Wind, again? Fences blown down. Strings of light blown around. Rain, again? Soggy soil, wet roadways, busy windshield wipers, outdoor playdates moved indoors. Why would people put up with such a mess? Ah. There are plenty of silver linings, here are two. One is simple and necessary. One is an entire industry and fun.
First, the necessary. Rain. It’s water. We’re humans. We need water. Most of Whidbey doesn’t get water from massive rivers or enormous reservoirs. We get our water from wells. Wells draw water from aquifers. Ask an expert hydrologist but it is easy to imagine aquifers getting some water from glacial melt, from thousands of years of storms – including today’s – percolating down through layers of soil, dirt, sand, clay, and rock. Somewhere along the way the water gets trapped. Now we pump it out, and the most obvious source of a resupply is rain.
The effect is more dramatic in California where droughts are epic, and now we know the atmospheric rivers are, too. We get hit by those rivers in the sky, but we’re also somewhat sheltered by the Olympic Mountains. Besides, when it rains as much as it does in some parts of the island, a bit more rain may barely change the level of griping.
Rain can also be snow; and while we do get snow, the mountains get more. The island may get a few inches a year. One part may got none, but another may get six inches as the Puget Sound Convergence Zone decides to linger. The mountains, however, measure snowpack in hundreds of inches, with two places (Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainer) setting world records in excess of a thousand inches of snow.
That’s where the fun part comes in. Skiing. Skiers on the island can eventually become calibrated to know that, if it is raining here, and cold enough here, then up there there can be stuff to play with and on. (Getting a bit of a late start this year, though.) Whidbey can only show off snow skiing as a stunt. (Skiing on liquid water is a different issue.) The Puget Sound’s ski areas are hours away, but one measure of how much snow is up there are the two records just mentioned, and the number of resorts and places to play. Here’s a partial list. (Note: All drive times assume no traffic and clear roads, which is highly optimistic in winter weather combined with thousands of other skiers heading the same way to the same place.)
Mt. Baker holds the record, and is only two hours from Deception Pass. Baker is a marvelous contradiction. It can get over a thousand inches of snow, has one of the heaviest pile of glaciers in the lower 48, and is a volcano with steam plumes and the rest. Wave at Canada from there.
Stevens has the advantage of being along Highway 2, one of the few highways that are (mostly) open year-round. Unfortunately, Highway 2 is mostly a two-lane road, so speed limits and slow traffic can make the drive longer. It isn’t as high as Baker, but 4,000 feet-ish is enough to catch snow when some of the southern sites get rain. Oddly enough, according to Google, it is an equidistant two-hour-ish drive from both ends of the island. Blame ferries and Everett traffic for slowing down the route from Clinton?
The next pass south is Snoqualmie, which is several hundred feet lower, but has the terrain for more than one ski area. Its highway is Interstate 90, such a major road that it is probably top priority for the Department of Transportation. Lower elevation may mean less snow, but it makes for easier driving. So does extra lanes. No surprise that it also catches a lot of the Seattle traffic – which also means islanders will be driving through the urban parts of King County. Supposedly, according to Google, it too is only a two hour drive. Now, about that caveat about traffic…
Crystal isn’t on a volcano, but when the weather permits look across the valley at 14,000+ foot Mt. Rainier. Eep! when you realize it’s blown up before and will again. And in the meantime enjoy some skiing near where the other records were set. That one’s far enough away that a three hour drive wouldn’t be a surprise.
The ski area at Hurricane Ridge may not have the same lifts, lodges, and lengthy runs as the resorts; but head west to drive the climb into Olympic National Park and find an equally impressive setting. It ‘only’ get about 400 inches of snow, but what it also gets is the feel of a more casual, more neighborly operation. Don’t expect a gondola, but do be ready for some true backcountry and cross-country skiing. It is a national park. For folks with the skills there’s a lot of roaming to do. What a surprise, it’s also a little over two hours to get there.
OK. Cross-country has been mentioned; but not forgotten. A few miles east of the downhill area at Stevens is a nordic center with groomed trails, a basic facility for getting inside to get warm, or cool off. (Cross-country skiers can sweat, too, you know.) It is even possible to get the right gear, the right passes, and the right skills and fitness level and ski up to the end of the backside of the downhill area, go up, ski down the front side, and return. Or turn around do something reasonable.
No surprise, Snoqualmie has both, too. The handy thing about Snoqualmie is that downhill and cross-country skiers can share the same ride. Carpooling!
Scattered across Washington State are dozens of cross-country sites where the state maintains the parking areas, grooms selected trails, and generally expands the skiing options beyond the resorts, lodges, and lifts. A nice, and much more affordable option. Bring your own gear, though.
For the truly adventurous or for those who want to avoid crowds, Washington State is known for its national parks, state parks, county parks, wilderness areas, and just generally the rest of nature. As mentioned above, “For folks with the skills there’s a lot of roaming to do.” And that’s a lot of roaming. There’s also more risk, so it is best to learn from those who’ve figured out where, how, and when – particularly when not to go there. But, that’s an entire topic worthy of entire bookshelves of knowledge and experience.
Is Whidbey A Ski Hub?
Whidbey Island looks like the hub for skiers, and it probably is for some. For most, though, skiing is simply the silver lining that comes with our winter rains and storms. And, when things get back to ‘normal’ check out the ski buses. After a day of skiing it is nice to let someone else do the driving.