The rain shadow effect caused by the Cascade Range to our west is dramatic and well known, but the same phenomenon occurs to our east as well. Located along the crest of the Bitterroot Range, where the mountains pull water out of the air at a rate that rivals rain-soaked Seattle, Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area regularly leads the region when it comes to snowfall totals. The mountain averages over 400 inches of natural snow each year, and that number is expected to rise as Lookout expands upward.
After a soft opening of sorts last season, the Eagle Peak expansion will be fully open to all this year, thanks to a new quad chairlift installed over the summer. The expansion will nearly double the area open to skiers and snowboarders.
"We're going to be going from 540 acres to 1,023 acres, and we're adding 14 to possibly even 16 new trails for this year, mostly strong-intermediate-to-advanced runs and some expert runs," says Director of Marketing Matt Sawyer. "More snow, deeper snow, higher elevation. It brings us to a total of 1,650-foot vertical. We're really excited about how it transforms Lookout and takes us into the next size category as a good midsized ski area."
The Eagle Peak expansion will expand Lookout's footprint on the Montana side of the border, though it is important to note that even though it will reach farther into the Mountain Time Zone, Lookout will continue to operate on Pacific Time.
In addition to the massive expansion, there are some small but notable changes coming to Lookout this winter. The parking area located just off I-90 has been expanded, and the stairs leading up to the lodge were widened to ease bottlenecks. On the slopes, changes include regrading work on the beginner slopes in the learning area and an additional groomer added to the fleet.
"We do more grooming than most of the other ski areas do in terms of the percentage of our slopes that are groomed on a nightly basis. Our groomers do an exceptional job, and they love laying down the corduroy for people to enjoy," Sawyer says.
Lookout has long benefited from its locally oriented approach on the slopes. Compared to some of the resorts, Lookout's small and unassuming appearance belies the quality of the snow and skiing experience it provides to visitors. With an expansion dramatically changing the size of the ski area, longtime fans may worry about the charm starting to fade.
"We're not a destination with on-site lodging and built-up community and... not having that congestion that creates," says Sawyer. "We're located on the border of two states, so obviously attracting people from Missoula as well as Spokane. It's just going to continue to have a hometown feel, but with a little bit more terrain for people to explore."
Another aspect that helps Lookout maintain its nice, local vibe is the federally owned land upon which it sits. Future development on the mountain is a complex process compared to mountains located on private land.
"We're in the U.S. Forest Service. This has been in the process of finalization for years. It's been about a 10-year process, from when it was first initially proposed to the Forest Service to finishing up and opening up this coming winter," Sawyer says of the Eagle Peak expansion. ♦
FUN BIT OF HISTORY?
"Lookout Pass is the oldest ski area in Idaho, having opened in December of 1935. Yes, we predated even the notorious Sun Valley, which opened in 1936. We also still operate the oldest free ski school in the country, which has been in operation every year since it started offering lessons to youth for free 77 years ago."
"We do a fundraiser [this year on Dec. 22] where we collect approximately $20 from people that dress up in a full-on Santa suit. I mean top to bottom, they've got to look like Santa. They've got to have the red cap, the full coat, the pants, the black belt. They get a ticket for $20, and 100 percent of that is donated to local charities to buy Christmas gifts for the kids in the local region. It usually makes the news because you got somewhere in about 70 or 80 Santa Clauses skiing down the hill at one time."
STAFF FAVORITE RUN?
"Most staff enjoy skiing the impeccably groomed run known as Gold because it is so wide, well groomed, and it brings you back to the Peak 1 Quad, which originates next to the parking lot on the front of the mountain. My personal favorite though is Golden Eagle Skiers Far Right on the front as it is steeper than Gold and also has a reputation for awesome grooming. We are not going to get into our favorite powder stashes..."
GOOD TO KNOW?
"Lookout Pass Ski and Recreation Area is one of only four ski areas in the U.S. that straddle two states. We have trails and lifts in both Idaho and Montana. Your phone will switch time zones as you cross the border [Lookout operates on Pacific Time]."
Matt Sawyer is Lookout Pass's director of marketing.