YAKIMA, Wash. — For many people, snowy mountain passes mean sketchy driving conditions on trips to the other side of the Cascades. For winter-sports enthusiasts, though, the driving ends at or near those mountain passes — anywhere there’s enough snow to allow downhill or cross-country skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing.
And right now, that’s pretty much everywhere. Thanks to last week’s Cascade snowstorm that lasted through the weekend in some areas, the ski season is now officially here.
After beginning last week with a woefully inadequate coverage in its base area, White Pass was able to open Friday with 93 percent of its terrain available to skiers and snowboarders. And they came in droves, too, with nearly 1,000 ticket-buyers moving through the gates and heading up the chairlifts.
“That was probably one of the very best midweek opening days in any kind of recent memory,” White Pass marketing manager Kathleen Goyette said. “Our ticket manager has been there for four years and she said it was by far the best since she’s been there.”
The snow coverage was also more extensive than for most opening weekends, which typically include the dreaded “in limited operation” caveat. By Saturday morning, there was enough snow for White Pass officials to open every run except Paradise Cliff — an expert run at the bottom of the Chair 4 area that’s a favorite for black-diamond-level skiers but is virtually unknown to most intermediate downhillers.
“Most of us intermediate types would look at that and go, nope, not going down there,” Goyette said with a laugh. “So for people like you and me, the normal humans, 100 percent of the area was open.”
As of Monday morning, White Pass had 62 inches of snow at the summit and 34 in the base, and Sunday’s wind moved around enough snow that skiers and snowboarders will have to be watchful for potential obstacles — stumps, rocks, the tips of small trees — pushing through areas of minimal snow coverage.
There was also a light drizzle in the lower elevations of the ski area on Monday, which will also serve to compact the snow and may reveal a few more of those obstacles until this week’s expected snow flurries bring another three to seven inches before this Friday.
White Pass wasn’t the region’s only ski area to benefit from last week’s snows.
Summit West at Snoqualmie was able to open Saturday and Sunday with a base-area depth of 31 inches that has since grown to 35 inches. Stevens Pass, which had opened the previous week in limited operation, experienced historic snowfall Friday night, with 39 inches falling between 4 p.m. Friday and 4 a.m. Saturday.
“We were blown away by the amount of snowfall that fell last night,” said John Meriwether, Stevens Pass’ planning coordinator and also its in-house weather forecaster. “The models all showed significant snowfall of around a foot, but nowhere in the range of three to four feet.”
By later that morning, the resort’s 24-hour snowfall total was up to 48 inches, putting its 48-hour total at a remarkable 69 inches. With all that coverage, Stevens Pass was able to open Mill Valley, the back side of the ski area.
Mount Spokane also opened on Saturday, joining neighboring 49 Degrees North and Wenatchee’s Mission Ridge, both of which had opened in limited operation on Nov. 23. Other areas already open include Crystal Mountain and Mount Baker as well as Oregon’s Mount Hood Meadows, Timberline Lodge and Mount Bachelor. Other further-out ski and snowboard destinations already running include Mount Ashland in southern Oregon; Lookout Pass, Schweitzer and Silver Mountain in Idaho; and Whitefish in Montana.
So many resorts throughout the Northwest were able to open over the weekend, in fact, that it would be easier to list the ones still waiting for enough snow. For folks in this part of the state, that list is pretty much confined to Ski Bluewood, in the Blue Mountains of Columbia County. And with 24 inches in its base area as of Monday morning, even Bluewood isn’t far off.
For cross-country skiers and snowshoers, the prognosis is also good — and also, as with the downhill industry, is on a wait-and-see status in some areas.
A Cascadian group on a ski-and-snowshoe outing on Saturday went to the Bumping area, home of the state’s newest cross-country ski sno-park, only to find the coverage insufficient for good skiing. The group then continued further to the winter-closure gate on State Route 410, and skied and snowshoed from that point atop what group leader Ted Gamlem called “a good three feet of snow on the road.”
Does the recent snowfall mean the winter-sports season is here to stay? Maybe and maybe not, Gamlem said.
We’ve had years in the past when we get a bunch of good snow and then we get a month or so and nothing happens or it rains,” Gamlem said. “We’ve actually gone back to hiking a couple of years out of the last six or so. I wouldn’t rule it out, but I can tell you every Cascadian I know is pretty excited about the ski and snowshoe season.”
Once the coverage is there, the Bumping trail system based out of the new non-motorized sno-park should be quite a draw for cross-country skiers and snowshoers. Cross-country ski grooming is slated to begin this Saturday at Bumping, where the trail meanders through the woods on each side of the road and winds through the Bumping Lake Campground.
Some Nordic-skiing enthusiasts believe the Bumping circuit may one day rival the perennially popular North Fork Tieton as a destination for cross-country skiers and snowshoers.
“It’s a great place for beginners or older skiers or people with kids, or for anybody just wanting to get out and enjoy the snow,” said Saundie McPhee, an avid winter-sports participant who sometimes leads Cascadian cross-country and snowshoe outings. “I actually like it even better than North Fork — it has better views.”