STEVENS PASS — The stoke was high Friday as thousands of people flocked to the slopes off U.S. 2 to chase their favorite adrenaline rush.
Snow flurries dusted Stevens Pass and the temperature hovered in the low 30s on opening day of the ski resort’s 2022-23 season.
Woodinville resident Matt Richardson joined his friends Jaymes and Emalee Fleming for a day on the slopes.
Richardson, a season pass holder, has been shredding in the crest of the Cascades for 50 years. His father was on ski patrol and would “drag” him up to the mountains when he was a kid, he said.
“Matt doesn’t look as old as he is,” his friends joked. “He’s really like 90.”
The snowboarding trio said they were looking forward to getting up into the pow, and, Richardson added, “maybe a nice cold beer at about 2 o’clock.”
Stevens Pass Ski Resort is celebrating its 85th anniversary this year. Energy was buzzing as people lined up for first chair before 8 a.m. Some cracked a cold one and toasted to the fresh season.
“People are just so happy,” resort communications manager Amanda Bird said. “I was standing there literally for like 30 minutes and everybody was cheering and screaming.”
Bird said she heard a number of people say they had called out sick from work, played hooky or told their boss they were taking a mental health day. She joked she would post a photo of a skier on social media for his boss to see.
After a tumultuous 2021-2022 season, resort management told The Daily Herald things are looking up. Earlier this year, former ski racer Ellen Galbraith was hired as the resort’s new general manager.
Galbraith, a University of Washington grad with roots in the Evergreen State, said staff hiring and retention was her number one priority coming into the new role. In the 2021-22 season, the resort saw staff shortages, long lines and unhappy ski bums. Workers described the Vail Resorts-owned destination as “dysfunctional.”
This season, the resort is fully staffed, Galbraith said. Starting pay for employees was reportedly bumped from $15 to $20 per hour and the amount of beds in staff housing doubled.
The general manager said she was pleased with the way opening day started out.
“People were lined up and ready to go, but we don’t have long waits on any of the lifts,” Galbraith said. “Mother Nature totally delivered — this is a fantastic amount of snow.”
Around 11 a.m., Josh Fisher hobbled down a slope.
“Mind if I join you guys?” he asked some strangers seated around a table with an electric fire going. “Dude, I haven’t done this since 2008. It’s been a second.“
Fisher, 31, of Tacoma, cracked open a can of Rainier and let out a sigh. It was his first time on the slopes since he was 17.
“Back then, I had all of my cartilage, most of my synovial fluid and a heart full of wonder,” he said. “We just did a blue (intermediate route) and I must have fallen like a dozen times. And it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I just fell on my bum.’ It was like board, head, board, head.”
The general manager wanted to remind visitors like Fisher to heed caution on the runs.
“There was a lot of buildup,” Galbraith said. “Our message today is: Be safe. Take it easy. None of us are in peak winter shape yet.”
Epic season passes will increase in price after Sunday. Galbraith recommended people book day visits in advance.
“Everyone that’s working here — riding here — they love it here,” Galbraith said.