OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK — The lodge building at the North Olympic Peninsula’s ski and snow play area atop Hurricane Ridge is scheduled to open for the winter season this weekend.
And there’s an unusual amount of snow already at the mile-high Ridge — more than 5 feet as of Wednesday.
“There’s a lot of snow — more than normal for this time of year,” said Frank Crippen, owner of North By Northwest ski and surf shop of Port Angeles and vice president of the Hurricane Ridge Winter Sports Club
The club plans to open parts of the ski and snowboarding areas on Saturday.
Weather permitting, the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center — locals call it the “lodge,” though there’s no lodging — opens from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today though Sunday, and will reopen each weekend and Monday holidays through March 31.
Weekends only this year
That schedule coincides with the Friday-Sunday openings of Hurricane Ridge Road, which extends 17 miles south from Port Angeles off Race Street and Mount Angeles Road.
The road is not maintained Mondays through Thursdays this season.
The National Weather Service forecasts 1 inch to 2 inches of snow today, 3 inches to 5 inches Saturday and light snow on Sunday.
Snow-removal crews were clearing Hurricane Ridge Road on Thursday for today’s opening of the road, park spokeswoman Barb Maynes said.
Before heading up to the Ridge, it’s always a good idea to phone the park’s recordedhotline at 360-565-3131.
It has the latest information on road and weather conditions.
With relatively flat terrain, ranger-guided snowshoe hikes and dramatic vistas for beginning and casual snowshoers, plus more difficult, technical trails for advanced snowshoe athletes, Hurricane Ridge is a popular destination.
“It’s a great way to get off the beaten track,” said Ranger Janis Burger, lead interpreter for the snowshoe hikes.
Ranger-led 90-minute snowshoe walks, suited to beginners and families, will be offered at 2 p.m. each day.
“We’ve had 4-year-olds to 80-year-olds — all ages and abilities. For many, it’s their first time on snowshoes,” Burger said.
After one or two accompanied hikes, many rent or purchase snowshoes and set out on their own, she said.
Burger includes lessons on how to walk in snowshoes, and rangers point out interesting natural features and animal tracks, explaining how plant and animal life have adapted to winter in the high mountain ranges, Burger said.
Animal tracks seen on the walks have included snowshoe hares, squirrels, weasels, bobcats and occasionally coyote or fishers, she said.
Walks last about 90 minutes and are about a mile in length.
Sign up at visitor center
Snowshoers should sign up at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center information desk 30 minutes before the scheduled walk and be dressed appropriately for cold weather.
The park asks for a $5 donation from each participant to help it continue the program and maintain the loaner snowshoes.
Advance reservations are required for group snowshoe walks, which begin at 10:30 a.m. Saturdays, Sundays and Monday holidays.
Group reservations are available by phoning Olympic National Park at 360-565-3136.
The Hurricane Ridge ski and snowboard area also is expected to partially open today.
There is enough snow to open the intermediate rope tow, Crippen said.
The bunny rope tow also might open, depending on whether repairs and maintenance are complete, he said.
Crippen said the Poma lift area doesn’t have enough snow to open and will remain closed until conditions have improved.
Inside the building
For the less athletically adventurous, the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center — which offers snowshoe rentals, a gift shop and snack bar — provides a warm place to sip hot chocolate and eat lunch while enjoying second-floor panoramic views of valleys, Klahhane Ridge and glaciers.
A children’s sledding hill near the visitor center will be open for sledders ages 8 and younger.
During late fall and winter months, all vehicles — including the four-wheel-drive variety — must carry tire chains when traveling above the Heart O’ the Hills entrance station, about 5 miles south of Port Angeles.
They must be below the gate at Heart O’ the Hills by dusk.
There’s another way to get to and from the Ridge without driving
All Points Charters & Tours provides twice-daily van service from downtown Port Angeles every day the road is open.
Shuttle vans leave the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center, 121 E. Railroad Ave., at 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., and the Vern Burton Community Center, Fourth and Peabody streets, at 9:05 a.m. and 12:35 p.m.
Vans leave Hurricane Ridge for the return trip at about 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
The round-trip fare is $20 per person and $10 for children ages 6-12. Children younger than 6 ride for free.
Fares do not include park entrance fees.
To reserve a seat, phone 360-460-7131 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Olympic National Park entrance fees are collected at the Heart O’ the Hills entrance station.
Fees are $5 per individual or $15 for a seven-day entrance pass for a vehicle.
The Olympic National Park annual pass, good for one year, costs $30.
For more information, phone 360-565-3100 or 360-565-3130, or visit www.hurricaneridge.com.
Road and weather condition updates are posted at www.nps.gov/olym and on the park’s hotline.
Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at email@example.com.