Ready for ski season? It’s starting sooner than you think

Mt. Baker Ski Area getting ready for 2017-18 opening day

Mike Trowbridge at Mt. Baker Ski Area talks about the preparations for 2017-18 opening day.
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Mike Trowbridge at Mt. Baker Ski Area talks about the preparations for 2017-18 opening day.

With the possibility of 3 feet or more of new snow by Wednesday night, officials at Mt. Baker Ski Area said they’re opening Thursday – one of their earliest openings in a decade.

“There’s a ridiculous amount of snow in the forecast,” said Gwyn Howat, the ski area’s executive vice president.

Some 6 inches of snow fell overnight Monday, giving Heather Meadows a 33-inch base, ski area officials said Tuesday. More than 3 feet of new snow is possible through Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.

A winter storm warning is in effect for the area through noon Wednesday.

“It’s happening!!! This storm is bringing us the goods,” the ski area posted on its website Tuesday morning.

Howat said ski area employees are working through the storm, prepping the chair lifts and slopes for the season opening.

She said officials are hopeful for a second straight heavy snow season because a La Niña weather pattern – a climate condition that is known for bringing heavier snowfall to the North Cascades – is developing again this year. Last year, snowfall reached 876 inches and offered a strong winter sports season, Howat said.

“It was pretty much second only to our record year,” she said.

Mt. Baker Ski Area frequently leads the nation in snowfall totals, with an average annual accumulation of 659 inches, or nearly 55 feet. It holds the world record for most snow in a season at 1,140 inches, or 95 feet, during the period from July 1, 1998, to June 30, 1999. That figure was certified as accurate by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Howat said last year’s heavy snowfall brought strong early sales of season passes for this year. During the off-season, workers replaced Chair 7 with a new unit that’s wider and moves faster. All lifts are ready for Thursday’s opening, officials said.

It’s the earliest season opening since the lifts began running Nov. 12, 2009, Howat said. The ski area usually opens by Thanksgiving.

New employees were hired and trained in October and early November, Howat said.

Meanwhile, skiers and snowboarders are warned not to try slopes within the ski area boundaries, because they are not ready for public use and avalanche control could be underway.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty