The small pine branches and tree tops poking through the snow have been the best indicator the snowplay area at Mount Rainier National Park would not open this winter.
Park officials made it official late Monday, saying there is inadequate snow cover where the runs are typically carved in the snow.
The parks wants to have 5 feet of snow on the ground before grooming the runs and opening the popular winter play area at Paradise.
It looked like the snow that fell at the end of February might be enough to get the 60 inches of snow on the ground, but that is not the case, said Superintendent Randy King.
Adding to the frustration is that some areas at Paradise, such as the park’s weather station, have recorded 5 feet or more of snow. But areas such as the snowplay area have not.
“Parts of the snowplay area only have a snowpack of 18 to 24 inches,” King said.
There are other locations around Paradise that already have patches of bare ground, spots where this normally doesn’t occur until June or July.
While winter visitors will have to leave the sled and tubes at home, King said there is enough snow for snowshoeing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and backcountry use. Ranger-led snowshoe walks will continue through March 29.
King offered some good news, announcing an extension in the time the road from Longmire to Paradise is open.
Beginning Saturday, the Longmire gate will open at 8 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays, weather and conditions permitting. The gate will close to all traffic at 9 p.m.
On weekdays, the Longmire gate will open at 9 a.m. and close at 6 p.m.
“With the start of daylight saving time, this expansion of road operations between the Longmire Historic District and Paradise will allow visitors additional time for vehicle access to locations above Longmire,” King said.
This schedule will be in place until the evening gate closures end, usually in mid-April.