Ski preview
New additions and upgrades for NW resorts
After a disappointing season in 2014, the  1Pacific Northwest’s many ski and snowboard areas are counting on Mother Nature to come through this year – and first indications were that it just might. Cold weather hit the Northwest early this year and time will tell whether that translates to a robust ski season.

Meanwhile, the region’s many ski areas and resorts have spruced up their operations, some adding major improvements in anticipation of a busy season ahead. Some improvements were made LAST year, but because they got so little use, they seem like they’re new for THIS year.

The Pacific Northwest is blessed with many ski and snowboard areas, including major ski resorts and areas near smaller cities that are excellent choices for day-use. The ski-in, ski-out lodging is usually at the major ski resorts and most of those are located outside of Washington state – although Crystal Mountain comes pretty close to offering the kinds of accommodations you see in the major destination areas.

In recent years the ski areas have improved not only their ski runs, but also set up special courses for snowmobilers, an ever-increasing segment of the overall clientele. Many ski areas have added new facilities as well.

For example, the Silver Fir Lodge at the Summit at Snoqualmie is a major 2014 upgrade that was hardly used last year due to the short season. The area also has added the new Rampart quad chairlift, increasing area capacity and the mobility for skiers and snowmobilers. The lift is located on Summit East.

Also new on Snoqualmie Pass is the Washington State Ski and Snowboard Museum, which opened in October across from the Summit Inn. The museum is a remarkable look back at the development of the ski industry in Washington and the Pacific Northwest and features historical artifacts as well as major displays telling the ski industry story. The museum is free for visitors.

At Crystal Mountain Resort, they’re sort of re-celebrating the opening of two new lifts last season that didn’t see much action because of the short season. The Quicksilver and Chair 6 lifts opened to the public in December 2014.

The original Quicksilver lift was first installed in 1965, and carried 1,070 people per hour. The new fixed-grip quad lift now carries 1,800 people per hour. The new lift was shortened slightly and relocated along the side of the ski run.

Crystal’s original Chair 6 lift was installed in 1980 and the new Chair 6 lift, formerly known as the High Campbell lift, was installed in the summer of 2014 after an avalanche on March 10, 2014 wiped out the bottom terminal and two lower towers of the original lift. The chairs are much heavier on the new lift, making it more resistant to wind closures. Skiers say it’s also a more comfortable chairlift.

Over on the east side of the state, about $1.5 million was put into Mount Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park, which is just north of Spokane. Lodges were updated and facilities repaired as the area expects a major onslaught of Spokane skiers and snowboarders at the first sign of good snow.

Also on the east side, near Walla Walla, Bluewood Ski Resort has done something that no other Pacific Northwest area has done in recent memory – it has lowered its lift ticket prices, from $44 to $39 for an all-day adult ticket.

British Columbia is just loaded with destination ski areas and, of course, the granddaddy of them all is Whistler Blackcomb, which just happens to be celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The celebration comes at a good time since the resort has spent nearly $30 million in the last couple of years to replace Whistler Village Gondola cabins and to install new high-speed lifts at both Whistler and Blackcomb mountains.

If you like the atmosphere of the Whistler ski village, but prefer lower prices and fewer people, head for Central B.C. and the city of Kamloops where you’ll find the Sun Peaks Resort about 45 minutes out of town. The area is known for its fun ski village and incredible selection of ski runs, now totaling 135 with the addition of some new ones this year.

Another B.C. village type destination ski area is Big White Ski Resort, near Kelowna. Head north from Lake Chelan to the Lake Okanagan area and about half way up the lake is the year-round vacation city of Kelowna. Not far from town is Big White, which has great ski-in, ski-out lodgings and has just added the Black Forest Day Lodge. The resort also has the new Magic Carpet Tube Lift with an amazing capacity to keep moving tubers up the mountain all day long.
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