Many of the people who live, work, and raise their families in the Inland Northwest have been taking full advantage of the superb winter mountain conditions throughout the area for decades and were among the first people in line when the ski resorts began offering season passes. I had the opportunity to talk to a few of these long-time pass holders, listen to their stories, and imagine a simpler time when local ski hills consisted of a rope tow or two and wide-open slopes.
“My wife and I bought our passes the first day [49 Degrees North] opened in 1972,” says Eric Alm. “I actually started skiing down the road about 4 or 5 miles at Chewelah Peak in 1957. I think that was one of the first chair lifts in the whole region.” For Alm, skiing at 49 Degrees North is all about family, friends, and more family. His brother-in-law and sister-in-law have a cabin “up there,” so he and his wife spend Friday through Sunday afternoons on the mountain during the winter. “It just never gets old for me,” he says. “Skiing always has been and always will be, I hope, an integral part of our family and friendships.”
Tammy Jensen began skiing on Mt. Spokane when she was in fifth grade. “There used to be another lodge on the other side that burned down,” she recalls. “The Spokesman-Review had a free ski school, and 800 students would come up on buses.” She and her friend George Simchuk were the first official riders of Chair Lift 1 in 1956, when a lift ticket cost a mere $3.50. She has seen her kids grow up there, coached ski racing for 45 years, and now serves on the board as Vice President of Operations. “I have skied there for forever,” says Jensen. “It is close. The grooming is awesome. It’s not expensive. I think it is such a fantastic asset for Spokane.”
More than 30 years ago, Brenda Armstrong’s husband, Sid, worked in the lab at Bunker Hill in Kellogg, Idaho. During a shutdown, the mine gave all the workers and their families passes to Silver Mountain. “We took our kids up,” says Armstrong, “and we’ve had season passes ever since.” Today, she is in real estate, her husband is the CFO for Post Falls School District, their three kids are grown and married, and they have eight grandkids. “We come up, use the lunchroom for lunch, go to the water park afterward – it’s a lot of fun,” says Armstrong. Aside from nice long slopes like Rendezvous, Armstrong and her family revel in the gondola ride, especially with a hot cup of coffee first thing in the morning. “When you’re on a 20-minute ride, you get to know all kinds of people,” she says, “and the kids love it!”
Dick Caron sometimes skis Silver Mountain, but Lookout Pass is his favorite place to play. “I have skied at Lookout for a long, long time, like 60-somethin’ years,” he says, “and I’m still skiin’ and still lovin’ it.” Caron is from Wallace, and for him, Lookout Pass is easily accessible and consistently covered in the deep, soft snow that he loves to ski. “I don’t know how long I’ve had season passes,” he says, “but as you get older, it’s stupid not to have ‘em, ‘cause they’re so damn cheap.” A few times a week, especially if there’s a decent snow fall, you’ll find him headed up the mountain in the morning, “at a decent time,” looking for fresh, powdery snow. “If you want some of the better snow, and you can ski just about anywhere,” says Caron, “I think Lookout is the place to go. Without a doubt, the snow is about as good here as you can get within our 200-mile radius.” //