White Pass 2021-22 ski season (copy)

Skiers gather at the bottom of a magic carpet lift on the lower part of the mountain at White Pass ski area on Jan. 14.

Four of Washington’s ski areas opened before Thanksgiving thanks to significant snow in early November and consistently cold temperatures.

An unusually long drought in the Cascades followed the storm that dropped around a foot on White Pass, leaving it and others not ready to open just yet. Mt. Hood Meadows even targeted a Friday opening in a social media announcement on Nov. 7 only to change course Monday after forecasted snow didn’t materialize.

“At least the cold weather has allowed us to make a bunch of snow, which has been great,” White Pass spokesperson Kathleen Goyette said. “Now we just need another hit from Mother Nature. Another couple feet would be awesome.”

Any temperatures below freezing allow staff to turn on the mountain’s snowmaking machines, which can operate at all hours of the day. One social media post from White Pass reported an inversion last week, making it slightly too warm to turn on the snow machines above the clouds.

Mission Ridge’s extensive snowmaking resources created enough snow for a limited opening at the mountain overlooking Wenatchee, which typically gets less snow than any other ski areas in the Cascades. They opened Friday through Sunday beginning last week, allowing access to four lifts and a handful of runs, along with the terrain park.

Other places that opened limited terrain at discounted early-season rates included Crystal Mountain on Nov. 21 (Nov. 18 for season passholders), Mt. Baker on Nov. 18 (Nov. 17 for passholders) and 49 Degrees North on Nov. 11 for weekends only. Mt. Hood’s Timberline Lodge opened on Nov. 11, only to shut down two days later.

Goyette said windy conditions caused huge variations in snow depth at White Pass, with up to three feet in some places and as little as three inches in others. She said they shy away from limited openings and prefer to wait until more of the mountain can be safely opened.

“That’s just who we are,” Goyette said. “We really are going to manage the snowpack and do everything we can to get open and we’ll probably call it pretty quickly.”

No lifts running can’t stop the most determined skiers and snowboarders, who can often be seen hiking up to earn their turns. Goyette advised those anxious adventurers to stay to the extreme right of the runs and avoid getting close to chairs, towers and snowmaking machines.

Some small amounts of snow are part of the upcoming forecast at White Pass, and the long-term projections for this season in the Pacific Northwest look promising. Another La Niña is expected to bring above-average snowfall along with below-average temperatures for the region.

Once it opens, White Pass will offer more than 25 kilometers of trails for cross country skiers after a significant expansion on the north side of US Highway 12 over the summer. Goyette expects a new map to appear on the website shortly and said another six kilometers would eventually be added, offering views of Mt. Rainier and the Goat Rocks.

White Pass hasn’t opened before Thanksgiving since 2017, although November snowstorms led to Thanksgiving weekend skiing and snowboarding in 2020. Last year, a warm end to fall meant White Pass couldn’t open until Dec. 16.

Reach Luke Thompson at luthompson@yakimaherald.com.

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