Uphill skiers at Mount Spokane enjoyed early-morning ascents to the summit for exercise and post-storm powder turns for years without drawing too much attention to themselves. Yet, what had been a largely tolerated activity in the resort concession area pursued by a small number of diehard backcountry skiers and fitness fanatics has seen increased regulations over the past decade as the number of uphill skiers has surged.

New rules at Mt. Spokane this season, in addition to the existing rules for uphill skiing, include:

  1. From Lodge 1 at Mt. Spokane Ski & Snowboard Park, uphill travel can begin at 7:15 a.m. and continue throughout the day. Skiers must switch to downhill skiing at 9:00 a.m., when chairlifts begin running, and be off the mountain by the close of the business day. (On non-operating days, skiers must be done skiing by 4pm/dusk to allow for grooming operations to begin.)
  2. The resort’s shift to a 7-days-a-week schedule eliminated two popular days of uphill skiing when the ski area has traditionally been closed.
  3. The requirement to purchase a $50 annual Uphill Skier Winter Season Pass that must be carried with you (not required if you’re a downhill season pass holder or you purchase a lift ticket for the day you intend to ski uphill).
  4. And the need to procure a free Early Hours Parking Permit if you plan to park at Lodge 1 to ski the only designated uphill route in the ski area (to be displayed in your vehicle’s dash)

While the requirement for getting your hands on a free early morning parking permit from the resort up to a week in advance may seem like a particularly galling hassle, the one-week in advance requirement listed on Mt. Spokane’s uphill policy page is only necessary if you want your parking pass mailed to you.

As I confirmed in a call to Mt. Spokane, you can call to order your parking pass and stop by the Snow Sports office on the mountain in person during operational hours (after 8 a.m.) to pick it up as early as the following day. And, on the bright side, if you’re parking in the concession area at Lodge 1 to ski up the B29 route, the new free parking permit means you will no longer need to purchase a SnoPark pass (although one is still required to park elsewhere in the state park outside the concession area).

These changes come during a year when the ongoing pandemic has led to a dramatic increase in user visits to Mount Spokane State Park and Mt. Spokane Ski & Snowboard Park that have led officials to begin closing the park outside the ski area to visitors once parking lots fill up (news story with more details).

Skier going uphill to the summit of Mt. Spokane.
Skiing uphill at Mt. Spokane. // Photo: Derrick Knowles

While some uphill skiers and other park users might think they smell a rat, looking at more populated parts of the country provides a guide to where we might be headed here in the Inland Northwest in the coming years: More users vying for access to our trails, parks, and other natural resources predictably leads to more restrictions, hoops to jump through, fees, permits, and access limitations. All of which become necessary to protect the resources, pay for increased management costs, and limit user conflict as the number of users grows.

Mt. Spokane Ski & Snowboard Park’s general manager Jim van Loben Sels says the uphill policy changes this year are a temporary attempt to get a handle on the increase in winter users across the concession area, including knowing how many users are out there. The changes, he adds, are also intended to ensure that everyone is paying their share of the parking, grooming, and facility services the resort provides.

“Our team at Mt. Spokane Ski & Snowboard Park is dedicated to supporting this growing population of outdoor enthusiasts and look forward to providing more access, services, and programming to uphill skiers in the future,” says van Loben Sels.

Find more info and Mt. Spokane’s complete uphill policy and purchase an uphill skier season pass at Mtspokane.com/uphill-travel-policy.

Originally published as “Navigating the Uphill” in the January-February 2021 issue. Online version revised to include the most current information, which was announced after that issue was printed.

Derrick Knowles is co-publisher and editor-in-chief and loves backcountry skiing.