by Alex Holt

Spokane has had a mild winter compared to the last two years, but the surrounding ski areas have no complaints when it comes to their weather - or the many events they have planned to keep their customers entertained.

BIG MOUNTAIN -- Big Mountain is "100% up, and with all things considered, we're doing well," says public relations manager Brian Schott. The first of the resort's three Moonlight Dine and Ski events will be on January 18. Winter sports enthusiasts can partake of an exquisite dinner at the top of Big Mountain's 7,000-foot summit, then ski downhill under the light of the full moon (which will return on February 16 and March 18).

On January 19, the Silvertip Terrain Park Aerial Competition will entertain spectators and challenge expert snowboarders and skiers. Athletes will be judged on the style and difficulty of their tricks.

Big Mountain brings home the fun with the Chevy Trucks on January 25-26. They will have free food samples with Lipton Tea and Balance Bar booths, along with fun games like the Noodle Toss and an obstacle course.

LOOKOUT PASS -- Lookout Pass has an aerial competition for both snowboarders and skiers called the "Lookout BIG AIR Contest" on January 19, when Loulou's Sport Shops will be offering a demo of their latest skis.

The "Family Fun Day" at Lookout is on March 22, with an obstacle course, snow golf and a King and Queen of the Mountain Race.

49 DEGREES NORTH -- At 49 Degrees North, the newest gadgets are the three slope groomers. They have helped to make the skiing "superior," says owner John Eminger.

49 Degrees has plenty for its visitors to do, including the "Slope Style and Rider Cross" event on February 1. Snowboarders and skiers with the courage to challenge the 49 Degrees course are invited to show the judges what they've got.

On February 8, go head-to-head with all the other crazy people during 49 Degrees' "St. Valentine's Day Mountain Bike Massacre," in which mountain bikers race through a course doing whatever possible to get to the finish line. "It's awesome," says Eminger.

"Ski For Free" pops up again at 49 Degrees -- this year, during the final week in April. An "Oyster Feed," with 2,500 lbs. of oysters, is the highlight of the resort's final week of operation.

Eminger emphasizes how fun the final week always is. "People camp out in the parking lots," he reports.

MOUNT SPOKANE -- At Mt. Spokane, it's hard to avoid noticing the Ford Explorer atop the mountain's education building. Spokesperson Bon Klohe explains that the car is meant as a landmark, showing ski students where their lessons are being taught. Klohe encourages everyone to attend Mt. Spokane's Northwest Cup from January 18-20, when racers at a skill level just below the Olympic team's will compete on the hourglass-shaped race course.

Mt. Spokane will also be staging competitions for interested athletes and visitors. The "Mt. Spokane Border Cross" on February 15 and "Mt. Spokane Big Air" on February 16 both promise to be riveting events.

Mt. Spokane has a similar event on February 12 and March 12 called "Ladies Only" - a day filled with food, skiing and a chance to get a relaxing massage.

On March 29, Mt. Spokane has their "Family Fun Day" sponsored by EWU and "Success by 6," including a children's book drive and appearances by local mascots.

SCHWEITZER -- At Schweitzer, near Sandpoint, Idaho, don't miss "Schweitzer Lights up the Night," when the resort will hold a torchlight parade with fireworks on January 18. Schweitzer also hosts the "Selkirk Classic Telemark Race" on January 18-19.

On February 8-9, area college students have an excuse for a skip day: the "Schweitzer Alpine Racing School College Race," when the resort also will have interactive games and other fun activities at the "Sitour FamilyFest 2003."

SILVER MOUNTAIN -- Silver Mountain, in Kellogg, Idaho, is another great getaway where they crank on the lights for Night Skiing every Friday and Saturday through March 1.

"Her Turn" begins January 16 at Silver, allowing women to enjoy an educational day of skiing and make new friends. Ladies will be pleased to know that, according to Silver Mountain's ticket sales manager, Danielle Daly, the program has recently had "a really cute Italian guy" acting as one of the instructors.

As always, all the resorts make sure that, especially during their family fests, there's something to do for every member of the family. Especially, perhaps, in a season like the present one, the hunger for fresh powder runs strong among Inland Northwest skiers and snowboarders.

A final note: For the skier or snowboarder on a budget, Toyota supports winter sports by sponsoring Ski Free Days at various times and resorts, including January 17 at Mt. Spokane, January 24 at Schweitzer, January 31 at Lookout Pass and February 14 at 49 Degrees North. n

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