Dennis Opacki and Alex Kiwerski learned their lesson last November when they rolled up to Crystal Mountain at 6:10 a.m. to find the line for the first lift of the ski season had already started.
So Wednesday morning, they left their homes in Tacoma shortly after 4 a.m. and arrived for opening day before 6, more than three hours before the gondola started hauling skiers and snowboarders up the mountain,
“It’s like Christmas,” Opacki said. “It only comes once a year.”
This year, Opacki and Kiwerski brought chairs and were first in line, edging out Billy Hansen of Seattle, who’d spent the night at the resort to get a prime spot in line. All three made it onto the first gondola.
Many others might have wished they’d arrived earlier. By the time the gondola started, the line looped around the base lodge and skiers and boarders found themselves waiting for nearly an hour.
Jayson Minhawa of Enumclaw and Paul McCormick of Auburn waited 55 minutes for a lift.
“It’s pretty crazy,” McCormick said.
“But it’s my first opening day,” said Minhawa, who flew home Tuesday from Tennessee’s Southern Adventist University. “I’m pretty stoked.”
Typically, Crystal operates a second base area lift, Chinook Express, to transport skiers to the upper mountain. But expecting a smaller crowd than the more than 2,000 who turned out Wednesday, Crystal had been set to run just the Mount Rainier Gondola.
“We were surprised by the turnout today, being a Wednesday before a holiday,” said Crystal spokeswoman Tiana Enger. “It’s a nice surprise, but we weren’t expecting this much love today.”
The staff scrambled to crank up the Chinook Express, and by 11 a.m. the extra lift had eliminated the long lines. Some skiers and boarders were visibly upset by the long wait, but the frustration seemed to vanish as they dropped into ankle-deep fresh snow in Green Valley.
“I guess if you are grumpy while you are waiting in line and you get rewarded with great snow, that’s a good thing,” Enger said.
Crystal Mountain reported 28 inches of snow in the 72 hours before opening with a depth of 45 inches at the summit.
“Last year was pretty good,” Opacki said. “But I think this year is better.”
Lift tickets, regularly $66, were reduced to $45 on Wednesday because only the gondola and Rainier Express and Green Valley lifts were scheduled to be open.
The Chinook Express and Forest Queen lifts are set to also be open Thursday, and lift ticket prices will increase to $50 ($58 including gondola access).
Thanksgiving can be an excellent day to hit the slopes, Enger said.
“It’s light to moderate (crowds), not crazy like Christmas,” she said.
Enger said Crystal’s operations could remain the same Friday, but that could change with rain in the forecast for Thursday night and Friday, according to the National Weather Service.
More lifts could open for the weekend, depending on weather and crowd sizes, Enger said.
Mount Baker also opened for the season Wednesday, and Stevens Pass had its first full day of operations. Stevens Pass opened for four hours Tuesday afternoon.
Mission Ridge near Wenatchee and 49 Degrees North near Chewelah plan to open Friday.
The Summit at Snoqualmie and White Pass have yet to announce opening days.