Mt. Spokane adapts to safety protocols during busy ski season

MEAD, Wash. – Three weeks into the ski season and Mt. Spokane sold out its daily lift tickets for the first time the day after Christmas. 

There are new COVID-19 safety protocols in place, including limited capacity and having to buy tickets ahead of time online. 

General Manager Jim van Loben Sels says they’re selling about 1,000 tickets per day, then season passholders can come up unrestricted.

The day after Christmas, they saw somewhere between 2,500 to 3,000 people on the mountain, which is at the 80 percent capacity they want for social distancing.

Spokanite Travis Torbenson and his friends were one of the first few people on the lift Saturday.

It’s a tradition for him to come up to snowboard on the day after Christmas. 

“I actually grew up coming here,” said Torbenson. “My neighbor was ski patrol and the brought me up here since I was probably four years old. I remember losing teeth at this lodge, actually.” 

Now he’s back to make more memories. Hopefully safer ones. 

When you go to visit, you’ll notice indoor dining isn’t allowed, per statewide restrictions. 

A tough situation, since it’s normally a big part of the day. But they’re adapting with grab-and-go and expanded outdoor eating options. 

“It’s hard to accommodate and know that your guests are having their ultimate experience,” said van Loben Sels. “We did try to preface it with come prepared to make your car your lodge.” 

Masks are also required. It’s one rule Torbenson didn’t mind too much. 

“You want a mask anyways for the weather,” said Torbenson. 

Though the ski and snowboard park has signs everywhere asking people to mask up, management says they’ve had somewhat of a problem with everyone following orders. 

“If they don’t wear a mask we ask them to step out and give them the options that they, that we feel are appropriate,” said van Loben Sels. “At that point, they get to make a choice whether they want to continue skiing and wearing the mask or step out and we’ll refund their tickets.” 

He says they just want to make sure everyone’s following rules so they can continue to stay open.

“Now that the snow is here, we definitely see the demand for that outdoor snow sports is there. I’d say have patience, we’re all trying to get through this. We’re all trying to make it safe,” van Loben Sels said. “Nothing is the same as we’ve done the past couple of years. We’re learning, too.”

Not everything has changed for Torbenson and his friends, despite all the safety guidelines. 

“It’s great to get out of the house and get away from the now new norm,” said skier Christopher Matthews. “COVID, be intertwining with other people safely and enjoying the day.”

Like other businesses across the Inland Northwest, it’s struggling with the restrictions with fewer people on the mountain and no indoor dining.

However, fortunately for the ski mountain, more people signed up for season passes this time around.

“This sport has social distancing built into it and that’s the thing that’s playing into our favor at this point in time,” van Loben Sel said.