YAKIMA -- Ski areas around the Pacific Northwest had such great snow throughout the 2007-08 winter that neither its November absence nor its road-closing, mid-winter surplus could prevent a banner year for the winter-sports industry.
Several resorts -- including the Summit at Snoqualmie -- set new highs in skier/snowboarder visits and others, like White Pass, had seasons that ranked among their all-time best.
Snoqualmie's total of 714,000 user visits through April 30 was already more than 100,000 higher than its previous best winter and -- get this -- Alpental will be open yet again this weekend. Washington's 49 Degrees North and Oregon's Mount Hood Meadows both set
all-time records for skier visits, and White Pass had one of its top five years with about 130,600 visits.
In all, Washington ski resorts will finish with about 2.1 million visits, only about 50,000 off the record winter of 2001-02.
"These numbers are remarkable, because we had no November," said Scott Kaden, president of the Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association. "Some ski areas had to wait two weeks into December to get open, and some even had to wait three or four weeks.
"In order to get a record, you almost have to be open in November; those November numbers are very hard to recoup over the course of a season."
Only one Washington ski area, Mission Ridge, was able to open for Thanksgiving, but that was open for one weekend. White Pass had the same kind of suspended anticipation -- opening for the Dec. 1-2 weekend, but then powering down the lifts until finally reopening Dec. 13.
By mid-December, though, most resorts were open and the snow just kept coming -- so much, in fact, that even the diligent snow-removal crews from the state Department of Transportation couldn't always keep up with the deluge.
"Snoqualmie had seven days of lost operation in the heart of the season and White Pass lost four days because Highway 12 was closed," Kaden said. "There were days when Stevens, Snoqualmie Pass and White were all closed -- there was no east-west traffic in the entire state of Washington, and yet these (resorts) did exceptionally well, given the circumstances.
"And you've got to give Wash(ington) DOT all the credit in the world. They did an incredible job this year. There comes a point where humans simply can't keep up with the snowfall, and we had an amazing amount."
Snoqualmie Summit lost parts or all of six operating days to highway closures and another day when a storm knocked out the ski area's power.
"There's definitely an ouch factor there. But, that being said, it really was a blip on the radar, because it's really been a strong season despite the obstacles," said Guy Lawrence, marketing director at the Summit at Snoqualmie.
"We had awesome snow conditions, and I'm not just talking snowpack -- you have the amount of snow, which creates a lot of interest and hype, but really, it was the quality of the snow. Traditionally, we get a lot of rain events in the Northwest, but we had almost no rain events, so the quality of the snow was preserved and it was just excellent snow day-in and day-out. There were a lot of powder days, and it got talked up a lot in the marketplace."
White Pass was open
125 days, about 20 days less than the previous winter, and lost four days in mid-season -- spanning a weekend, thereby costing as many as 6,000 skier visits -- when heavy snows and avalanche conditions closed the pass and the ski area. Even with that late start and the
mid-season closures, though, the 130,600 put the ski area basically in line with its five-year average of about 132,000 -- nearly 50 percent over what White Pass typically drew two decades ago.
"It was a great year to have that parking shuttle," White Pass marketing director Kathleen Goyette said, referring to the 14-seat shuttle in its first year of shortening the hike-in for visitors to the ski area.
Parking "was probably our biggest concern," Goyette said, "but that little shuttle bus toted people and their gear up and down the highway. And it was the right year to have it, because we really needed it."
There's room for about 1,200 cars along Highway 12 at the White Pass summit, but on busy weekends those filled up and skiers have had to park as far away as Dog Lake. The proposed Hogback expansion -- which has Forest Service requirements but continued to be bogged down by opponents' appeals -- would add an additional 942 parking spaces just east of the ski area's current spread.
To the northeast, 49 Degrees North set a record for skier visits at more than 95,000, continuing its steady upward climb since nearly doubling its skiable acres in 2004 to more than 2,000 and adding a quad lift. Mount Hood Meadows, meanwhile, set its own record for visits with more than 509,000.