For the first time, visitors can go online to book a room at Paradise Inn or the National Park Inn.
Mount Rainier Guest Services has started taking online reservations through its website for the two inns at Mount Rainier National Park.
“In the past, they weren’t able to do that. They could check availability, but then they would have to call to make a room reservation,” said David Wilde, general manager for the concession company.
Without citing specific numbers, Wilde said preseason reservations are tracking ahead of last year.
“To a large degree, I think that’s because people can look online and adjust some travel plans and make reservations, and do it all at one time,” he said.
While the National Park Inn at Longmire is open year round, crews are busy preparing Paradise Inn for its season opening Friday.
The issue this year has been all the snow at Paradise, said Melinda Simpson, operations manager for Guest Services. On May 6, there was 227 inches of snow on the ground, 145 percent of normal.
“Our maintenance crews, which would be doing something else, are shoveling their brains out,” Simpson said. “They have been shoveling for a month.”
Dealing with snow is nothing new for Simpson, who has worked at the park almost 25 years. It’s a different story for some of the staff coming to the park for the first time.
“A lot of them coming in from Texas, California, Arizona and Florida, they’re pretty wide eyed. They’ve never seen anything like this,” Simpson said.
Getting the historic 121-room inn ready for the season is a monumental task.
“Imagine if you were to leave your home in October and were going to be gone until spring. You would have to take out all your food, personal belongings, clothes. You would have to turn off heat, the water and shutter the windows,” Simpson said.
“Then, while you’re gone, 20 feet of snow fell. When you come home, you have to dig your way in, turn on the water, turn on the heat, hope none of the pipes are frozen, bring back in all your clothes, all your belongings.
“You also have to buy all your food again, from salt, pepper, flour and sugar, then fill up the fridge and freezers, oils, fresh produce.
“Then multiply it 100 times over and that’s what it takes to reopen Paradise Inn,” she said.
During the first two weeks of the month, staffers were hand-carrying $15,000 of food and supplies into the kitchen.
“That’s just to feed the staff who are here. That’s nothing for the guests yet,” Simpson said.
After putting new mattresses in rooms last year, Guest Services is bringing in new bedding for this season.
Despite the challenges, Simpson said she can’t imagine working anywhere else.
“When I go to work, it takes me three minutes. I don’t see another car, but I might see two or three deer,” she said.
“It’s just a unique experience. We don’t have cell phones, we don’t have the social media, we don’t have radios, TVs,” she added. “We read books, we talk to each other, we recreate by hiking, we play board games. That separates us from the rest of the world.”
Best of all, Simpson said, are the people.
“When I was up here in late April, there was silence. Now there’s laughter, smells from the kitchen, there are people hugging and talking.”FACTORS: High cost of gas spurring visits to Mount Rainier National Park.
MORE: Season information, room rates and more.