The perception that ski areas around the Pacific Northwest do not have enough snow this winter is worse than the reality for the White Pass Ski Area.
In east Lewis County, the ski area is 80 percent open with all ski lifts running on the weekends and six out of eight lifts running weekdays, which is considered normal operation, said spokesman Kathleen Goyette.
The season total for snow at the summit is 94.5 inches and 46.5 inches at the base, as of Monday.
“Considering it’s a low snow year so far, we are actually looking really good,” Goyette said. “We keep getting just enough snow to keep going.”
Not all the snow is falling from the sky for the White Pass Ski Area. Goyette said the ski area has relied on more man-made snow this year than any other season in the past.
She said the ski area uses the man-made snow to fill out the bottom portions of trails on the mountain. About 7 percent of the mountain is covered in man-made snow, Goyette estimates.
“It’s the most we ever made by far,” Goyette said. “We make a little bit of snow every year to help sure up the high traffic patterns. This year it became a 24-hour a day job for three ‘snowmen,’ working around the clock.”
Around the region, other recreation areas have had to make due this winter, including the Summit at Snoqualmie and Mount Rainier National Park.
Randy King, Mount Rainier superintendent, said the popular snow park Paradise had a busy holiday season. However, the Paradise snow play runs remain closed to sledders because of insufficient snow depth. The snow play runs need at least 5 feet to protect the sensitive meadows and cover hazards such as tree tops and rock outcroppings.
“The goal was to open (snow play) during the holidays,” King said. “We need five feet on the ground. We are close, about 57 inches, but it’s icy conditions right now. It thawed out and froze. We need some fresh snow.”
Meanwhile, the White Pass is struggling to convince people that there is enough snow on the mountain for skiing and snowboarding.
“Oftentimes when people drive over Snoqualmie they assume the rest of us are not in good shape,” Goyette said. “We are pretty fortunate actually.”
Johnny Burg, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Seattle, said the current dry trend started in October and continued throughout the year. The past couple months have seen substantially less rainfall than the 30-year normal amounts, Burg said.
Despite the recent dry spell, Burg said, winter weather is likely still on the way.
“Winter just started and the month of snow is January, where we get the colder temperatures and actually have snow,” Burg said. “We can still get snow through February and March.”
Burg said the snowy weather may begin as early as this weekend for area mountains. The snow level is forecast to drop to 2,500 feet by Saturday.
The base elevation at White Pass is 4,500 feet and the summit is about 6,550 feet.
Between the sparse snowfall and poor perception, White Pass has seen a sharp drop in attendance this season, Goyette said. Low attendance at White Pass means less tourism dollars for the U.S. Highway 12 corridor, Goyette said.
“We are definitely pretty far off. The dry spell over Christmas really hurt us,” Goyette said. “Unfortunately it doesn’t just affect us. Tourism is big business in Washington. It’s definitely impacting all of us.”