SPOKANE, Wash. – Lookout Pass Ski Area on the Idaho-Montana border is planning a $20 million expansion that would more than quadruple its terrain, add eight chairlifts and a second base area, and encompass two additional peaks.
The ski area has submitted a 20-year plan to the U.S. Forest Service that considers the improvements in phases.
“There’s a need,” said Lookout Pass chief executive Phil Edholm told the Spokesman-Review. “People like affordable recreation, and that’s what we offer here.”
The ski area operates on national forest land under a special use permit. The plan is subject to environmental reviews and will involve input from officials with the Idaho Panhandle and Lolo National Forests, the newspaper reported.
The ski area sits atop the Idaho-Montana divide, about 80 miles east of Spokane, Wash. It currently operates three chairlifts that access about 540 skiable acres, and employs about 100 part-time workers in the winter.
Edholm said he designed the expansion with careful consideration of the environment. The plan minimizes ground disturbance near streams, and new buildings would follow the principles set out by the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED standards, he said.
He also said the expansion avoids encroaching into terrain farther up the St. Regis Basin that is used by snowmobilers and backcountry skiers.
“He came to the Forest Service with a well-thought-out plan,” said Sharon Sweeney, district ranger of the Superior Ranger District in Montana’s Lolo National Forest. “He thought of what some of the obstacles might be, and he tried to reduce or eliminate them as much as possible.”
Before any environmental review begins, Kent Wellner, recreation program manager for the Idaho Panhandle National Forest, said he would like to bring together groups that recreationally use the St. Regis Basin.
He said Edholm has talked to some users and tried to come up with a plan that minimizes conflict. “I just think we need to take the next step and engage a larger audience,” Wellner said.
Lookout Pass’s full 20-year expansion would add 2,000 more acres to the ski area. If two proposed new peaks were accessed, the ski area’s current peak elevation of 5,800 feet on Runt Mountain would increase to about 6,200 feet
The vertical drop, from the top to the bottom of the longest run, is now about 1,150 feet. The plan increases the vertical drop to about 1,800 feet. The expansion would add about 25 runs to the mountain’s existing 34.
Edholm said the first phase of improvements would add two new chairlifts to a second peak southwest of the existing base area and north of the St. Regis River.
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