As all local ski enthusiasts know, last year’s ski season in Washington was a bit of a dud. But thankfully, this winter seems to be making up for it so far. December dumped boatloads of snow on the state’s best ski areas, including a record-breaking 193.3 inches at Snoqualmie Pass. Skiers and snowboarders were so excited about the powder that December also brought a record number of visitors to Stevens Pass, with visitation up 119 percent over what the resort had by this time last year.
And now is the best time to go hit the slopes: While the snowpack in the Cascades is currently above average, local meteorologist Cliff Mass predicts El Niño will mean less snowfall in Pacific Northwest in the months to come. So get out and strike while the iron is hot (by which we mean cold, of course). Here, our tips for how to pack the most punch out of the Seattle-area skiing in the 2015-2016 season.
Gearing Up Without Breaking the Bank
One of the biggest obstacles to skiing is getting the gear: When you put it all together, the boots, skis, poles, helmet, goggles, and winter wardrobe can really add up (and that's before you factor in the lift tickets and gas).
If you are a rare-occasion skier, rentals are probably your best bet. But if you plan to make a habit of the sport, getting your own equipment will quickly pay off. And buying used gear can make a big difference in terms of the impact on your wallet. Some local retailers specialize in used gear, or look out for ski swaps or sales online for the best deals.
Where To Go: The Big Four
The main ski destinations from Seattle are The Summit at Snoqualmie , Crystal Mountain , Mt. Baker , and Stevens Pass . The Summit (which includes the four distinct areas of Summit West, Summit Central, Summit East, and Alpental) is the closest to the city, and the spot to go if you want to get in a post-work night session. Crystal Mountain, Stevens, and Mt. Baker are all known for prodigious snowfall and access to a bounty of backcountry runs. Whether you’re a beginner or lifer, all four resorts have solid options for every level of skier, including package lessons for newbies.
And take note that January is “Learn To Ski & Snowboard Month,” with many resorts offering sweet deals on lift tickets and lodging.
Some Fun Farther Afield
If you’ve got a whole weekend and want to mix it up—and escape the crowds—there are plenty of ski areas worth visiting in the state that are slightly farther afield from Seattle. White Pass is laid back with awesome views of Mount Rainier and 1,500 skiable acres. Mission Ridge , located in the heart of Washington near Wenatchee, gets great snow without the lift lines. Loup Loup Ski Bowl in the northeast Cascades, near Twisp, is easygoing and family-friendly. Hurricane Ridge is small but stunning, and a great way to experience Olympic National Park in winter.
With traffic-jammed roads, snowy mountain passes, and limited parking, sometimes the crux of the ski day is just getting to the slopes. Make sure to check for road conditions and closures before you go, throw the snow chains in the trunk if you might need them, and get an early start if you want to snag a parking spot near the lifts. Make the drive more efficient (and more fun) by carpooling: the Park and Ride lots just off the freeways are convenient places to meet up and organize rides.
Tips on Making the Most of Your Time on the Slopes
Once you make it to the mountain, you’ll want to get the most out of your day there. In order to maximize your time on the slopes, wear layers you can easily adjust (like a jacket and pants with vents that unzip) so you don’t waste time with trips back to the car in order to stay comfortable. If it's a cold day, bring hand-warmers to keep your paws cozy. Stuff some snacks and a small water bottle in your pockets so you don’t have to wait in long concession lines. Minimize your lift waits by breaking up ski groups and joining the singles line. Ask the snow patrollers where the snow is good, and check what time the different lifts open to help plan your day.
And, of course, have fun out there!