Seattle's skiers and snowboarders finally have some good news: this latest winter storm has dumped enough snow in our mountains to slowly kick off the ski season.
And while snowpack levels remain at historic lows, there’s no reason to think this winter is going to be as bad as the winter of 2014-15, when ski areas were barely open (and then the following summer saw the worst fire season in state history).
This week's wet weather in Seattle dropped a couple of feet of snow in the mountains and the area's ski resorts are slowly starting to open. Crystal Mountain is the only local ski resort already open, with limited operations for the last two weeks. Mt. Baker received over 2 feet of snow in this storm and plans to open on Sunday. Stevens Pass
is still listing saying “TBD” for opening on Sunday or early this weekannounced Friday evening that they will open on Wednesday, dec. 18. Snoqualmie, which until earlier this week had essentially no snow on the ground, has yet to announce an expected opening date.
The east side of the Cascades is off to a stronger start than the Seattle-side of the mountains. Mission Ridge, which is near Wenatchee, is open for weekend operations and White Pass near Yakima is opening tomorrow.
Karter Riach, a spokesperson for Summit At Snoqualmie, said they are still waiting on another foot of snow to open but this storm is bringing the right type of snow for a base.
“Snow depth necessary for opening varies depending on the density of the snow, thankfully this current storm is delivering dense snow (not powder) that is perfect for building a base and increasing coverage,” Riach said in an e-mail.
Nicole Stull, a spokesperson for Stevens Pass Ski Area, said they are “still waiting to see how this storm shakes out” and need approximately 30 inches of snow to open.
This slow start to the ski season is thanks to a historically tiny amount of snow in the Cascades. The current snow-water equivalent for the North Cascades is as low as 17 percent of the median amount for this time of year.
Cliff Mass, a UW Meteorologist who has a shaky history with this blog but also seems to really know what’s up with matters of precipitation, said this storm has been “very favorable,” and with more snow on the way next week, he expects all the ski resorts to be open by the holidays. He added that the outlook doesn’t look dire for the rest of the year because we are in the “neutral” phase of the El Niño—La Niña cycle.
“No way to know the rest of the season...but no reason to expect it to be a poor one for snow,” Mass said in an e-mail. “We often start off poorly and make it up.”
Joe Zagrodnik, who has a Ph.D. in meteorology from UW and is currently working as a weather researcher for WSU, said this storm won’t bring us back to normal snow levels but he said the outlook for the next week is strong: “the weather models are fairly confident in another active weather period starting in about a week.”
Mass said in a blog post this week that this storm system is bringing a “HUGE plume of water vapor” into the Northwest. Mass said the system has the potential to dump a few feet over the mountains and he included this map, showing cumulative precipitation over ten days from Dec. 11 to Dec. 21 to demonstrate how precipitation is expected to get “absolutely nuts over Vancouver Island and coastal BC.”
Zagrodnik said it’s going to take a lot of snow to recover from the slow start to this season’s snow but recent examples, like the winter of 2013-14, show that it’s not too late.
“In order to get a normal snowfall year in the mountains we would need snowfall to be about 125% of normal the rest of the winter,” Zagrodnik said in an e-mail. “So it's not a good start but we are not doomed for a low snow year if the storms keep coming.”