STEVENS PASS — Stevens Pass ski area opened Thursday morning for its 80th season with a base of 20 to 33 inches of snow — five inches of which arrived in the past 24 hours.
Some eager skiers arrived at 7 a.m., two hours before opening, waiting for the chairlifts to begin operating.
“You want the bragging rights that you were on the first chair of the year,” said Chris Danforth, vice president of marketing and sales for the ski area.
Brothers George and William Mould, of Bothell, and their buddy Erik Byland, of Woodinville, were among the early birds excited to get back on the slopes.
They were on the road by 7 a.m. and on the lift by 9.
“It’s gonna be a good year this year,” William Mould said, while hanging out at the bottom of a lift in the mid-afternoon. “Last year they didn’t open until the 29th.”
“We’ve been texting for like a month” about opening day, Byland said.
The snowboarders had been monitoring conditions on Stevens Pass online, waiting for the go-ahead. Stevens is where they go most, although they occasionally make their way up to Mount Baker.
Thursday’s opening was tied for the third-earliest in the resort’s history. The last time the ski area opened Nov. 16 was in 2013.
Up to 800 people had made their way to the mountain by mid-day Thursday, “about what we’d expect for an opening in November,” Danforth said.
On Thursday, the Brooks, Daisy, Hogsback and Skyline chair lifts were running. “It’s a good chunk of the front side of the mountain,” he said.
Teams have spent the time preparing for ski season since the area’s bike park closed in early October. “It’s a mad rush to get the resort flipped around and ready for winter,” Danforth said.
When asked if any of Thursday’s skiers and snowboarders received any special rewards for being there on opening day, Danforth said: “Lots of high-fives.”
Opening day ticket prices were $40 for guests ages 16-69, $28 for ages 7-15, $20 for ages 70 and older, and free for ages 6 and younger.
Skiers and snowboarders have been flocking to The Sports Connection in Mukilteo for the past month dropping off their skis to get waxed and tuned, said Joe Brady, the shop’s owner.
The cooler weather in late October seemed to spur people into action. “It kind of got people excited and in the mood to drop off their gear out and get it ready,” he said.
Forecasts call for it to warm up some early next week with a little rain. By Thanksgiving Day, it’s expected to cool back off and go back to snow, Danforth said.
The mix of some warmer and cooler temperatures is typical for November. “We’ll ride a bit of a roller coaster into early December,” when there’s fewer peaks and valleys with the temperature and “a pretty solid, consistent winter pattern,” he said.
The ski resort has added a new machine to its fleet this year that helps groom the trails. A new $2 million parking area was added last year.
The National Weather Service said people traveling the mountain passes should begin preparing for winter driving conditions.
“They should have their chains, blankets, flashlights and food just in case you’re stuck,” meteorologist Johnny Burg said.
Two to three inches of snow was expected at Stevens and Snoqualmie passes Thursday afternoon and another three to five inches overnight.
The snow level is expected to be at 2,500 feet Friday, with snow showers predicted to add another two to three inches of snow in the mountains, he said.
The snow level will rise over the weekend, up to 3,500 feet Saturday and about 4,500 feet Sunday.
It’s expected to drop back to 3,000 feet Monday with a chance of snow showers and climb to 3,500 to 4,500 feet Tuesday.
For more information, go to www.stevenspass.com.
Ian Terry contributed to this story.
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; email@example.com.