Snowmobiles for snowmobiles in central Washington couldn’t find much work Wednesday. The day typically begins on 67 miles of slopes in the Ahtanum State Forest, southwest of Yakima.
Grooming on other popular trails along the Highway 410 Corridor or south of Rimrock Lake may begin even earlier, but limited snowfall has so far delayed these efforts. Liz Van Amburg, president of Yakima Ski Benders, said she hopes the storms in the next week or two will allow this season to start in earnest sometime during the holiday season.
“It’s a strange deal right now because the snow is basically at the base of White Pass,” said Van Amburg, who lives near Gold Creek, where there was barely an inch of snow on Tuesday.
She said Ron Lind from R&R Grooming will be ready to go to work as soon as enough snow covers the trails. Carers across the state should be at full capacity, although staff shortages at the Department of Transportation could potentially delay the evacuation of the region’s 20 Sno parks.
Pam McConkey, manager of the state parks winter recreation program, said much of Washington is still awaiting snow even though the slopes along I-90 near Snoqualmie Pass and Mount Baker have started grooming. Van Amburg said she heard from people already driving near the 410 from the Seattle side near Greenwater.
The lack of snow could be a reason McConkey said snowmobile registrations fell by nearly 1,800 to 10,000 in late November. A year ago, around 5,000 people registered snowmobiles in November, but McConkey said the number had dropped to below 3,000 last month.
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“I think the most important thing is that a lot of things happen,” said McConkey. “Children are back in sport, other activities are taking place.”
When many of these activities were shut down by COVID-19 last winter, the snowmobile business saw a surge in new buyers, following the trend of many outdoor recreational opportunities. It’s impossible to buy a snowmobile in Washington without also getting a registration for the year, and McConkey said some of these people may have decided to risk a fine instead of paying another $ 50 for 2021-22 .
Of course, it’s also possible that snowmobile owners simply want to wait for more snow, as they did five years ago when McConkey said the state had 11,500 snowmobile registrations in December 2016 alone. That is around 4,500 more than in the same month last year.
Despite the below-average snowfall so far, McConkey warned that snowmobilers should always check the weather and avalanche conditions before they set off. One skier died and five others were buried in an enclosed area of Crystal Mountain known as the Silver Basin last Saturday, according to a statement from the resort.
“You know where you’re going, you know what the avalanche danger is,” McConkey said. “Our avalanche danger is quite high considering that it’s only December 15th.”
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Snowmobiles must be registered for those who only drive on their own private property.