Tuesday, March 8, 2011

White Pass Ski Area is bigger and better than ever

White Pass Doubles in Size with Long-Awaited Expansion

With the opening this season of Paradise Basin, there hasn't been this much excitement at White Pass since the Mahre Brothers won medals in the 1984 Winter Olympics at Sarajevo. Phil and Steve Mahre grew up at White Pass back in the 1960s and 1970s when it was a much smaller ski area. But the runs that emanated from the ski area's former high point and now serviced by the Great White Express Quad still provided the Mahres with plenty of excellent and challenging terrain to carve up.

But, now with the opening of Paradise Basin, the Mahres-and you-will be pleasantly surprised to find and ski a bigger, higher and better White Pass! Planned decades ago, Paradise Basin finally opened this past December-increasing White Pass's vertical drop to 2,000-feet and doubling its size to 1,500 acres, making it the 4th largest ski area in Washington. Costing $9 million to complete, the expansion included 13 new runs, 2 new quad chairlifts and a new lodge perched at 6,000-feet.

Nearly all of it intermediate terrain, the new area is serviced by the Basin quad (accessed from an easy trail from the Great White Express); and the Couloir Express detachable quad which grants rapid transport to the 6,500-foot top of the basin. From here just beneath the summit of Hogback Mountain in the craggy Goat Rocks peaks, you'll have access to some of the finest cruising runs and glades skiing in the Cascades; and all with mouth-gaping views of Mount Rainier hovering before you.

And if, while you're schussing down one of these new trails you suddenly feel like you're in the backcountry and not at a developed resort-there's good reason for that. The ski area management team took extra care planning Paradise Basin to minimize environmental impact. There are no service roads in the new terrain, and the trails aren't as wide as those gracing the lower slopes. There are lots of tree islands too in the new trails providing a wilder feeling and allowing for some easy glades skiing.

The upper reaches of the basin are pretty natural too-mostly open alpine meadows. And with its rolling and dipping topography, it appeals to boarders and skiers alike. The new terrain is quite inspiring, if not the names of the runs traversing it. Of the thirteen new trails, only three have a name. The other 10 are just referred to by a number. But that'll change soon as the ski area is currently soliciting name suggestions from the public.

The new lodge in the basin is appropriately named High Camp and is accessible by trails from both new chairlifts. Its location makes it possible to spend the entire day at Paradise Basin; no longer necessary now to return to the base to warm up or get a bite-to-eat. But that doesn't mean you have to shun White Pass's lower slopes. Because with the all the new skiing terrain added, the lower slopes and lifts now have a lot more room for schussing and shredding. 

Gentle and wide slopes perfect for beginners grace the eastern reaches of the ski area while challenging expert terrain can be found on its north face. Snowboarders looking to test their skills will find the Hammerhead Terrain Park to their liking. And skiers and boarders who don't want to quit for the day, can keep on turning and carving with a little night skiing at three lower slopes on Saturdays and holidays.

And like Crystal Mountain, White Pass has also begun using RFID (Radio Frequency ID) ticketing. Instead of purchasing a traditional lift ticket, you will be issued a Passport smartcard instead. Then on future trips, you can reload your Passport right from your computer. Besides getting a $5 discount, you get to skip the ticket booth line and go directly to the lift.

White Pass also offers Nordic skiing. Across from the downhill slopes on the north side of US 12, you can kick-and-glide on over 18 kilometers of groomed cross-country ski trails through lovely old-growth forest and around Leech Lake. 

With its Kids' clinic; and events like Hope on the Slopes 24 hour Slide for the Cure, and the annual Winter Carnival in March; White Pass has long been touted as a family resort. And now with the addition of Paradise Basin this season, White Pass has even more to offer to skiers and snowboarders of all ages and abilities.

- Craig Romano, Visit Rainier Content Writer

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