by Suzanne Schreiner & r & No doubt about it, Lookout Pass is an inspired place for a ski resort. Getting there is as easy as zooming along four lanes of I-90, giving real heft to the phrase "freeway-accessible." From downtown Spokane, you can arrive at Exit 0 on the Idaho/Montana border in 90 minutes; once there, you can ski two states on one mountain. Then there's the snow: a whopping 400 inches per year -- nearly 100 inches more of lighter, drier white stuff than other local resorts and "more than anywhere else in Idaho," says marketing director Jim Schreiber. The north-facing slope tends to hold the snow longer: "Because of the way it sits, the mountain just gets clobbered all the time," says Schreiber. Which is the reason Lookout had a good season last year even when other area resorts didn't.

So when does he predict Lookout will open? Schreiber is sticking with Thanksgiving, though he suggests signing up for e-mailed snow reports to those who want to be on the slopes at the first skiable moment. It has to be a good sign that in first couple days of November, eight inches had already fallen.

One of Lookout's great claims to fame is its nationally recognized free ski school for kids (ages 6-17), offered from January to March. Parents can drop off Junior near their homes, because resort buses run from Liberty Lake, Post Falls, Coeur d'Alene, Hayden, Silver Valley and a few stops in western Montana every Saturday. In the last 60 years, 40,000 kids have been set loose on the slopes by volunteer instructors.

Phase Three of Lookout's five-year expansion plan is underway with five new runs being logged on the north face of the mountain. A new Northstar lift pod is being installed; by late 2006, skiers will be gasping at spectacular views of the Bitterroot Range and the South Fork Coeur d'Alene River Valley.

This winter, two acres of new terrain in the Last Chance glades will be open. And when they're done schussing, tired skiers can idle with a beer and a big-screen TV in the top-floor bar and lounge of the new lodge. And the "Front Side" Terrain Park has the rails, boxes, banks and launches to distract all those wild child snowboarders out there.

Where: Wallace, Idaho & r & Phone: (208) 744-1301 & r & Web site: & r & Vertical Drop: 1,150 ft. & r & Average Snowfall: 400 inches & r & Lifts: Two double, one rope tow & r & Hill Info: 444 acres of skiing, 23 runs: 25 percent beginner, 45 percent intermediate, 20 percent advanced, 10 percent expert & r & HOURS: Monday, Thursday, Friday from 9 am -4 pm; Saturday and Sunday from 8 am - 4 pm. Open seven days a week from Dec. 17 to Jan. 2. & r & LIFT PRICES: $15-$26 & r & MAJOR EVENTS: Santa Claus Skis on Dec. 24; Lookout free ski school begins (ages 6-17) and Ronald McDonald Day on Jan. 7; Big Air Contest on Jan. 15; Winter Carnival on Jan. 22

Summer Parkways @ South Hill

Through June 20
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