Bluewood carves out room on mountain for safe skiing

Northwest ski resorts have spent the better part of the year planning for Covid-19 contingencies to ensure skiers and snowboarders can race down their favorite slopes safely this winter.

Bluewood, the Tri-Cities’ closest resort which is owned by seven Tri-Citians, has been planning since March. It’s outside of Dayton, about 80 miles east of the Tri-Cities.

Bluewood opened for the season Dec. 11 after adding two new buildings to accommodate social distancing requirements and improve overall traffic flow at the lodge.

An expansion has been on Bluewood’s long-term capital wish list for probably 35 years, said Kim Clark, the resort’s general manager.

“We’ve always known we’ve had space issues and space constraints,” he said.

The pandemic pushed the project to the top of the priority list.

Bluewood identified four major pinch points where guests bunched up in lines at the 11,000-square-foot lodge and got to work.

Instead of expanding the lodge, they added the two new buildings.

The Hub is the largest at 1,956 square feet. It will house rentals and the SnowSports department. It was in the final stages of construction the week of Dec. 11. Located adjacent to the lodge, the membrane-tensioned building designed by Sprung Structures is built to withstand extreme weather and shed heavy snow loads.

The Hub, the largest building at 1,956 square feet, will house rentals and the SnowSports department. Located adjacent to the lodge, the membrane-tensioned building was designed by Sprung Structures to withstand extreme weather and shed heavy snow loads. (Courtesy Bluewood)

The Hub will provide more space to pick up rental gear and sign up for lessons, while eliminating long lines at the lower level of the lodge, Clark said.

The second building is a 450-square-foot yurt similar in design to the yurt at the summit. This will be the first stop for guests to pick up reserved and pre-purchased lift tickets.

That’s the other new amenity this year. Bluewood’s redesigned website allows guests to buy tickets online in advance, eliminating the need to stand in line once arriving at the slopes.

“They’ll give their name, get their ticket and then they’re gone,” Clark said.

Clark said the resort launched the new website and point-of-sale system in early November.

The new site also is more mobile friendly, too. “We’ve been wanting to do it for a long time. The old website was getting dated and it wasn’t mobile friendly and the millennial generation lives off their phones,” he said.

With rentals, snow sports and ticket pickup areas moved to the new outbuildings, the vacated space leaves about 1,200 square feet in the lodge. That space, near the Pub, has been converted to another dining area, with tables, chairs and a snack station. Grab-and-go meals and snacks are available.

Off the grid

Bluewood takes pride in being a small, family-oriented destination that’s literally off the grid, with the commercial power system ending eight miles from the ski area, Clark said.

A 12,000-gallon diesel storage tank powers the resort. “Once we open, those generators run 24/7 until April when we close down,” he said.

Bluewood only installed its phone system a year ago, using Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, a method of transmitting sound as data over the internet.

Clark and the Bluewood crew say they always look forward to the familiar faces in their close-knit community returning to the slopes. Skiing and snowboarding is a true family activity, he said.

“We’re not one of those big mega resorts. We know a remarkable amount of people by their first name because people have been coming here for years. We’re known for our great snow and family-friendly atmosphere. … It’s just a throwback to the way things used to be from a social standpoint,” he said.

Clark estimates about half of Bluewood’s visitors come from the Tri-City area. Its other primary markets include Walla Walla, Pendleton, Touchet, Dayton, Pomeroy, Lewiston, Moscow and Pullman.

“We have in the past gotten a fair amount of day traffic and overnight visitors from the Spokane area… We’ve made good inroads into that market area. We’ll have to see what the effects of things are going to be,” Clark said.

Staffing

Bluewood’s $600,000 payroll swells to 160 employees during the winter season – about half are full-time positions. Off season, there are nine employees.

Last year’s ski season ended abruptly on March 15 with the first round of state-mandated shutdowns to curtail the spread of Covid-19.

“Normally we go into the first weekend of April. We lost three vital weeks of the season,” Clark said.

This year’s snow forecast “looks wonderful,” Clark said.

What to expect

Clark advises guests to use their car as a base camp and to be “ready to work and play out of that” since state restrictions prevent hanging out in the lodge.

“We are encouraging that as part of social distancing. We encourage you to come here and get ready and put your boots on in your car. Grandma and grandpa aren’t going to be able to sit in the lodge all day and watch the kids ski. It is going to be limited,” Clark said.

Masks will be required indoors and anywhere guests queue up, including the lift lines, parking lot, base area and lodge.

“Don’t be the reason we lose our season,” Clark said. “If you’re ill, stay home. … We’re all in this together. Everyone is just itching to get out and spend time outside.”

Clark feels confident people will abide by the mask rules because they want to be on the mountain.

“Everyone is in it together,” he said. “We know there’s pent up demand.”

Reservations and information about the operating schedule, Covid-19 protocols and other updates can be found at bluewood.com. Get updates on weather conditions at 509-240-8991.

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