By SHARON WOOTTON
Skiers, snowboarders and ski-resort managers are chomping at the bit for the snow to pile high enough for snow riders to let loose now that ski season as opened.
And Northwest ski areas have written a series of multimillion-dollar checks in the past decade to improve their image, build day lodges and add high-speed lifts.
Following the trickle-down theory, snow riders are paying for it visit by visit. An adult all-day ticket for Stevens Pass on a weekend, for example, is now $41 (up $3 from last year), a price that leaves longtime Stevens Pass skiers shakily handing over their credit cards.
That day pass now costs more than ski areas at Crystal Mountain, Schweitzer Mountain (British Columbia), Snoqualmie Pass and Timberline (Oregon). And $8 more than Mount Baker.
Still, the ski areas’ collective investments may be paying off, with last season’s Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association numbers showing Stevens Pass up 20 percent, while the rest of the state’s ski areas were up 8.5 percent.
It will take another couple of seasons to see whether that’s an anomaly or whether the exodus to Whistler, Mount Bachelor and Sun Valley has really slowed.
Either way, the 2000-2001 ski season is about to begin and the main destinations for Snohomish County snow riders are Stevens Pass, Mount Baker and the Snoqualmie Pass threesome.
Stevens Pass is practically in the backyard, Mount Baker offers the most adventuresome skiing in the state and the Snoqualmie ski areas can boast of the easiest drive because I-90 takes you right to the front door.
Here’s an update on the state’s major ski areas as the snow starts to fall.
Stevens Pass is trying to do something about the driving challenges of U.S. 2. The pass has taken a well-worn page from major ski areas and is providing a free shuttle service.
Park your vehicle at the Mountain View Chevron in Sultan (look for the bright yellow signs) and take a shuttle, which leaves every 30 minutes from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., with return trips from 12:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. The shuttle operates every weekend beginning Dec. 23 to the end February and major holidays in January and February.
If you actually like driving U.S. 2 during the winter, parking at the pass is free except for Lot A, which has a $10 fee.
Other transportation improvements include:
Almost 800 ski areas were in the running for Skiing and Snowboard Life magazines’ awards.
Mount Baker Ski Area brought home the bacon in the Snowboard Life readers poll: First in terrain, challenge and value, second in snow quality and fourth in scenery.
In Skiing, Mount Baker was eighth for best powder, 10th for best backcountry.
Officials have upgraded the ski area with a snowboarder’s dream: a permanent halfpipe measuring 600 feet long, 80 feet wide and 10 to 12 feet high.
Mount Baker is known for its backcountry options as well as its stiff (and well-deserved) backcountry policy.
Yes, snow riders can venture past the ski area’s boundaries onto public property, but anyone going outside must have an avalanche transceiver (and don’t be surprised if you’re asked to demonstrate your skill), a partner, a shovel, knowledge of your route and avalanche condition information, including this season’s snowpack layers, the Northwest Avalanche Center’s forecast and that day’s forecast.
If you can’t pass, you can’t go, and if you go anyway, you lose your ski area privileges.
Harsh? So is dying in an avalanche.
And yes, the annual Legendary Banked Slalom returns for its 17th year Jan. 26-28.
What’s new? Five Bombardier grooming vehicles. One new halfpipe grinder. A new halfpipe and terrain park at Summit Central. And the Red Robin lift was renamed Ingrid’s Inspiration.
The Summit has also moved its Nordic center to the old Hyak area near Summit East.
Dates to watch for include Dec. 10, Nordic Snow Sports Demonstration Day, and Dec. 16, a Nordic 10-kilometer classic.
Crystal Mountain dropped $2.2 million in the offseason into an Austrian-made Doppelmayr high-speed detachable quad lift, the third high-speed lift in three years.
The lift moves 1,800 people an hour to the top of Green Valley, more than doubling the old lift’s capacity and knocking almost five minutes off a skier’s lift time.
On the down side, Crystal’s administration decided to drop its day care service.
White Pass Ski Area, 12 miles southeast of Mount Rainier National Park, is coming off its best season ever with more than 130,000 visits.
Officials have planned a Forest Service-approved 300-acre expansion, but a legal appeal means more visits to court.
Meanwhile, White Pass has installed a 700-foot platter lift to replace a tow rope, and a 2,100-foot fixed-grip triple chair, both in the lower area.
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