Pleasure in the powder

Skiers and boarders flock to Stevens Pass for opening day of ski season

By Andrew Wineke

Herald Writer

STEVENS PASS — People camped in their cars, skipped work, called in sick to school, whatever it took to be on the mountain for the opening day of ski season Thursday at Stevens Pass.

Where to ski

The ski season has officially begun. Now we need the snow to let up long enough for us to get to the mountains. If the compact snow and ice reported on all the mountain passes doesn’t faze you, here’s the scoop on the slopes:

Stevens Pass, www.stevenspass.com, 206-812-4510; open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

Summit at Snoqualmie, www.summit-at-snoqualmie.com, 425-434-7669; opens Summit West today, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Mount Baker, www.mtbakerskiarea.com, 360-734-6771; open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

Crystal Mountain, www.skicrystal.com, 360-663-2265; open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

Mission Ridge, www.missionridge.com, 509-663-6543; opens Saturday.

White Pass, www.skiwhitepass.com, 509-672-3101; opens Saturday.

While the first day of the season is always symbolically important for snow-lovers, bare spots, rocks and slush usually greet the die-hards who can’t wait for the snowpack to build up. Not so on Thursday.

This week’s wintry weather meant that about 40 inches of unusually light, dry snow awaited opening day skiers and snowboarders at the pass. That in turn meant big smiles and good cheer in the lift lines.

"This is the best opening day I can remember," Matt Fitch of Everett said.

Fitch said he had hiked up 7th Heaven, the ski area’s highest run, three or four times in the past week.

"It took three hours to hike up to the top," he said. "It’ll be nice to be able to ride the lifts."

The 7th Heaven chairlift isn’t running yet (only the Hogsback, Skyline, Brooks, Tye Mill and Daisy lifts were operating), but if the snow keeps coming, all of the lifts and night skiing could be going by the weekend or early next week. Until then, Stevens is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

That’s good news, but the downside is that lift tickets, which are now $32, will jump to $43 when the mountain is fully open.

Thursday, the groomed runs had a few branches poking through but were in very good condition for opening day. The ungroomed runs were trickier, with soft powder that went clear down to the dirt and lots of trees breaking through the snow cover.

Related story:

Valley businesses count on skiers

Continuing snows promised to bury those unwelcome branches by the weekend. The snow was falling hard most of Thursday, so much so that the ski area turned on its lights about noon.

The more the better seemed to be the prevailing mood on the mountain.

Matt Clemeson of Kirkland was pumped for the first day of the season.

"I told my boss a long time ago, ‘Opening day? Can’t make it,’ " he said.

Sixteen-year-old Josh Spellman and some friends from Monroe High School went AWOL to be on the mountain.

Winter driving tips

  • On the way up, tune into 1610 AM to get road conditions on Stevens Pass and parking information for the ski area.

  • You can also check road conditions by visiting traffic.wsdot.wa.gov/sno-info/ or calling 800-695-ROAD.

  • Make sure you’ve got a full tank of gas, plenty of windshield washer fluid and good windshield wipers.

  • Carry an emergency kit with food, chains, extra clothes, a shovel, flashlight and a blanket.

  • Bring a book, games to play or something to do if you get stuck while the Transportation Department does avalanche control.

  • Go slowly and leave plenty of distance between other cars. Drive as if there were eggs on the bottom of your feet – step on the gas and brake pedals so gently you won’t break the eggshell.

  • If you’re trapped in your car during a blizzard, don’t leave the car unless help is visible within 100 yards. Display a trouble sign, hang a brightly colored cloth on the antenna and raise the hood.

  • Wash your car when you get home. Chemical de-icers used by the highway department can cause corrosion.

    Sources: State Department of Transportation, FEMA, Car Talk

  • "We just kind of skipped school," Spellman said. "Opening day, they’re getting dumped on, so might as well go up."

    Joyce Aguirre and Chris Frink of Seattle took a day off work so they could get on the slopes.

    "We thought we were going to be the first ones on the mountain," Aguirre said, "but I guess everyone else had the same idea."

    The upper parking lot was full by the time the lifts started running Thursday morning, and there was a short wait at most of the lifts.

    Mike "Squatch" Wall of Leavenworth was helping park cars at the ski area. He got to work at 6:30 a.m. and said skiers and snowboarders began pulling in right away, even though the lifts didn’t start running until 9 a.m.

    "There was a good 2 feet of powder yesterday," Wall said. "We’re going to be busy today."

    Lori Vandenbrink, marketing director for Stevens Pass, said it’s shaping up to be a great winter.

    "I think after last year’s low snow cover, people are really excited about this season," she said. "I came across at 5:30 (a.m.), and there were people in their cars and vans sleeping. For the last week or more, there’s been people hiking constantly (up the mountain)."

    Elsewhere in ski land, the Summit at Snoqualmie planned to open Summit West today at 9 a.m. Mount Baker and Crystal Mountain opened last weekend with limited operations. Mission Ridge near Wenatchee and White Pass near Yakima will open Saturday with limited operations. All the major British Columbia resorts are open and most of the Idaho resorts are open, or will be this weekend. Mount Hood and Mount Bachelor in Oregon are open.

    You can call Herald Writer Andrew Wineke at 425-339-3465 or send e-mail to wineke@heraldnet.com.

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