For the first time since March 30, 2014, squeals of excitement and the shush of a sled racing down the run were heard at the snowplay area at Mount Rainier National Park. The area opened Friday and was crowded throughout the weekend.
Thanks to a series of snowstorms in late December, enough snow fell at the Paradise area to allow park staff to groom the runs while protecting the fragile alpine vegetation.
“We need at least 60 inches of packed snow on the hill where the sledding occurs to groom,” park Superintendent Randy King said.
The park never received enough snow last winter to allow the snowplay area to open. A record low 266 inches of snow fell in the park last winter. Even in March, when the snowpack is often the deepest, parts of the snowplay area were covered by just 18-24 inches of snow, King said.
With the current snowpack hovering around 120 inches, the park groomer started carving the runs a week ago.
The opening of the snowplay area was delayed by all the snow in December. Road crews were busy removing trees that fell onto the road from the Nisqually entrance to Paradise, and then were clearing snow from roadways and parking lots.
Under sunny skies Saturday, hundreds of people toting sleds of all shapes and colors were walking to the top of the runs for their turn.
Emma Petersen of Port Orchard could hardly contain her excitement after making a short trip down the hill.
“Let’s do it again, let’s do it again,” the 3-year-old gleefully shouted.
Edgewood resident Lee Hutton said his 3-year-old daughter Alison was having a great time sledding, until the snow flew up into her face.
Even in the parking lot, there was plenty of reason to laugh. Fending off the cold temperatures with his camouflage coveralls, Shawn Lupp of Spanaway kept his feet warm thanks to his “human foot warmers,” his 12-year-son Christian and a friend of Christian’s.
Visitors have also been enjoying ideal snowshoeing and skiing conditions since the road to Paradise opened Wednesday. However, the park received so much fresh snow that markers for popular routes were buried. Park employees and volunteers were working to replace the markers.
While snow-covered trees, frozen lakes and food-swiping gray jays make for an idyllic setting in the backcountry, rangers warn visitors to be aware of potential hazards. On Wednesday, many snowshoers could be seen treading through avalanche terrain above Narada Falls. The avalanche threat level was listed Monday as moderate-considerable by the Northwest Avalanche Center.
The road to Paradise this week has been covered with compact snow and ice above Longmire. Drivers are reminded they must carry tire chains when driving in the park during the winter.
Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640
Staff writer Craig Hill and staff photographer Dean Koepfler contributed to this report.
Snowplay area rules
▪ This is the only location in the park where visitors can go sledding.
▪ Only “soft” sledding devices can be used, including flexible sleds, inner tubes and saucers. No hard toboggans or runner sleds are allowed.
▪ The snowplay area is open weekends and holidays, as conditions allow.