STEVENS PASS — Sitting in the Granite Peaks Lodge at the Stevens Pass ski resort, general manager Ellen Galbraith occasionally glanced at the forecast on her phone.
“It keeps coming,” she said with excitement Wednesday, about the heavy snowfall predicted for the weekend in the Cascades.
Stevens Pass, owned by Vail Resorts, only had 8 inches of snow for most of the week. But meteorologists expected the mountains to receive from 22 to 52 inches Thursday night through Sunday morning, with a winter storm warning in effect Friday through Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.
The 2023-24 ski season at Stevens Pass was originally set to begin Friday. With minimal snow, resort staff announced Tuesday the start date would get pushed back.
Mt. Baker staff said the mountain’s ski area was also closed this week. Crystal Mountain Resort was the only Western Washington ski area in the Cascades with plans to still open on Saturday.
As of Thursday, staff at Stevens Pass hadn’t released a new date. Galbraith said the crew would need two to three days to get ready, after the area receives an adequate amount of snow: plowing the parking lots, clearing snow from the lift chairs and packing down snow on the hills.
Staff still remained busy this week, running the lifts, packing down the slopes and hyping each other up for another winter on the slopes.
Teams members in red medic jackets staged first aid and evacuation equipment on the mountain. Skye, a 2-year-old chocolate Lab and experienced avalanche dog, had less pressing duties at the moment, as he pranced around on the snow in his matching red vest.
Outside of resort employees, several families and couples strolling around the basin, fully aware ski season hadn’t begun. Galbraith said sometimes people make the trek up U.S. 2 simply to see the snow.
“It’s fun for people to get a taste of winter,” she said.
Two staff members operated snow machines to give the base of the slopes more of a frosty foundation before the resort’s “rail session” event from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, which they’re holding in lieu of the season’s delay.
The resort will have rails and jumps set up during the event, allowing skiers and snowboarders to warm up ahead of the season’s official start, Galbraith said.
Staff also conducted test runs this week of the new four-seat lift called Kehr’s Chair, named after Bruce Kehr, who helped construct the ski area’s first rope tow in 1937. The recently completed lift replaced the original Kehr’s Chair built in 1964. It also can transport double the number of people uphill, Galbraith said.
Stevens Pass launched a new app for this year’s season as well, called MyEpic, which allows recreationists to pull up passes and lift tickets on their phones.
Pass rates range from $113 to $1,025 this year, depending on the number of resorts that guests want access to this winter. A premium adult pass for Stevens Pass was $701 as of Thursday, with a $470 option for off-peak days. The last day to buy a full season pass is Sunday.
This winter marks Galbraith’s second season as general manager of the resort. The University of Washington alumna and former ski racer started working for Vail Resorts in 2003 at the Beaver Creek area in Colorado.She assumed the role at Stevens Pass after a tumultuous season in 2021-22 when staffing shortages created parking challenges, long lines for lifts and minimal food and lodging options.
At the time, former staff and patrons said the resort struggled to attract and retain employees. Since then, Galbraith said, the resort has been fully staffed and fully operational.
“We went through some stuff and came through on the other side of it,” she said.
As staff wait to see the results of this weekend’s snowstorm, Galbraith said she and the rest of the team are excited to gather once again with fellow winter sport lovers.
She said, “This is our happy place.”
Stevens Pass open and close dates from 2016-23:
• Nov. 29, 2016 to April 23, 2017
• Nov. 17, 2017 to April 22, 2018
• Nov. 21, 2018 to April 14, 2019
• Dec. 18, 2019 to March 15, 2020
• Dec. 4, 2020 to April 18, 2021
• Dec. 17, 2021 to May 1, 2022
• Dec. 2, 2022 to April 16, 2023