Time to hit the slopes — Cascades and Olympics hit with snow

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 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.

Hurricane Ridge

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.

Terrain and lifts

Your ride up the backside 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.

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.

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.

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.