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Idaho ski areas do well in long, snowy season

Idaho skiers and the state’s collection of resorts have reaped the benefits of a snow-filled season and an improved economy, factors that enabled operators to start up lifts earlier than previous years and put several mountains on pace to set new records or top last season’s visit totals.

Closing day is approaching for many ski resorts, but consistent late-season snowfall in March and April have extended the season for resorts like Brundage Mountain near McCall and Sun Valley, which celebrated its 75th anniversary this year.

Sun Valley Spokesman Jack Sibbach said this season was the fifth best on record for overall snowfall and the resort has the potential to beat last season when more than 400,000 skiers hit the slopes. Sibbach credited heavy snowfall in November for the decision to open runs and ski lifts in late November, weeks earlier than previous seasons.

“It always helps to get off to a great start and we did this year,” said Sibbach, adding the plan now is to keep the slopes open until the end of April “That gets everything off on the right foot.”

Officials at Brundage Mountain are poised for a record season. Spokeswoman April Russell says the mountain, which reports 92 inches of snow at its base and a season of 322 total inches of snowfall, is on track to eclipse the previous record of 131,000 skiers. Brundage intends to stay open through the first weekend of May.

Bogus Basin north of Boise shut down April 10 with its usual final-day celebration, capping a season that started earlier than usual and is likely to break last year’s mark of 350,000 skier visits.

Spokeswoman Gretchen Anderson said Bogus was 4,000 skier visits ahead of last year. But she said the popular hill for Treasure Valley skiers and snowboarders might have surpassed its 2001 record of 380,000 skier visits if not for a dry spell in January.

“We were on course to make it the best season ever but the month of January was tough on us,” Anderson said. “When the new snow doesn’t come, people don’t really come to the mountain.”

But plentiful and persistent snowfall wasn’t the only plus for Idaho’s ski destinations this year. Signs of an improved economy contributed to another strong season at Schweitzer, which shut down April 11 and reported 376 inches of snow this season.

The resort near Sandpoint doesn’t disclose skier visit figures. But Sean Briggs, the resort’s marketing coordinator, said even though visit totals were on par with last year, skiers this year seemed more willing to spend on food, beverages and other concessions.

“I think people are a little more willing to spend money,” Briggs said. “So it’s definitely on the rise.”

Some of Idaho’s smaller hills, like Pomerelle and Pebble Creek in southeastern Idaho reported average years, despite early openers. Pebble Creek near Pocatello opened 22 days earlier than normal thanks to early snows.

This season also marked the return of skiers to the runs at Tamarack Mountain Resort near Donnelly.

Runs at Tamarack were shut down last year as the resort and its owners struggled with bankruptcy and finding new investors. Last summer, the resort’s homeowners association anted up $250,000 and got permission from a federal bankruptcy judge to use the lifts and other equipment to operate a shortened ski season. The resort opened in mid-December, had a tight budget of just $1.5 million and was open for business Thursday through Sunday for 15 weeks.

Tim Flaherty, director of the Tamarack Municipal Association, said the results were better than expected. He said the resort attracted more than 30,000 skiers and injected $420,000 into payroll for the small staff of employees hired to help operate during the season.

“This wasn’t about making a lot of money,” Flaherty said. “We generated some life and energy back to the community.” 

About The Associated Press

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