by Suzanne Schreiner & r & As a transplant to Spokane from the west side of the Cascades a few years ago, I was eager to see a real winter -- one that featured flurries of white stuff rather than gray skies and mud. One of the first things my neighbors told me was that it was a mere hour's drive to Mount Spokane. Better still, I wouldn't have to trek up Snoqualmie Pass to get there, and I wouldn't be skiing on Cascade concrete when I arrived.

I promptly went out and bought myself a new pair of skis and discovered that there is everything to like about the nearly 6,000-foot mountain. On top of sheer accessibility -- it's just 23 miles from downtown Spokane -- one of the things that sets it apart from other ski hills is its nonprofit status, permitting the boast that Mount Spokane is operated by skiers and riders for skiers and riders. No slight intended to its profit-making cousins, but that means all the money goes right back into the mountain.

For those who want to learn to ski or hone their skills, Mount Spokane instructors say there is a lesson for everyone. Along with night skiing, says general manager Brad McQuarrie, the ski school "is one of our niches." In an average year, more than 100 instructors show newbies the skiing way in a mind-blowing 20,000 classes.

This year, to appeal to kids who don't ski (or who just want to do something different), an area at the top of the mountain directly below Lodge One has been cleared to allow for about 10 inner-tube lanes designed specifically for the 50 heavy-duty inner tubes expected any day. For just $5, people can rent the tubes for unlimited use from 10 am-3 pm. (They also offer tubing at Bear Creek Lodge on the way up to Mount Spokane.) Two new full-length fall line runs will be ready for opening day, and McQuarrie says the wishes of all those Type-A folks who want to check in with the office from the mountain have been answered -- there is now a wireless hotspot at the Main Lodge.

Opening day is scheduled for Dec. 3, or earlier if at all possible, depending on -- say it with me now -- snow. Until then, keep checking the WebCam or get yourself psyched with the online Panorama Vision movie from Vista House on the summit. Four inches of beautiful white flakes fell on Halloween, and that can only be good. In the meanwhile, let's dream of a white Thanksgiving.

Where: Spokane, Wash. & r & Phone: (509) 443-1397 & r & Web Site: & r & Vertical Drop: 2,000 feet & r & Average Snowfall: 300 inches & r & Lifts: five double chairs & r & Hill Info: 1,250 ft.; 44 trails; 23% beginner; 32% intermediate; 45% advanced & r & Hours: 9 am-4 pm. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays except holidays. Night skiing until 9:30 pm on Wednesdays-Saturdays. & r & Lift tickets: $15-$35

Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through May 16
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