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January 7, 2014 at 4:56 PM

Low snow stymies snowshoers, Sno-Park users and sledders — but there’s hope

Will the snow-play hill at Paradise open soon? Even Mount Rainier has less snow than usual this year. (archive photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times, 2006)

Here’s what the snow-play hill at Paradise looks like in a normal year. So far this winter, low snow levels have prevented it from opening. But a snowy week could solve that. (photo by Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times, 2006)

While the Polar Vortex screws with the rest of the nation, the Pacific Northwest continues the Great Snow Slump of 2013-’14. And it’s not just downhill skiers and the owners of the Summit at Snoqualmie who are tearing their hair out from under the ear flaps of their winter hats. Snowshoers and cross-country skiers, too, are starting to feel picked on because of the lack of snow on many of Washington’s mountains.

For example, The Mountaineers club has been forced to cancel this Saturday’s Winter Trails Day event, an annual free demonstration and tryout of snowshoes at the club’s Snoqualmie Pass campus.

“We have barely any snow at all and we have forecasted rain at Snoqualmie for the coming week and we just don’t have anything to snowshoe on,” bemoaned Tess Wendel, a member services representative for the club. The snowshoe event is part of a national event aimed at encouraging winter recreation.

Likewise, the Washington State Parks Sno-Park program is seeing only a few lonely visitors to the 120 plowed parking lots it provides across the state at popular recreation sites for snowshoers, skiers and snowmobilers.

“There’s very little snow in the majority of Sno-Park locations statewide,” said Wayne McLaughlin, winter recreation program specialist for state parks. Near Snoqualmie Pass, “Crystal Springs is probably our most active Sno-Park in the state, and I heard that yesterday it had one vehicle in it.”

Continued low use could spell financial problems for the self-supporting program, McLaughlin said. Plowing, trail grooming and services such as portable toilets are funded by sale of Sno-Park permits and licensing of snowmobiles. With poor snow, few people buy permits or licenses.

A few Sno-Park areas, such as Mount Baker and Mount Spokane, have good snow, he said. He also mentioned the Greenwater and Ahtanum areas, off Highway 410. “And if you get up above 4,500 or 5,000 feet (elevation), you can probably find snow.”

That’s good advice. Ranger-guided snowshoe outings are currently underway on weekends at Paradise, elev. 5,400, in Mount Rainier National Park (a $4 donation is asked; details here). Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest rangers are leading guided snowshoe outings Saturdays at Stevens Pass, elev. 4,062 (donation of $10-$15 is asked; details here). Ranger-led outings at Snoqualmie Pass, elev. 3,022, have been postponed awaiting more snow.

“I would be really happy with two feet of snow. We could go out with one foot. Right now we have maybe six or seven inches at the  Pacific Crest Trail north parking lot where we start out,” Kim Larned, ranger who leads the Snoqualmie Pass outings, said Wednesday.

Sledders aren’t getting their adrenalin fix, either. As of Wednesday, the snow-play area for sledding and sliding at Paradise on Mount Rainier, which generally is open from late December to mid-March, had yet to open for the season.

Five feet of snow is required for safe sliding and to protect alpine meadows from damage, according to the National Park Service. Tuesday, a ranger at the park’s Longmire Information Center reported 4.5 feet of snow at Paradise. But keep your mittened fingers crossed: With just six more inches needed, the snow play area could open by the weekend if predicted snow falls in coming days, he said. Call 360-569-6575 or click here for updates.

UPDATE: Thanks to more snow at Snoqualmie Pass, the Summit at Snoqualmie ski area on Thursday announced plans to open Summit West ski hill Friday through Sunday.

0 Comments | More in national parks, Northwest, snow sports, state parks, State Route 410, U.S. Forest Service | Topics: low snow, paradise, Sno-Parks

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