injunction."
Resort owners, groomers and business people agree that snowmobilers have been unfairly singled out as contributing to the decline in caribou herds in the national forest land around Priest Lake.
"The documented kills of caribou have all been from predators, like grizzly bears, mountain lions and wolves -- whose numbers are growing," Porter explains. "Caribou aren't intimidated by snowmobiles."
Hill adds that snowmobilers aren't out to get caribou. "If I ever saw a caribou when I was snowmobiling, I would never chase it," he says. "Most snowmobilers I know are the same way."
If environmentalists think snowmobilers don't care about the forests, Porter declares otherwise: "We're all for a balance, but we think the forests need to be open for those who are able-bodied and those with disabilities who could ride snowmobiles. If we would lose snowmobiling in this area, it would be devastating," he adds. "The summer season is only about 90 days long and it can't sustain us."
Both environmentalists and snowmobile enthusiasts await Judge Whaley's ruling on the Forest Service's proposed ban on snowmobiling that is more trail-specific, which may come down as soon as this week. Until then, winter sports enthusiasts will be happy to know that snowmobiling -- along with cross-country skiing and snowshoeing -- is still happening at Priest Lake.
Traveling Church of Snow
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & F & lt;/span & or a lot of people (and for a lot of years), the winter season has never really been official until they hear that voice. Gathered together in a darkened room, the faithful wait to see glories revealed. If it all sounds like some kind of religious experience, well -- yeah, it kind of is.
Yep, the new Warren Miller movie is back in town.
This year's pilgrimage takes the flock to the wildest places, farthest from the groomed tracks. Off the Grid refers to a state of mind, but the filmmakers have also found some places on the map that fit the description. Heli-skiing in Alaska, cutting tracks through rocky faces at Kicking Horse near Golden, B.C., and skiing, literally, through a war zone -- it's all off the grid and, as usual, ridiculously off the hook.
The series has been going for 57 years now, but this is only the second in which Warren Miller plays only a supporting role. Last year, Miller, 82, retired (he lives on Orcas Island and is still the director of skiing at the exclusive Yellowstone Lodge in Montana), and the series had a wake-up call -- no longer could they get by on Miller's charm alone. They have made the transition, and the films may be better than ever, with more music and cooler locations. And the new guy's pretty good, too: Narrator Jeremy Bloom is a former World Cup champ and current wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Still, Miller offers up his wit and wisdom here and there -- "I was lucky enough to be 14 for my whole life," he intones at one point -- letting you know the pastor of the Church of Snow is still in the pulpit.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & K & lt;/span & im Schneider will never forget hearing that voice behind him when he was packing it out after a day on the slopes above Lake Tahoe. "So, did you get some pretty good stuff today?" It was 1974, and Schneider, a year out of high school, was living in a camper he built on the back of his beater pickup, right there in the Heavenly parking lot. Oh, and he was out filming skiers with his Super 8; the guy who snuck up behind him just happened to be his idol.
"I wanted to work for Warren since I was 12 years old," says Schneider, who remembers going to see the films two or three times every year growing up in the Bay Area.
As it turned out, the meeting was a kind of job interview -- carrying a movie camera with his ski gear and living in the resort parking lot was all the resume he needed. Schneider went to work for Warren Miller the following year, and he's been the editor on every Warren Miller movie since 1978.
Schneider will run the projector at the Sunday showings of Off the Grid in the INB Center in Spokane, and this year he's really psyched up, stating, flat-out: "This is the best film we've ever done."
Now 52, Schneider has his editing suite set up in his Sun Valley home, and while the rest of the Warren Miller family are out all year skiing and filming, he waits for the FedEx truck. "Every time that footage shows up, I rip into the box. It's like Christmas for me."
And it's become a family affair; one of Schneider's favorite pictures is of him cutting film with his baby son sitting on his lap. Today, his two sons work on the film, too. Travis picked out the music (Audioslave, Zero 7, etc.) for Off the Grid, while Kyle is his editing assistant.
Every year, starting in April and running through the end of September, it's full speed ahead for Schneider; he typically cuts 75 hours of film down to 90 minutes. They screen a rough cut in Boulder every Fourth of July for friends and associates, incorporating the feedback they get as the product is fine-tuned for release starting every October.
Schneider has seen his profession go through two major revolutions, from film to videotape ("cutting videotape was a nightmare") and from tape to full digital. With everything getting more high-tech by the year, each new Warren Miller movie gives Schneider a chance to show off new tricks of the trade. The result is like the skiing and boarding you see on the screen -- wild and exciting on the surface, but technically top-notch as well.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & his year's entry will not disappoint. There's tons of great riding, but as is so often the case with Warren Miller movies, it's the locations you won't forget. The obscure Kicking Horse resort and the nearby Chatter Creek Lodge in B.C. get their big-screen debuts, and it's just sick -- all rock faces and deep powder. Those places should be mobbed this season.
The filmmakers also travel to some great big air contests, to what appears to be a snowball fighting league in Japan and you even get to meet the few, the proud, the monoboarders. And the final sequence is beautiful and totally inspiring -- I'll leave it at that.
But the sequence you won't forget starts with ski dudes riding around in some kind of canoes with exotic locals, through what appears to be the floating equivalent of a supermarket. Welcome to Kashmir, the disputed region between India and Pakistan, where some fear World War III could start at any time. It just so happens to be located amid some of the most vertically endowed lands on Earth. Towns that get entirely cut off from the world every winter... skiing while heavily armed militia men look on... loading up wide-eyed local kids for rides down the slopes... it's National Geographic after three cans of Red Bull. And it's spiritually moving, too. Which brings us back to the point of Warren Miller movies: to pump you up for the season, sure, but also to celebrate the part fast tracks and tall mountains play in so many people's lives.
"Warren's the spiritual leader," says Schneider. "We just try to live up to the standards he laid down.
"I had breakfast with him a week ago," Schneider continues, "and you're sitting in the presence of the one true ski bum -- he's such an icon. I saw Julien [Carr, who stars in Off the Grid] over at the counter, so I said, 'Hey Warren, this guy wants to meet you.' I won't forget his face, like he just saw God. 'Uh, thanks for letting me be in you movie,' Julien said. After that, all Julien could say was, 'I just met Warren Miller.'"
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & S & lt;/span & chneider travels with the film every year, and every year he brings along his laptop and a couple of books -- thinking he can work or read while he's up in the projection booth. But every time, his plans are foiled.
"I can't help it," says Schneider. "I just keeping watching it -- over and over again."
Just like the rest of the true believers.
Off the Grid plays at 4 pm and
7 pm on Sunday, Nov. 12, at
the INB Center (formerly the Spokane Opera House).
Tickets: $18.50. Call: 325-SEAT.
GREAT WHITE NORTH
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he terrorists are making it harder to ski, it seems. That's right, the border crossings into Canada are being taken much more seriously in recent years, but if you arm yourself with the right information -- and documentation -- the terrorists will be defeated and you can ski some of the best terrain in the world.
The Inland Northwest is perfectly situated for skiers and snowboarders. Not only do we have some great resorts right out our back doors, but we also have a winter wonderland just over the border to the north. From Whistler to Banff, Canada is considered world-class -- a point proven by so many Europeans who jump from London to Calgary or Vancouver every winter for a ski trip.
And you don't have to contend with the crowds at those international resorts, as there are plenty of acres to ski in between. Whitewater, outside charming Nelson, B.C., is a local favorite, as is the German-themed Kimberley. Then there's Fernie, fast becoming one of the Canadian Rockies' worst-kept secrets. And for a quick trip north to some of the consistently best skiing around, Red Mountain is just over the border in Rossland. The exchange rate isn't as ridiculous as it was a few years ago, but at $1.15 Canadian for every U.S. dollar you trade in, it's still pretty good.
But let's get back to getting into Canada -- and getting back into the United States. Your best bet all around is to get yourself a passport (the post office on Sprague and Napa in Spokane has all the paperwork you need). But if you don't have a passport, here's what you need.
To Get Into Canada: U.S. citizens need proof of citizenship, like a driver's license, to cross the border. Canadians are on the lookout for illegal guns, so leave your unlicensed weaponry at home. Other than that, getting in is still relatively simple. It's the getting back into the U.S. that's getting tougher.
To Get Back Into the United States: Again, the passport is your best bet. And starting Jan. 1, you won't be able to fly into Canada at all without a passport. And according to Homeland Security plans, you'll need a passport to drive into Canada starting Jan. 1, 2008. For the remainder of this year and for all of 2007, you need picture ID and a birth certificate. Any kids 14 and older need a picture ID, too, and if you are traveling with kids who are not your own, you'll need a notarized note from their parents or guardians with contact information.
So that's all you need to know -- except that Lake Louise opens Nov. 10. Enjoy, eh!