Warm rain has turned the snow to slush and paychecks into pink slips for legions of powder junkies who work at Northwest ski areas.

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There are days on the mountain, perfect days, when the powder is deep, the runs are clear, and it’s hard not to dream about chucking that 9-to-5 shackle and scoring a job on the slopes and a season-lift pass.

These are not those days.

Warm rain has turned the snow to slush and paychecks into pink slips for legions of powder junkies who work at Northwest ski areas.

The Summit at Snoqualmie and Stevens Pass are closed until more snow falls. Crystal Mountain and Whistler Blackcomb are struggling to make the best of a mediocre season. Restaurants, hotels and ski shops are all keeping fingers crossed that the snow — and their business — returns quickly.

But with another “Pineapple Express” due to bring more misery to the higher elevations this weekend, even once-optimistic ski bums are bumming.

Jessica McKown, who picked up a rare paycheck yesterday at Stevens Pass, said she nearly gave up early in the season. “This is the third time I’ve gotten laid off [this season], and I don’t even know if I’ll have a job.”

It wasn’t supposed to be this way for the Everett 18-year-old, who was hired to work at Stevens’ ski repair shop. McKown is one of more than 400 full- and part-time workers laid off at Stevens Pass on Tuesday.

Local ski resorts

Crystal Mountain www.skicrystal.com, 888-754-6199

Open with skiing and boarding in Green Valley only. Two lifts will take riders down the mountain. No night skiing. Lift tickets reduced to $30. Multiweek lessons postponed, Ski and Snowboard School open for private lessons.

Summit at Snoqualmie www.summit-at-snoqualmie.com, 206-236-1600

Closed until conditions improve. Weekend lessons postponed.

Stevens Pass Ski Area www.stevenspass.com, 425-353-4400

Alpine area, closed since Tuesday, will reopen when conditions improve. Nordic center open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. this weekend.

Mount Baker Ski Area www.mtbakerskiarea.com, 360-671-0211

Closed Tuesday-Thursday, reopened yesterday with limited operation. Weekend lift tickets reduced to $30.

Whistler Blackcomb www.whistlerblackcomb.com, 866-218-9690

High alpine areas have been closed since Monday because of extreme avalanche danger. Skiers and riders get one free lift ticket to use this season or next season if they buy a ticket today. The Creekside gondola closed Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday because of low snow.

Sources: Crystal Mountain, The Summit at Snoqualmie, Stevens Pass, Mount Baker Ski Area, Whistler Blackcomb Mountains

Some co-workers eked out a few more hours on the clock yesterday, dismantling the terrain park and retrieving the warning flags and fences that had slid down the melting mountain.

“It sucks having to depend on the weather for work, and it sucks when you can’t go anywhere else nearby [to work],” McKown said. “We have nowhere to run to but California.”

Swimsuits in Minnesota

It was the same lament at The Summit, which had hired 1,100 seasonal employees by November. On Thursday, the resort had 150 people working. Ski visits there are down 80 percent this season.

“This is like trying to sell swimsuits in northern Minnesota in January,” said Jon Pretty, the Summit’s marketing and public-relations manager. “Imagine a retailer is open for business and doesn’t have any products or customers. That’s us.”

This was apparent at the Timberwolf Pub, one of the few restaurants open on the mountain.

Thiago Gripp, a Brazilian temporary worker who hoped to practice English and ride his brains out this year, wasn’t exactly working much at the restaurant.

“We get bored here,” he said. “There’s nothing to do, and we’re just talking to each other, watching TV, getting on the Internet and talking to our parents. What else are we supposed to do?”

At Stevens Pass, lift operator Dillon Shriver has spent much of the past few days watching movies and reading books at home. He said it is rough hearing that some of his co-workers are struggling to pay their rent while waiting for a call back to work.

“How we survive is by working here,” Shriver said. “We don’t have the luxury of extra money.”

Those who do are taking advantage of the furlough — which will last until at least the middle of next week — to ski in Colorado or Utah, said Lori Vandenbrink, the director of sales and marketing at Stevens Pass.

Stevens does as much as it can to help employees through rough patches, passing out unemployment-insurance paperwork and waiving rent for those staying in company housing, Vandenbrink said.

Outside the ski area, others are hurting as well.

The Cascadia Inn Cafe and Lounge in Skykomish, near Stevens Pass, had been totally booked for this weekend. But after the rain started Monday, the cancellations came pouring in. Yesterday, only three of the hotel’s 13 rooms were spoken for this weekend.

“[The Martin Luther King Day] weekend was so great, and we thought, ‘Yes, we are finally into the ski season,’ ” co-owner Jennifer Bristol said. “Then it started to rain. Now we have a couple of snow piles and that’s it.”

“It’s really killing us”

Cynthia Marie, owner of First & Last Chance Espresso & Gift Gallery in Skykomish, says she usually gets a few hundred customers a day, but now she’s getting about half that — if that many.

“[Summer] construction on Highway 2 and now no snow — it’s really killing us,” Marie said.

As a car pulled up to the drive-through window yesterday, Marie nearly did a dance.

“Oh, here’s a customer — celebration,” she said dryly. “I don’t even know why these people are here. Maybe they’re looking at flowers at Stevens Pass.”


Josh Holton, carrying 7-month-old son Zac on his shoulders, and his wife, Holly Holton, are ski and snowboard instructors at Stevens Pass, but with no one to instruct, they take a hike along the path of the Hogsback chairlift at the pass. They are among hundreds of employees idled by warm weather and a lack of snow.

In the season’s abundant downtime, the question of what’s to blame for the weather mess — and how to fix it — is getting a fair amount of thought.

The pineapple, a symbol of hospitality for centuries, has become a bad tiki, banned from ski lodges and teriyaki burgers.

Stevens Pass employees are invited to “come curse Mother Nature” at a party Monday at Uncle Uli’s, a bar in Leavenworth, Chelan County.

“They know we are weather-dependent and this sort of thing occurs,” Vandenbrink said. “People who work in the industry are a different breed. They are willing to do what it takes to live the lifestyle.”

Kristina Shevory: 206-464-2039 or kshevory@seattletimes.com

J. Martin McOmber: 206-464-2022 or mmcomber@seattletimes.com