By SVERRE BAKKE
When it broke its long silence, winter spoke with an authoritative voice.
And the dispatches from the mountains announcing the early start of the 2005-06 winters sports season came in a flurry.
From Washington's Crystal Mountain came this news: "It's official, Crystal Mountain will open on Friday, November 4th, 2005...There's already 28 inches at the top of the mountain and 14 inches at the base...A fleet of Snowcats are currently working to pack down the snow creating a solid base for the rest of the season. The forecast shows more snow for the rest of the week and into the weekend. Crystal plans to open more lifts and terrain as soon the snow permits. This is the earliest opening in 28 years, and ski area employees couldn't be more excited!"
Stevens Pass Ski Area in the Northern Cascades reported the following on Nov. 10 about its earliest opening since 1994: "With 35 inches of snow at the base (4,060 feet) and 40 inches at the top of the Skyline Express (5,270 feet), this is the second earliest opening in the resort's 68-year history. On top of last year's miserable ski season, the early launch had skier enthusiasm soaring like White-Sox mania in Chicago. About 2,500 skiers and snowboarders arrived to celebrate the new ski season. And with shin-deep powder coating the off-piste terrain, there was yelling and hooting coming from all quarters. The hill sounded like a zoo. Or Chicago."
Meanwhile, ski area officials at Washington's Snoqualmie Pass stated: "The Summit at Snoqualmie will officially start their 2005-2006 skiing and snowboarding season this Wednesday, November 9th...Early snowfall in the Cascades has given resort operators what they need to get the slopes open for their guests. 'We are so excited to move forward with such a great early start,' said Dan Brewster, general manager for The Summit. Due to last year's low snow totals, The Summit extended skiing and riding privileges for 2004-2005 passholders for the entire 2005-2006 winter season. With long range forecasts favorable for the upcoming season and so much early snowfall, resort operators are celebrating."
Closer to home, Mt. Hood Meadows vice president and general manager Dave Riley, with a blizzard as a backdrop, announced on Nov. 4 the northern Oregon ski resort would open on Veterans Day. "Certainly this storm system weighs heavily in our decision to open in one week. With the accumulation we have already received and expect in the next few days, combined with a promising forecast for next week, we will be able to prepare the mountain ideally for an opening Friday. We want to open ski runs as near perfect as possible and this weather system, combined with our talented mountain and grooming staff, will make for an excellent opening."
All told, a large number of Washington's and Oregon's major ski areas were in operation before Thanksgiving, the traditional start of the winter sports season in the Pacific Northwest.
And the outlook for a long and plentiful season couldn't be better, according to Ski Washington's pasha of the powder, Larry Schick.
"El Ni¤o/La Ni¤a is neutral this year and that is good news," meteorologist Schick wrote on skiwashington.com in early November. "As you may remember, we jokingly call it La Nada. But neutral is good.
"The reason it is good is because our 'normal' season tends to be fantastic compared to most other areas of the country. The NW is the King of Snow, period! Normal is not average for us, it's great! Plus, some of our most active winters have occurred during these neutral years.
"So neutral is not bland. In fact, it can often be smokin' hot. But I'm going beyond normal. I think conditions will be excellent. I think we'll have an early start at some areas, perhaps before Thanksgiving."
Schick's prescience, of course, proved to be spot-on. And skiers and riders have been anything but remiss in expressing their thanks the only way they can--by carving up the forecast.