Last updated: 04:30 PM ET, Thu January 14 2016

Go West Snow Sports Enthusiasts!

Features & Advice | Mat Probasco | January 14, 2016

Go West Snow Sports Enthusiasts!

PHOTO: Skier on Mammoth Mountain in California's Sierra Nevadas. (Photos by Peter Morning)

After several low-snow seasons, the West is again deep in powder. Those seeking to carve the slopes and shred the rad are bombing runs in record number, and loving every fluffy white inch of it.

Like its counterparts, Crystal Mountain Resort — not far from Seattle and Tacoma — reports it has already surpassed the snowfall total from last season, reaching 243 inches through Jan. 5. The slopes only collected 234 inches during the entire 2014-15 season.

Anthony Walker, who works the front desk at Crystal Mountain Lodging, said he was flooded with cancellations last year and those who did stay were let down by the limited open runs. “This year everyone is super stoked,” the 26-year-old snowboarder said. “It's been phenomenal. It's almost surreal. Last year it was so bear and now it's the opposite; there's almost too much snow in some areas.”

After the weak winter season last year where many ski areas received 25 percent or less of average snowfall, the start to this winter has been fantastic, said John Gifford, executive director of the non-profit Ski Washington association.

“Depending on the location, the snowfall through the end of December has ranged from 119-163 percent of average for the start of the season, through the end of 2015,” he said. “The forecast is for snow to be normal or slightly below for the rest of the season. With the current snowpack we are expecting a very good season.”

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Further south, in Central Oregon, Mt. Bachelor has also exceeded its 2014-15 seasonal snowfall. The peak received 170 inches of snow in December, third most in that month since records started being kept in 1972, said Stirling Cobb, marketing and communications manager for Mt. Bachelor LLC.

“Somewhere near the end of December, we passed our season snowfall total from last season of 211 inches, which was a pretty perfect example of how much better conditions have been so far this season,” Cobb said. Thirty five more inches have already fallen in January.

Cobb suspects that they'll finish the year near the average for a season — roughly 432 inches of snow. He predicts Mt. Bachelor will remain open until May 29 this year. It closed May 10 last year, the earliest it had shut down since 1977.

“With everyone in the Northwest receiving a healthy amount of snow so far this season compared to last year, overall excitement for winter sports is much higher. There has been a lot of hoots, hollers and smiling faces so far this season and we are looking forward to more of this over the next five months,” Cobb said.

Just down from Mt. Bachelor, in Bend, Travis Dunn, a tech at Skjersaa's Ski and Snowboard Shop, said the last three low-snow seasons had been hard on the mountain community. “When there's no snow people are more bitter, but when there's continuous snow, like now, you can't go wrong.” The forecast for an extended ski season has raised spirits and also helped to space out the slopes. “When there's so little snow, everybody's trying to get in there when the getting's good.”

In Government Camp, Oregon, at the foot of Mt. Hood, Sam Grist is ecstatic about her second season teaching snowboarding at Timberline Lodge and Ski Area, where five and half feet of snow fell over Christmas.

“This is what everyone has been waiting for,” she said. “It was the best Christmas for everyone.”

People from around the world are getting in on the action, said Grist, also part time bartender at the Ratskeller Alpine Bar and Pizzeria. Local businesses have had their best months ever because of the pristine conditions. “I've met Japanese, Russians, anybody who's looking for snow.”

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A few hundred miles south, in the Sierra Nevadas, Ashley Quadros knows all about that rush to the snow. She spoke by telephone from her car headed up the hill, having pulled her two children out of school for the day to ski, avoiding the holiday and weekend crowds. “And it's dumping snow right now,” she said.

Quadros, director of marketing and member services for Tahoe Donner Association in Truckee, California, said her company bought two snowmaking machines as insurance against another disappointing snowfall season. “But as predicted, once we put them in we had another epic winter,” she said. “We haven't had to use them yet.”

PHOTO: Mammoth Mountain vista.

The holiday season broke attendance records, Quadros said, with two sellout days — a far cry from last season when the lifts closed early. “Because of the last two years, people were more anxious than ever to get up here.”

Michael Radick, a spokesman for Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, said snow conditions are the best they've been in three or four years on the California/Nevada border. “It's been fantastic,” Radick said. “Starting the season with a ton of snow has been awesome.”

The snowfall was so heavy that Alpine Meadows opened more than a month ahead of schedule, Nov. 12, and Squaw Valley opened Nov. 14, 11 days ahead of the original Nov. 25 opening date. 

Furthermore, the 17 feet of snowfall meant the resort area's full 6,000 acres of ski trails were open for the Christmas holiday — only the fifth time that's happened in the last 60 years.

“Certain parts of the mountain require a large amount of snow to be open commercially. We have runs and lifts open now that haven't been open in maybe four years,” Radick said.

All the lifts are open at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area too, where they are just 38 inches off last year's snow total, said Public Relations Manager Lauren Burke. “We are in the middle of our first big El Nino storm, which has already dropped almost a foot today and is expected to continue the next few days. The whole town is excited to see what El Nino brings us the next few months.”

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