This past ski and snowboard will go down in the books as a season to remember although it wasn’t a record breaker.
“I heard very favorable news from all the Pacific Northwest areas on how the way the ski season went,” said John Gifford, president of the Northwest Ski Areas Association.
Gifford, along with about 900 ski area representatives from across the country, recently attended the National Ski Areas Association Convention in Nashville, Tenn.
“It won’t be a record season by any means, but much better than the last few years,” Gifford said. “I don’t have all the figures from each ski area, but I do know participation looks pretty strong and is ahead of last year’s data despite the wet period we saw in March. It also sounds like ski school and rental departments were very busy, especially on weekends and holidays. Ski areas say they saw a very strong beginner lesson turnout.”
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The weather in March wasn’t stellar conditions with a good number of wet and rainy days, but prior to that there were no issues, and during the Christmas holidays all ski areas reported a very good turnout.
Through March, Washington ski areas reported skier visits were up 4 percent over last year. Last year, the Pacific Northwest areas saw a 142 percent increase is visitation compared to 2015, and that was the largest increase on record.
Places like Stevens Pass Resort ended their season on a high note with skier visits up 7 percent over last year, and the highest skier visit total ever recorded at the resort, which was nearly 450,000.
Stevens Pass has received nearly normal snowfall, with 443 inches of total snow at the mountain base area this season, just under the season average of 460 inches. The snowiest storm cycle occurred February 26 through March 9 when the resort received 88 inches of snow.
“Despite being an average year for snowfall, ski and snowboard visits at Stevens Pass continued to grow,” vice president of Sales and Marketing, Chris Danforth said in a news release. “We believe much of this growth can be attributed to the Pacific Northwest’s growing interest in winter sports and our industry-leading learning programs.”
An interesting note was Oregon mountains experienced more snowfall totals compared to Washington this past winter. Oregon ski areas were 100 percent above average for snowfall.
In Washington, Gifford said ski areas in the southern Cascades like White Pass saw good snow coverage while Mount Baker had ample snow, but not what they normally see in the winter.
This winter saw a shift to a La Nina type weather pattern that brought a cooler and snowy season with snowpack levels at or above normal totals.
The entire western region mountains from British Columbia down south to northern California were greeted with plenty of snow and lower than expected freezing levels from late November through early January that created relatively strong snow bases.
The Washington ski areas saw plenty of powdery days right after Thanksgiving and into the early part of the New Year, and at times snow much snow had built up that roads to resorts were temporarily inaccessible.
A warmer weather pattern didn’t arrive until the latter part of winter-time bringing some rain that pecked away at the snowpack, but never was an issue. The stable snow bases allowed ski areas to remain open through most of April. Even lower-elevation places like The Summit at Snoqualmie stayed open until April.
The big unknown for the winter of 2017-18 is a possible switch back to an El Nino weather pattern that is often accompanied with drier and mild weather conditions. With that said it doesn’t mean we will be in for a lack of snow in the Cascades.
“We are seeing a trend leaning toward another El Nino weather pattern for next winter,” Gifford said. “I know El Nino gets people scared, but it is not that bad and we have seen some decent seasons during an El Nino period in the past.”
Gifford summed up that actually predicting what to expect next winter is like knowing what the lottery numbers are before buying a ticket.
“We’ll know more when October arrives,” he said.
For those who just can’t get enough snowy fun still have options to ski and snowboard in the weeks and months ahead.
In British Columbia, Blackcomb Mountain Resort is open through May 26. Advanced and expert ski and snowboard terrain g will be open on Blackcomb’s Horseman Glacier from June 10 through July 16.
Mount Bachelor is open 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily through May 28. Timberline is open daily through May 29, and the summer season on the Palmer Snowfield usually runs from June 1 through late-September. Mount Hood Meadows plans to remain open through May 13.
Northern and central California are also known for long-lasting ski fun with Mammoth Mountain Resort open through July 4. Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows plan to remain open as long as the snow sticks around with a tentative closure date of July 4.
Before heading up to any of these resorts be sure to check their websites for hours of operation and dates they’re open for skiing and snowboarding.