Businesses, skiers prepare for potential storm

Kitsap Sports employee Sean Langaker grinds a snowboard to smoothen any nicked up ridges and scratches.  - Mike Baldwin/staff photo
Kitsap Sports employee Sean Langaker grinds a snowboard to smoothen any nicked up ridges and scratches.
— image credit: Mike Baldwin/staff photo

Brace yourselves, skiers and snowboarders.

The largest snow storm to hit the Washington state mountain passes in years is expected to hit soon. Forecasters are predicting a weather pattern known as La Nina to strike this winter, bringing an increase in wet weather across the region.

Combined with cooler temperatures, a wetter season will almost certainly increase snow levels in the mountain passes, which should equate to a big season for snow sports enthusiasts.

While meteorologists monitor potential storms, skiers and snowboarders hope to bask in the glory of a winter wonderland on the slopes as early as next week. Local businesses like Kitsap Sports in Silverdale are hoping for a record season in the passes to boost sales in the midst of a sluggish economy.

“Hopefully, the large snowfall from La Niña will boost morale and get people up on the hill again,” Kitsap Sports employee Trevor Glebe said. “Sales are starting to push a little bit now, and hopefully we’ll start to see snowfall come by the end of the month.”

National Weather Service Meteorologist Johnny Burg said Nov. 12 that the mountains will see “a lot more snow” as ski lodges prepare for a flurry of skiers and snowboarders this season. Whistler Mountain in British Columbia announced Monday that their slopes will open on Nov. 19, six days earlier than first projected. The resort cited new snow and low freezing levels in the area as factors in their decision.

“La Niña is going to be a strong one,” Burg said. “Conditions could last up to a year, depending on how much snow drops and where the temperature goes.”

All about the pattern

The La Niña weather pattern is most commonly associated with the winter season, however, the trend has already started, said National Weather Service Meteorologist Dennis D’Amico. He noted that the two biggest indicators for the La Niña pattern — colder than normal temperatures and heavier than normal precipitation — are currently at a “moderate” level. D’Amico said that level could change with an increased risk for lowland snowfall.

“The conditions are there,” he said.

Sean Langaker also works for Kitsap Sports, and said current snow sports sales are consistent with last year’s pace, but the company has added promotions. He noticed a lot of customers upgrading their snow gear this season, and hopes Black Friday sales will kick-start the winter.

“It’s definitely good for us because the snowfall will be bigger than it has been the last few years,” he added. “We’re looking forward to it, but we’re tired of hearing about La Niña, we just want to see the snow already.”

Langaker’s anxiety echoes the collective disappointment of most snow sports athletes after last year’s El Niño pattern of warmer temperatures spoiled the season. That pattern led to limited snowfall and relatively dry conditions in the passes. Don’t expect the same behavior this winter, D’Amico said.

“Our signal right now is stronger in the mountain passes than the lowlands,” he added. “That’s usually a good sign for the snow pack and ski resorts.

“I know the ski resorts have heard enough about La Niña weather to use it to their marketing advantage this season.”

Ski resorts have dealt with several La Niña patterns in the past so popular locales such as Snoqualmie Pass, Stevens Pass and Crystal Mountain have hyped La Niña to new and returning skiers and snowboarders. The previous La Nina weather pattern in 2007 lasted nine months.

Snow sports economics

Getting started in snow sports is expensive, with total costs up to $1,000, said Kitsap Sports employee Matt Caldwell. His estimate is for beginners in the sport, who will require equipment, ski passes and transportation. One problem Caldwell has encountered with ski sports technology is that equipment "one-ups" itself every year.

Kitsap Sports, like most other businesses in extreme sports, have the same base of consumers who trade in or upgrade their equipment every year, which is problematic for athletes who try to play catch-up with the best products the industry has to offer. Nonetheless, passionate skiers and snowboarders still manage to make it to the passes with aging equipment.

Traveling to the passes

Getting to the slopes is the first step.

Olympic College will send a charter bus on January 22 and February 19. The busses are limited to Olympic students only. The first trip will travel to Stevens Pass, and the second will head to Crystal Mountain. Each charter bus takes approximately 54 students and two chaperones, and spots fill quickly, according to the college.

The Central Kitsap Ski School is another way for local skiers and snowboarders to get to the slopes. The school offers snow sports instruction and ski trips to students in grades 5 through 12, but is not limited to only the Central Kitsap School District. Students make about eight trips to Stevens Pass every season, said Ski School director David Keller, who is excited about the prospects.

"We're hoping it's a big season," he said. "We're going to have a lot of fun no matter what."

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