On the meteorological slot machine of winter weather, the Pacific Northwest has hit the jackpot. Our third consecutive La Niña winter is here and it's time to cash in.
Every downhill ski area reachable from Western Washington for a day on the slopes is open for business, some with their earliest opening days in years, and both the Cascades and the Olympic Mountains are blanketed in the white stuff. Sea level has even had a taste of snow already this season.
So grab your skis, snowboard, snowshoes, sled or whatever else you need to make this your best winter yet. As you gear up for this most magical of seasons, here's what's new in Washington snow country.
Terrain and Lifts
Your ride up the back side of The Summit at Snoqualmie's Summit East area will be quicker this winter now that Hidden Valley's double chairlift has been replaced with a triple. Over at Mission Ridge, get in longer runs under the lights now that night skiing has been expanded to the top of Wenatchee Express. That investment increases night skiing terrain by 78%, with the Wenatchee-area resort claiming the second-longest vertical night ski operation in the country.
The Summit at Snoqualmie installed RFID gates for three chairlifts (Armstrong Express at Alpental, Silver Fir Express at Summit Central and Holiday Quad at Summit Central) and RFID scan guns everywhere else. That technology eliminates the need to fish around for your pass or lift ticket. Ikon Pass holders can now go direct to lift, but reservations are still required at ikonpass.com.
The ski area also added self-service ticket boxes where customers can scan a QR code for prepurchased lift tickets and thus skip the ticket window. Summit tickets can now be reloaded on reusable cards. (Stevens Pass and White Pass also use this technology.)
Nordic skiers rejoice at White Pass, with 8 kilometers of a planned 13-kilometer expansion open this season. The expanded trail network also includes singletrack options for snowshoers and fat bikers, which will keep the Nordic track and skate lanes pristine. Across the Cascades in the Methow Valley, more trails have reopened from the 2021 wildfire season that threatened the Methow Trails network.
Along the Interstate 90 corridor, Nordic skiers with a nonmotorized Sno-Park pass and special-groomed trail sticker can take advantage of an additional day per week of grooming at the Erling Stordahl trails (Crystal Springs Sno-Park). Between the various Sno-Parks along the corridor, this winter will see Nordic grooming every day of the week except Tuesdays. At the Kongsberger Ski Club's Cabin Creek trail network, volunteers installed a new public warming hut on Amabilis Mountain. Want to see more shelters next winter? Consider donating to the Snoqualmie Nordic Club's fundraiser for a proposed Hyak Sno-Park warming hut at snoqualmienordic.org.
Backcountry Access and More Snow Fun
In a major blow for backcountry access this winter, Mount Rainier National Park sharply curtailed backcountry access.
On Nov. 30, the park announced weekday closures above Longmire due to staffing issues. The shutdown will make popular winter destinations like Narada Falls and Paradise weekend-only propositions, and will also restrict winter camping at Paradise to Saturday nights only.
There's good news in the Mountains to Sound Greenway, though. Washington State Parks continues to add new Sno-Parks along the I-90 corridor, part of an effort to catch up with growing local demand for winter recreation.
A new Sno-Park at Annette Lake will make its debut this winter, although details were scarce about the park at press time. The Fortune Creek Huts near Cle Elum are also open for their first season of backcountry overnights, having survived legal challenges from the Washington State Snowmobile Association.
The Mount Tahoma Trails Association backcountry huts near Mount Rainier are back open this winter for overnight stays. Although winter weekends were allocated by lottery in November, weekday reservations can still be found at skimtta.org. The huts sit on land managed by the Department of Natural Resources, which invested $11,000 in the offseason to improve the drive to 92 Road Sno-Park, the jumping-off point to reach the Copper Creek Hut.
Transportation and Parking
Pay extra attention to Washington State Department of Transportation notifications about Highway 2 when heading to Stevens Pass. Due to the recent Bolt Creek fire, the section between mileposts 38 and 50 (roughly Index to Skykomish) is at higher risk of flash foods this winter.
Crystal Mountain Resort opened its G lot with 350 new parking spaces and installed eight new electric vehicle chargers in the C lot, but parking will still cost you ($30 on Saturdays and holiday Mondays, $20 on Sundays) if you don't carpool (four-plus people) or tote a season pass. Reservations are required; see crystalmountainresort.com. Parking fees fund the free Crystal shuttle, which returns this season with a Saturday, Sunday and holiday Monday schedule (no more Fridays) leaving from the Enumclaw Expo Center.
The Hurricane Ridge shuttle will beef up its operations this winter, running a 28-person coach bus once daily on Saturdays and Sundays from Jan. 7 to March 26. Leaving at 8:30 a.m. from the Port Angeles Visitor Center and returning from Hurricane Ridge at 3:30 p.m. Rides are $15 per person plus an additional $15 to access Olympic National Park if you don't already have a National Park pass, good for up to three members of your party. (Ages 15 and under don't require a park pass.) Advance reservations required at hikeolympic.com/hurricane-ridge-winter-shuttle.
Finally, your suspension will thank you when you pull into the freshly paved Silver Fir parking lot at Summit Central.
Food and Drink
The Cascade Grill at Crystal has shrunk into the container-sized Cascade LunchBox and joins the growing food container pod at the resort's base area. Mission Ridge's Chair 5 Pub boasts a new menu, while Mount Baker's midmountain Raven Hut Lodge debuts Baker Bowls this winter. Stevens Pass has reopened all of its base area bars and restaurants, including beloved après joint the Foggy Goggle, whose new mug club sold out on opening day.
This will be the first full winter for Laconia Market inside the Firehouse at Snoqualmie Pass, while down I-90 to the west North Bend's new South Fork offers heartier fare. Nordic skiers can tuck into Old Schoolhouse Brewery beers and pub grub like nachos and pizza at the new Mazama Public House after a day on the Methow Trails.
South Lake Union-based rental outfit Gearhouse has upgraded its winter fleet with K2 backcountry skis and splitboards, avalanche safety equipment and packs, and Nordic skis.
Snowboarding binding manufacturer Karakoram will offer demos on Mondays through Fridays at its North Bend headquarters with bindings and boards unavailable anywhere else.
This season will mark the first winter for the University Village brick-and-mortar location of Backcountry, the Utah-based e-tailer that faced a backlash in 2019 for aggressive trademark infringement claims on the word "backcountry."
One brand in the eye of that storm, Colorado-based Cripple Creek Backcountry, will enter its second winter with a Fremont retail location.
For warm days and even warmer winter nights, snag a jacket or sleeping bag from Seattle-made down experts Feathered Friends, who celebrate their 50th anniversary this year.