Skiers and boarders, start your engines — and pull out the wax. The Pacific Northwest ski season is officially beginning: Crystal Mountain Resort will open Dec. 1, making it the first Western Washington Cascades ski area to start spinning chairlifts.
Crystal will open for season-pass holders Friday and will welcome the general public Saturday. Operations will be limited to two lower-mountain chairlifts: Discovery and Chinook Express. The Mount Rainier Gondola will be open for scenic rides only, including access to Summit House dining, and more terrain will open as conditions permit. Parking will be free and first come, first served before parking reservations and fees go into effect Dec. 26. Expect a DJ, free hot cocoa and cookies to mark the festivities on both days.
Later this week, Crystal plans to announce an operations schedule beyond opening weekend, dependent on snow conditions.
On Highway 2, Stevens Pass has delayed its planned Friday opening while it waits for sufficient natural snowfall to open its main runs. The ski area did not confirm an opening date at press time.
Stevens will turn on the base area rope tow for laps on a mini-terrain park with jumps and rails from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday; a ticket for this preseason rail session will be $20 for the public, free for season-pass holders. The T-Bar will be open for food and drinks from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Across the Cascades, Mission Ridge kicked off the new season Saturday and Sunday with four runs, two chairlifts, a rope tow and its terrain park. The ski area outside Wenatchee is closed through Thursday this week and reopens Friday.
The bluebird skies that settled over the Pacific Northwest around Thanksgiving made for a sun-soaked holiday weekend but left local ski areas high and dry. Much-needed mountain snow is in the forecast from Thursday onward. For the rest of Washington's alpine destinations, the waiting game continues.
There is no opening day yet announced for The Summit at Snoqualmie or White Pass Ski Area, both of which have received minimal natural snowfall. Mt. Baker Ski Area was sitting at a healthier 18-inch base heading into the holiday weekend but requires at least a 20- to 40-inch base to open.
"Big snowfall is expected to move in Friday and we should see our snow base build significantly over next weekend," Mt. Baker said in a snow report published Tuesday.
In Eastern Washington, fan favorite 49º North in Chewelah, Stevens County, will open Saturday, while Mt. Spokane is still praying for snow.
Elsewhere in the region, Sun Peaks, B.C., beat everyone to the punch with a Nov. 18 opening day. Hot on its heels, Big Sky in Montana fired up on Nov. 22 with six runs and three chairlifts as it eyes its longest-ever ski season. Both Whistler Blackcomb, B.C., and Sun Valley, Idaho, greeted skiers and riders on Nov. 23. Also in Idaho, Schweitzer's opening day was Nov. 25. Oregon is having a slow start to the season, with no ski areas currently open.
The Vail Resorts Epic Pass, which provides access to Stevens Pass and Whistler alongside dozens of ski areas globally, goes off-sale Dec. 3. The Summit at Snoqualmie warns that pass inventory is approaching a sellout. Ikon Passes, which provide access to Crystal, Snoqualmie and many other international ski hills, are still available for sale, as are Crystal's own season-pass offerings.