The word is out. After nearly 25 years, a much-talked-about expansion of White Pass Ski Area is finally under way. When complete next year, the project will have doubled the size of the ski area and increased the vertical drop by 500 feet.
In addition, two new chairlifts will allow skiers access to upper terrain without returning to base. Thirteen named runs in the open, sub-alpine basins and a mid-mountain lodge are also part of the plan.
Located at 48935 Highway 12 in Naches, the ski area at the summit of White Pass is approximately 50 miles from Yakima. Perhaps most famous for its laid back vibe, uncrowded trails and welcoming attitude, White Pass was recently chosen by OntheSnow.com as the most family-friendly resort in the Pacific Northwest.
The ski hill is also well known for its annual winter carnival in February, featuring a gigantic, volunteer-built snow castle swarming with kids. And, although more than a quarter century has passed, it’s a rare Washingtonian who doesn’t recognize White Pass as the training ground for skiers Phil and Steve Mahre, medalists at the 1984 Olympics in Sarajevo.
Visitors to White Pass this season will notice construction related to the expansion but will not be inconvenienced by it, says White Pass spokesman Kathleen Goyette. She said trails have been cut and towers installed for the new lifts.
This coming season will be a transition time for White Pass.
“This is our last year as a 735-acre ski resort,” she says, “Beginning in 2010 we’re hoping to draw skiers from the entire region rather than just locally.”
She’s quick to emphasize the expansion (now referred to simply as “the basin;” a contest is under way to actually put a name to it) won’t translate to unwelcome changes like long lines and elbow-to-elbow crowds. Last year White Pass attracted some 125,000 skiers and boarders. Once improvements are finished, that figure will increase by only about 12-15 percent.
Then and now, White Pass continues to offer what it’s famed for: family-oriented service, excellent snow and plenty of it (300-plus inches annually), and a skiing experience featuring amazing views of Mt. Rainier, the Tatoosh range and the Goat Rocks wilderness.
Four chairlifts access the mountain, including the Great White Express high-speed quad transport, which brings skiers right to the top. Thirty two runs with a breakdown of 33 percent novice, 43 percent intermediate and 24 percent advanced ensure sufficient fun and/or challenges for everyone.
The cross country area is groomed, double-tracked with a 10-foot skating area. Lots of challenging hills, flats and good descents can be found here. There’s also a terrain park with a half pipe.
Regarding selection of White Pass as OntheSnow’s most family friendly resort, Goyette gives much of the credit to the ski school. “Generations of kids from all over central and western Washington have learned to ski through that program,” she claims. “We’re seeing third-generation ski cadets. It’s a great way for families to get started in the sport.”
Goyette adds the physical layout of the resort, with all runs leading to the base area, “really maintains that family-friendly ambience.”
White Pass is primarily a day hill with night skiing available on holidays and Saturdays. While there are no on-mountain accommodations, the White Pass Village Inn, a historic lodge with kitchen-equipped condos is located at the base.
Recently the ski area has partnered with nearby towns and lodging providers to promote additional housing options. Clicking on the Scenic Byway button at the ski hill’s website (skiwhitepass.com) provides listings of everything from historic hotels to B&Bs in nearby cities like Packwood or Mossyrock.
This season’s visitors will appreciate a new installation of 35 vintage photos from the archives of famed Yakima photographer Ken Whitmire, which are displayed in the Nordic lodge. A founding member of the Yakima Ski Club (original owners/developers of White Pass Ski area), Whitmire has been taking pictures of White Pass since its humble, rope-tow beginnings in 1952.
If you can manage to make it to White Pass during the week, Goyette said there’s a good chance the person sitting next to you on the lift might be a grape grower or Washington winemaker. She says the ski facility maintains relationships with a number of growers and continues to offer local wines like Mercer Estates’ California Valley Merlot and Kana Winery’s Working Man’s Red in the lodge’s restaurant.
Coming from the Spokane area, skiers might want to stop off at the Oak Creek elk feeding station on their way. Located 2 miles west of the junction of Highways 12 and 410, Oak Creek is a popular wintertime attraction as travelers park and watch a herd of approximately 1,200 elk graze on hay provided by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Feeding season begins in mid-December and continues through early March, with the feeding station open every day from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
For more information on White Pass Ski Area, click on skiwhitepass.com or call (509) 672-3101.
Elevation: White Pass Day Lodge, 4,500’ Summit: 6,000’
Vertical drop: 1500’
Average annual snowfall: 350”
Number of trails: 32
Trail difficulty: 33% beginner, 43% intermediate, 24% advanced
Lifts: One high speed quad, one triple lift, two double lifts, two surface lifts. (Two more lifts will open one year from now as part of expansion project).
Lift capacity: 6500 persons per hour
Operating Hours: 8:45 am-4 pm daily, night skiing Saturdays and holidays only.
On–mountain accommodations: None. White Pass Village Inn (condo-style lodging) at base of ski hill.