Forest Service reviewing proposal

Lookout Pass Ski Area would more than double in size under a proposal under review by the Idaho Panhandle National Forest.

The expansion would include 145 acres of new ski runs (11 runs), 6,800 feet of chairlifts, a 4,000-foot expansion of the ski lodge and a new 14,500-square-foot "guest services building."

Located just off Interstate 90 on the Idaho-Montana border about six miles from Mullan, Idaho, the ski area was sold last year to three out-of-state investors with backgrounds in ski area and golf course management.

Phil Edholm, president of Lookout Pass and one of the investors, recently presented the expansion plan to the Lolo and Idaho Panhandle forests. The ski area is in both national forests - the Lolo on the Montana side of the border, the Panhandle in Idaho.

As proposed, the new ski runs would be on the north and south flanks of Runt Mountain at the upper ends of the St. Regis and Coeur d'Alene rivers. The existing runs are on the east side of Runt Mountain.

Lookout's operating permit covers about 340 acres on the mountain, of which 180 acres are developed. Edholm's proposal would increase the developed ski area by about 364 acres.

The new runs would be classified as intermediate and advanced terrain, with 1,030 vertical feet of skiing on the south slopes and 1,070 vertical feet on the north. Two new chairlifts would service the runs.

At the base area adjacent to the interstate, Edholm would enlarge the ski rental shop, add 20 recreational vehicle hook-ups to the parking lot and upgrade the fueling station. The "guest services building" would include a Forest Service interpretive center, child care, caretaker's quarters and overnight lodging.

When he purchased the ski area last fall, Edholm said the area doubled its skier visits in recent years - to 60,000.

"We see this area blossoming," he said. "We see Lookout Pass providing a ski experience competitive with other resorts."

While small, Lookout Pass is appealing - according to Edholm - because of the 350 inches of snow it averages per season. Traditionally, Lookout drew most of its skiers from Idaho's Silver Valley and Coeur d'Alene. But Missoula is just as close and will be the focus of marketing efforts in the future, Edholm said.

"We feel that Missoula is an area that is untapped," he said.

At the Coeur d'Alene River Ranger District, recreation specialist Glenn Truscott said the Forest Service will write an environmental impact statement on the proposed expansion.

To start that process, Truscott asked for public comment on the scope of the environmental review. "We want to cover all the possible impacts," he said, "and we want to respond in-depth to the public's concerns."

€ Initial comments on the proposal are due by May 24. Write to Susan Jeheber-Matthews, Coeur d'Alene River Ranger Station, 2502 E. Sherman Ave., Coeur d'Alene, Idaho 83814.

Comments will also be taken after the Forest Service releases a draft environmental impact statement. For more information, contact Truscott at 208-769-3029.

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