March felt and looked more like January during another successful season at many of the region’s ski and snowboard resorts.
Above-average snowfall from mid-February well into April kept the powder days coming throughout the Cascades from Mt. Bachelor to Mt. Baker, along with the Selkirk Mountains near Spokane. White Pass joined others in reaping the rewards of a healthy base still holding strong with no bare spots as the lifts closed one final time last Sunday.
“Really, all year it was good,” White Pass general manager Kevin McCarthy said of attendance. “We were up just a little bit. We had just strong crowds all winter long.”
Beating last season counts as an impressive accomplishment, considering the seemingly endless snow that fell from December 2016 through March 2017. Although this year’s cold weather didn’t have nearly the same effect on the Yakima Valley, the end of a La Nina weather cycle started early, then slowed considerably before delivering another substantial snowpack.
Summit of Snoqualmie marketing director Guy Lawrence agreed with McCarthy’s assessment that a strong economy helped as well, giving many potential customers more disposable income. Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association president John Gifford believes while money plays a factor, especially for food and equipment purchaes, snow always serves as the primary driver to attract visitors.
More than 460 inches fell in the base area at Stevens Pass, where already strong attendance skyrocketed in March to reach 22 percent above last season and 47 percent above the five-year average, according to a press release. By the final day of skiing and snowboarding on April 22, more than 450,000 people had visited the resort, setting a new record.
Mt. Spokane also broke attendance records for the second straight year in its 20th season as a community-owned nonprofit, according to general manager Brad McQuarrie. He said great snow all winter long kept the crowds coming back as the mountain prepares for its biggest construction season ever, highlighted by the addition of a long-awaited chairlift expected to service seven new runs on the back side.
“It was incredible,” McQuarrie said shortly after the season ended April 8. “It helped to have a lot of snow downtown, too.”
Gifford said northern resorts fared the best with somewhat unusual weather patterns, which dumped more than 840 inches of snow at Mt. Baker, just south of the Canadian border. Executive vice president Gwyn Howat said in a recap video on Mt. Baker’s website that Feb. 18 during President’s Day weekend proved to be one of the resort’s biggest days since it opened in 1952.
Although the snow never really arrived in full force at southern Oregon resorts, Gifford said Mount Hood Meadows enjoyed a strong 50th anniversary season. Timberline, Bachelor and other resorts in the area also did well, even as resorts in Colorado and Utah lamented an alarming lack of snow.
“The end of the season sort of turned out a whole lot better than the beginning,” Gifford said. “What we find is that there’s more people coming from some of those other areas when the Northwest is getting snow and getting powder.”
However, he noted the region doesn’t depend on the destination traveler, so it’s an encouraging sign that nearly everyone reported giving more lessons this year. Several resorts added new features and offers to entice beginning skiers and snowboarders, including White Pass with its covered carpet lift.
McCarthy said the mountain’s programs continue to expand, and he’s preparing for a busy season of maintenance with some potentially major changes in food and beverage but nothing significant on the slopes. Many others also plan to invest their significant new funds in enhancements over the years to come.
So long as the snow keeps falling, all will be well for skiers and snowboarders in the Pacific Northwest.