Big Storms, High Demand Kept Ski Areas Thriving This Season


A pair of highly unusual storm systems defined a ski season strengthened by a return to normalcy with lessening COVID-19 restrictions.

Significant snowfall along with warmer temperatures in early January caused enough avalanche danger to shut down Washington's passes through the Cascades and White Pass closed for six straight days. Then in April, a lot more snow and unseasonably cold temperatures combined to create ideal conditions at a time when most skiers and snowboarders would expect to be enjoying icy and slushy groomers.

"I can't recall an April this good in my career," longtime White Pass spokesperson Kathleen Goyette said. "With the weather in town being not so special that really invited a lot of people to come enjoy the good snow."

It also led to more visitors in April than even the 2020-21 season, when White Pass broke nearly every record as skiers and snowboarders flocked to the mountain with so many other options shut down by the pandemic. Despite the unexpected January closure, Goyette said it's safe to say after the season ends this weekend it will go down as the second-best year in the company's history.

Food and beverage sales increased after a bit of a down year due to restrictions, although Goyette said White Pass managed to hold fairly steady thanks to outside and to-go options last year. Mt. Hood Meadows spokesperson Dave Tragethon said after a very down year where they encouraged people to bring food from home, they saw a substantial increase in food and beverage sales this season.

Dining returned to pre-pandemic guidelines indoors when the state lifted its indoor mask mandate March 12. Even before that, Tragethon and Goyette said no mask requirements outside and typical efforts to fill lifts made things much easier for visitors and employees.

"I think it really took the pressure off of our staff," Tragethon said. "The last thing in the world we want to be is enforcers of things like masking."

White Pass continued to limit its day lift tickets to keep the mountain from becoming too crowded with high demand, and tickets sold out on multiple days. Tragethon said Mt. Hood Meadows saw an average season overall and limited its capacity to about 20% of what it could have been to improve the on-mountain experience.

Part of those low numbers could also be attributed to virtually no fresh snow on Mount Hood from mid-January to the end of March, and White Pass only saw slightly better snowfall during that time. Goyette said they'll keep trying to limit capacity through ticket sales going forward but also plan to push for more carpooling next season, barring new health concerns, in order to open up additional parking space.

Unrestricted season passes at White Pass for 2022-23 sold out less than 24 hours after they went on sale to the general public on April 1. Goyette said a limited number will go on sale at a higher price in mid-December, but she also encouraged people to explore the off-peak season pass that provides access on normal weekdays for $499, compared to the spring price of $669 for the unrestricted pass.

Goyette and Tragethon both said they've seen strong renewal rates for their beginner packages, showing the influx of new skiers and snowboarders over the past two years likely means higher demand going forward. White Pass plans to double the size of its mid-mountain lodge while adding more buildings for guest services, and Goyette said that may not be the only way the area tries to increase capacity without taking away that small-mountain feel.

"There's lots of proposals right now," Goyette said. "We're dialing in what we'll pull the trigger on over the next couple weeks in terms of projects."