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Northwest ski areas

Washington ski resorts get plenty of early season snow

By CARY ORDWAY

With snowfall nearing record totals in many parts of Washington State, the 2012-13 ski and snowboard season is looking to be one of the best in many years. About half the average annual snowfall in the Cascades was on the ground as of mid-January, which means the season will be spectacular for ski resorts barring any late-season droughts.

Ski resort operators – like farmers – are dependent on the weather. Man-made snow can help, but there's no substitute for the fresh powder that both skiers and snowboarders so desire. There have been years when the Cascade ski resorts couldn't even get open before Christmas and then seasons that produced barely enough snow to keep the rocks covered. New skis and snowboards hate rocks.

But this year that doesn't seem to be a concern – at least not yet – as ski resort operators enjoy the benefits of having good snow and even better crowds. In North Central Washington, for example, Mission Ridge is enjoying the second most snow for the beginning of the year – ever. The Wenatchee area was hit in December and January with several storms – one local resident estimated this has been the second snowiest winter since he moved there in the mid-90s. Snow also has been good at most other Washington areas.

If you're looking for destination skiing, the best choice is Crystal Mountain, about 76 miles southeast of Seattle near Mt. Rainier. It's the only ski area in the state with ski-in, ski-out accommodations near the lifts and boasts 50 runs with a vast network of intermediate and expert terrain, but also beginner slopes to get you started. Altogether the lodging at Crystal accommodates about 700 people. There is an extra 1,000 acres of backcountry skiing at Crystal.

Another favorite is Mission Ridge, which is a semi-destination area. While no accommodations are located on the mountain, the ski area is just a few miles from a well-developed infrastructure of hotels and restaurants in the city of Wenatchee. The area's skiing is superb – a little bit drier snow than on the west side of the mountains and not quite as busy as the larger ski areas near Seattle.

Among the new developments this year at Washington ski resorts is the new partnership between Mission Ridge and the Summit at Snoqualmie that offers unlimited free midweek skiing at both ski areas for season pass holders. If you hold a pass to Mission Ridge, you can show your pass for free skiing at the Summit's three midweek areas: Summit Central, Summit West and Alpental.

According to Mission Ridge General Manager Josh Jorgensen, “this partnership gives our season pass holders a fun midweek option for exploring different terrain and parks.”

Passholders for the Summit at Snoqualmie Big S Gold, Unlimited and L-T-D pass holders can present their pass for midweek skiing at Mission Ridge. There is also a free Sunday “bonus day” lift ticket on weekends when you purchase a full-priced Saturday lift ticket.

The reciprocal agreement is valid through April 7, 2013. To redeem, simply show your 2012-13 Mission Ridge season pass at any Summit ticket window on midweek days to get your lift ticket.

The big news over at Crystal Mountain is the extended spring season. Winter season will conclude April 15 and then Crystal will be open Fridays-Sundays in April and Saturdays-Sundays in May, along with Memorial Day.

At Stevens Pass, there's a new half-pipe located at the bottom of the main park and above the base of the Brooks chair. Stevens says this is the only half-pipe open in the state. Stevens is popular with Seattle-area skiers who like challenging terrain and a beautiful drive through the jagged mountains, following the Skykomish River.

Photos, from top: Gondola at Crystal Mountain; view from Mission Ridge; chairlift at Mission Ridge

Photos courtesy of Crystal Mountain and Mission Ridge ski resorts

OTHER DESTINATIONS: If you're looking for other Northwest travel ideas, be sure to check out other Northwest Travel Advisor articles on Northwest zoos, Northwest water vacations, Port Townsend and Seattle attractions.

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