Nooksack Nordic Ski Club, which maintains the small network of groomed trails for cross-country skiers and snowshoers off Mount Baker Highway, is gearing up for a winter members hope will be better than the last one.
“Last year was a disaster,” said Gail Garman, club member and coordinator of the network of trails known as Salmon Ridge. “It was hard to find snow last year.”
Like other ski areas in Western Washington that struggled last winter because of a scant snowpack, the trails didn’t have much in the way of snow. Garman thought some people were able to ski there once last year.
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“It was a horrible, pitiful year,” said Garman, who is a cross-country skier.
Cross-country operations also were difficult at Cypress Mountain near West Vancouver in British Columbia because of the lack of snow.
But cross-country conditions at Cypress’ Hollyburn Mountain are, so far, better this year.
“This year is starting out a lot more normal and we already have more snow in the base than last season,” said Joffrey Koeman, director of sales and marketing for Cypress Mountain, which has opened its downhill and cross-country ski areas for the season.
It’s also been better at Mt. Baker Ski Area, which opened for the season Nov. 19.
That was a total anomalous year last year.
Scott Pattee, water supply specialist for Natural Resources Conservation Service
Forecasters said the snowpack is expected to be roughly 70 to 80 percent of normal this winter in a year where El Niño is expected to bring weather that is drier and warmer than usual.
Still, that’s much better than last season’s poor showing, when the snowpack statewide was 16 percent of normal and 30 percent of normal in the North Cascades when a statewide drought was declared in May.
“That was a total anomalous year last year,” said Scott Pattee, water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Mount Vernon.
A set of conditions last year hadn’t seen before, Pattee said, adding that’s the case again this year with the combination of a strong El Niño and and an area of warm water off the Pacific that’s been called “the warm blob.”
“We’ve never had that combination before,” he said, adding that forecasts are based off previous strong El Niños.
Methow Trails expects long season
Snowfall and what could be done with it varied by location last winter, so there were places cross-country skiers could go to feed their need last year.
Methow Trails, a nonprofit that operates the country’s largest cross-country ski area with 120 miles of trails spread throughout the Methow Valley, didn’t struggle despite low snow elsewhere in the region.
The elevation for its trails is 1,700 feet up to 4,000 feet, and the network can be opened with as little as six inches of snow thanks to the right equipment and drier, colder weather that keeps the snow around.
We’re going to have a good year. I think people can expect we’ll be open for a hundred days a year, at least.
James DeSalvo, executive director for Methow Trails
“We’re kind of an anomaly,” said James DeSalvo, executive director for Methow Trails, in Winthrop. “We’re able to preserve the snow very effectively, even with just having a little bit here.”
Methow Trails opened Nov. 21, its earliest opening day ever, DeSalvo added.
Despite poorer snow elsewhere in recent years, Methow Trails has been able to stay open for a minimum of 100 days. DeSalvo said that trend will continue.
“We’re going to have a good year,” DeSalvo said. “I think people can expect we’ll be open for a hundred days a year, at least.”
Nooksack Nordic Ski Club’s trails, the bulk of which are just east of Milepost 46 on Mount Baker Highway, across from Silver Fir Campground, haven’t yet opened.
Its trails start at 2,200 feet. There’s also a section that starts off White Salmon Road (Forest Road 3475) at 3,200 feet.
The club starts grooming its network of trails for skiers when there’s at least a foot of snow on the ground. That’s usually in December, though there isn’t enough snow there yet.
The Salmon Ridge trail system has roughly 15 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails, although a chunk of that is not available this year because of storm damage on the Anderson Creek Road side, and about three miles of snowshoe trails.
If you go
Information about the Nooksack Nordic Ski Club and the system of trails off Mount Baker Highway that it maintains for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing is online at nooksacknordicskiclub.org. A sno-park permit is needed to park at the Salmon Ridge Sno-Park, which provides access to the network of trails in that area.
Garman, with the club, said people were unhappy last year about paying for a permit they didn’t use much at Salmon Ridge Sno-Park, but she noted they can be used at other sno-parks. And, she said, the money from fees comes back to the club via grants that help pay for the cost of grooming the trails the club maintains.
In a good snow year, it can cost $32,000 to maintain the trails, which includes mowers and groomers.
That’s a lot of money, she said.
“We’re a tiny little ski club, really,” Garman said.