STEVENS PASS —Dozens of people gathered at Stevens Pass ski resort Wednesday, but boots, poles and skis were nowhere to be seen.
Instead of schussing down the slopes, volunteers met at the resort 65 miles southeast of Everett to scour the mountain for trash left behind during the winter ski season.
By 10 a.m., long lines formed to hop onto the Hogsback ski lift. Once aboard, passengers glided over green tree tops with a clear view of others already at work on the mountain.
The annual cleanup, hosted by Stevens Pass Resort, the National Forest Foundation and the U.S. Forest Service, began in 2011. More helpers joined in this year than ever before, nearly 150, compared to the usual 90.
Resort staff pick up trash throughout the year, but this is the main event to clean up the slopes when everything is visible, said Jennifer Carlson, assistant manager of the Commitment to Zero program at Stevens Pass. It’s part of an idea by owner Vail Resorts to make all of its properties zero emission by 2030.
“It gets buried in the snow, and in the summer it melts out,” Carlson said of the trash and debris.
For Cody Reed and Josefina Gonzalez, program coordinators for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Puget Sound, it was their first time cleaning up the mountain. They brought along four others in the program. All live in King County.
The pair said they try to choose activities the children may have never experienced.
“The children we work with, a lot of them are facing adversity and don’t have the opportunity to go snowshoeing or go hiking, just due to their family background and socioeconomics,” Gonzalez said.
Big Brother Sanjog Patel and 13-year-old Chance Dillard get together once every few weeks. Both were looking forward to volunteering on the mountain.
Dillard was excited to hike, but has a mild fear of heights.
“I wasn’t excited to get on that ski lift, I did not want to get on that,” he said.
The fear was short lived.
Once the first ride ended, he wanted to take another.
Jeri and Barry Elslip decided to join the cleanup after seeing a listing in the newspaper.
Since retiring a year ago they’ve been trying new activities. They recently helped Habitat for Humanity build a house in Gold Bar.
“I’d like to give back to my community whenever I can,” Barry Elslip said.
Both have lived in the Lynnwood area for most of their lives. They met in middle school and reconnected years after graduating from Lynnwood High School.
Neither had been to the ski resort in decades. They noticed changes. Two ski lifts, the Brooks and Daisy, are now being renovated.
The Elslips wandered down the mountain on the Lichen It trail, a course used by mountain bikers in the summer.
Construction equipment hummed in the background as they plucked garbage from patches of purple and white wildflowers. Grey mountain peaks stood out against the clear blue sky.
Some volunteers found rusted metal pieces, others found wire and rope. One boy found an arrow from a recent archery event.
All of it was placed into either a green or white bag, depending on whether it was recyclable.
It took people about 90 minutes to make their way down the hill.
By day’s end, the most interesting finds began to pile up on a picnic table outside of the lodge. The most unique piece of trash earned a $50 gift card.
Last year, wind chimes got the nod. This year’s unusual haul included a pair of jeans, a Frisbee, an old Colt 45 malt liquor can and two glass bottles of Corona, unopened.
This year’s winner?
A credit-card sized annual resort pass from 1999.