WENATCHEE — The forest surrounding Mission Ridge Ski & Board Resort is sunny, dry and devoid of nearly any signs of winter.
But the ski resort’s snowmaking operation has been running nonstop for weeks to manufacture some winter of its own.
Now they have enough snow for the resort to open Friday — the eighth time in nine years their season will have started by Thanksgiving weekend.
“For us to be able to do what we can do is unprecedented in the Northwest,” spokesman Tony Hickok said. “The ability to consistently open on Thanksgiving weekend is almost entirely due to our snowmaking infrastructure.”
The resort uses an 18 million gallon reservoir and diesel generators to feed its two dozen snowmaking machines day and night. There are 80 hydrant locations on the mountain.
But conditions have to be right for the machines to produce the vast amounts of snow needed for an artificial snow pack. They aim for at least 18 inches before opening.
“The ideal would be probably 15 to 20 degrees, just cold and low humidity,” said lead snowmaker Eric Jackson. “Anything above that and we’re not able to put the guns to full use.”
The team has struggled to find those low temps so far this year.
“Snowmaking has been going strong, but it’s been a challenging year, as usual,” Jackson said. “We’ve had marginal temps, no natural snow at all. But we’ve been fighting through it to make a good product.”
After the man-made snow is on the ground the crew uses machines to compact and groom the runs.
Most of the team’s efforts have been focused on Chair No. 1 and the base area around the lodge. They’ll move up higher as conditions permit, Jackson said.
The National Weather Service is predicting a 30 percent chance of snow in Wenatchee on Wednesday, but the rest of North Central Washington has also been dry this fall.
Hickok said the lack of snowfall isn’t uncommon for this point in November.
“Every season and every year is different, but it’s in no way alarming at this point in the year,” he said.
In October Mission Ridge was ranked the No. 4 most affordable ski destination in North America by Business Insider.
It will also be one of the only ski slopes in the state to open this weekend — Crystal Mountain is the only other one considering a Thanksgiving open, Hickok said.
“It’s just really good to get folks the opportunity so early,” he said. “Some years we’re the first in the state of Washington to open.”
Only chair No. 1 will be available for opening weekend, but the full ski course will open up as the season progresses, Hickok said.
“We can reach out and get other areas with snowmaking and we’ll continue to do that as much as possible,” he said. “But eventually we do want to see mother nature kick in with not just low temps but that nice, natural snowfall as well.”