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Crowd energized for opening day at Mission Ridge

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Mission Ridge Ski & Board Resort employees and family members line the ramp on chair one giving high-fives as the chair lift starts to transport the first customers of the season. Travis Hornby, at left, and Johnny Hisey, both of Wenatchee, were the first people up the lift.

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WENATCHEE — Don’t underestimate pent-up demand by the region’s skiers for sliding down a slope on sticks.

I wait all year long for Mission Ridge to open,” said snowboarder Sam Volkov, 17, of Quincy. “I ski other places, but this” — he nods to the the chairlift that cranked up for the season just an hour earlier — “this is my mountain. This is where I belong.”

Opening day at Mission Ridge Ski & Board Resort drew hundreds of downhill enthusiasts Saturday to a mix of natural and man-made snow that made for near-perfect conditions, said facility managers. Gates opened at 9 a.m. and parking lots were filling fast by 10 a.m with a continuing stream of vehicles headed up the hill. The resort is also open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today (Sunday).

First skiers in the chairlift seemed pumped with excitement. Friends and Ridge staff cheered and slapped high-fives as skiers rode the lift to their first run of the season.

There’s good energy this year,” said Marketing Manager Jordan Lindstrom. “People seem excited. They seem happy.”

He added, “Conditions have been prime for snowmaking over the last three days. Low humidity, cold temperatures — we were blowing some really nice powder.”

Nineteen snowguns worked nearly 48 hours straight to blanket the lower runs in anticipation of Saturday’s crowds. That man-made snow blended with “a good layer” of natural snow provided by this month’s early-season snowfalls. Two lifts and a rope tow in the ski school area greeted arriving skiers.

Been skiing here pretty much my whole life,” said Joey Dale, 67, of Wenatchee. He stood in the parking lot to gear up with boots, helmet, heavy gloves and his clip-on season’s pass for seniors. “I’m here almost every weekend in winter. Wouldn’t miss it.”

Operations were limited for the season opener, said Lindstrom. But after Thanksgiving weekend skiers can look forward to new beginner and intermediate runs, he said, along with a new ski-and-board demo center sponsored by Wenatchee’s Arberg Sports, a spruced-up Midway Lodge that includes an expanded outdoor food patio and, in Hamilton Lodge, the new Ka-Wham Coffee Co. espresso and food bar.

The Ridge has also hired Boston chef Tommy Pontolilo to revamp Hamilton Lodge’s menu with more local, fresh and seasonal offerings.

The ski facility has also flicked the switch on a new software management system that integrates mountain services — tickets, rentals, retail and lessons — “to provide a better guest experience,” said Lindstrom. “Customers might not see this improvement, but we hope they’ll feel that things move a lot more smoothly.”

Skiers seem to be responding to the resort’s strong focus on customer service and families, said General Manager Josh Jorgensen. Season pass sales this year are up about 20 percent over last year, and the new Family Pass (prices start at $1,400 for family of four) has proven popular.

Kate Welch and her two kids — Ike, 7, and Eden, 6 — drove from Pasco on Saturday morning to get in some early skiing at Mission Ridge. “We’ve never skied here, but we’ve made a commitment this year to ski together as a family.”

She helped Ike and Eden put on and zip up layers of warm clothing. “We think it’ll be a fun and healthy activity for us all. And we think this is a good place to start.”

Reach Mike Irwin at 509-665-1179 or . Read his blog Everyday Business. follow him on Twitter at @MikeIrwinWW.