Proceeds from upcoming ski film festival will go toward making backcountry recreation safer

Dec. 10—A dozen films celebrating human-powered winter recreation will play at the Garland Theater on Thursday. Ticket proceeds will support ongoing efforts to make backcountry recreation safer in the Spokane region.

"The film festival is kind of the big public outreach effort to bring back awareness," said Kelly Lynch, the ski chair for the Spokane Mountaineers.

In particular, the mountaineers, the Idaho Panhandle Avalanche Center and the Winter Wildlands Alliance hope to install avalanche awareness signs at Stevens Peak in North Idaho near the Montana border. Those signs, which would be modeled after similar efforts in Canada and elsewhere, would highlight avalanche-prone areas, Lynch said. The signs cost about $4,000 to install. He hopes to install them this coming summer.

Stevens Peak was selected because "it's easily accessed with high consequence," he said. In addition to the signs, Lynch would like to install beacon-check stations at popular trailheads; however, that effort is further down the road. Lynch was introduced to those check stations while skiing in Canada.

"I thought that was the coolest thing," he said. "I was talking to the ski patrol at Lookout and they're putting one in for their new terrain."

Those efforts are made against the backdrop of big increases in backcountry winter recreation. While most ski industry sales — downhill bindings and skis, for instance — have stayed stagnant for years, backcountry-related sales have exploded driven in part by COVID-19 and in part by a generational shift away from "extreme sports" toward endurance sports.

The Spokane region is no different. Uphill skiing has grown in popularity, with local resorts offering dedicated uphill routes.

Meanwhile, traditionally lonely backcountry areas have seen more visitors and North Idaho's avalanche forecasting center has reported increased interest.

On Mount Spokane's opening day last weekend, Lynch said he saw people skiing uphill on the resort's dedicated uphill track "all day" — an anecdotal illustration of a larger trend.

In recognition of that fact the Spokane Mountaineers restarted their backcountry ski club after a several-year pause, Lynch said. That club aims to introduce people to skiing broadly. Club members have access to a number of trips, seminars and trainings throughout the season, Lynch said (see sidebar).

The film festival features a diverse lineup, including a film about the history of skiing in the Palouse, of all places.