Dark clouds hang above Barrier Ridge near the top of the Skyline chairlift at Stevens Pass on Wednesday, March 22. With cold temperatures and plenty of precipitation providing a solid base of snow, Stevens Pass is on pace to break its record for most visitors in one season. (Ian Terry / The Herald)

It may be spring, but Stevens Pass is celebrating the snow

STEVENS PASS — The ski resort is on track to have an average amount of snow and a record number of visitors this season.

Stevens Pass Mountain Resort has seen 400 inches of snow since November. The norm is 460 inches by April 23, the end of the season, said Chris Danforth, vice president of sales and marketing. Forecasters expect more snow between now and then.

Two years ago, the resort had the scantiest snowfall in its nearly 80-year history. This time of year, there typically are 102 inches of snow on the ground, according to the Northwest Avalanche Center. In 2015, there were just 24 inches. At Snoqualmie Pass, on the same day, there was no snow at all.

Stevens Pass resort bought snowmaking machines in 2015 and 2016.

“When we look at the 75 to 80 years of snowfall history we have here, we see that every 10 to 15 years we have a really bad year, kind of like we had in 2014-15,” Danforth said. “It seems like those bad years get worse and worse.”

The resort plans to add more snowmaking equipment to brace for the next bad year. In normal years, snowmakers can fill in low spots in the base area, build up ramps to the lifts and add terrain for learners. In dry years, they could allow the resort to open as usual in late November. The December holidays are the busiest time of the year, so crews have to get ready.

“It’s really important we hit those holidays,” Danforth said. “We know another bad year will come. We’re not necessarily worried that the frequency will increase right now, but we do know that the next one could be really bad.”

Snow is big business in the passes. Last year, Stevens Pass saw the highest number of visitors on record. The resort is on track to surpass that this year. There have been nearly 400,000 visitors so far this season.

Along with being the resort’s busiest time, December also was the snowiest month, with 134 inches. There was less in January, but February brought 90 more inches and March has nearly matched that. It’s a normal winter in the mountains, avalanche meteorologist Garth Ferber said.

More snow is expected, though spring has arrived on the calendar.

“It looks fairly cool and moderately snowy through the weekend,” Ferber said. “Beyond that, overall it stays fairly active, maybe a little milder through the end of the month. We may finally get to spring in April.”

The resort is welcoming spring. Saturday is a celebration of local legends. There are music and races along with avalanche safety education. Next weekend is Retro Fools Day, when people get decked out in old ski gear and raise money for a nonprofit that gets children out in the snow. A snowboarding competition for kids and teens is set for the following weekend. Then there are Easter egg hunts with season passes as prizes. The season closes with Springfest, featuring races, contests and music.

Stevens Pass already is selling passes for next year. Visitors and employees are hoping for another snowy one.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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