Craig Hill: White Pass expands to meet skier demand, and it’s not what you might think

David Bjorkman of Yakima returns to the Nordic Center, background left, after cross-country skiing at White Pass, in 2013. The Nordic Center is adding a new yurt to keep up with demand this season.
David Bjorkman of Yakima returns to the Nordic Center, background left, after cross-country skiing at White Pass, in 2013. The Nordic Center is adding a new yurt to keep up with demand this season. Staff file, 2013

Answers to important questions nobody has asked me yet.

Q: Which sports keep getting more popular at White Pass?

A: White Pass Ski Area is adding a new yurt to accommodate growth, but it’s not in the alpine skiing portion of the resort.

The yurt is at its Nordic Center, where the ski area continues to see more visitors trying cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

“We keep adding more snowshoe and cross-country rentals, and we keep selling out,” said White Pass spokeswoman Kathleen Goyette.

These activities are less expensive, quieter and a better workout than resort skiing, but those aren’t the only reasons they’re popular.

“For a lot of people, it is a multi-generational experience,” Goyette said. “A lot of times you’ll see grandma and grandpa out there, and tagging along with them are their grandkids. It’s fun to see.”

Goyette says the Nordic Center is also becoming more popular for corporate retreats. “It’s less threatening to go snowshoeing if you don’t ski,” she said.

More plans to expand are in the works. The ski area hopes to add another 9 kilometers of trails to the 18-kilometer system. A timeline for the project has not been established.

Q: What’s one rule ski patrols wish skiers and snowboarders better understood?

A: Kim Kircher has worked on the ski patrol at Crystal Mountain since she was 18 and recently took over as director.

She didn’t hesitate when I asked her this question.

“Don’t duck ropes,” Kircher said. “Respect the rope line, especially during an avalanche cycle.”

She recalls a few years ago when a skier ducked a rope and headed into an area the patrol was bombing for avalanche control. The skier passed over a charge before realizing the danger. He then made a bee-line for the trees.

Crystal used to have an open boundary with Mount Rainier National Park, but now has a “no ducking ropes” policy. There are exit gates for people who wish to ski the wilderness terrain, but there are signs warning that if they need rescuing it’s likely to be very expensive.

“We are constantly trying to communicate with people to let them know why something is closed,” Kircher said. “If people know why things are closed, they most often say, ‘Oh, yeah, that makes sense.’ We never close something to save it for ourselves.”

Rope ducking is so prevalent, Kircher said, that patrol members often have to monitor rope lines in high risk areas to keep people from venturing into harm’s way. She says spending resources to keep people behind the ropes sometimes keeps the patrol from opening other areas of the mountain in a timely fashion.

Q: Who are the newest members of the Northwest Ski Hall of Fame?

A: Four skiers were inducted into the Northwest Ski Hall of Fame at a banquet last month in Seattle.

The class of 2016 includes Paralympic silver medalist Shannon Bloedel, Olympic skier Judy Nagel Johnson, and ski instructors Nobi Kano and Lenore Lyle.

Bloedel, who lost the use of her legs in an accident as a child, won 11 medals in international skiing competition, including her Paralympic silver in 1992. Bloedel, who grew up in Gig Harbor, was a member of the national team from 1985-94 and became an instructor after she retired. She is a member of the National Disabled Ski Hall of Fame.

Nagel Johnson grew up racing with her family at Stevens Pass and then Crystal Mountain. In 1968, she finished 12th in the giant slalom at the Olympics and won national titles in the slalom and the combined. She was the first American woman to win back-to-back World Cup races. After her competitive career she worked at Sun Valley and at Crystal.

Kano, who died in 2008 at the age of 93, helped start a ski school and women’s lesson series at the Summit at Snoqualmie. He was also a member of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division during World War II.

Lyle taught lessons, worked as a ski model, owned Woodinville-based Ski Masters and was president of Professional Snowsports Instructors of America’s Northwest chapter.

Q: What is Tour de Huts?

A: Tour de Huts used to be a 16-mile race between the backcountry huts operated by Ashford’s Mount Tahoma Trails Association. Now, the event is a tamer outreach to potential cross-country skiers and snowshoers.

More of an open house, visitors can tour the trails and visit two huts and a yurt on the southern trail system. The event is free. Organizers hope the event will get more people into the sport while making the activities less intimidating.

Tour de Huts is scheduled for Jan. 28. It is free, but visitors must bring their own gear. Rentals are available at Ashford’s Whittaker Mountaineering. For more information, visit skimtta.com.