After an agonizingly slow start to the powder carving season way out Highway 12, White Pass Ski Area is finally open.
The ski area opened Friday for the first time this season and remained open all weekend, much to the delight of crowds that traveled from near and far. Operators at the ski area say the plan now is to keep the lifts running and the slopes open every day until the weather dictates otherwise.
While other ski areas around the region opened up over the past few weeks, White Pass was forced to remain shuttered as it waited for snowstorms to blanket its hills. Those storms finally arrived last week and brought the base layer of snow up high enough to allow skiers and boarders to try their luck for the first time.
Darrick Dahl, 20, and Patrick Elliott, 23, trekked to White Pass from Gig Harbor on Saturday to see how things were stacking up. It was Elliott’s first time to White Pass to snowboard, although he is quite familiar with the various shredders’ peaks around the region. He said he showed up at White Pass around noon and was able to get in as many runs as he wanted before daylight ran out. He added that White Pass compared favorably to other Cascade range ski areas that he’s visited in the past.
“It’s a lot bigger than Snoqualmie and a lot easier to navigate than Crystal,” said Elliott. “Plus, the lines are shorter.”
Elliott rode to the mountain with Dahl who is a relative regular at White Pass. Dahl said the backcountry runs were still a little thin over the weekend but overall the slopes were in fine shape to enjoy his first trip to the mountain this winter.
“I felt like it actually was a good snow day,” said Dahl, who planned on returning Sunday for another day of shredding. “Since I’m not working, I’ll be here.”
There were plenty of locals carving it up at White Pass over the weekend as well. Matt Kurzeika, a senior at Onalaska High School, was one familiar face who kept on riding until the lifts stopped running at 4 p.m. on Saturday. Kurzeika, who plays football and baseball for the Loggers, noted that it was his very first day snowboarding and he came away hooked by the sport despite eating his share of snow during an extended series of first-timer faceplants.
“You definitely need a teacher to help you,” he said. “You’ve got to bend your knees. If you stay straight up you’re going to fall on your face.”
Kurzeika added that in between wipeouts he was able to spot about nine other ball players he recognized from fields and diamonds around the Lewis County area. That roster included Tanner McLean of Onalaska and Daniel Fagerness of W.F. West.
Kurzeika estimated that he got in about 20 runs on Saturday and “fell at least five times every run, so it was like 100 times.” Despite his struggles out of the gate on his first day, Kurzeika said he planned to return to the slopes as soon as possible to see if he can dial in his snow legs for good.
Katie Moss, an instructor at White Pass, echoed Kurzeika’s sentiment about the benefits of learning the ropes from an experienced rider.
“I would say take at least one lesson. Take at least one because we all want to have fun but we need to be safe because there’s a ton of people up here. So if anything, keep yourself safe, keep other people safe and then learn the basics,” said Moss.
On Saturday, Moss was accompanied on the slopes by her 5-year-old son Gabrielle who was strapped into his very own set of short skis. This season will mark Gabrielle’s third winter enjoying the powder at White Pass with his parents.
“We started him when he was 2. That year we just got him comfortable with just kind of walking on the snow in his skis and balance and things like that. And then at 3, that’s when we started bringing him on the carpet and the (Noob) tube,” said Moss. “Now he’s shaping turns with me, so, start them young.”
Moss noted that the turnout for opening weekend was strong but not overwhelming like it can be when the opener coincides with a holiday or a big blast of fresh fluffy snow.
“It was good but it wasn’t annoyingly busy like on a powder day when you’re always bumping elbows with people,” said Moss, who was confident that more snow would be hitting the mountain soon. “It’s coming...We can expect good days.”
Total snow above 5,800 feet at White Pass was measured at 40 inches on Monday, which included about one inch of new snow. There was about 23 inches of snow around the base, with an air temperature of about 32 degrees at the lodge and around 28 degrees all the way up top. So far the Great White, Far East, #4, Basin and Carpet lifts have been open. The Couloir lift is the only primary lift currently out of operation. That condition-based closure may soon come to an end with as much as 22 inches of new snow forecast to fall between Monday evening and Wednesday morning.
Even with the opening weekend, snow conditions leaving room for improvement, Moss said there’s plenty to look forward to on the horizon.
“I feel like it’s pretty standard for an opening weekend. I mean, we’ve all been praying for snow. I think the snow has come and we are grateful for that,” said Moss. “I think that the main runs look good but we’ll definitely be excited when the tree runs open up … I like the tree runs.”
The White Pass alpine area is open daily from 8:45 a.m. until 4 p.m. The tubing and nordic areas are still waiting on more snow before they open for the season and ski area operators advise all riders to beware of obstacles like rocks and trees.
An up-to-date snow report for White Pass can be viewed online at https://skiwhitepass.com/snow-report. Updates can also be obtained by via phone by calling 509-672-3100.