As skiers and riders, we are often drawn to a particular area that holds a special place in our hearts. It may not have the deepest snow, steepest terrain or the most vertical, but that mountain seems to have something else that’s somewhat undefinable, something soulful that calls us back every season. For many here in the Inland Northwest, that place is Mt. Spokane.
The southernmost mountain in the Selkirk Range, Mt. Spokane, overall, is the largest of all Washington state parks. It began as a small privately owned parcel of land on the flank of the 5,889 foot mountain in northeast Spokane County. The mountain, with its rounded dome easily visible for miles around, is only about an hour’s drive northeast of its namesake city.
Over the years, through purchases and donations, the property that became the park has been expanded to nearly 14,000 acres, 1,500 of which are now within the skiable boundaries of the ski and snowboard park. The very first Spokane Ski Club was formed in December 1931. Driven by their passion for skiing and an adventurous spirit, they built the first log clubhouse and installed two rope tows. Today, that intense drive to ski and spirit for being up on the mountain is alive and well in many of Mt. Spokane’s faithful skiers and riders. Talk to any Spokane native who loves to ski or ride, and they’ll tell you all about their first lesson or day up at the “Kan.”
One of Mt. Spokane’s most faithful cheerleaders is perhaps longtime mountain employee Kristin Whitaker. Like many before her, the spirit of this mountain has its hooks set deep in her heart. I caught up with Kristen to ask her a few questions to help try to define that enduring spirit that lives on with each new generation of first-time skiers and riders who grow up to call this place their local mountain.
OTM: Mt. Spokane usually hits #1 on the local polls every year. Why do you think that is?
KW: I believe that Mt. Spokane offers one of the best values in the region. This mountain has so much added value to skiers and riders in Spokane in terms of location, Ski School, night skiing, a tubing hill, free parking and shuttles, facilities, terrain options, and most especially, that ‘family-mode’ of the guest services team.
OTM: So what exactly is it about this place that you love so much?
KW: Hands down, it’s the family atmosphere – the mountain staff is a giant family, which extends to our philosophy of what guest service should be. By the third time most folks ride a chair, the ‘lifties’ know your name. But I feel that the family atmosphere combined with the value is what really makes this place so special – and what really defines the spirit of Mt. Spokane.
OTM: What are all the different roles you have played at Mt. Spokane over the years?
KW: I walked onto the ‘Kan’ as a snowboard instructor 9 years ago. From there, I became the Ski School On-Snow Supervisor, then I transitioned to Marketing Director, and now I oversee both Marketing & Guest Services for the resort.
OTM: Where is your favorite spot to ride?
KW: The ‘Lost Woods’ off of Chair 1 on a powder day offers challenging terrain, it holds the snow for several days, and is typically untracked even late in the day after a storm.
OTM: Who is your favorite local who best represents the spirit of the mountain?
KW: We call her ‘Mountain Momma’ – Maxine McIntyre. Max has been teaching at Mt. Spokane for 20 years and is the current Ski School Director. Need a hug? Find Max. Lost your gloves? She’s got em. Need an attitude adjustment? She can handle that too. We attribute a lot of the Ski School’s current success to Max’s passion for teaching, people, and Mt. Spokane.
OTM: What do you see for the future at Mt. Spokane?
KW: As a local, non-profit ski area, the resort works really hard to serve the community by answering the Spokane region’s needs for winter recreation. The terrain expansion project, which will increase Mt. Spokane’s existing terrain by a third and bring a new chairlift to the backside of the mountain, is obviously a big part of that future. I also see continued upgrades to facilities and terrain to suit skiers’ and riders’ needs.