I was fortunate enough to grow up in the Inland Northwest. The proximity to five local ski hills made it easy for me and my friends to get out in the mountains and experience sliding on snow. For me personally, skiing and boarding are more than just the adrenaline rush; they're about laughing on chairlift rides, the social interaction on the mountain with like-minded people and the memories created with family and friends as you share these experiences.
Over the years I've racked up plenty of verts at the five resorts closest to Spokane and created some memorable experiences along the way.
As I'm writing a few of them down, so many more come rushing back, putting a huge smile on my face. So here are just a few of my favorite moments, starting with a magical early morning on top of Chewelah Peak.
I'm excited to make some more memories this season. Also, I promise: No more streaking!
OK, so up to 49 DEGREES NORTH. One of my more memorable skiing experiences up at 49 involved "work," when we were trying to capture some sunrise skiing photos and video back in 2019.
It started at 5:30 am on a brutally cold and crystal-clear January morning. Temps were down in the single digits and the stars were out in full force when we met the snowcat driver in front of the lodge.
We loaded up two snowcats and made our way up the mountain in the dark, arriving at the top of Chewelah Peak. We patiently waited in these numbing temps with everyone in my crew moving in place trying to generate heat to warm themselves. Every step we made, the snow squeaked like Styrofoam as we moved around, waiting for the sun to crest over the Selkirks to the east.
As the sun rose, it slowly filled the valley with its bright reddish-orange glow. Photographers call this time the golden hour, and you only have a small window to capture the magic.
I specifically remember our crew became eerily quiet as the sun cast its rays across the mountain. It was a silence of amazement and wonder as the sun started to warm our covered faces.
The anticipation and excitement from all that made ripping freshly groomed corduroy down the sun-drenched Huckleberry Ridge a magical experience. After several photo sequences in the sun, we made it to the top of Roller Coaster, which was still in the shade. We were instructed to get down to the Sunrise Quad chair (fitting name) and back up to the top for another round of photos, hopefully capturing the last few minutes of this golden hour.
High-speed cruising on a beautifully manicured slope with no one around is better than morning coffee. Watching the sun rise over the Selkirks, with longtime ski friends all around — that morning will be etched in my mind forever. ♦
— BOB LEGASA
Bob Legasa has been a Snowlander contributor to the Inlander since the very beginning, way back in 1994 when he even appeared on the cover of our Winter Sports issue. Along with having skied most of the Northwest's mountain ranges, he's also an independent videographer, TV producer and snowsports event promoter with his Freeride Media company. Legasa even survived a grizzly bear attack while hunting in Montana in 2018; he lives in Hayden.
"LOTS OF ROOM TO SPREAD OUT"
About an hour north of Spokane on US Route 395, deep in the Colville National Forest, you'll find 49 Degrees North Mountain Resort. Although it's the second-largest resort in Washington state, "it has that real mom-and-pop, home-resort kind of feel," says Director of Skier & Rider Services Rick Brown.
Between the resort's 3,923-foot base lodge and its 5,774-foot summit on Chewelah Peak, there are over 80 marked trails, more or less equally distributed among beginner, intermediate and advanced designations, with about 5 percent of them being reserved for expert skiers and snowboarders. According to Brown, however, that's not 49 Degrees North's chief charm.
"Our tree skiing and riding is some of the best anywhere that I've ever been, and I've traveled all over the country," he says. "It's pretty tough to find someplace that stands out as being dramatically better in terms of getting out into the woods and having great spaces, a variety of pitches, and different spacing like tight trees and open trees."
This season, you'll be able to take advantage of that world-class tree skiing faster than ever. A brand-new Doppelmayr high-speed quad chairlift has replaced the old Bonanza #1 fixed-grip double chair that was first installed in 1972. Traversing a grand total of 6,644 feet, the 900-horsepower lift is now the longest of its kind in the state; yet it covers that distance in less than seven minutes. Skiers and snowboarders can be back on the summit almost as soon as they've finished their run.
"You never stand in a lift line here for more than 30 seconds, except for maybe the first chair on a powder day," Brown says. "The new chair is obviously going to change that [for the better]. I don't think people know what to expect. It's going to blow people's minds. They're going to have to start thinking about how their legs are going to hold up."
SNOW EVERYWHERE49 Degrees North typically sees a good 300 inches of snowfall per year, and its north-facing orientation helps it hold on to much of that snow over the course of the season. And now when necessary, new snowmaking equipment can supplement that natural powder along some of the resort's most popular runs into Sunrise Basin and the area known as Boothill.
"Because we have so much terrain, there's almost always a stash to be found — even days or even a week after a major snowfall. Other resorts can get skied out in half a day," says Brown.
With convenient online booking and plenty of learners' packages and resources for beginners, including a full-service rental shop, the resort aims to make the ski or snowboarding experience as smooth and pleasant as possible "whether you're coming for your first or your 100th time," he says. The same goes for its COVID-19 policies, which will continue some of the same protocols and protections that were implemented last year, albeit with modifications in line with the evolving statewide guidelines.
But with 2,325 skiable acres, it might almost seem like you've got the slopes to yourself.
"We do a great job of getting people out on the mountain, giving them lots of room to spread out, to enjoy the wilderness and feel like they have their own space."
— E.J. IANNELLI