SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. — After nine long months of the coronavirus pandemic, skiers and snowboarders in western Washington are finally able to to go outside and "get some air" on the slopes.
"It feels like a big weight has been lifted off my chest," said Shawn Haney, a 36-year season pass holder at Stevens Pass. "It's a way to release."
Stevens Pass closed skiing five weeks early last spring when COVID-19 hit the region, in what was a late-starting season to begin with.
On Friday's opening, six of the ten lifts were open -- and with sunny skies, you couldn't ask for a better opening day under the circumstances.
"With everybody being kind of restricted, to be able to come out here, let loose and blow off some steam, it's great," said snowboarder John Bonham.
It's a much different experience on the slopes at Stevens Pass this year. The mountain is the same, but that's about it.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, people going to the mountain must make reservations online to ski and to rent equipment. Facial coverings must be worn at all times, both indoors and out. No cash will be accepted.
Also, the lodges are closed. Only grab-and-go food is available, and you have to eat it outside, or in your car. But it appears there are some upsides to the new restrictions.
General Manager Tom Pettigrew said the limited reservation system means lift lines are shorter, and there is much more room to maneuver on the mountain.
"I wish I could see the smiles on people's faces," he said. "I'm getting better at looking at people's eyes and seeing the lines around their eyes. I know so many people are just grinning from ear to ear."
Stevens Pass is expecting a 120-day season this year. Reservations are still available for all days.
"We think we will be able to accommodate anyone who wants to come skiing this season," said Pettigrew. "And if you have to cancel on me, just do it. No big deal."
After nine months of coronavirus, a white mountain under blue skies is just the lift folks have been yearning for.
"It's just awesome," said Haney. "We needed this. I think everybody does."
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