by DANIEL WALTERS, JEN FORSYTH, MITCHELL KOHLES, ANN COLFORD, BLAIR TELLERS and BOB LEGASA & r & & r & DOWNHILL DEALS & r & & r & Bad news for any rich fat cats hoping the economic crisis will sweep those poor, teeming masses from the ski slopes: It's not going to happen.

Skiers and snowboarders are a stubborn lot. "People will give up a lot more before they give up their skiing," says Anne Pigeon, marketing director at the Whitewater Winter Resort in Canada. "They'll adjust the way they travel before they won't travel at all."

Pigeon points to a survey from research firm RRC Associates, showing "extraordinary stability" in the expected volume of resort visitors. Even when general leisure travel suffered after 9/11, the ski industry remained resilient.

RRC director Nate Fristoe predicts skiers and snowboarders may shave a day or two off of their trips or stay in cheaper hotels, but they'll still ski. The snow-sports industry, with its host of affluent participants, is tied more to the weather than the economy, RRC found. Powder, not paychecks, predicts the number of skiers.

"If it snows, they will come," says Kristin Whitaker, marketing manager for Mount Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park. Whitaker expects Mount Spokane's location to attract frugal skiers living nearby. "Staycations are becoming the norm."

Ski resorts aren't satisfied, however, to just sit back and hope the skiers swoop in. They're offering the same flurry of specials they usually offer -- plus a few new ones to sweeten the deal.

The Deals

Mount Spokane, 49 Degrees North, Schweitzer, Lookout, Silver and a number of other regional resorts have partnered with Shell gas stations. Buy a certain 10 gallons of gas at Shell and get a voucher for a "buy one get one free" deal on a lift ticket at a local resort.

To play off its prime location, Mount Spokane's offering "carpool days." If four or more people come up in one car, they get discounted lift tickets. While lift tickets and the midweek passes have jumped in price (due to operating costs) over last year, Mount Spokane just brought out new college and military discounts.

Meanwhile, 49 Degrees North Mountain Resort is introducing promotional discount tickets for purchase online. Not only are the online vouchers cheaper, but turning in a single slip of paper beats having to fish your wallet out from under your snow pants, says marketing director Jason Wolther. Also, 49 Degrees has partnered with Papa John's to pair a free large pizza with a Monday lift-ticket purchase and with the KZZU and RAWK radio stations to give away snowboards on three of their four night-skiing discounts.

"You bring up two cans of food and pay $1, you can ski all night," Wolther says.

At Lookout Pass, spokesman Jim Schreiber says their prices are always low. "Lookout Pass is kind of like the Wal-Mart of ski resorts. We try to keep our prices low so people can return on a regular basis."

Many of Lookout's deals aim for the older crowd. Those over 40 can buy $18 lift tickets on Boomer Fridays; skiers 50 and older can get ski lessons from instructors their own age for $25 or less; and for those over 55, Lookout's new "Prime Timers" program allows them to hang in the lodge all season for $15. (Lift tickets are not included, but lodge discounts are.)

At Silver Mountain, it's all about their new water park -- you get entry to Silver Rapids with overnight stays. Watch for good deals there, including four nights for the price of three over Thanksgiving weekend.

Schweitzer Mountain Resort, meanwhile, offers $20 lift tickets on Sunday afternoons, $10 lift tickets on Dec. 12 to benefit Sandpoint's Community Cancer Services, and something called an "escape card."

"It allows you to ski or snowboard for free your first day up to the mountain and every day after at $10 off," communications manager Jennifer Ekstrom says. "We like to keep people in the snow."

And buy a season pass at Schweitzer, Ekstrom says, and get lift tickets for nearby Red Mountain Resort in Canada for only $15. Despite the economy -- actually, because of the economy -- this winter may be the perfect one to take a trip to Canada.

Oh, Canada!

The economic mess has resulted in a few odd side effects: Gas is cheaper, and the American dollar is suddenly relatively strong again. A low dollar's good for American consumers and fantastic for Spokane skiers looking north for a vacation.

On Sept. 20, 2007, the value of the Canadian dollar eclipsed the American dollar for the first time in 30 years. It was a pricey time to be an American.

But starting at the end of September 2008, the Canadian dollar dive-bombed down to less than 80 cents to the U.S. dollar. Today, the Canadian dollar's worth 85 U.S. cents.

Faith St. John, with the Canadian Border Services Agency, says it's too early to tell if hordes of Americans are crossing the border for vacations, but typically, that's what happens when the Canadian dollar dips.

Matt Mosteller, director of business development for the Fernie and Kimberley Alpine Ski resorts in Canada, says he's counting on it. "The exchange rate is an incredible value to ski in Canada right now."

One package Fernie and Kimberley are offering allows winter sports enthusiasts to ski and stay the night for only $89. Americans can chop about 15 percent off of that price -- making the deal only $75.

The resorts have a number of other specials: 7-year-olds get complimentary lessons, and families with two adults and three kids can get tickets and rentals for only $124 Canadian ($105 USD).

Pigeon, at Canada's Whitewater Winter Resort, is targeting the Spokane market with a "Red, White and You," promotion. For $99, get three days of skiing at Whitewater or Red Mountain resorts. For skiers interested in pinching pennies even tighter, an overnight hostel and lift ticket at Whitewater is only $60 Canadian.

"Which is wicked," Pigeon says. "Depending on how the [exchange] rate works."

Pigeon says their marketing campaign is going to evolve and react to whatever the economy brings. "You're going to see aggressive pricing throughout the season from all the resorts," she says, "to keep people engaged."


& lt;span class="dropcap" & W & lt;/span & ith the American Dollar suddenly trouncing the Canadian dollar, the scene is set for thousands of Washington winter vacationers to head for the wild white yonder.

But the days of simply waving at Border Services and sauntering across the line are over. The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative -- part of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 -- has tightened up border security. Verbal confirmation of citizenship isn't good enough.

Starting this year, for people older than 19, cross border-travel will require either a passport or a combination of a driver's license and citizenship document (such as a birth certificate). Also acceptable is the new "Enhanced Driver License," available for $40 or a $15 upgrade to your regular Washington driver's license.

Those under 19 only need to present proof of citizenship.

If you're carting children who are not your own, make sure you have written permission from their parents or guardian.

Check for more details on valid forms of ID.

-- Daniel Walters

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& lt;span class="dropcap" & A & lt;/span & fter five years of large expansion projects (the area has tripled in size since 2003), Lookout is going to sit back and enjoy their 400 inches of light dry powder this season, along with the new more challenging terrain that adds to Lookout's already full offering of options. Committed to early openings, Lookout did extensive glading in the Last Chance glades and additional glading and mowing all over the mountain, which will maximize early- and late-season terrain availability all across the mountain.

Adding to the dining options this season is the new Summit Shack Caf & eacute;, offering panoramic mountaintop food. It's a convenient location to take a break and enjoy a hot chocolate or a grilled burger. The caf & eacute; will be open weekends and holidays.

Finally, for those of us lucky enough to be born during the winter months, Lookout offers free skiing on your birthday. Just bring a driver's license or other photo identification with proof of birthday and receive a complimentary lift ticket for that day. (It'll make up for never being able to have a birthday pool party.)

Lookout is dedicated to keeping with the trends and offers two terrain parks: The B-52 Park offers nine launches plus the nation's longest quarter pipe (1,111 feet in length), while the park on the front side, Exit 0, offers a full gamut of rails, boxes and features for a wide variety of ability levels to enjoy.

Lookout is one of the easiest ski resorts to get to, with its immediate proximity to Interstate 90 on the Idaho-Montana border. Offering even more convenience is the bus service available to and from Coeur d'Alene, Post Falls, Hayden, Liberty Lake, the Silver Valley and Western Montana, available every Saturday from January 10 to March 14. There is a fee for all pickup and drop-off locations except in the Silver Valley and Western Montana, where bus service is free.

It is an exciting time for Lookout Pass with the dining options, new chairlifts, terrain and runs offering challenging drops and long cruisers. Add that to the large volume of legendary powder, and you'll soon realize why the people of Lookout are the happiest skiers around.

-- Jen Forsyth

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& lt;span class="dropcap" & W & lt;/span & ith my first glance at the 49 Degrees North Website, I thought the newly posted photos must be from last season -- but as I looked closer, I realized they are photos of the current conditions. 49 Degrees North has completed an extensive summer grooming program, allowing them to open with much less snow. Crews were out all summer removing rock, brush and downed trees to maintain their philosophy that preseason prep work makes for great early-season conditions. As evidenced on the Website, snow has already fallen -- all they need now is a couple more storms, and the conditions will be ripe for opening.

The Chewelah mountain has made a concentrated effort over the years to be a family-oriented ski area for residents of the Inland Northwest. Visitors to have taken note of 49's focus on being a family-friendly mountain and awarded them the No. 1 Most Family-Friendly Resort in the Pacific Northwest. They also consistently receive similar marks from regional publications.

To make your day trip to 49 a little smoother for the family, the ski area has also implemented a new daily lift-ticket offer that will save you time, money and definitely a lot of frustration at the ticket window. Prior to your visit to 49 Degrees North, go to their Website and purchase your tickets. Print the voucher and head for the hills. When you arrive at the mountain, present the voucher at the designated ticket window and exchange it for a ticket. This will eliminate the inevitably frustrating scenario of fumbling through your wallet or backpack while standing in the cold weather.

While the East Basin terrain that is accessible by the Sunrise Quad is still new enough that many people have not yet discovered it, 49 Degrees North is hard at work on their next venture. While still a ways out in the future, the terrain expansion to the Angel Peak area (slated to begin summer of 2010) is already in the planning stages. This involves working with the U.S Forest Service, the Colville National Forest and the Newport Ranger District. While details are still limited, the expansion will include nine or 10 new runs with some fantastic old-growth tree skiing.

-- Jen Forsyth

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& lt;span class="dropcap" & A & lt;/span & lthough night skiing at Mount Spokane is by no means new, there is a concentrated effort to remind Inland Northwesterners that Spokane's nearby mountain offers more night skiing than any other resort in the Inland Northwest. With its location less than 30 miles from downtown Spokane, it is practically like skiing in your own backyard. Mount Spokane offers night skiing four nights a week (Wednesday-Saturday) starting Dec. 19 and running through Saturday, Feb. 28. With more than 40 nights of scheduled night skiing, Mount Spokane plans to kick off the season on Friday, Dec. 19, with the Mount Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park First Night of Skiing Party. Planned festivities include fun activities and live music.

Have you been using the excuse of not liking to drive in wintry conditions as the reason not to ski or snowboard? Well, Mount Spokane offers bus transportation on Silver Eagle Coach buses on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the season. There are three convenient locations to catch the bus in Spokane and Mead, and you can choose single-ride fares as well as multiple-ride fares. Check with Mount Spokane's Snow Sports Center for pickup locations and additional information, then sit back, relax and leave the mountain driving to Mount Spokane.

Speaking of the drive, Mount Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park is gearing up for another great winter. The State Park did some major road improvements this past summer and has completed smaller remodel projects in the rental shop and food and beverage area. The effort didn't stop inside, either; they continued outside to the slopes, with extensive brush cutting.

The scheduled date for opening is Saturday, Dec. 6, but, of course, projected opening dates are subject to conditions. Mount Spokane will continue to offer a variety of events this season, including the favorite Ladies Day, a monthly session beginning in January that focuses on skill development and, of course, a little pampering throughout the day. The J3 races are back again for a weekend full of fast-paced gate racing. The KAN Jam weekend is back for its second year with three days full of sliding, riding and big-air competitions.

Looking for something to do while the kids are out skiing, and you'd prefer to stay cozy in the Lodge? Well, Mount Spokane offers wi-fi service through Air Pipe and Interlink Advantage in both Lodge 1 and Lodge 2. For those feeling a little more adventurous, you'll find a fantastic network of Nordic trails and a tubing hill located in the State Park nearby. After all, why should the kids have all the fun?

-- Jen Forsyth

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& lt;span class="dropcap" & I & lt;/span & t is little surprise that Schweitzer Mountain Resort has received national recognition from several magazines, acknowledging what locals throughout the region have known for years: that it's one great place to ski.

Skiing Magazine editors awarded the resort "Best Place to Ditch the Crowds" and SKI Magazine readers placed Schweitzer in the top 10 North American resorts for the chairlift system. Although these two awards are not connected, they're an indirect compliment to the chairlift expansion last season (two new lifts in the Schweitzer Bowl). Skiers and snowboarders are now more evenly dispersed throughout the mountain giving the mountain a less crowded feeling overall.

Not to be left behind, Powder Magazine named the Stomping Grounds Terrain Park the "Best Park in the Pacific Northwest." Schweitzer takes this recognition seriously and continues building key relationships with production companies like Poor Boyz Productions (PBP), who spent several days up at Schweitzer last season filming their latest ski movie, Reasons. Footage from their tenure also appears in the new Warren Miller movie, Children of Winter, and in the PBP film Schweitzer Jib Jam.

Over the past couple of years, Schweitzer has updated its Website with new interactive tools including daily photos, videos and, new for this season, an interactive trail map. The trail map is in-depth with tools allowing users to sort trail information by difficulty, open runs, groomed runs and mountain amenities. There is also information about the run with photos of what you might expect when skiing or snowboarding. Another tool available is the print function, allowing trip planners to print their customized map to ensure they ski or board all their preferred runs while visiting Schweitzer.

Coming off the second-best year in terms of skier visits, Schweitzer is ramping up ways to make the opening day a little more consistent in coming years, assuring visitors of a "skiable" Thanksgiving holiday. Schweitzer announced its investment in cutting-edge snowmaking equipment, which should make runs even better. Initially the snowmaking system will be used early in the season to help create a good base from Midway down to Musical Chairs but will also be used when conditions warrant. Other improvements that will immediately be recognized by visitors and locals alike are the updates in the day lodge, including remodeled bathrooms and a remodel of Taps Bar, featuring new flat screen televisions.

-- Jen Forsyth

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& lt;span class="dropcap" & S & lt;/span & ilver Mountain has upped the ante this year with the addition of the Silver Rapids Water Park, bringing new meaning to the term "apr & egrave;s ski." Ski and snowboard enthusiasts have typically limited this post-slopes social time to a few adult libations. But at Silver, the adrenaline doesn't stop; in fact, it continues in the form of 82-degree water, fast moving slides and a non-stop surf wave.

If the preferred pace is a little slower, Silver Rapids also offers Trestles Surfside Grill and Hot Tubs, with a full-service bar and hot tubs overlooking the water park. Also for a more relaxed experience in keeping with the long "floating" tradition in the Silver Valley, there's the North Fork Lazy River. It surrounds Minors Island and contains 315 feet of meandering river that propels you along at a leisurely pace.

There are several other water attractions within the gigantic building that will keep the entire family entertained after a day on the slopes. One catch, though. Admission to the water park is similar to accessing the pool or hot tub at other hotels. The indoor water park comes with every Morning Star Lodge room. Silver is currently offering several packages, all of which include access to the water park. Keep an eye out for additional packages to be offered throughout the upcoming winter season. Group rates are also available through the Group Sales department and are available for parties with 20 or more people. Is there a better way to escape the cold days of winter than surfing in permanent 84-degree air temperatures without ever having to board an airplane?

If you haven't been to Silver Mountain recently, this is as good of a time as any. On top of 1,600 acres of skiing, there are two villages. The Gondola Village is a full-service village with restaurants, lodging, spa and the water park. The summit village at Kellogg Peak hosts a day lodge, restaurants and bar to take advantage of during your ski day. Tubing is also available at the summit village with several lanes and a conveyor lift to assist you for hours of tubing fun.

-- Jen Forsyth

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& lt;span class="dropcap" & E & lt;/span & ver since my days as a competent student in middle school, I have been told that my future included exceptional SAT scores, acceptance into a top university and an impressive, dependable job with the possibility of promotion. But experience has taught me that more options are available to a bright young man who knows he has room to grow.

I aspire to the life of a ski bum.

The term was first coined and glorified in the '70s, when groups of powder fanatics eschewed dull day jobs and headed to the mountain in throngs to live up the lifestyle. They earned money from dishwashing and bus driving and spent it all to pay for a pass. Many took beat-up vans on the road to experience snow from Virginia to Alaska.

Unfortunately, today's world no longer affords the carefree alpine hero his dream so easily. These days, a successful ski bum is never going to be a bum. But the job a ski bum chooses is certainly one of the most crucial aspects of his lifestyle. The job must provide adequate pay and purely night hours. Dave Kovall, a self-proclaimed ski bum who spent a winter in Whitefish, Montana, has specific advice: "Good ski bum jobs include front desk at a hotel at night, bell hop at night, bus boy, cook or waiter. If you want to ski during the day, you can't work an office job -- you want a job where you can work at night."

If you think being a ski instructor is a good option, think again, Kovall warns. "Working for a ski mountain has the advantage of a free ski pass, but you will probably not get to utilize the pass much," he says.

Many of the typical ski bum jobs -- waiter, cook and bus driver -- are conventional jobs, and plenty of people live comfortably on these wages in the real world. It's a fairly simple trick to sacrifice a nicer car and adopt bland food and drink in order to afford boots, bindings and a pass.

& lt;span class="dropcap" & I & lt;/span & f you want to be a ski bum, there are some basic rules to follow. First, shun the dream of being itinerant. One of the principal costs of bumhood in the '70s was transportation, and that was when gas prices were reasonable. Although hopping from ski resort to ski resort with a band of friends is the ultimate road trip, the cost of individual day lift tickets is not compatible with not holding a steady job. In the West, many of the big-name mountains run as high as $70 a day. The best plan is to find a mountain you love and settle in for the season.

Next, ski bums should live in a place that will allow for year-round occupation. Any residence on-mountain will charge you egregious rent, and there will be a wider selection of housing at lower altitudes. The same goes for job opportunities: The selection, as well as the pay, will likely be better off the mountain.

One of the best ways to fund winter fun is to work hard during the summer. While the winter will be limited to night shifts, off-season workweeks of 60 hours or more can help to accumulate a substantial savings to ease the winter months.

The sad truth is that ski bumming isn't always something to jump right into. Josh Verdon moved to Whistler, B.C., trying to find a place to ski for the rest of his life. He started his occupational career as a dishwasher in a local restaurant and slowly worked his way up to become the head chef. "That took waiting," he says, but now he can ski almost whenever he wants. "It doesn't matter what your trade is when you're on the [mountain]."

& lt;span class="dropcap" & T & lt;/span & here is no typical ski bum; they live all over the world, perform all sorts of jobs and carry wallets of all sizes. The one thing that links this band of fanatics is the love of the mountain. The reward of a downhill slope is what satisfies a ski bum. And yet the lifestyle offers supplementary benefits desired by people in more traditional fields.

Consider stress: The ski bum eschews all possibility of this plague by realizing that his job is not important. Ski bums live for their passion, not their job, so there is never a need to worry about job security or competition.

Travel is another benefit. Nothing ties the ski bum to a particular area once the season is done. And although it is a lofty aspiration, many ski bums have transformed their passion into a steady income. It is certainly rare to receive a snowboarding sponsorship or a highlight in a Warren Miller film, but the possibility of fame is there for those with the talent.

The ski bum accepts a certain degree of poverty to revel in his passion. And yet, as ski bum Crucial Mike says, "Being a ski bum is participating in a rich man's sport without the financial means of doing it." As a ski bum, you may be forced to sleep in the backseat of a car or live on the same flavor of Top Ramen for interminable amounts of time, but if your values are in the right place, it's only part of the experience.

& lt;span class="dropcap" & T & lt;/span & he American Heritage Dictionary defines success as "the gaining of fame or prosperity," but there is only so much fame and prosperity out in the real world. Not everyone is meant to be a part of such a future, and for those who fail to attain traditionally defined success, settling for something less is the inevitable alternative. For instance, poverty rates in America have been steadily increasing, up to 12.3 percent in 2006 from 11.3 percent in 2000. With so few people succeeding in a system, it may be wise to pursue satisfaction instead of success.

Ski bums attain fulfillment and satisfaction from their lives, choosing to pursue these goals on a ski slope rather than in a cubicle. By ridding themselves of the conventional values of affluence and success, ski bums pave an alternative path to their future that replaces the typical career route. This impoverished lifestyle is seen as unacceptable by much of society, but from the perspective of the bum, such a life is viable and wholly fulfilling. Even if the hope of living on the mountain and waking up every morning to the bright sun reflecting off a shining blanket of powder turns out to be nothing but whimsical escapes and ephemeral teenage delights, it is a joy to know that such a dream can become reality.

Mitchell Kohles is a Coeur d'Alene native now attending college in Chicago -- far, far away from any verts worth bothering with. This article is adapted from a paper he wrote for school on being a ski bum. And, yes, getting an "A" on a paper about becoming a ski bum is the very definition of being a ski bum.

-- Mitchell Kohles

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Oh, the Weather Outside is Neutral

& lt;span class="dropcap" & L & lt;/span & ast winter was the second-snowiest on record here in Spokane, exceeding all the preseason hype and hope of a La Ni & ntilde;a winter. And while powder hounds everywhere would love a repeat performance, most long-range weather predictors say that's not likely.

The weather patterns known as La Ni & ntilde;a and El Ni & ntilde;o are predicted based on observations of sea-surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific and how much those temperatures deviate from normal. This year, those temperatures have been running right around normal, and they're predicted to stay that way for the next few months. That means we're in for what's called a "neutral" winter. But what does that mean for the weather?

"The simple answer is that a neutral pattern is more variable than either La Ni & ntilde;a or El Ni & ntilde;o," says meteorologist Ron Miller at the National Weather Service's Spokane office.

Recent "neutral" winters included 1996-97, the year of Ice Storm, he points out, but also 2000-01, when temperatures stayed cold, but snowfall -- especially in the mountains -- was less than normal. The best guess is that temperatures will be close to normal and snowfall close to the average, both in the valleys and at the all-important higher elevations.

Climate specialists watch dozens of indicators beyond La Ni & ntilde;a/El Ni & ntilde;o patterns, Miller says. One of these suggests that in neutral winters, we're more likely to experience strong "Pineapple Express" events, which bring in mild, wet weather from the southwest. That might predict more freeze-thaw cycles, he says, even if snowfall levels are about normal.

"Last winter, we didn't have those freeze-thaw episodes, and we got little rain at high elevations, so the quality of the snow stayed pretty good," he says. "More typical is that we have these rain and freeze-thaw events. [This year] we could see, not a lack of snow, but these changeable conditions. Some warm rain events are typical here."

That means more work for the groomers keeping the slopes ready. But as Miller emphasizes, long-range predictions are all about probability. "We're not looking for a repeat of last year," he says. "But you can't rule out anything when you're talking long-term forecasts."


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& lt;span class="dropcap" & I & lt;/span & f last winter was a precursor for the one now approaching, there will be snow this year. Lots of it.

Now is the time when outfitters are stocking up with fantastic gear and killer package offers. So if you dropped your glove on the lift last season or damaged your skis during an attempted 100-foot gap jump switch, now would be a good time to visit your local dealers.

One of the newer novelties in the snow world is the reCurve Magne-Traction technology from the characters at the environmentally conscious snowboard company Lib Tech. Playfully refusing to acknowledge that it was actually going to make some skis in response to requests from skiers, Lib Tech responded with NAS (NAS standing for Narrow-Ass Snowboard).

"Skiers were bugging Lib Tech to make some skis, so they said, 'Well, we don't make skis. So we're gonna make some narrow-ass snowboards," says Wintersport employee Eli Coski.

The Magne-Traction technology entails seven bumps resembling the edge of a serrated knife on the edge of a pair of skis or snowboard, thus providing more edge contact points than just the tip and the tail. Instead of two contact points, you get seven. Coski describes this technology as the most sought-after in the snow world.

Hugely popular in the snowboard department is the Skate Banana from Lib Tech, topping the sales of any other snowboard for Wintersport. The Banana also sports Magne-Traction technology that enables boarders to really bite the ice but float like a surfboard in deep powder. And unlike a regular board's camber, the middle of the Banana dips in the opposite direction to meet the snow "so you don't have to fight it," says Coski.

If you're goggle hunting, Mountain Gear is a great place to start. They're carrying the newest model of the Heiress goggles for women by Smith Optics, which have been re-designed for women's specific requirements -- smaller and more rounded for better peripheral vision. So instead of simply slapping the color pink on a product, Smith actually gave its model a facelift. Also cool are the I/O goggles from Smith Optics, which boast full interchangeability, a rimless design, a spherical Carbonic-X lens and a QuickFit strap adjustment system. They have two sets of lenses that easily clip in: a sensor mirror for overcast, gray weather and an igniter mirror for sunny, bright weather. Versatility never looked so sexy.

If you're looking for high-quality duds, Mountain Goat is the only place in Spokane carrying the Eider brand, a company from France similar to North Face. Eider combines top-of-the-line technology and fashion with features including removable faux fur, deep insulation and thermal fleece. Also eye-catching is the women's jacket by Rossignol -- a favorite of store employee Lon McRae. This insulated, military-style piece is a park-and-pipe jacket with a removable skirt and deep fleece insulation.

Mountain Gear employee Rick Dethman also points out Oakley, which up until now has been recognized primarily for its trendy, rather pricey sunglasses. Oakley is stretching its wings over into the snow category and making jackets with all the trappings, including compartments to carry all of the electronic toys you wouldn't want to be without on top of a mountain. The Oakley jacket also features plenty of removable aspects and enough pockets to shoplift a small convenience store. "The jacket has more pockets than you know what to do with," Dethman says.

For the serious skier, Mountain Goat carries the Movement Goliath skis, described by McRae as "super-fat, stiff, long, bad-ass skis." These behemoths are built to grapple with any kind of terrain and are intended for advanced and expert skiers. A ride on Movement Goliath skis is supposed to be nothing short of fantastic -- whether the snow is choppy, hard-packed or frozen and crusty. On test runs, skiers have noted the Goliath's incredible stability, versatility and easy release from turns (as compared with other "big" skis). Described by its makers as a "friendly giant," the Goliath won awards from Powder and Ski Press magazines in the categories of excellence and best buys. The skis generally sell for a $1,000 a pair, but Mountain Goat has them priced at $880.

Both Mountain Gear and Mountain Goat pointed out the Black Diamond ski boots, which won the Editor's Choice Award from Backcountry magazine. The boots have interchangeable soles and factor in all the elements -- alpine, resort and backcountry.

New members of the snow community should definitely pay a visit to Zumiez for killer package deals. Zumiez employees are extremely helpful, non-intimidating and enthusiastic when it comes to helping you pick out the right gear. Especially noteworthy are their $300 packages including a board, boots and bindings from quality names like Alibi and Burton.

-- Blair Tellers

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& lt;span class="dropcap" & A & lt;/span & s I sit here in mid-November, looking out my window, I see rain, not just sprinkles, but a constant sheet of rain. This is the kind of rain that can only inspire a couple of things -- putting another DVD in the player, refreshing the warm tea and snuggling under the down comforter. But then a thought occurs to me: If it is raining in the valley at this temperature, it's got to be snowing in the mountains. Then I start thinking about the upcoming winter and last season's late-season storm that drove me, literally, to Whitefish Mountain Resort. Suddenly, I am inspired by something else -- the memory of a three-day trip to Whitefish. One of those three days has made its way into my journal of "Best Days of the 2007-2008 Season."

As many of you know, last season was a hard one to narrow down. A late-winter storm (and the weakness of the U.S. dollar in Canada) prompted us to chase the storm to Whitefish Mountain Resort. Although we left behind pretty much the most epic conditions all year here in the Inland Northwest, we knew Whitefish wouldn't let us down.

The drive to our snowy sister to the east was easy with many routes to choose from; ours took us up the scenic Bull River on Highway 56 to Highway 2 and then east into Kalispell. Once in Whitefish, the quintessential Montana ski-cowboy trip begins, with saloon-lined streets and a town full of warm and colorful locals talking about their day skiing at the mountain they affectionately refer to as "The Big." On a recommendation from a friend, we headed straight to the Lodge at Whitefish to fuel up before the last leg of the drive up the mountain.

What we had hoped would be a snowy arrival into Whitefish Mountain Resort was, in fact, a warm welcome -- literally. Skiers and boarders were boasting about their day as the perfect spring skiing day. What?! We had just left an epic spring powder storm, and we're met with warm temps and corn snow? Not to fear, we thought -- the big storm is right behind us. We checked into our accommodations, opened the curtains to orient ourselves to our village location and, to our unexpected delight, we were greeted with the best sign on the mountain: "The Bierstube." We were stumbling distance from the legendary apr & egrave;s ski bar!

I had never skied at the resort although I had been to the community several times. I was definitely looking forward to the expansive views of Glacier Park and the surrounding mountain ranges, not to mention the infamous Snow Ghosts. Upon waking the first morning and peering out the window, we were greeted with one of the typical weather patterns at Whitefish: fog. Luckily, we were meeting up with Jef Elliot, local retired telemark world-cup ski racer, groomer and long-time friend, who gave us a tour of the mountain.

& lt;span class="dropcap" & O & lt;/span & n our third morning -- after sharing an evening of great conversation, wine and pasta with some of our favorite Whitefish locals -- we awoke to a snow report that bragged of five inches of new snow. With a little disappointment, I slowly got ready for the last day of our trip, bypassed my powder skis for my all-mountain carving skis and headed out for the first chair.

We met up with some friends on the chairlift. We arrived at the top and without hesitation started our descent into the Ptarmigan Bowl and Big Face. Within two turns, I instantly knew why the late March day was going into my "Best Day" category. The snow report had come in at 5 am. The lift opened at 9:30. The snow had continued at such a rapid rate after the report that by the time the hounds were released, the snow had accumulated to about 15-plus inches of 22-degree snow. The morning continued and the runs just got better and better.

Some of the run names were memorable -- Elephants Graveyard in the North Bowl and Picture Chutes in the Hellroaring Basin -- but all I could remember was the fabulous feeling of face shots and bottomless snow. The terrain at Whitefish filled our days with multiple ridge lines and bowls in the 3,000 skiable acres, plus varying aspects and pitches that made each run unique.

A day without apr & egrave;s ski is like a day without skiing, so we regularly stopped at the many slope-side apr & egrave;s ski offerings in Whitefish. We chose a different location on each of our three nights to get a good feel of the mountain. First was the Bierstube, synonymous with apr & egrave;s ski on the mountain and offering a lively crowd, Oktoberfest-style wooden tables and funky d & eacute;cor that has been collected through the years. Next we experienced the true "ski in-ski out" convenience of the Hellroaring Saloon. Aside from being ranked by Skiing Magazine as one of the best apr & egrave;s ski bars in the country, the saloon offers panoramic views of the Flathead Valley and is housed in the original 1949 chalet, right in the middle of the slopes.

Overall, Whitefish Mountain Resort is user-friendly with an upper village that accommodates many of the condo and hotel guests with restaurants and retail shops and a lower village for both overnight guests and day users. The lodging ranges from condo-style units to town homes with occupancy limits ranging from two to 12, depending on the property. Most units offer full kitchens with all of the needed cooking tools. Hot tubs are also available with some of the properties. If your preference is to stay in the quaint town of Whitefish, there is a full-service free shuttle, the Snow Bus, with multiple stops throughout town.

With Whitefish only 250 miles from Spokane, it is an easy weekend getaway waiting to happen this winter. Amtrak also serves Whitefish from Spokane, among other major U.S. cities, with daily departures and arrivals; this is a popular mode of transport for many of Whitefish's visitors. The historic train depot is a couple of blocks from one of the free Snow Bus stops, an easy and convenient way to get up to the mountain. Whichever mode of transportation you use, getting to Whitefish is easy and scenic and offers great terrain and great locals. Even if you have already been there, it is a must-do this winter.


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Cold Smoke at Snow Water

& lt;span class="dropcap" & A & lt;/span & s I sit behind this computer scheduling my winter trips, I'm quickly reminded of how fortunate we are to live where we do. Not only do we have five great resorts in our region, but British Columbia and its epic snow are just a snowball's throw away. The Inland Northwest is truly the gateway to ski euphoria.

I'm like many other passionate skiers -- I can't wait for winter and her offerings. More than 20 years ago I was fortunate enough to experience a British Columbia powder trip, and I have been chasing freshies ever since.

Each season my buddies and I venture north to the eccentric town of Nelson, B.C., which is, in my book, the heart of powder skiing. This Snow Belt gets hammered each year with more than 500 inches of some of the lightest, driest snow to be found anywhere. The locals call their snow "Kootenay Cold Smoke."

Just a few kilometers west of Nelson is Snowwater Heli-Skiing, run by Patric Maloney and Maria Grant. They guide riders through impressive terrain via either an A-Star Helicopter, which will seat four of your best friends, or a 12-person biodiesel snowcat (for inclement weather days). Their tenure is more than 150,000 skiable acres, and they play in three different ranges: the Selkirk, Bonnington and Valhalla mountain ranges.

Patric grew up playing and skiing in these mountains, and he comes from a forestry background. How does that effect skiing powder, you ask? Well, over the years, Patric and his chainsaw-wielding crew have been thinning and trimming away the underbrush making for some insane tree skiing.

With big, wide-open bowls, steeps that will make a goat cringe, and some of the best tree skiing to be had, Snowwater attracts a veritable Who's Who of skiing. Each season Snowwater is like a revolving door for some of the world's best skiers, like big-mountain skier Dan Treadway, Ian McIntosh, Micah Black and Sage Cattabriga-Alosa, to name just a few. The skiing gets them here, but it's the hospitality that brings them back year after year. The place has an incredible vibe.

This powder sanctuary was just a dream for Patric and Maria when they built the lodge, but now with more than seven seasons under their belt, Snowwater has come to fruition. The main timber-frame lodge, built by Patric and a few of his friends back in 1994, is now the dining and lounging area. There are also now two more large four-bedroom cabins: Big Spruce, which sleeps eight, and Little Spruce, which sleeps four. All lodges are warmed by radiant floor heating, which makes walking on the floors a dream after a long day of skiing. Guests can kick back on the oversized leather couches or take a soak in the wood-fired hot tub while enjoying a cold Kokanee after skiing. If you just can't get away from civilization, there's high-speed wireless Internet access. Most of my friends use this service not for keeping in touch with work but to e-mail pictures from the day's skiing -- just to make sure their buddies back home know exactly how much fun they're having. Kind of like pouring salt into the wound.

With a full-blown chef on staff, Snowwater offers some of the best gourmet meals you'll ever encounter, with entr & eacute;es like five-spice green tea-smoked duck or, my personal favorite, bison tenderloin wrapped with smoked wild boar. Make sure you leave room for dessert, like the phyllo-wrapped banana with house-made Madagascar vanilla ice cream, a crowd favorite. The food is definitely five-star.

One of the biggest advantages to Snowwater's heli-skiing is that they guarantee you're going to ride every day. If the weather is too bad for flying in the bird, then Patric will get you loaded up into the biodiesel snow cat for some of the sickest tree skiing you'll ever experience. Being able to arc turns at full speed through old growth forests is something to behold. It's recommended that you be an advanced skier and in good physical shape. Be ready to charge hard all day long.

Powder skiing in British Columbia is something every passionate skier or rider needs to do at least once. Once is all it takes, and you're hooked for life.

I'm off chasing the endless powder run.

For more information on Snowwater, visit or call 866-722-7669 (SNOW).


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& lt;span class="dropcap" & G & lt;/span & rowing up in Invermere, British Columbia, can sure do a lot for one's skiing. Just ask ski-film star Ian McIntosh. I-Mac started skiing at 2 and over that period of time has become one with his skis. McIntosh says, "I've been doing it pretty much since I was walking, so for me it's just a natural thing, and that's where I'm comfortable is on my skis."

Last January I had the opportunity to spend a few days skiing with McIntosh at Snowwater Heli-Skiing just outside of Nelson, B.C. We were sampling the famous Kootenay powder, or as the locals say, Kootenay "Cold Smoke." Over the years I've heard about his fun demeanor and ability to push a ski to its limit.

In just a few short years, McIntosh has risen to rock-star status in the ski industry. One company that has taken his skiing abilities to heart is Rossignol. Rossi Team manager Paddy Kaye signed McIntosh a few years back to be on Team Rossignol. One of the main reasons Kaye signed him was his uncanny ability to destroy a pair of skis. "How is this guy breaking all these skis and not his body?" Kaye asks. "I was like, 'Wow, this is the perfect ski tester. If we can make a pair of skis that this guy doesn't break, then we are doing a good job.'"

Nowadays, McIntosh has the ear of Rossi's top ski designers. He was instrumental in aiding with the design and features on Rossignol's new reverse camber Big Mountain ski, the S7. His testing grounds consist of Whistler's rugged backcountry or the jagged peaks in Alaska. This is where McIntosh is at his best, slashing steep spines and navigating through 50- to 60-degree exposed faces at speeds that would make Jeff Gordon squeamish.

"Ian's definitely known for big mountain assault. He's one of the strongest people I know and one of the smoothest skiers and the combination just makes for incredible visuals," Kaye says.

With those attributes, it's no wonder he is a star in both Warren Miller and TGR-Teton Gravity Research Films. His ability to put together jaw-dropping segments is a huge bonus for filmmakers and even more for the viewers.

When you're skiing lines like McIntosh, you can't have any doubts. You need to believe in your skills 100 percent. Standing alone at the top of a peak waiting for the "go" from the filmmaker, a lot of emotions roll through his mind. "When I'm looking at a huge gnarly line or whatever it is," he says, "it's just a feeling of accomplishment like, 'Hey, I'm here, now is my chance to prove what I can do.' There's fear, there's excitement, there's all the emotions you can imagine when you're standing on top of a huge line."

Getting to this level has been a dream of his from a very young age. "I just pursued it 10 full, and like anything in life, if you apply yourself 100 percent, you can make it happen. I just never doubted myself and made it happen."

Whether it's assaulting big mountain lines in Alaska or skiing famous Kootenay Cold Smoke, McIntosh has earned the respect of his peers. Make sure you check him out in this season's TGR film Under the Influence. This is truly a man who is one with his skis. For a young kid who grew up in Invermere, B.C., dreams do come true.


American Original: The Life and Work of John James Audubon @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Sept. 19
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