Mt. Baker Ski Area closes out ‘tough season,’ announces discounts

Mt. Baker Ski Area ended its ski season after a last hurrah last weekend and promised a 30 percent discount to pass holders who were disappointed by this season’s lackluster snowpack.

“It’s been a hard season. It’s been a tough season. In my 50 years of being in the ski business, this has been the least amount of snow that I’ve ever seen,” said Duncan Howat, the ski area’s general manager in a video message to customers.

Customers on the ski area’s Facebook page cheered the decision to give the discount to the holders of this season’s pass — one that will stay in place until Mt. Baker has 30 inches of snow at Heather Meadows and is open.

The ski area usually opens when there’s 21 to 24 inches at Heather Meadows, depending on the condition of the snow.

“You’re guaranteed that we’re going to be open, we’re going to have snow,” Howat said. “So it takes (out) a little more of their concern about what kind of year we’re going to have.”

The ski area also won’t raise the price of a season pass this coming season, making it the third season in which prices have stayed the same.

And it will let this year’s fifth-graders ski for free next season because they didn’t get much of a chance to participate in that program.

Other Washington state ski areas also have had a tough time in a season where the state’s average snowpack was far below normal; the most recent measurements have put it at 24 percent.

“It wasn’t all that great,” said John Gifford, executive director of trade association Ski Washington, of a season dogged by warm temperatures and moisture that fell in the mountains as rain instead of snow.

As a result, the number of visits to all 13 of the state’s ski resorts were 40 percent of the normal average for a season, according to Gifford.

Some fared better or worse, depending on their location. But the majority are offering their season pass holders a special renewal rate, Gifford said.

As for Mt. Baker Ski Area, it’s income is going to be less than half of a normal season, according to Howat.

Mt. Baker started later than normal this season, opening Dec. 20. It went into full operation Dec. 24, and had good conditions through Christmas.

Starting on Jan. 22, about 13 inches of rain fell in 2 1/2 days and ate away at the base.

After that, the ski area got snow here and there and had to move its operations up to its Heather Meadows base. Its crews worked to move snow around to keep its operations going, according to ski area officials.

Then on March 9, the ski area closed until more snow fell. It didn’t reopen until Thursday, April 16, and was able to go through Sunday thanks to some late-season snow.

Howat compared this dismal season to 1976 and the 2004-05 seasons — with one difference.

“The snow never really came late in the season, like it did then,” he said, noting there was heavy snowfall in the last week of February going into April in those two previous seasons. “Without question, it’s been the most difficult year from the standpoint of trying to keep the season open.”