Highway closure among latest on record
Heavy snow forecast for higher elevations this week prompted the closure of North Cascades Highway at 6 a.m. on Wednesday (Dec. 11), but local ski areas are still waiting for enough snow to kick off their seasons.
As of Tuesday (Dec. 10), Methow Trails reported no open cross-country ski trails in its 120-mile system, which stretches from Thompson Ridge to the south, Rendezvous to the north, and Cassal Ranch Road above Mazama to the west.
Methow Trails reported it was packing down the snow on a couple trails, at Mazama Trailhead and Cub Creek, as of Saturday morning (Dec. 7). These trails weren’t ready for skiing yet, but Methow Trails’ grooming report from Monday (Dec. 9) mentioned snow in the forecast for later this week and early next week.
“This could be enough to get us grooming in some areas. Stay tuned,” the online report said.
Loup Loup Ski Bowl was closed as of Tuesday (Dec. 10), and events planned later this month by the Methow Valley Nordic Ski Educational Foundation (MVNSEF) may need to be rescheduled or relocated.
This week’s forecast is calling for more snow, but how much depends on elevation. From Wednesday night through Friday (Dec. 11-13), the National Weather Service (NWS) is calling for 17 to 31 inches of snow at Washington Pass, up to 7 inches in Mazama, less than 5 inches in Winthrop and less than 3.5 inches in Twisp.
The big snowfall predicted for the pass prompted the Washington State Department of Transpiration (WSDOT) to close the pass for the season on Wednesday morning.
“We get that dump, and we’re ready to wrap it up,” Lauren Loebsack, WSDOT’s communication manager for the North Central Regional Office, said on Monday (Dec. 9). “It’s been a late season, and it will be time.”
The Dec. 11 closure is tied for eighth-latest in the 48-year history of North Cascades Highway. In a normal year, the pass closes in the fourth week of November.
Loup Loup Ski Area, with its base slightly above 4,000 feet, isn’t expecting a lot of snow this week, according to the NWS — maybe 5 inches.
“The storms that favor the Loup come out of the south, rather than the west-southwest,” which is the more typical path for winter storms, said Dave Betts, Loup Loup’s manager.
The new snow would fall on top of the three to five inches laying at the ski bowl as of Friday (Dec. 6). Loup Loup managed an extremely limited opening on just 16 inches of snow by Christmas last year, Betts said. The ski area east of Twisp opened fully last season on Dec. 31.
“We always hope to open by Christmas,” Betts said. “That’s the difference between the Loup having a profitable year and a not-for-profit year.”
Ron Mackie, owner of the Loup Loup Ski Rental Shop in Twisp, isn’t worried about the lack of snow. Then again, it seems it’s not in his nature to worry.
“Get ready. It’s coming,” Mackie said on Thursday (Dec. 5). “I learned a long time ago, it’s going to snow when it’s going to snow.”
Mackie, who operated his rental shop at Loup Loup before moving to Twisp, said he has seen the ski bowl open on the day after Thanksgiving, and he’s seen it open on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, only to close for the season five days later.
“Take each one as it comes, and this one is going to be a good one,” he said. “Think positive.”
Mission Ridge Ski & Board Resort near Wenatchee opened on Nov. 29 after a storm delivered 23 inches of snow there in 24 hours. But the ski area currently has limited runs three days a week and is relying on its snowmaking equipment to keep three out of four chair lifts open, as of last weekend.
MVNSEF has a ski camp for some 145 skiers of all abilities scheduled for Dec. 19-22, a Ski Rodeo at Liberty Bell High School on Dec. 28, and a beginners’ biathlon class on Dec. 29.
Pete Leonard, MVNSEF executive director, said on Friday (Dec. 6) he wouldn’t worry about snow conditions until the start of next week.
“And then it’s, what are our options?” he said.
The ski camp and the rodeo could be moved to different locations, or the ski camp could be postponed a week, as it was two years ago.
Some adult training groups have already started, Leonard said, with dry-land ski drills.
“Everybody’s pretty patient with it,” Leonard said. “If it’s another month from now, I think the attitude will be a little different for folks, but it seems we’re heading in the right direction.”
In the worst case for the ski camp, it would be canceled, camp co-director Leslie Mittendorf said. That would be a “huge hit” to MVNSEF, she said, because the camp is a fundraiser.
“But we’re not stressing; it wouldn’t change the weather,” Mittendorf said in an email sent Friday (Dec. 6). “We are doing our best snow dances, and looking forward to kicking off camp once again in two weeks.”
Betts, the Loup Loup manager, found a “silver lining” in the lack of snow on the mountain. Crews were able make “major” repairs to the chair lift this fall without needing to contend with deep snow. Inspection of the repaired lift is scheduled for Saturday (Dec. 14), Betts said.
“We’ll be ready to operate by the end of the day on the 14th,” he said.
That is, weather permitting.