STEVENS PASS — They arrived at 6 a.m. to be first in line on opening day at the Stevens Pass ski area.
The temperature hovered in the low 20s, but the stoke kept them warm.
“I’m so excited, I couldn’t wait,” said Drew Wordell of Seattle. He was one of four to take the first chair on the newly renovated Brooks lift Wednesday.
The line behind him whooped and hollered as the seat took off, breaking through a “First Chair!” banner held by resort staffers.
Some visitors took the day off work to catch opening day. Others conveniently “worked” remotely or were “under the weather.”
Originally set to open Dec. 4, Stevens Pass ski area had a mere 8 inches of snow until this past week.
Woodinville-area resident Matt Hudson went for a hike nearby two weeks ago.
“It definitely wasn’t ready to open yet,” he said of the slopes.
But Wednesday, he was second in line for Skyline Express.
“It’s mid-December and I haven’t gotten a run in, so it was time to come up,” he said.
He’s looking forward to rippin’ groomers and rockin’ blues once deeper snow hits.
Opening day’s snow coverage left much to be desired, with rocks and bare branches abounding. Just three of the resort’s 10 lifts were spinning.
But that didn’t keep away Ben Brosius, who broke out a celebratory Rainier beer in line at 8:35 a.m.
“Breakfast of champions,” said Hudson, next to Brosius in line.
Improvements to the Daisy and Brooks chairlifts increase the resort’s capacity by 33%, said Marc Riddell, director of communications for West Coast Vail Resorts.
The Brooks run used to be a pinch point, he said.
Bothell skier Ted Anderssohn described the old Brooks as “painfully slow.”
This year, two-person chairs have been replaced by four-person seats.
An area under the lift was once home to a terrain park, a space for practicing tricks on jumps and pipes. Now the hill has runs to accommodate more upper-beginner and lower-intermediate skiers and snowboarders.
The terrain park now sits under the Hogsback Express lift and has some new features.
“We’ve really opened up the mountain to more intermediate terrain,” Riddell said.
It also allows those seeking advanced terrain up higher on the mountain to reach it quicker.
“We’re spreading people out across the resort, getting them more time skiing and snowboarding, as opposed to waiting in the lift line,” he said.
Changes at Daisy increased the lift’s capacity and increased the timing between chairs, making it easier for beginners to get on.
Stevens Pass General Manager Tom Pettigrew said the resort’s entire flow is improved. Visitors can now ski directly from the Granite Peaks lodge to the Hogsback, Skyline and Brooks lifts.
The lodge, too, has seen changes.
The lower level that once had more grab-and-go items now operates like a cafe. It offers hot food, such as panini and soup in addition to prepared to-go options.
Upstairs, the resort hired staff to clear tables and sort tray items into recycling and compost. The move is a part of Vail Resorts’ commitment to reaching a zero net operating footprint by 2030. That goal includes promises to eradicate emissions, prevent waste from reaching landfills and avoid effects on forests and habitat.
Also new this year, visitors can redeem lift tickets using their mobile phones and skip the line at ticket windows.
Night skiing, which keeps the slopes open until 10 p.m., begins Thursday.
With more snow in the forecast this weekend, Pettigrew said skiers and snowboarders can look forward to a good year.
“The season looks amazing,” he said.
Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; email@example.com.