Annual infrastructure upgrades and operational improvements are pretty much a given for the region's most popular ski areas and resorts. But the 2021–22 season is bringing some unusually big changes across the board, with fresh trails, modernized chairlifts, brand-new facilities and more programming options available to experienced skiers and beginners alike. Combined with a possible La Niña weather event, it could be a winter sports season for the record books.
49 Degrees North
Ascending Chewelah Peak at 49 Degrees North will now be almost as much fun as the descent, thanks to a brand-new Doppelmayr high-speed quad chairlift. It's replacing the Bonanza No. 1 fixed-grip double that had been in use on the mountain since 1972. The 900-horsepower lift represents a $7 million investment and now bears the distinction of being the longest chairlift in Washington state. And yet, despite measuring well over a mile (6,644 feet to be exact), it still manages to bring riders to the summit in under seven minutes — about half the time as the old one.
The midway load station will be removed as part of the lift project; but on the plus side, six new runs have been cut that make the nearby Boothill area below Beaver Slide much more accessible. Along with the construction of a new vehicle maintenance facility to better serve the entire resort, the slopes will benefit from last season's major improvements to the artificial snow system. Fresh snowmaking equipment has just been installed above Blastface trail, which will help supplement the 300-plus inches of average annual snowfall.
On the Montana side of Lookout Pass, chair two (aka Timber Wolf) is being upgraded from a double- to a triple-seat platform this season. That one-third increase in capacity might sound like the big highlight of the improvement, but the even better news might be the removal of the chair's center bar. Less-experienced skiers and families with young children are sure to find it much easier to load and unload.
That chairlift also happens to be a lynchpin in Lookout's long-term expansion in the direction of Eagle Peak. The intrepid advance up the mountain will mark a rise in elevation from 5,650 to 6,150 vertical feet, which translates to a massive gain of 485 skiable acres on top of the current 540. Logging crews are already making inroads into that new acreage, with a planned 14 new trails to be accessible to rugged, reservation-only cat skiing this season, most likely sometime in January.
Mt. Spokane's Illuminator, once known simply as Chair Number Two, is the beneficiary of a million-dollar investment aimed at replacing its drive terminal. As a result, the central chairlift that brings passengers from the beginners' area toward the 5,889-foot summit will usher in the new season with a more efficient uphill ride. The park is also continuing the seven-day schedule that it first introduced at the tail end of last season, which opens up more opportunities to get out on the mountain early in the week.
In addition to the extended opening times, both newbie and experienced skiers can take advantage of this season's expanded multiweek programs. For advanced skiers and snowboarders in the 9–17 age bracket, the new Park Club and Mountain Adventure Club options will let them safely hone their skills in the Terrain Park or out among the trees under the guidance of veteran instructors. In another first for this season, all those courses, camps and clubs can be easily booked online. There are also some subtler, behind-the-scenes changes — one being the new food and beverage director, a Silverwood alum who'll be revamping some of the menus.
For the first half of the 20th century, the Humbird Lumber Company was an economic engine and community mainstay in North Idaho. Schweitzer's new Humbird Hotel, slated to make its grand opening during the 2021–22 ski season, honors that local history with a three-story, 31-room facility that makes a stunning visual feature of its heavy timber construction. Designed by Portland, Oregon's Skylab Architecture, it will offer a boutique guest experience with a variety of room types, an onsite restaurant and bar, a fitness center and even a co-working space, all with central ski-in/ski-out access.
Although its rooftop hot tub and panoramic views of Lake Pend Oreille are likely to make the Humbird the most popular new addition this season, it's only the latest milestone in Schweitzer's implementation of its ambitious multi-year master plan. Also new this year is Schweitzer's inclusion in the Ikon Pass partnership. The season pass grants holders generous access to more than 40 international winter sport destinations like Washington's Crystal Mountain, Canada's RED Mountain and even Austria's Kitzbühel. Schweitzer is the first location in Idaho to participate.
The runs at Silver Mountain will be better curated than ever this season, thanks to the introduction of two new groomers to its vehicle fleet. The resort has brought in additional heavy machinery in the form of a winch cat nicknamed "Minnie the Mulcher," which can secure itself to the winch station and cut steeper runs down the slopes. As those same runs used to have to be cut by hand, mechanizing the process means there will be more terrain to ski earlier in the season when there isn't as much cumulative snowfall.
For skiers and snowboarders who are still working up to those steeper trails, Silver is making the learning experience even more pleasant by installing a cover over its magic carpet. Now beginners will be protected from the elements as they're pulled up to the top of the bunny hill on the snow-level conveyor belt. ♦
Pick up the Nov. 11 edition of Snowlander for an even deeper look at our five local resorts, along with even more coverage of the snow sport season.