Backcountry enthusiasts grumble over long closure of a favorite stomping ground during holidays.

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Mount Rainier National Park on Wednesday opened the road to Paradise for the first time since fallen trees and other storm-related damage closed it Dec. 23, and park officials say the popular snow-play sliding hill might open by this weekend.

A view of Mount Rainier from the Paradise webcam on Wednesday morning. (NPS)
A view of Mount Rainier from the Paradise webcam on Wednesday morning. (NPS)

Sunshine, clear skies, an inch of new snow and temperatures in the 20s greeted visitors Wednesday morning. Chains were required on two-wheel-drive vehicles beyond Longmire. All vehicles must carry tire chains or approved traction devices such as “auto socks” in the park in winter.

The road was closed while storm damage was cleared over the past week, said Kelsea Holbrook, administrative assistant in the park’s Ashford headquarters. There is sufficient snow on the ground to open the snow-play area as soon as staff have completed grooming the area and creating sliding runs, she said. That work is underway.

“Hopefully it will be opening within the next few days, they’re trying to get it open for New Year’s weekend,” Holbrook said.

Park managers require that the sensitive alpine meadows have a solid coverage of at least 5 feet of snow before the sliding area is opened. Because of low snowfall last year, the snow-play area never opened.

On some days this past week, the Paradise road was opened as far as Cougar Creek Campground to allow recreation access. Tuesday, a staffing shortage precluded the road’s opening, according to the park’s Twitter feed.

Some backcountry enthusiasts grumbled on Twitter and in Internet chat rooms, unhappy that a favorite winter stomping ground has been inaccessible during the holidays. “From the webcam at Paradise the parking area looks clean. I’ll bring my chainsaw if you need help with downed trees,” said one commenter.

“Paradise is an important regional resource and is one of the very few…high-elevation areas in the Cascades that is made accessible to the public,” backcountry skier Kevin Gallagher, of Tacoma, said in an email to The Seattle Times. “The winter snow play area and surrounding area are very well used (for winter recreation), which is evident when it is impossible to find parking on weekends. Folks that travel to the park to access Paradise support the economy of countless local businesses in Ashford, Elbe, etc.”

As of Wednesday, Paradise had 121 inches of snow on the ground, compared with 60 inches on the same date last winter. The  National Weather Service predicts sunny skies through the weekend with a freezing level of 1,500 feet Wednesday, rising to 8,000 feet by Friday as the weather warms.